Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

The Last Days of Free Mages

The capital city of the of Rynmere, here is seated the only King in Idalos.

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Aeodan
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Tue Dec 19, 2017 6:36 pm

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Aeodan sat, knees bent and elbows resting on them, as the pressure of Ninaky's form threatened to topple him to his left. Dark eyes examined the forms in the fire, and their familiarity resonated deep in his chest. He thought of Aegeo, and Malena, and Thomas. Like Ninaky, these people were quickly becoming his new family, rallying around the extreme circumstances against which they were fighting. Sitting there, adjacent to the burning house that was obviously a metaphor for their attempts, Aeodan only smiled wistfully, his dark eyes turning to meet Ninaky's scared expression with a coolness he'd never thought about before Ruinfall.

"The only fear in this world is the fear of loss, Ninaky. Everything stems from it. Fear of failure, fear of death, they are at their base the fear of loss. For me? I already lost her. I lost her, and I Sacrificed what I needed to in order to bring her back. And it was enough. And if it weren't, I would have found every goddamn god in this world, and I would have ground them into dust until one of them restored her. That is what love is. If what you feel for Thomas is the overwhelming fear of loss, then you do not love him. Not like you claim to. It's the unadulterated resolution to destroy every enemy in this world for them. It's wanting to give them everything they deserve, even if they don't feel they deserve it."

Aeodan resisted the urge to kiss her, so tempting here in the flickering orange glow, awash in nostalgia and emotion. He stared into her eyes, each reflecting the plasmatic nature of the fire as the house continued to collapse in on itself, and in her eyes, he saw the desperation of new love. He understood that feeling. The black on his fingernails allowed him to remember everything he'd experienced in his life, and sitting next to the mage girl, he was awash in his nostalgia. He remembered.

He remembered the first time he knew he was in love with Edalene, and the fear and the shame he felt. Not because they were siblings, but because Edalene deserved the world, and the infirm younger brother that he was had no chance of providing that for her. Aeodan was just a young kid, with legs that barely worked, while Edalene laughed and played. As the memory played behind his eyes, Ninanky could see ghostly images swirling in them, like photo negatives of the memories that Aeodan was experiencing. First she saw a girl, maybe six, running with a handful of daisies, holding them out to a man who barely looked at them before setting them aside. Sitting next to him on the floor, Memory Aeodan could see the look of exasperation and disappointment on Young Edalene's face. At the time, he did not understand. Now he did. Ninanky could feel his desolation in that moment, in that memory, as if she were able to echo his emotions as Edalene was. And when Aeodan returned to the present, he stared at her, the intensity in his gaze only intensifying the sensation that Ninaky could feel his emotions. Staring a hole in her eyes, Aeodan didn't blink.

"Can you feel that? Can you see it? Is it a palpable feeling in your stomach? If you do not feel that sensation every time Thomas enters even the peripherals of your consciousness, then what you are describing is not love." Dark eyes shaded, a cloud of melancholy sweeping over them to snuff the sunslight of his orbs. "And if you do feel that, then fear of loss does not exist, only determination that you will never lose, not truly."

With that, he quieted, returning his gaze to the fire. Clenching his jaw, Aeodan realized that he was the same age as the mage sitting next to him, except he'd lived through a lifetime's worth of pain and regret in a single trial. Sighing, Aeodan could feel the anxiety growing in him as he was trapped in this mage's dream, watching those he loved burn in front of him. And he did love Thomas, and had already grown attached to Malena and her twins, and Aegeo, and Nolan and Vhalo and Ninaky. He knew these people were his new family, and as he watched the fires of the deteriorating house consume them, he did not fear for their loss. Instead, he steeled himself, the feeling in the pit of his stomach contorting and changing, alchemically, to something iron and angry. A fierce protectiveness projected from him in that moment, lining his emotions in a layer of porous stone. Looking at Ninaky, he gently guided her off of him, standing and moving with stiff legs towards the fire.

In it, lashed to the post, was Thomas, continually burning, an effigy to Aeodan's mania. His first step toward the fire, and Aeodan saw the flames rush from his arms, crashing into a fiery-outlined Farafan. The next step saw a fire-facsimile of a stone pillar shoot outward, slamming once again into the faux Farafan. Aeodan heard in his mind Thomas' shout for them to get to safety, and this time he would not heed. There was no safety in the Beyond, and whether Aeodan knew the mystery or not, he knew that he would travel there and back to save Thomas. For seasons, he'd wondered about Thomas' safety. He had fretted about killing Narav, about setting Farafan free from her eons of torment. No longer. Now, he felt in his heart the true nature of being a protector, of caring about a family and wanting nothing more than to see them safe. Forever.

The next step, and the fiery scene before him shifted, the pole on which Thomas was lashed widening at the base, sharpening at the top. Thomas' plump body turned into the curvy form of Edalene, recognizable to Aeodan immediately. Penetrated by the fire-stalagmite, Aeodan saw Envoy perched atop it, and he could see clearly the prism eyes as the thing spoke in Edalene's voice. His stomach turned, but he kept walking. The next step showed him a scene he had not seen, but could now clearly in the esoterica of the flame. Pier and Pre, Vri, and Ralaith all stood over Edalene's body. Aeodan could not hear their words, but Edalene's recounting rang clearly in his head. He stared ahead, the fire eating the scene and leaving nothing but smouldering ruins in the wake of the memory. Eda's memory. Standing there, nearly within the fire, Aeodan paused, feeling the searing heat of the flame on his face.

And it burned away all his guilt. All his fear, and all his remorse. He stood there, cleansing himself the fires of the this dream, watching as the people he loved were tormented in the conflagration. Kneeling in the fire, Aeodan touched his fingers into the roiling primordial, staring as the liquid-like nature of the flame engulfed his hand.

Every step is wrought with danger and doom, with my fears left behind me, I accept this. May the dust from the road and the thrill of the adventure fill my belly with desire to finish what must be finished. Cassion, here in this crumbling shanty, I dedicate the rest of my road to discovering the secrets of this world so that I may always protect my family. I know Thomas is one of yours, and if you guide me on the adventure to save him, I will dedicate every finding, every obelisk, every meal and every sacrifice to your name henceforth. Help me, Wandering One, and guide me towards the truth and the future.

He finished the prayer and emerged from the flames, turning back to Ninaky with somber eyes.

"We have dwelt in the what-ifs for too long, Ninaky. Let us return and do what we must to save our loves." His voice was deep and strong. It was time to do what was necessary.
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Edalene
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Thu Dec 21, 2017 1:10 am

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No one was breathing.

Edalene jumped to her feet with fear, sprinted over to her brother, and leant over him. But she could still feel him - there was no empty cavern inside her soul; no gaping wound that Aeodan's death would have left. She ran a hand over his lips, but felt no breath warm her palm. Panic eased, but did not disappear. Something was wrong; some kind of sorcery was at work. And then the snuffle of Arturius brought her eyes to the still candles and the figure that sat reading a book.

The man was unfamiliar, but the book was not. It was hers. And this was her lord. She wanted to say something; bow, perhaps, or prostrate herself before him, but something help her back. A very human instinct reminded her how much she hated to be interrupted while reading, and perhaps, though Ralaith was an Immortal, he was the same. Edalene stood, quivering, watching her god flip the pages of her book, examining the knowledge she had collected. She held herself as still as the flames of the candle and waited for her lord to speak.

Slowly, he closed her compendium, and turned to her and Arturius. Ralaith smiled. Edalene felt her heart expand, and her lips turn up in one of her own, returning his human smile. The Immortals were so alien, so different to the mortals of Idalos, but every now and again, Edalene saw a glimpse of something in Ralaith that made him feel almost as kin to her. Vri, Pier and Pre, they had all felt untouchable. But Ralaith... Ralaith felt like he was hers.

"Yes, my lord," she murmured, inclining her head. Edalene moved quickly to the doorway, opening it, and Arturius followed. Both her and her bear waited for Ralaith to pass through, before following, though Edalene sent one last glance to her frozen brother to ensure he was safe. Slowly, they made their throughout the streets, Edalene watching curiously as he peered through windows, smiling gently as he adjusted the blanket of a beggar. Touched, she said nothing.

It seemed they were walking aimlessly until they reached the market square, where they were greeted with a pyre erected for only one person - Thomas. Edalene's heart leapt into her throat, and she struggled to breathe for a moment as she stared at the site where they would set aflame the one who had saved her. It was only as Ralaith turned to her that she was able to breathe again, a jagged gasp that brought her back to this moment, frozen in time though it was.

Ralaith spoke, led them to the pure, and lay a hand on the strong wood. Edalene could not bring herself to do the same, could not let herself touch the place they would kill Thomas. Suddenly, she thought if she destroyed it, here in this pocket of time, they would be unable to burn Thomas - but they would just build another, again and again, until all the mages were burnt. Nolan... Vhalo... Malena. She gulped and looked back to Ralaith as he spoke.

Shame flooded her at his words, the idea that she had she disappointed her patron, but she tried to remind herself he was just - asking. Collecting wisdom. Why was she here? She had just found out where Narav was; she could kill him now, save Farafan, the thing she had sworn to Vri to do.
But as the silence stretched on between them, she realised there was only one answer.

"I'm not ready," she said, her voice hoarse. She swallowed and started again. "I only found out where Narav was to-trial. I had thought him gone across the seas. He had told me he would follow me to Viden, and when he didn't, I assumed him long gone. I thought to find him, I'd have to travel into the furthest reaches of Idalos, but to find out all this time... he had been in jail." She looked down, blinking away tears that threatened.

"Do you know I loved him, lord Ralaith?" she finally said, looking up at him. "Or I thought I did. With the naivety of a child. I do not anymore, not in the same way - Aeodan is my heart. But I do not have ... the strength to go and kill him the day I find out where he is. And Thomas... Thomas led me to the truth that day in the Fifth Verse. While I died, he spent so much of himself trying to keep us alive. I feel that I owe him the same."

Edalene squared her shoulders, looked directly into her patrons eyes, steeling herself, though acridity stung her tongue at the words. "My lord, I will do what was asked of me. I will take the lifeblood of Narav and restore Farafan. But first... I must save Thomas. To lose both of them in one swoop... it would overwhelm me. It is the right thing to do, Lord Ralaith. I am sure of it." Edalene steeled herself, breathing shallowly, and waited for either his appreciation - or condemnation.
Last edited by Edalene on Fri Jan 26, 2018 6:42 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Wed Jan 03, 2018 10:17 pm

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“I wonder if it is youth that affords you such bark, Lord Caius,” Kayled answered, his face a careful mask of controlled twitches. As soon as Caius had begun speaking, the Inquisitor had watched him. Such dark and careful eyes, deliberate in their skulk, a-skitter from his posture to the shapes of his fists balled behind pockets. “A man like me, my Lord, who serves highborn nobles like yourself must watch his words carefully. You suffer no such restriction, sired by such virtuous lines, and you are not so accustomed to authority.” Breathing into his hands, he swept around Caius back to the feet of the Andaris statue. There was no malice in his posture, nor expectation. In the silence that drew longer between them, Kayled Wine seemed to measure the words as though a merchant appraising a trade.

“I believe…” here he trailed off, reconsidering his words before carefully continuing, “In order.” Placing a hand on the cool stone he stared up into the gloom at the face of the Judge, lost in shadow. “You believe in knowledge, truth. I can respect your ideals, even if they are rather naïve.” Turning his face sideways, not fully facing Caius, he smiled. “You’ll forgive me that impertinence, will you not, My lord?”

Outside, the distant chime of metal against metal reminded Caius that the guards he had come with were likely not far away. The Inquisitor did not threaten, not in so many words, but his mannerisms were curiously predatory. The cold domain of Khrome was etched into the thin man’s personality. Here he would bait, scamper back, step in again. The whole situation set the young noble’s teeth to grind, that he could be so easily speared from his home and dragged out before a demagogue. With the King’s blessing, however, there was little that Kayled Wine could not do. That sort of power was dangerous, certainly nothing to be handed to someone so easily.

“We cannot escape the realities of our duty. May we rise to meet them.” Wheeling back on Caius he crossed to the young man in the space of two strides, locking eyes. Caius was close enough to detect garlic, a whiff of a meal recently past. “You are not here under any suspicion, quite the opposite.” DuKette, the mustachioed man leaning against a pillar, shifted and coughed lightly. If Kayled noticed, he gave it no great import. “Tomorrow there will be a burning, the first sanctioned by the Crown for the penalty of magic.” He spaced the last word into almost two, lingering on both syllables. “Thomas Theodore Terrance, a Professor of Archeology at the Rynmere University has been revealed as a practitioner of arcane powers while his compatriots have gone to ground. You…heard most of the report, I trust?” Deliberate. He meant for Caius to listen. “Our organization is a new one, of course, formed by order of the King to handle the infestation of sorcerers.” Kayled smiled, small, fleeting, as if entertaining a personal joke. “The Venora have taken interest, of course, seeking to distance themselves from the shame of the mage, Alistair, and his cursed traitor of a sister.” He indicated the Venora tabard and sigil marked on his uniform, gently tracing along the rose with one finger. “But I find something of their ardor to be selfishly motivated, striving more to appear fervent in order to save face with the other royal families. I have been offered one of their name to join me in leading my Inquisitorial force and yet…I have not returned their letter.”

Finally he took a step back, giving Caius the room he needed. Gone was the lingering smell of garlic, only the snake-like figure of Kayled. “I have followed your work, what little of it that can be followed, and spoken to your professors. In spite of your willful tongue, you have garnered respect for the quality of work you produce and the insight you discover.” Wine drew himself up, his lanky frame swaying slightly under the weight of both the armor, the tabard, and heavy cloak he wore about his shoulders. For a moment, it was hard to imagine a man like this in the harsh Chrome forests. A heavy breeze might knock his balance asunder and save for the hungry diligence in which he pursued his thoughts, little physically suggested that the skill necessary to subsist in such a harsh environment existed. “I require your insight, that insolent tongue you can so freely wag at nobles, and your name. The recognition of a Noble from such an illustrious house will lend this unit the weight it needs to ease the mind of the people. Our Regal King did not think his will alone would be sufficient to win the love of his subjects, and so he asked me to find a noble who would assist me in my work.” Here he lifted a hand out to Caius, presenting the noble to himself, “And you are that man.” A smile now, fiercely bright, “Together we will study the minds of these wizards, understand their hearts, and assure our King where his fears are unfounded.” Kayled crossed both hands behind his back, clasping them and offering a small bow, “Such ideals as yours, My Lord, of Truth and Justice, I should like to see how you might apply them to the difficult responsibility we are charged with undertaking.”

Striding past Caius, Kayled walked toward the entrance of the Temple, staring out at the scaffolding and pillar still being constructed. “Sometimes, the Seven ask of us such dreadful things. We must remember to keep the faith, especially in times like these. Even the nobility has not been spared this occult spread and so we must dig deep, deeper than any of us are comfortable being, and examine. We stand on the ledge of great and terrible change, My Lord Caius, and I would see as many of our citizens spared the violence that fear and chaos brings.” Indicating the dark shape of the prison that rose before the castle, Wine motioned Caius should approach. “I will not throw you to the wolves. Your position may begin and end with such nocturnal summons and the occasional trial. I do not sense you have the zeal for blood, nor the deliberation to shed it in any cause besides your own…so I will not ask you compromise that. However, your ability to influence this moment, our cause, relies on your participation. You may be as influential or aloof as you wish.”

Kayled left no room for a rebuttal, stoking rebellious indignation into a low fury. “Shall we speak to our condemned, then, Lord Caius?” He asked rubbing one hand over the other, “Before we consign a man to the flame, as we are ordered to do, we should at least hear out his final requests.” Wine smiled faintly, stepping down the stairs of the temple and off towards the dungeon. He did not turn to beckon Caius, simply expecting him to follow and voice his concerns as they traveled. Alan waited for them at the edge of the town square, his armor still dark-stained a shade blacker than armor Caius had seen the like of before. DuKette followed behind at a respectful distance, still shrouded in a vague air of insufferable mystery Caius decided was at least partially deliberate.

Into the Inquisition went, passing beneath the shadow of the solitary pole, a wooden candle, awaiting the dawn to light.

**************************************************************************************

Ralaith’s smile was a soft caress upon her very soul. When he smiled, it felt like the world smiled as well. She felt light, giddy, almost swept away by the most simple of approvals. Patiently he listened and in the skin he wore, it seemed both ill-fitting and perfect. There was an element of paradox to these begins, Edalene had seen enough to know. How uncomfortable it must be, to fold a being of such multiplicity into this single facet. Here her Lord interacted on a level she could empathize with, and yet it was such a tiny aspect of all that he was. The enormity was staggering, its implications vast. But her mind quieted when he spoke, as though there were no thought more important than his tender words.

“Beautiful,” He said, clapping both hands lightly together, “You Are So Beautifully Human, Edalene.” Atrurius paced quietly around the pyre, snuffling at its edges disdainfully, aware of the pain it was causing his partner. Lifting his huge shaggy head, he seemed to reflect on the single pole for a moment before sitting, crossing both paws and laying his shimmering head down upon them. “Humans Defy Order, They Are Marvelous, Emotional, Passionate Beings. They Wear Their Mistakes Like Badges And Loudly Herald Their Failures. I Believe There Is Something Perfect In That, Something My Kin Do Not Possess.” The shadow of a rotund man appeared, lashed and bound to the pole. Edalene stepped back from it, her heart thudding loudly, incessantly, inside her. Ralaith looked upon this figure as well, wistful and sad. “You Know, Of Course, He Would Not Have Wanted This.” Lifting a tanned hand to the hazy outline of Thomas’ chin, Ralaith gently clasped it, “The Danger You Face, On His Behalf, He Would Never Approve.” The figure vanished, but the rough smell of smoke and flesh hovered in the air, an echo of what may come. “Ashen Children,” he said it sadly, “You Will Walk Into A Fire If It Suits You.”

The world shifted, tipped on its axis suddenly and Edalene felt sick. She grasped for something, anything, to hold her balance but found her hands empty. Stumbling, she skinned her knee on the dirt, face inches from the cobblestone. When she looked up, Ralaith was standing in the warm glow of a window, looking in on a small cottage. Gingerly, wincing, Edalene stood as well and made her way over to him. She dared not reach out and touch him, but the urge to grasp his hand was nearly overwhelming. To her surprise, he took hers in his. His grip was warm and calloused, careful and ginger, as if he was afraid of hurting her. She gripped his hand hard, her mind awash in adoration.

Inside, a brown haired child fussed with a small pale flute, pressing it to his plump lips and blowing, shrieking discordance. A lithe woman, pale as cream with hair like ribbons, smiled politely and plucked the tiny flute away, much to the squalling of the tyke. She tried to mollify him with a small bird, a little lumpy, clearly sown of fabric and stuffed with flattened wool. He couldn’t be more than a few arcs old, but already he was a tangle of grasping fingers and wild limbs, trying to climb his way up to his prize. The woman laughed, collapsing backward with the child, both blazing bright by the fire glow.

“We Sometimes Forget,” Ralaith said softly, “How Small We Once Were. How Simple Life Could Seem.” Reaching out with his free hand, he lay it gently on the window. “The Curse Of Perspective, Edalene, Is In Knowledge. Imagine Each Action A Person Could Take As A Match Hurled Into A Dark Forest. We Need The Light To See The Way, But We Cannot Know If The Match Will Strike A Flame. The Simplest Of Events Cause Such Potential.” Edalene pressed forward to look inside, watching the young woman wrestle with the child. Her own heart swelled to see such moments of joy. It was the sound of hooves behind her that drew her eyes away from the cottage, to the four figures on horseback with torches. In the light they cast, their eyes were hard as marbles, frozen in hatred and fear. The first, a large man with a purple-black scar stretched across half his face lifted his arm back and hurled the torch onto the cottage’s straw roof, followed quickly by the others. Flames roared suddenly, easily devouring the offering left. Eerily fast, the big man had leaped off his horse, followed by the others. As the fire roared above, they pounded nails into boards over the window and door. Edalene tensed, ready to leap forward and strike the hammer from the arsonists’ hands but Ralaith gently held her back, resting a gentle but insistent arm over her shoulder.

Together they stepped forward again and now stood amidst the flames and smoke of the cottage. Edalene took quick breath, fearing the embers that would find its home in her throat, but found she could breathe easily. The air was cool, despite the chaos that enveloped the home. The young woman cowered, shielding the child from the debris and showers of sparks that fell down around them. Quickly, she crawled across the room and tore her fingers through the air. Just as Ninacky had done, a hole growled open in the fire-light, wide enough for both to escape.

With a howl, the roof collapsed, heavy burning timbers pinning the woman to the floor, shattering her shoulder and tearing open her brow. The white of bone shone through the blood and the child screamed, desperately trying to push the wound closed with his tiny chubby hands.

Edalene could not stop herself and rushed forward, reaching for the timber as though she might hurl it off the woman and let them both escape from her, from this horror. But she did not reach her in time.

“Sing of me,” She said to her child, stroking his ash streaked face, “Never let them change you.” And with a sudden, ferocious rush, she pushed the child headlong into the portal, snapping shut behind him and slicing away his terrified wail.

Edalene knelt where the child vanished, looking down at the woman. She was beautiful, even dying, crushed beneath the flames and timbers. It was too much, too much to watch someone die in this way. Edalene reached up to grab the timber, to desperately push it off her but stopped. The woman had grabbed her hand, inches from the blaze, enough to sear her hand. She led it away and Edalene looked into the eyes of the dying mother. There was confusion there, yes, but as they slipped off her and to the shadow of Ralaith standing behind Edalene, there was understanding. She squeezed Edalene’s hand, hard, and pressed something into her palm, closing her hand over it. Above, the fire roared again as the roof fractured and fell inward.


Edalene was back in the town square.

“Sometimes,” Ralaith said softly behind her, his voice so melancholy, so sad, “We Must Allow Awful Things To Occur, For The Changes They Will Bring.” Edalene stared down at her scorched hand, the fire all too real, and what the nameless mother had pressed into her palm before leaving. It was the bird, a little scorched, lumpy, sparrow-small.

“Tomorrow,” Ralaith said, “You Will Have To Let Someone Die.”

**************************************************************************************

The flames raged around Aeodan and subsided, devouring his doubts and insecurities. At least here, in this dream, he was baptized anew with a zeal not easily tarnished. Ninacky was watching him when he turned back to her, up on her elbows as though offering her body to the horizon. Her expression was troubled and as he walked back towards her, settling on the calm water of his somber gaze and glancing off. It was her dream, Aeodan knew this. It would only end when she was ready to wake, or perhaps when she had no choice but to stir. He offered a hand down to her, marveling for a moment. A lifetime ago he would have been the one on the ground, disabled not by his cursed legs but by the indecisions of his path. Although less than an Arc had passed since he and Edalene were drawn together, it felt like years. Burned, bruised, broken, shattered they had crawled from the wreckage of all their misadventures, miraculous and alive. In some ways, Aeodan wondered if he could die. Certainly he felt the bite of steel or the chill of cold, he KNEW danger, but he had stared down a god and now was a traitor in the land of his birth, hunted from alley to alley. Funny. Before all this, he might have balked at such tales of adventure. They were beyond him, beyond the realm of yellowed pages he had entrenched himself with. But now? Now he wasn’t sure if he could go back. Restless now, yes, there was a restlessness as potent as poison coursing within him. Edalene’s heart was a stone from ancient worlds past and he was bound to a creature he did not understand, gathering the tongues of Idalos for one important message.

So much of himself had been parceled away to adventure, as though he were little more than a paper boat racing down rain-choked gutters. But now? Now he chose to be here. He chose to throw himself headlong into the danger and the flames. He wasn’t here because Thomas had dragged him. He was here because he would be the one to drag Thomas out. His own father, something of a bitter taste on the palette of his mind, had not in all the Arcs Aeodan knew him, measured to a tenth of what Thomas had brought him in the short Cycles they had known each other.

Father. Perhaps he was, in a way, a surrogate patriarch to the life that Aeodan had found. Without the mage’s guidance, would he have ever told Edalene how he felt? No. He knew in his heart he would have remained silent, maybe forever, content to simply exist in her space as a protector, as her charge, but not as anything more.

But Thomas had brought them both somewhere new. He had given them new life.

Aeodan could not repay that, but perhaps saving the life Thomas already possessed would be a start.


“You’re wrong.”

Aeodan said nothing, watching Ninacky’s sparking eyes shimmer with unshed tears. “The gods speak to you, don’t they, Aeodan? They guide you.” She swiped a hand across her face and the water steamed off it, faint smoke. “When you lost her, and…” She blushed, suddenly and completely, “I read his letters.” Aeodan nodded, not entirely surprised. “When she died, for most everyone else in Idalos, that is the end. No gods will drift down from on high to save them, no miracle of stone and magic will bring them to you again.” She gritted her teeth and the grass whispered dryly

Burn, Burn, Burn

“You have the luxury of being Chosen, of being special. Your love is WORTH protecting to them.” She cast a hateful glare up at the sky. It rumbled in response. “Fear of loss is all we Aukari have, it keeps us rooted.” Balancing on her left, she lifted her right arm and the skin there shifted, twisted. No, no not like skin. Aeodan took an instinctive step back as the shape of her skin simply blurred with the same leaping abandon he had left behind in the wreckage of the house. She was fire, a pallid, pale fire…slightly bronzed by the sun she had soaked in Rynmere. And Aeodan was suddenly aghast he had never noticed before, how she was fire all around, that all of her was that mercurial fury. “If we let go, even for a moment, we are lost.” She said it quietly, like a prayer, or old words said to her from long ago. Staring at the way her hand lost its shape in that fleshy blaze, tears ran rivers down her cheeks.

“What…do you mean?” Aeodan was surprised he had spoken. It had felt like he left all his words back at the fire but here was his curiosity, although some part of him knew. Needed her to speak it, to SAY it into being.

“We are the fire Faldrun made us from,” She laughed, dry and heartless, “We are his embers and to ashes we return. It is agony to love, Aeodan, the fire would burn me up inside, burn HIM up if I…if…” She sniffled, the flames creeping up to her shoulder. “Fires live such short lives. Sputtering, guttering, blazing sometimes but we all end so quickly. My family already…I…” She buried her head against her knees, folding almost over herself and despite the risk of the flame, Aeodan reached out and put a hand gently on her head.

Her hair was soft, kitten soft, and warm like a blanket warmed near the hearth. Aeodan could feel her sorrow, the morbid finality fraying off her. What must it be like, he wondered, to be like her. They were all so transient but she felt it more clearly than most. Aukari were the walking metaphor of life. What must it be like, for your body to dissolve into ashes? To make fiery love to the passionless sky and be no more?

“You don’t understand your fragility anymore. The gods took that from you.” She looked up at him, red-rimmed eyes, “You don’t even realize it. You don’t think you CAN lose her anymore. But I’m not special! No one talks to Ninacky. No one cares about-“

Aeodan swallowed her words with his chest, wrapping his arms around the girl as firmly as he was able, pulling her close to his chest, against his beating heart. He felt her stiffen for a moment and then relax, muffled sobs drowning in his tunic. “You won’t die, Ninacky,” He said to her, breathed the words into her hair, her ember-thin skin, “I promise. I’ll protect you. I’ll protect all of you. Fie to the gods if they can’t SEE you like I do, like we all do.” Aeodan looked up at the ocean grey sky above him. “And when we rescue Thomas, tell him how you feel.” He thought of Edalene, of her face against the campfire, of her expression when he revealed his truth, “You can’t waste time being afraid, Ninacky, or you’ll be like I was…a spectator.”

There was so much of her in him and so much of him in her. Maybe this was both of their dreams.

Ninacky’s sobbing subsided, enough for her to gently push back from Aeodan and look up at him. Had he ever seen eyes as sparkle-bright as hers? No, not with the fire raging within. He had a fire of his own, he could feel it now as clearly as he could feel Ninacky’s. It had always been there, smoldering. She smiled, and that small expression lightened the darkness around Aeodan’s heart. Yes, there was suffering, and yes there was pain, but he had found the family he had been cheated of so many Arcs ago. He wouldn’t dare let anything happen to them, not so soon after finding them.

“Do you swear?” She asked him, and the flames subsided their fury, slipping back into her skin which settled and was still. Ninacky held his gaze and around them, the hill and fire had receded into the distant hooting of children as they dragged wooden swords against fenceposts on their way to the Burnett house…on their way to Aeodan.

“Do you swear?”
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Mon Jan 08, 2018 5:22 pm

Had Caius felt the need to riposte Kayled's comments, he would have revealed that it was disillusionment instead of youth that had perhaps grown as the roots of his calloused choice of words in most conversation, a discomfort with the pretenses that burdened his birthright. He chose to say nothing, however, both because the Lord Inquisitor continued speaking and because the man caused him no small measure of disquiet.

Order.

The young Gawyne smirked at the accusation of being naïve, shrugging his narrow shoulders as if that was enough to acquiesce to the other man's request for forgiveness. It seemed as though Kayled had carefully formed his own opinions long before he'd brought the northern noble here at some odd break before dawn. He'd been called worse, surely, whether behind his back or to his face, "Perhaps I prefer to be called an optimist instead of assumed naïve, but you're welcome to your own opinions, Ser Wine."

Sharp blue eyes wandered from the older man's face into the dark, irises paling in his thoughtful discomfort, aware that he had an audience of sorts and unable to escape the weight of being observed from the shadows that hung heavily in the temple at this break. He startled briefly at Kayled's sudden closeness, ink-stained fingernails digging into his palms in his pockets in surprise. While the Lord Inquisitor chose to accentuate magic, Caius' thoughts hung on burning for a trill or two longer, forced to catch up to the rest of what was being said and putting together the pieces of what he'd been privy to hear with the name.

A University professor? He knew of the Burnett twins, and would have called them friends if asked directly. Aware of Aeodan's choice of studies, the young Gawyne's eyes narrowed as he shoved pieces of all he'd been purposefully allowed to overhear together as if rebinding an old tome, the ribbons of the spine creating a single edition which read from marbled endpaper to marbled endpaper as a unified story.

Caius frowned.

Infestation.

Speaking of the Venoras shifted his stance a little, shoulders stiffening, his thoughts briefly straying to a particular blonde Venora who'd more than just simply distracted him over the past two ten-trials. While he was well aware of the shame and accusations that had led to the exile of Alistair Venora and the death of his sister, Caius found that he cared very little for the complications of such things when he found himself in Darcyanna's presence. When Kayled said he'd been offered a Venora to become part of the Lord Inquisitor's forces, his attention snapped back to the shifting, serpent of a man, chewing the inside of his cheek as if he expected to hear the name, chest tightening in curiosity.

What he didn't expect was what came next, and Caius couldn't entirely hide the uncomfortable surprise from his expression, far from considering himself even remotely fit for what was being handed to him in the shadows under the watchful stone gazes of Rynmere's ancestors,

"Me?"

He blinked, irises churning briefly with a variety of emotions before settling on the silvery hue of concern, "You've surely spoken to Professor Verigan before I turned in my last bit of research."

The young Gawyne chuckled, self-depreciating in tone because he found himself caught so off-guard, "This inquisition of sorts hasn't gone over well with nobility, let alone with the common folk, is that what you're saying? Your choice of my House is a superior one, I'll give you that," Bred for secrets, raised to carry them he often reminded himself, for knowledge was both a weapon and a wound. He understood the other man's desire to stray from making a Venora his choice, but there were five other Houses to choose from who surely were populated by more exceptional individuals than himself, "but what kind of assistance can I offer you other than legitimacy based on my birthright? My face isn't the fairest of the Gawynes, nor am I particularly known for my tolerance for the pretentious requirements of my status. That said, Lord Inquisitor, it's one thing to study mages and their influence, and it's another entirely to burn them."

That conclusion didn't sit well with Caius. It gnawed at his insides, the idea of condemning someone based solely on their choice to pursue the arcane. Surely, as Professor Terrance had been vetted as suitable to educate at Rynmere University, he wasn't a rabid dog in need of being put down. He wasn't a monster. Watching the man pass him and letting his eyes wander to what he now recognized as a pyre and not some new construction, heart sinking like lead type in his chest, crushing his lungs, he listened.

Not known for his strict adherence to the Rynlist faith, but more for his somewhat rebellious persistence to seek a balance between the influence of the Immortals as well as show what he considered his own respect to his ancestors, Caius sighed at the thought of turning this into a spiritual affair—that would surely bring the chaos and fear Ser Wine pretended to want to prevent. He wasn't convinced this would bode any better, however, aware that it would honestly impossible to separate the Rynlist religion from political or intellectual intervention. Such was how mortals lived, honestly. Somewhere in between. When the other man spoke of his ability to choose his level of commitment to the opportunity that was now being shoved into his hands, the young Gawyne considered the entirety of the older man's words very carefully, already feeling the weight of them.

Influence. Responsibility. Truth.

Biting his lip, Caius was unsure of exactly what to say, "Thank you for your consideration, Lord Inquisitor. I will endeavor to live up to your expectations."

Did he balk a little at the invitation to actually see the Professor? Yes, the northern noble clearing his throat and letting ink-stained fingers stray from his pockets to fiddle restlessly with the buttons of his vest. Nodding, he followed, pulse roaring in his ears,

"Was there a trial, Ser Wine? How does one determine a mage without witnessing their use of magic?" How did one know, the young Gawyne had to ask, for knowing was an important part of his ability to understand. Anyone could accuse a neighbor or a noble of being a mage, but how did one prove it, "This doesn't seem to be an issue of morality—all magic suddenly becoming a crime when it was just recently offered as courses of study at the University, for example—so, forgive me for begging to know the process of justice at work here."

One last wary glance over his shoulder at the pyre, DuKette, and of all that he'd most likely fondly remember as a comfortable ignorance, and then Caius followed the Lord Inquisitor into the dungeon.
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Aeodan
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Tue Jan 16, 2018 10:17 pm

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The younger Burnett considered her, truly, for the second time in as many bits. Her flesh, hot and magmatic as it rippled with intense emotion, seared his palms as he held her, but he did not withdraw. He could not. He held her there, beholden to her fervent gaze, burning holes through him. He wanted to reassure her, to hold her again, to be her protector, but he knew he could not. Ninaky was her own woman, and though her passion may consume her, it was hers to feel. Aeodan couldn't console her, because there was not consolation for one's own soul, but only the embracing of it. Staring back into her eyes, their intensity flickering like the flame from whence she came, Aeodan nodded.

"I swear it. Your path is not yet at its end, Ninaky." His voice was low and calm, cutting through the other sounds of her dream to reach her, as if she were the only thing around him. His own stare became pointed, transmitting to her the necessity for her to believe him, to trust in him. She could sense his obsessive need to protect, stemming from arcs of his own self-destructive pity, the feeling of helplessness he felt before Ruinfall. Perhaps the woman was right, perhaps he did believe the Gods had chosen him...

Or maybe not him. Maybe they had chosen Edalene, and like he had been his entire life, he was just lucky that he was her other half. Sitting there, staring into fire-made-flesh, he understood the nature of the chaotic flame, the metaphor for which the Aukari stood for... The metaphor that seemed to have been his own life. He himself, his very nature burned away when he offered his Secret to the Obelisk, to Cassion, had emerged from the fire, unscathed but new. Reborn, reforged in the hardness of his loss, in the wonder at Edalene's resurrection. The woman before him, her passions threatening to erupt and return her back to the sky as ash and dust, was himself before the Obelisk. Instinctively, he clenched his left hand, feeling the roughness of the scar that had formed through his Offering. Ninaky was Aeodan, and Thomas was Edalene. She had to tell him, to share her Secret with him before she lost her life and could not be reborn.

"Tell him, Ninaky. Thomas is no stranger to Fire." Aeodan leaned in, resting his forehead on hers, clenching her tightly again. She was he, and he her. He felt the connection, as if she were his sister, a sister and not a soulmate. He wanted to protect her.

"We will survive this, and you will tell him. You have my word." For what it was worth, should they ALL perish to the flames of bigotry and blind fear.
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Tue Jan 16, 2018 10:35 pm

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Having expected his condemnation, Edalene flushed in the wake of his approval. Or perhaps not approval, perhaps it was more ... acceptance. Acceptance of difference, of an elemental difference between Immortality and mortality. And he found it beautiful, if strange, if unknowable. Edalene looked upon Ralaith and was overwhelmed with something she could not name.

And Thomas, bound to a pyre, that was another thing she could not name, could not understand. Or rather, Edalene could not understand that fear of magic, fear of the unknown, that would lead to a good man, one of the best men, dying in fire. She could intellectualise it, ruminate on it, but it came down to a fear of difference, and Edalene, suddenly, hated with a fierceness that burned as brightly as a pyre's flames any that could see someone different and decide they deserved to die for it.

The spinning of the frozen world, and Ralaith reaching out in a human gesture that knocked the wind from her chest, fanned the flames down low. Now, only reminiscence, memories of family and bonds that could not be defied. Edalene found herself clinging to Ralaith's hand with a desperation that surprised her, a need to connect to a Lord she had devoted herself to, but a Lord she could not truly understand. These trials, she was realising that while she served the Lord of Wisdom, perhaps the true wisdom was in learning that she did not know very much at all, and never would.

Fire, again, fire and wood, but this was a pyre of sponaneity, one of fierce and dogged determination to eradicate. The child, gone through the world, and the mother, dying. Eyes locked on eyes, and Edalene shared the moment of a woman whose time was ending. Sing of me, she asked, and the second song that Edalene had locked inside of her bubbled in her chest. Shay'ava, yearning to live again, and though the woman asked for song, Edalene could not give it in the wake of her only death. She was not fortunate - or unfortunate - enough to have two deaths, as Edalene would.

Staring down at the bird trapped in her hand, singed and smelling of smoke, Edalene barely heard what Ralaith said to her. Or rather, she did, but she could not look away from the remnants of the woman who had died, who Ralaith had seen fit to show her. Why? To desensitise her? To show her what she missed out on, when he and Vri and the Twins had saved her? She swallowed, closing her eyes in grief.

What could she do? Beg, scream, plead? Say to Ralaith that he could change it, save them all? But she knew, now, that if she saved one, another would die in their place. And what made their life worth less than another's, simply because Edalene did not love them?

"We let people die every trial," she muttered, closing her fist over the sparrow and blinking sudden tears away. Her voice was low and angry. "I will do what I must."

Suddenly, she wished she had not held Ralaith's hand at all.
Last edited by Edalene on Fri Jan 26, 2018 6:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Wed Jan 24, 2018 11:26 pm

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“Mark men,” Kayled murmured, “Not by their words but by their deeds.” It brought a chuckle, a private joke, perhaps, to his lips. “Mages are those men not content with mortal limitations. Seeking the power of the gods they cast themselves outside their service and onto a power they seek to master all on their own…a ruinous power.” In the shadow of the dungeon, Kayled paused to find both Alan and Dagget waiting. There was a third, a woman who bore the furious faded red of burns across the top fourth of her otherwise pretty face. She had a wide nose and flat features, likely born of common stock, but she also wore the same armor the other three wore. At her side was a whip, etched cruelly with small spines along its end and an axe, carved brilliantly with a bear reaching for a star. “Do not mistake me for a savage, My Lord. There was a trial. Evidence was presented. Magic was present during the examination, it appears the mage has lost some control of it.” The three offered a salute, returned by Kayled. They looked to Caius and back to him, grim faces wary, but Kayled nodded. “Speak to him as you would speak to me.”

Alan was the first to step forward, “Lord Inquisitor. We’ve procured the shipment you had confiscated from Etzos. There look to be over one hundred bottles. I tested one, as you instructed, and I think the use of them all is excessive. With your permission, sir, I would like to halve the expected material.”

Kayled gave it some consideration, “It would make it somewhat easier to hide. Do you consider a smaller target a problem?”

“No, sir,” Alan shook his head, “My aim will not falter.”

“Very good.” Kayled tapped his chin and then nodded, “Take it up with DuKette, he is more an expert in such things. Provided he has no issue, proceed with the plan but use your best judgement on how many bottles to use.”

Alan saluted and then turned to Caius, offering him the same and a grim smile.

The woman stepped forward next, saluting with crisp, controlled movement. “Sir!”

“Ser Elizabet,” Kayled greeted her, “Report.”

“My Lord,” Her voice was harsh and ragged, a product of strangled tones and hoarse syllables. Caius could see the edge of a scar where her chin met the exposed flesh of her throat, a line that continued down, widening as it did, till it was lost in her armor. “Preparation for tomorrow has been nearly completed. The soldiers have been informed. But…sir, if I may?” Kayled nodded and she continued, “Lord, the mages are dangerous. Dagget’s detail saw multiple burn injuries already, and the mage was just trying to escape. If we are not properly protected, the casualties will be-“

The Lord Inquisitor cut her off with a raised hand, his face serene, but somehow rigid. “Ser Elizabet, your concerns have been noted at each stage of this plan. Any more protection and they’ll arouse suspicion. Our plan is predicated on surprise and our opponents manipulate the very laws we take for truth. I will take responsibility for each life lost, I promise you that. But my decision on the matter is final.”

Elizabet saluted, a wave of conflicting emotions roiling in her eyes but never quite making it to the edge of her lips. Caius noted the reticence there, poised as though she were about to deliver another retort, but thought better of it and stepped back, marching into the darkness. Dagget was the last, his dark, oily hair barely concealing the knitted brows and swarthy features. He stepped forward to make his report, but hesitated as he did so, a moment of reticence.

Kayled did not miss it. “You could not find him.” It was not a question.

“No, My Lord,” Dagget confirmed, grimacing, “Davus appears to have vanished from our searches. We are widening the gap, but I’ll need more men to-“

“No.” Kayled sighed and waved his uplifted hand side to side dismissively, “We cannot spare the men and yours will need their rest for tomorrow. Call off the search. We shall have to hope this oversight will not be a fatal one.” Dagget nodded, hesitantly, saluted again and walked past Kayled into the dark. The Inquisitor watched him depart thoughtfully, turning back to Caius.

“You will need to be prepared as well. But first, some final words with the sentenced?”

Kayled was expected, it seemed, and a burly man in an executioner’s hood met him at the door. They did not exchange more than a nod before Caius and Ser Wine were escorted into the bowels of the dungeon. They passed the hanging cages, forcing prisoners to compact their limbs painfully, moaning faintly as they passed. Kayled paid it no mind, but the sounds began to dig under Caius’ brain. Each whisper, each plea, each moan of pain…these were unaccustomed sounds to the printmaker and the volume of suffering here chilled him deeper than any northern wind could.

“Most mages have marks, witchmarks, they call them, or brands…but of course, eyewitness accounts of magic are also considered evidence. The Order of the Mantis may serve as judge in these cases, a role I intend you to take as our mission continues.” They passed a room where instruments of torture glinted darkly from the burly guide’s flickering torchlight. “You will be given the tools to properly restrain them, but be careful. DuKette and his organization are loaning them to us for our purposes, but he expects them returned. I’ve already begun to negotiate for the crafting secret behind them, we may have need if DuKette is called away elsewhere.”

Down they descended, a stone spiral staircase cut into the womb of the earth so narrow, Caius’ shoulders brushed the walls. He knew not by what contorting trick the guide had managed to fit. Out they came into a small hall with low ceilings. Thick steel doors, twelve of them, lined the hall with the thirteenth at the far end. Caius could hear faint noises from within a few of these rooms, noises he could not readily explain.

Not all of them sounded human.

The guide paused before the fourth door and retrieved a thick iron ring, festooned with keys of all color and shape. Deftly, without even looking, he fished one from the bunch, a silver key that showed the green of age. Slipping it into the door, he turned it. “University study offered classes on the theory of magic, its application, but never in its actual use.” He reached out and took the guide’s own torch, “Initiation is something rare, something dangerous. I cannot speak to the mind of the King or those that came before him. Magic was outlawed twice before in the history of Rynmere, but always it was returned in times of need, bloody battles like the Quel’Dreki rebellion. The King was attacked by a certain monstrous mage, Fridgar of Uthaldria, and in examining his policies on mages and magics he realized very little stopped a mage from tearing down the kingdom if left to be consumed by their own power. Morality has little to do with this, My Lord Gwayne. We have been given a command by our King, and as loyal subjects we are bound to obey.” The Guide placed both hands on the handle and grunted, opening it with a shriek of metal and the click-click-click of internal gears. “We are expected to render judgement in matters of magic, Caius, and DuKette will instruct you on what to recognize in a mage who hides. However…” As Kayled stepped past the door and into the cell, the fire on the torch suddenly danced in frenzied adulation. It sprang, soared, flared up, dwindled down, and then returned. Caius had never seen flames of the like perform the same, so life-like and eerily of their own volition.

By the glare of the flames, a figure was revealed, arms tied wide and slumped forward, aloft by the intimacy of his arms to his shoulder sockets. In his professor robes, torn and slashed, blossoms of dried blood connected riverbeds of former torture together. His tangle of black-grey hair hung, sweaty and limp over the glimmer of his wire-framed glasses still perched on a crooked nose. Caius remembered him, seeing the portly man bustle up and down the library at a dull maelstrom, belly bouncing and eyes aglow. Little of that energy remained, leaving the mage somehow loose in his own skin. A wicked gash split his skin from forehead to chin, strafing close to his left eye and curving around his cheek. It looked infected, pale around the wound, blotchy red farther than that…but it could have been the bruises.

The sight of it turned Caius’ stomach. Whatever reservation he might have had about Kayled was baptized in that moment by the brutality written into the professor.

“Good evening, Professor Terrance,” Kayled greeted softly, “I’ve come to speak with you.”

Slowly, Professor Terrance rolled his head along stiff shoulders and looked up into the flames. They danced away from him instinctively and Caius thought he might have spotted…dismay? Despair? Briefly in those dark eyes before he looked down. “Ah,” he croaked, the sound painful and old in his throat, “My, what a voracious student you are. So many lessons! I shall have to have a word with the University bursar.”

Ser Wine laughed, lightly, taking a flask from his belt and stepping forward, offering it out to Thomas. “I’ve brought you some wine. Not your usual taste, I’m afraid, mere commoner swill, but I’m told you have partaken before?”

“Cheap wine is an accepting lover,” Thomas answered, opening his mouth so that Kayled could pour a dark stream against his tongue, “It does not judge by the nels you hold in your pocket, nor the nobility in your blood. I have a certain fondness for cheap things, Lord Inquisitor.”

“Of course.” Kayled waited until Thomas had cleared his throat, his voice clearer, and returned the flask to his belt. “Have you taken the time to consider my offer?”

“Ahaha, of course, my boy, of course.” Thomas leaned back the shapes of muscles straining beneath his flabby, bruised arms, “My freedom and exile from this country in exchange for all I know about the Seekers, the mages in Rynmere, and magic.”

“It would be of immense value to our cause. You can see that, of course. The more I understand, the best I can advise Our Majesty.”

“The right answers at the wrong time will still be considered wrong,” Thomas sighed, looking up into the shadows around him, “You’ll use my knowledge to imprison my friends, hunt my family, and kill those whose only crime was to dream beyond themselves.”

“Perhaps,” Kayled did not deny the accusation, frowning slightly, “But how many more deaths will I be forced to commit without the proper instruction? Will you not reconsider?”

“Cassion knows I want to…but no, I am sorry. This is a lesson I simply cannot teach…not to you.”

“Regrettable. Perhaps we can discuss something else, then. The Burnett Twins, perhaps?” Thomas glared up at Kayled, setting his teeth together in a grimace. “They came looking for you at the University. I’m told you’ve taken quite the interest in their academic pursuits.”

“Brilliant young minds,” Thomas appraised thoughtfully, much of the threat ebbing from his face, “They would lead a new generation of scholars if they put their minds to it…and I haven’t met many folks with stronger grit. Best be wary, Lord Inquisitor, I daresay they’ll be beyond me in no time at all.”

“So I should consider them dangerous?”

“Only to the fear you seek to sew.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Ser Wine shifted the torch to his other hand, “I’ll take that under advisement. I did not catch them, by the way, but they’ve found companionship with the rest of your compatriots.” Caius watched as doubt found its way to Thomas’ eyes, a hint of worry that had not been present before. Kayled leaned down, bringing his face level with Thomas’ own. His words were calm, calculating, almost gentle. “They are not mages, not like you. I can save them, even now, even with this collusion they can be spared the noose or the flame. Give me something. Anything. I promise you I will do all in my power to ensure their safety.”

“A promise from a snake, concerning the fate of a mouse,” Thomas chuckled, “Should be weighed against the serpent’s hunger. We cannot change what we are, Lord Inquisitor, and I know what you are. The twins would not be so clumsy as to fall into your clutches, so there’s no deal to make.” Caius noted the way that Thomas’ throat trembled. There was doubt there, there was worry, more than he had before. Something about their relationship had rattled the professor, more so that he knew they were near. Kayled breathed through his teeth, his back stiff for a moment, on the verge of violence. At the last moment, he relaxed and stood, handing the torch back to Caius and going to lean against a stone wall of the cell.

“Ask him what you’d like to know, my Lord Gwayne, it would seem the prisoner has accepted his judgement.”

“A noble visitor!” Thomas strained against the ropes, trying to see into the dark, “How fortunate to entertain a child of the Fates. Forgive me, but I cannot seem to find the means to bow, so you’ll have to take me at my word that I’m honored. Come, come closer. I’m a professor, you know. If you have any questions, I would be happy to enlighten you.”

****************************************************************************

Sudden vertigo and tumbling worlds before Edalene stood, once again, in the small cottage shelter. Everyone was frozen where they had been before. Ralaith, his expression so distant, so sad, knelt over the sleeping infants and reached out as if to touch them. At the last moment he curled his fingers back, looking at that lined hand and straightening. “Time Takes No Sides,” the god said, “Because No Side Lasts Forever.” He walked briskly to the door, and Edalene had the insane thought that he might just walk through it. Instead, he turned the knob and opened it to the Andaris night. “Remember, Edalene, You Were Chosen. I Know You Possess The Perspective Necessary To Understand.” He paused. “Perhaps Not All Of It, But A Measure, An Important, Measure.”

And then he smiled at her. Joy blossomed in her chest overwhelming the anger solidly creeping there, but faltered. Such a sorrow took its place, too quick, fast enough to draw tears from her eyes and tumbling down her cheeks. Ralaith looked at her with such unending sorrow, such regret. “We Must Seize Our Roles,” he said, quietly, so quietly she might not have heard, “We Must Accept Our Destinies. Even Gods Can Regret, Edalene. But It Will Not Steal Our Conviction.”

Another moment.

“You Will Know, When The Time Comes.”

And he was gone.

The tears still wet on her face.

****************************************************************************

Ninacky folded into Aeodan, embracing him with all of her sobbing being. The dream shifted around them, crashing and folding. He could feel it slipping from his mind as he was drawn from her, the memory of her hot hands on the sides of his face the last to fade. Her tears…they were so hot, but no more than his own could be, had been, the many times he’d shed them before. In the darkness between waking and sleeping, Aeodan snatched at the dream already fragmenting in his mind. He could not allow it to slip away, let promises made in slumber become as nothing on the back of dawn. Something, perhaps mercy, perhaps something else snatched them for him.

In those shadows, clutching the remains of a dream…of an oath. Aeodan saw a figure regarding him from the gloom. It took shape before him, a creature of breathtaking beauty, human in shape but androgynous. Lithe and shapely, whirls of silver design, intricate tattoo, curled around its body and up its pale green skin. Its eyes were light that danced madly and thin shapely lips smiled. With delicate fingers, it reached out for him, took him by the chin and drew him close.

He saw the writhing lights on its hair, like the thin arms of anemones waving lanterns.

“Envoy?”

“Let Me Tell You A Secret…” it whispered.

****************************************************************************

Aeodan awoke in a cold sweat, dread popping goosebumps across his skin. He lay on the table still, staring wildly up at the shape of a figure above him. For a moment, he thought it the one from his dream…the Envoy…not Envoy. Aeodan thrashed but the figure above him resolved itself into Edalene who wafted down upon him, her body sliding into familiar hollows and curves. He was warm again and he held her, fiercely.

He could feel the touch of wet upon his skin where her face was buried.

“Bad dreams?” He whispered, gently, twisting his fingers through her soft hair

“Of a sort.” She answered into him, her words vibrating meaning through his chest. “And you?”

“Of a…sort.” Aeodan clung to the remnants he could hold. The oath, Ninacky, the pyre.

What had it said to him?

“It’s time.”

Both twins turned to see Vhalo beside them. The old mage had somehow crossed from his watch at the window to their side without either noticing. His face was lined in the darkness, age having drawn an atlas of experiences and hardships above the long twisted beard. There was no cruelty there, and he stepped back to allow the twins to embrace again. “I have to…” Aeodan said to Edalene, kissing the back of her head three times, each one following a meandering trail from the crown of her head to the back of her skull.

She nodded, sliding off of him only reticently and taking his other hand.

Professor Nolan lay still, sleeping so deeply he might have been dead. Aegeo leaned against one wall, his chest rising and falling methodically. Ninacky was curled up near the infants where Malena had drifted off as well. But as Vhalo drew the sharp obsidian carved knife from his robe, she looked up. Her eyes were blood-stained and hollow. Exhaustion lay a curse upon them all, it seemed. She stood, however, and crossed quietly to Edalene’s side, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder and squeezing lightly. Edalene leaned into the grasp, taking strength from the older woman. How curious. To have lived her whole life distant from her own parents and to find such kinship so quickly among some of the mages here. Save for Aegeo, she couldn’t imagine letting any of them perish. Sweet, frail Professor Nolan, Vhalo with his quick wisdom, Malena’s leadership, Ninacky’s courage. Who would it be? Not Thomas, surely not the one they came to save.

Fear curdled in her breast. Could she tell Aeodan? Could she say she was going to let someone die tomorrow? His love survived Godrick’s slaying, but Godrick was nothing to him…worse than that.

How would it feel, she wondered, if it was someone he cared for?
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Aeodan
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Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:43 am

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Aeodan knew Edalene's fear, he could feel it pulsating in him, weighing heavy like lead in his stomach. He bit back the urge to reassure her again, instead turning to face Professor Vhalo with a look of settled steel. He could afford to be unmoving and unflinching, solid stone for Edalene to brace against. He looked at her, his dark eyes scanning the very curvature of her face, taking in the slight pout of her lips and the redness around her eyes.

Bad dreams, of a sort. Clenching his jaw against the insurmountable task set in front of him, he half-turned his back on her, allowing her to keep his right hand in hers. Vhalo's face was passive, intentionally so, Aeodan felt. Allowing the coloured lenses of his Xypha mark to cover him, he could see the swirling noxious yellow of fear emanating from his skin, threatening to invade Aeodan's nostrils and suffocate him. Exhaling powerfully, Aeodan nodded at Vhalo, who moved to bring the obsidian knife to bear. Aeodan offered his left hand, his dominant hand, to Vhalo. And for a brief moment, Aeodan saw the man's vambraces, and fully considered exactly what power the Becomer possessed.

Suddenly, it wasn't Edalene's fear convulsing like molten lava in his bowels, but his own, magnified by hers. With his jaw clenched, he feared he would shatter his teeth, feared that if he were to try any harder to remain Edalene's rock, his surface would crack and become craggy. He needed to be strong for her, but if Ruinfall was any indication, even the very earth could become soft and loamy, given the right pressure. The reflective black of the obsidian knife allowed Aeodan to gaze into all that he had given up, all that he had done to get to the place in which he found himself, surrounded by a family more kin to him than any blood... And Edalene. Nodding, Aeodan allowed Vhalo to reach out and grasp his wrist.

"I'll do it," Edalene offered suddenly, startling the professor and the linguist. Aeodan's eyes turned to her, wide and inquisitive, but Edalene just set her jaw. Reaching out, she gripped Aeodan's wrist with strength otherworldly, and he understood.

"Eda... Are you sure?" He asked tentatively, but her eyes told him everything he needed to know.

"Yes, better for me to hold it and it only have to be done once," she said firmly, not relinquishing his hand. Vhalo watched, his face a mask, before reaching out and gripping Aeodan's middle finger. Vomit rose in the boy's throat, threatening to spew forth and shame him even more than his shaking appendages and green face already were. Recoiling from Vhalo, but unable to break Edalene's grip, Aeodan turned and heaved, the near-emptiness of his stomach coming out in a thick yellow ooze. It splattered the floor, and when he looked back, his face was apologetic.

"I--" he began, but Vhalo merely waved it off with a smile. He indicated that Aeodan should replace his hand, and the linguist did.

"Honestly, my boy, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't done that a time or two," Vhalo said, more jovial in tone than the setting allowed. Aeodan grinned despite himself, and the moment the professor saw his white smile, the volcanic glass knife cut cleanly through his finger at the first knuckle, severing it. For a moment, it was as if nothing had happened, Aeodan staring at Vhalo who pulled away and turned, shielding the finger from the younger twin's view. Only a trill though, and Aeodan's eyes met the empty space that a trill before was occupied by his appendage... And it was gone.

Crimson liquid pooled and fell, too quickly for Aeodan's taste, splattering the floor with his pain and surprise. A delayed yelp escaped his lips, and were it not for Edalene holding him, Aeodan would have crashed into the floor into his own blood. Instead, though, he just went limp in his sister's grip, dangling unconscious from her outstretched arm, the only thing supporting his weight. Vhalo immediately turned back to dress the wound, but Aeodan had already passed back into the land of the unconscious.

"Ah. Well, I certainly didn't take him for the type to faint at blood," Vhalo commented, smiling slightly as he began to bandage Aeodan's newly severed finger-wound.
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Caius Gawyne
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Thu Jan 25, 2018 6:20 pm

It was most unfortunate that Caius found himself in more agreement with the Lord Inquisitor's words about mages than the opposite—weren't all mortals destined to strive against their limitations in order to better themselves? Were those of his own kind, nobles born and bred from the stock of the Seven themselves, no longer supposed to be reaching to become masters of power, all be it much more mundane? The young Gawyne smirked at Kayled's words, muscles of his well-defined jaw twitching as he weighed the other man's opinions, as he filed away the accusation that a mage's most heinous crime was perhaps not their ambition but their method, not their aspiration but their means. Magic was ruinous the Inquisitor declared, and it was a power born outside of mortal purview, harnessed by those who didn't understand it's ends. As the great grandson of a being outside of that same fleshly boundary that magic seemed to break, of an Immortal, Caius found the water in which he was tossed to swim muddy, cold, and dark, the tenuous grip on a singular moral decision from the boy King wronged by one powerful example of a questionable individual not enough to solidify his own abhorrence to the entire practice.

And yet, here he was.

Others appeared, though it was only Alan's face that bordered on the friendly, and Ser Wine all but spoke to Caius' unexpected level of acceptance in the moment. He blinked at the implied authority as if he still couldn't wrap his mind around it (he couldn't), listening quietly, filing away the trio's reports and watching their faces. Bottles. Casualties. Failure. Necessity. The northern noble felt like he was drowning, and as Kayled turned back to him, he inhaled sharply as if he'd forgotten to breathe, lungs burning not from the cold of Zi'da in the few breaks left before dawn but from an unspoken disquiet that began to settle in the cavity of his chest.

Nodding, he followed, eyes widening at their hooded guide and pulse quickening at what unfolded by torchlight once he left the familiar behind to follow the Lord Inquisitor into the dungeon. Caius tried not to stare, wide-eyed in unfiltered horror at sights imagined by never actually seen, one ink-stained hand curling under his nose at all that assaulted his senses, teeth digging into the knuckle of his thumb to keep from making any disturbed noises of his own.

It took effort to concentrate on Kayled's words, but the young Gawyne was keen to keep in step as if the very presence of the man anchored him to a reality he was eager to return to. Mages could be identified, the older man explained, and one could learn to recognize what made them different. Caius felt vastly unqualified to judge anyone—by the Fates, who was he? Just another arsehole noble. His heart wanted to claw its way out of his chest, but still he listened, "The Order of the Mantis? Is that the official name of this—of what the King has put together under your command, ser? Or DuKette's?"

They descended further and the northern noble closed his eyes briefly in the hall, attempting desperately to be someone far more put together than he actually was. The noises were the stuff of nightmares, and his eyes fluttered open again at the sound of keys and he focused on them, listening to the Lord Inquisitor's history lesson with a rising tide of panic in his chest. He didn't really need to see—

The torch danced as if alive and Caius hissed words that weren't for polite company, eyes wide, for in the cold of the north, he was familiar with fire for warmth, for life, and that was not at all how fire behaved.

But that was nothing, really. Nothing at all. Nothing in comparison to the sight of the Professor or the casual, familiar way in which Ser Wine greeted him.

Nauseated, horrified, the young Gawyne heard for a trill or two only the roar of his own pulse and nothing else. There was a brief moment that his stomach turned, rebelling against the decorum he was desperate to maintain, and while he managed to keep the strong desire to wretch from reaching full fruition, he felt the burn of bile claw angrily at the back of his throat. Instead, he ran a shaking hand over his face and curled ink-stained fingers into his ever-unkempt hair, dizzy. This was not how someone so educated and so respected should be treated, his pale silvery gaze traveling over wounds and blood, lingering with a growing frustration racing through the halls of his veins. Mage or not, this man was still worthy of some decency, surely, an unintentional traitor in a game Caius wasn't even sure he'd ever be capable of playing. Tears stung his eyes while he listened to their conversation and the northern noble was desperate to compose himself in the flickering, ruddy darkness of torchlight lest his conscience be seen as a weakness in the presence of a predator like Kayled Wine,

"Fu—by the Fates, do you treat all of the accused with this level of brutality, Lord Inquisitor?" Caius found his voice for a moment, a quip of defiant fear, surely dismissed as more naiveté, but he said it anyway, "Does being a mage eliminate the necessity for any respect for lingering humanity even while a prisoner of the King, even when sentenced to death?"

Because, the man before him still looked very human. He'd given his life to education—had it been all a lie?

"I've drawn the conclusion that you and your men are searching for others, but to torture a pillar of education? That's the face you want people to see and identify with before you set him on fire?"

This way of seeking knowledge and understanding was brutal and twisted, a methodology the young, academic Gawyne had never before been exposed to. What horrified him more was how much the Professor made sense, how the man cared for the Burnetts he himself knew, and how much his face gave him away in his bloodied, broken state.

Sard it all—why was he here?

Blinking as the torch was shoved in his hands, Caius instinctually held it further away from himself, suddenly afraid. Thomas acknowledged him and his heart sank in his chest, crushing his lungs. He hesitated at the invitation, thoughts wild. What did he have to ask this man? What did he have to say in any of this? He stepped forward warily, the ruddy flames illuminating far more of Terrence's gruesome face than the northern noble really wanted to see,

"Don't bother. This hardly feels the place for deference to my social status." Caius hissed at the Professor as he claimed to be honored in his presence, "I know of you, ser. We've passed each other more than once in the University Library, though my studies have never fallen under your purview."

He bit his lip and glanced furtively toward the Lord Insquisitor before looking back at Thomas, desperately turning over all of the words that had been spoken in his presence, every detail seared into his memory to be written later in his journal. Nausea swept over him again in their relative vicinity, his stomach churning and threatening, and Caius' suddenly dark irises could only find their focus on the infected flesh of the older man's face instead of actually meeting his gaze, his white-knuckled hand on the torch trembling just a little,

"I'm afraid to admit my ignorance about magic, about how long you've been a mage, about whoever you choose to associate yourself with outside of the classroom, Professor, but it seems as though there is little use in anything but honesty between us given the moment. Seeing as we stand on the precipice of your history being turned into hearsay and rumor, in your words, why are you here? My Lord Inquisitor admittedly has chosen to keep little from me for his own reasons I'm sure, but if I'm to weigh this in more than ashes come tomorrow, in respect to the reputation of my House as a Gawyne, enlighten me with the side of the accused, Professor Thomas, so long as Ser Wine will allow me to hear it."
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Edalene
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Fri Jan 26, 2018 2:22 am

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Edalene gripped Aeodan's strength with a fierceness she knew she had, but she had never expected to use it against her own flesh, her own soul. Fear she could feel, bubbling between their linked souls, each of their emotions only heightening the other's, a fan that kept the flame burning higher and brighter. The glint of the obsidian knife caught her gaze, and she looked quickly away, down to Aeodan, the smell of vomit rising from the floor beside them.

Then the flash of the knife, and his finger was gone.

Edalene felt her breath catch in her throat as she felt a flash of pain go through her own hand. She looked down, expecting blood, but only one of them bled. Silence for a moment, then a noise of pain from Aeodan, and he slumped in her grasp. Instinctively, her other arm came around Aeodan, holding him upright as Vhalo chuckled and said something, but Edalene could only stare at the blood on the table. There was a ringing in her ears, and it felt as though fire was raging in her hand.

She couldn't keep it in. Within Aeodan in her arms, she hissed, a short sharp hiss of pain, and flexed her hand reflexively. Vhalo looked up from where he was working on binding the stump that now graced Aeodan's hand. "What is it?" Edalene shook her head, her eyes clenched tight as she pressed her forehead against Aeodan's shoulder. "Edalene, are you alright?" The professor asked with trepidation, looking between her unconscious twin and her.

"I'm fine," she ground out through clenched teeth. The professor looked dubious, but how could she explain the link between herself and him? There was silence again, as Aeodan was worked on, the severed finger taken away by Vhalo. She was grateful she didn't have to look at the digit lying pale and bloodless. It was bad enough she had held her own brother down to be mutilated. "I just feel what he feels. That's all. When Vri sent me back..." She cut herself off with a gasp as again pain radiated sharply through her own hand, even though she had her own finger still. "I don't understand it."

Vhalo said nothing, simply pursed his lips and hummed, continuing to work. Eventually, the pain dimming for Edalene, Vhalo finished wrapping the wound. "There. All done." The professor looked exhausted, but pleased, proud of his work and ready to get started. Edalene nodded grimly, standing. She swayed a little - she had not had the luxury of unconsciousness as Aeodan had. Vhalo's hand shot out to steady her, but she waved him away. Drawing on her strength through agony and exhaustion, Edalene swept one arm under Aeodan's knees, lifting him with two strong arms.

"We will sleep now, Professor. Wake us when you must." As Edalene walked away to a quiet corner of the room with her twin cradled protectively in her grip, she could not help but feel resentment at the whole situation. Vhalo had the only viable plan, she knew that, but she had just watched him mutilate Aeodan - and she knew that he would not remain with Aeodan's face for long. Setting herself up in the corner, Aeodan cradled protectively in her lap, she looked to the stump on his finger and drifted off, with a pain in her hand and the unerring knowledge that this would not be the worst pain they faced this trial.

You will know, when the time comes, was the last conscious thought she had before sleep claimed her.
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