• Open • The Christmas Writing Challenge

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The Christmas Writing Challenge

The Christmas Writing Challenge

Over a thousand arcs have passed since the era of legends once prophesied by Ziell. The stories of the great heroes who lived during these times are forgotten, either turned to dust by the passage of time or kept alive as myths and fairy tales. On the surface much of Idalos has changed: advances in science and technology have given birth to great metal machines; new ways of thinking have brought about rapid changes to culture and politics; and magic has faded away into mere superstition. The Immortals that were once worshipped as gods have long since disappeared from the public eye, leading many to question if they were ever real in the first place, but those who believe still see the signs of them pulling the strings of the world from the shadows. Yet despite all its differences Idalos is still the same as it always has been at its core: a land of adventure, where the only real limit a person has is their imagination.

Once again the world has arrived at a time of destiny. Tensions between the different races and cultures that’ve been steadily building up since the old times are finally threatening to spill over and engulf Idalos in the greatest war it's ever seen. Some say that the unseen hands of long forgotten gods are behind it, whereas others claim that it is the disappearance of these beings that have caused it, for without them there is nothing left to stop the races from destroying themselves and each other in their blind ambition.

But there is still hope for Idalos, as before he vanished Ymiden gave the world once last gift. The souls of the heroes from the time of legends have been called back from the afterlife and been reborn anew to help guide the world again. They do not possess the memories of their past lives, yet the impacts of those days have not faded from their souls, manifesting as feelings that lead them to live out their new lifetimes in ways reminiscent to their previous ones. Past legendary swordsmen might find the sense of comforting familiarly they felt when they first held a sword to lead them to becoming a fencing champion. A reborn queen might find themselves climbing the political ladder as they chase the desire to hold authority once again. The skip of a heartbeat that occurs when two past lovers bump into each other on the street might cause them to fall in love all over again.

What sort of stories will these reborn heroes tell in this brave new era? Will they return to their past glory, fall into the same darkness, or carve out an entirely new path for themselves? That story, as always, is yours to tell.

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the Standing Trials Christmas writing challenge! This is an open contest that anyone can enter to showcase their writing skills and imagination. Anyone who wishes to enter need only submit a short story about the life of their character in the World War Two themed world from the prompt above to this post. All who participate will receive a prize, and the three best stories as judged by myself will receive special prizes. If you are interested in joining this competition please read the rules below.
You Must
  • Follow the same rules regarding posting as specified in the site's Rule Book. Remember that this is not in the mature section, so all posts should not contain adult content.
  • Post once, and only once, in this thread. Your story should be contained to a single post.
  • Reach a minimum word count of 2500 with your story. There is no maximum, but players are advised to keep their story short and sweet as it is the quality of these stories that matter, not the quantity.
  • Include a title for your story at the beginning of your post.
You Can
  • Set your story at any point just before, during or after the war mentioned in the prompt. You can even write a series of scenes from different points in time.
  • Choose whatever plot and genre you want. So long as it is within the context of the world provided your story can be about whatever allows you to best showcase your writing skills.
  • Include your own reborn NPCs, other player's reborn PCs and NPCs (so long as they have given you clear permission via PM to do so) and reborn city NPCs in your story. If including another player's PC in your story you are advised to co-ordinate with them as to the details of your characters lives.
  • Use the Immortals in your story. Be careful to portray their characters in the same was as in the lore book however, as doing otherwise will be considered poor writing.
  • Make up lore about the prompted world to support your story.
  • Have your character be reborn as a different race or with a different name (though do please try to keep the names vaguely similar.)
  • Reference the events of threads from the main game as myths and fairytales.
You Cannot
  • Do anything with another player's PC in your story that they have not given you clear permission to do.
  • Be rude or disrespectful to other players.
  • Go into graphic detail about anything considered mature content. While the theme of a world war does have many tragic elements players are encouraged to address these with subtlety and symbolism rather than depict them in gory detail.
  • Use any story here as proven fact about the future of Idalos or any character in it. All stories in this contest are considered to be non-canon.
This contest is open from now until Christmas Eve, the 24th of December. Results will be posted by Boxing Day, the 26th of December if possible or as soon as I can afterwards if not. All entries will be judged only by myself. The prizes for this event are all rewards given to your character, and it is entirely optional whether you want to write a thread about receiving them or assume that they were given to them as presents. The prizes are as follows:

All players who participate in this event with stories that adhere to the rules will receive:
  • Pig-skin Blanket: A leather blanket that smells like bacon. By wrapping it around themself the user can transform into a pig, absorbing all clothes and items wrapped up with them into their body. They can transform back simply by willing to. They can stay transformed as long as they wish and use this an infinite number of times.
Christmas Spirit
All players whose stories are set during Ziellmas (Idalos' modern version of Christmas) will receive:
  • Saoire's Kiss: A small snow-globe that, when shattered, will instantly summon snow clouds and transform the surrounding area into a winter wonderland for the next trial. During this time the player will always find food, the cold will not find them, they will leave no tracks in the snow or scene to follow, and ice will never shatter beneath their feet. It is as if they are temporarily exempt from the dangers of winter. They can only use this item once, but the effect will last for an entire trial and cover the entire city they are in.
Third Place
The player whose story takes third place will receive:
  • Three Hench Friends: Your character befriends a travelling group of bodybuilders: Brad, Chad and Chabrad. You can call upon these friends to help you in one thread of your choosing, in which they count as three NPCs who are grand-masters in strength but have no skill points in anything else.
  • Saoire's Silver Present: You receive a piece of silver jewellery of your choosing, enchanted with one favored Immortal blessing ability of your choosing. Please confirm your choice in the PSF before using it in threads.
Second Place
The player whose story takes second place will receive:
  • Two Hurtle Gloves: A pair of magical gloves that, when worn, allow the user to throw any item they are holding with the same force as if it had been fired from a cannon.
  • Saoire's Gold Present: You receive a piece of gold jewellery of your choosing, enchanted with one adored or lower Immortal blessing ability of your choosing. Please confirm your choice in the PSF before using it in threads.
First Place
The player whose story takes first place will receive:
  • Knowledge of the Bear Tree: A magical pear grown on a tree sacred to Ralaith and hidden away in a pocket of time no other being can reach. Whosoever eats it will forever gain an ability similar to Secrets of Serendipidy. If used on a PC, the one targeted may provide the player with three or four of their character’s favourite things. The way in which this knowledge is gained is by physical manifestation; if someone enjoys the taste of strawberries for example, this links with the user’s mind and they can ‘feel’ the taste of strawberries in their mouth. Their senses connect to the past of the individual they are gaining knowledge from, and their preferences from scents, to hobbies, to favoured treats become crystal clear in the mind of the one using this ability. Only one person can eat this fruit and gain its power, but will be able to use it an infinite number of times.
  • Saoire's Onyx Present: You receive a piece of onyx jewellery of your choosing, enchanted with one exalted or lower Immortal blessing ability of your choosing. Please confirm your choice in the PSF before using it in threads.
Exact lore on the world in the prompt is deliberately kept vague so that players can write about almost anything they wish, however a few additional details are included below for inspiration. You do not need to be overly concerned about keeping your story within the bounds of the provided lore however if you feel that it may restrict your writing.
  • The war is known by many as the Second Great War, and lasts between arcs 1939 and 1945. Historically it parallels the events of World War 2.
  • Sirothelle is the parallel to nazi Germany. After their defeat in the First Great War a fascist political party "The Embers" led by a mortalborn lady named Valtharn came into power and began preaching that humans and aukari were superior to all other races.
  • The Eternal Empire is the parallel to Russia. After a revolution in arc 1917 that removed Raskalarn as head of the empire it underwent huge social reforms.
  • Rynmere is the parallel to Britain. It is one of the few countries left on Idalos that is still ruled by a traditional monarchy.
  • Desnid is the parallel to America. Colonists from all across the world came over during the 1500's and replaced the forests with huge new cities that became cultural melting pots. Although it does not join the Second Great War until arc 1941, its creation of the Obstimyte bomb is considered to be the factor that brought the war to a close.
  • Magic is fading from the world. Only a handful on people still possess magical sparks, and the general public believe magic to be a silly superstition from the old times.
  • No new fractures open anymore, and the dozen or so that remain have grown small and weak. The seven grand fractures are closely guarded national secrets by the countries they are located in.
  • Wells are rare but not unheard of by the general public, as they are thought to be a scientific phenomenon. They are used sources of energy that can be harnessed to create powerful machinery with seemingly magical effects.
  • Alchemy is considered a branch of science, but a complicated and difficult to understand one.
  • The Immortals are still around, but all have gone into hiding and control the world from behind the scenes. A growing number of people do not believe the Immortals ever existed in the first place.
  • Blessings and curses are still given, but on a much smaller scale. Those marked by an Immortal tend to go to great lengths to keep their abilities hidden.
  • The souls of mortalborn have been reborn as well, some of them still retaining their connection to their domains and some of them as regular mortals. If you play a mortalborn character you are welcome to be either. As mortalborn have the potential to become immortal you are also welcome to play as the same person, someone who never died and has lived out all the years leading up to this prompt world, if you so choose.
  • All technology around during World War 2 is around in this setting. However using wells as power sources has allowed some scientists to create prototype technology far ahead of their time.
  • The incorporation of alchemy as a type of science has allowed for the creation of rare bits of technology that, while not exactly powerful, are capable of doing things real world technology cannot.
  • Ziellmas is a holiday celebration that came about by blending many of the winter season traditions all across Idalos together. On this night it is said that Saoire, a humanoid creation of Emea that is capable of entering the physical world for a short time each arc, appears across the world to gift presents to those who deserve them. She is a thin woman with pale skin. Her hair is always neatly tucked up beneath a crown that changes with each appearance. Sometimes, her head is adorned with glistening orbs of varying colours or small parcels that she will take down to give to a small child. Other times, the bristles of the fir tree branches are decorated with red holly berries, vibrant fruits, and pinecones. Her arrival to an area is always accompanied by the smell of warmth, spices, and juniper. She is quick to arrive and quick to disappear, providing gifts and wisdom to those that she visits.
  • As a festival honouring Ziell, the old god of peace, it is customary that there be no violence on Ziellmas day. Even in the middle of a war soldiers are expected to put their weapons down and have one day of rest.
If you have any questions about the competition please feel free to PM me.

Merry Christmas,
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Mathias Blackwood
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Re: The Christmas Writing Challenge

Image Image Image

Ziellmas Eve, 1942 | Mathis Lockson | A Tradition Broken
The Second Great War came over the world like a blizzard, blinding most people to the reality of the situation- they were still people. Mathis had been to more cities than he could count over the last two arcs in a campaign to liberate as many Rynmere citizens from the prison camps of Sirothelle as he could. In that time- and in the brief period of training that had come before it, he'd become quite proficient with his bolt-action rifle. Something about the way if felt in his hand just felt... right. When he pulled back on the bolt to reload it felt oddly like pulling back the string of a bow did. As a child he'd found himself unnaturally drawn to the practice of archery, but when the war came there was little room in the military for such outdated weaponry. Mathis had been trained with a rifle and sent to do the Immortal's work, freeing his fellow countrymen from the violent oppressors.

Mathis and his troop had been in Sirothelle for an entire arc but now they'd picked up their pace because Ziellmas- an unofficial ceasefire, was approaching and the leader of their group, Alexander, was certain they could get through the newer Sirothelle city of Auschelle without complication if they moved through on Ziellmas. It was custom that they lay down their arms so what could go wrong? Mathis was never so convinced that the Embers would play by those rules. He'd seen the horrors they inflicted in every prison camp they liberated. He'd seen the chambers where they poured in the foul alchemical gas mixtures that burned away the skin of the prisoners. He'd seen the torture chambers where the soldiers pulled information they had no intention of using from victims to satisfy that sadistic whims. He'd seen enough to doubt they'd put down their guns because it happened to be on a good day of the year. On Ziellmas eve, when the troop found themselves camped outside of Auschelle, Mathis voiced his concern to his commanding officer.

"Sir, they have no logical reason to let us pass through." Mathis reasoned to Alexander. They'd been going at it for breaks. Mathis tired to gently introduce the idea and it had taken a turn for the worst. Alexander hated having his authority questioned in any way, shape, or form and consequently he did not like when foot soldiers like Mathis tried to play commander. Who was Mathis to tell him that the plan would not work? Some infantryman? Ego blinded Alexander to the better times he'd had with Mathis in the last two years. The times when he'd been comforted by the idea that Mathis was going out to stand guard.

"They honor Ziell the same as we do." Alexander countered as if the mention of an Immortal who had not been seen in arcs would sway Mathis' more logical mind.

"You're using the festival to advance in the war, why wouldn't-" And just like that Mathis had lost any hope of winning this argument. Alexander who never say it but he hated the idea that he was abusing a holiday to make progress. He was more devout to he Immortals- absent as they were, than most of his men and so it had torn at nobody more than him that he was going to abuse the ceasefire to advance into Sirothelle land.

"I've had enough of your insubordination, Private Lockson. Tomorrow we march through Auschelle. March with us or be tried for desertion." Alexander's voice was like stone and Mathis nearly froze in his place. He gave a soft nod, realizing this was a lost cause and left his commander's tent. He ventured over to the members of the troop who still sat awake so late into the night, huddled around a campfire. Gaston, Erik, Langston, and Leonard were four of Mathis' troop who he'd come to know quite well. Gaston came from Desnid to fight in the war after watching the newsreels for arcs. When his country finally decided to get involved, Gaston put himself on the first ship back over to the battlefield. He'd been hit with the harsh reality of war shortly after and it made him a far more quite man than he'd been when Mathis met him. Gaston spoke more in his terrified dreams than he did in the waking world.

Erik had been less fortunate. He was an Ithecal who had lived in Sirothelle his entire life until the war came. When it did he was forced to flee. He made it all the way to the southern border before being taken and imprisoned. Erik never talked about what they'd done to him but occasionally when they were all changing in close quarters, Mathis had spotted scars to give him enough of the picture. Eventually Erik was liberated from the prison camp he'd been sent to and he joined the cause as soon as he was healthy enough too.

Langston and Leonard were twin humans from Rynmere like Mathis though he'd never met them before the war. The two of them seemed to be in the war for the sake of war. They didn't seem to hold strong affiliation with and country- they just wanted to be in the fight. They were both veterans of the First Great War and they'd suffered come trauma that made it nigh impossible for them to live normal lives outside the military but whenever Mathis asked, they refused to elaborate. It was fine with Mathis so long as they didn't turn their guns on him.

"He didn't listen did he?" Langston asked Mathis as he reached the campfire and sat down. Mathis shook his head and leaned his rifle against the log he was sitting on. "Bloody oaf, he'll lead us all to our deaths."

"Not me. I plan on shooting back when they start shooting at us." Leonard countered as he cleaned the parts of his disassembled pistol. Leonard always cleaned his guns before bed. He claimed it helped him sleep.

"Maybe we won't run into any soldiers? We've been moving pretty directly this way since Belzelle. They could have cleared out to avoid losses?" Mathis tried to interject with optimism.

"They wouldn't run." Erik countered solemnly and Gaston nodded in agreement beside him. "They knew the soldiers were coming for my camp and they bolstered their forces. They didn't run."

"Well thanks for that, Erik." Mathis mumbled and everyone around the campfire emit a soft chuckle before it faded into an uneasy silence. As the moon rose higher into the sky, Gaston, then Erik, then Langston and his brother would all leave the silent campfire for bed but not Mathis. He sat staring into the fire with the same cold realization that had sent the others to bed... this could be the last night of their lives.

*** *** ***

On the dawn of Ziellmas, 1942, the troop of about thirty men and women marched into Auschelle and only three would make it to the other side. Mathis stood shoulder to shoulder with Leonard on his right and Langston on his left. Gaston and Erik were a little bit behind him but he didn't spend much time looking at the friendly soldiers beside and behind him. He was more focused on watching the rooftops and the streets for the Embers. He knew they were here. He could still smell the chemicals in the air. It was the same smell that had permeated every city and prison camp along the path. The odor of rotting, decaying flesh mixed lightly with burning hair and a disturbing hint of lavender that would ruin the scent for every soldier in the army.

Alexander walked at the head of the troop, his gun on his back while all his men held theirs in their hands. He was confident that the Embers would honor Ziellmas. They moved into the main street without encountering any Embers. Mathis head continued on it's swivel as they passed by a dozen or so two story housing building where he saw civilians closing their windows and... ducking? Mathis' eyes widened and he screamed a word that was lost under the sound of two emerging exposions.


Two loud blasts broke out in the city as the vehicles on either side of the street suddenly burst into flame and shrapnel that tore through the left and right sides of the troop. Panic descended on them like the night descends upon the day. Some of the windows that had closed so briefly ago swung wide open and gunfire rained down on the thirty- now roughly twenty men and women who could still raise their guns to fire. Mathis didn't shoot, he dropped into a low crouch and scurried towards the nearest alleyway where he took refuge from the gunfire while his friends fell limp to the floor around him.

The alleyway provided safety for only a few bits. Just long enough for Mathis to breath deeply and compose himself. The surprise and shock were jarring but he'd been in battle before. He could do it again. Mathis peered his head out of the alley and up towards the windows where he saw about a dozen open- with armed Embers firing out of them. The Embers ducked into cover rarely because there was little need. The troops on the floor were equivalent to fish in a barrel. They couldn't get shots off in return and the ones they did either hit too low or too high and missed the Embers completely- but not Mathis' shots.

From his cover in the alley Mathis would pop out and take a lone shot at a window-hugging Ember before moving back into the safety of the alleyway. The first one he shot at was the one closest to him because he knew that when they became aware of him it would be march harder to use the alleyway for cover if the Embers with the most direct line of sight to his alleyway were still around to shoot down it. His first shot broke through the throat of a Ember in the window and the horrible man fell backwards dead. Mathis dipped into his cover and pulled on the bolt of his rifle to chamber another round before turning back out into the alley and aiming at the next closest window.

By now the troops on the ground had more or less taken cover as well and the Embers who had been picking them off in the middle of the street retreated from their windows leaving Mathis with no one to shoot at when he took aim so he ducked back into his alley just in time to hear someone shouting something in a foreign language. Mathis turned his head to the far end of the alley to see one of the Embers who had come out from the building and spotted Mathis. Mathis fired into the Ember and ran from the alley back into the street before his friends could arrive to complicate things. Yet in his panic, Mathis was not quite watching his feet and he tripped over one of the many bodies now lying in the streets of Auschelle. They were still warmer than the road they were laying on. Mathis pushed himself up and looked around for his rifle but the sudden incoming gunfire forced him to abandon it and keep fleeing. He crossed the rest of the street and pushed through the door of a two story apartment building. The door gave way easily and as soon as Mathis crossed through it a scaly hand wrapped around his mouth and pulled him aside.

"Shh!" Erik shushed Mathis and when the younger soldier stopped squirming in his grip, Erik released Mathis. "Alexander's dead. Leonard and Langston are on the stairwell watching for Embers. They took shots from the second floor so we know they're up there but they haven't come down. Gaston is at the back door making sure no one comes in." Erik explained as quickly as he could. Mathis wanted to peer out into the street and look for Alexander but he trusted Erik more than he trusted his odds of survival if he went back out there.

"I dropped my gun." Mathis admit as Erik shut the door. Erik shook his head in a disappointed way and help out a pistol to Mathis.

"Don't drop this. Go help the twins clear the second floor, Gaston and I will hold this one." Erik instructed and Mathis, not quite sure who the commanding officer would be now, followed his orders. He jogged through the narrow hallway of the building till he found Langston standing outside the doorway to the stairwell and Leonard leaning in slightly with his gun aimed up the steps. when Langston trained his gun on Mathis for a moment before recognizing his ally and lowering it.

"Glad to see you made it." Langston said when Mathis reached them.

"Well we haven't made it yet." Mathis reminded Langston. "I'm here to help you take the second floor." Langston nodded and tapped Leonard's shoulder.

"Move up." Langston instructed and Leonard performed. The trio of them moved slowly up the staircase with Leonard in the lead and just when they reached the peak, a bullet tore through Leonard's skull. His head snapped back violently and he began to roll down the stairs. Mathis sidestepped the falling Leonard but Langston was too shocked by his brother's demise to move in time and was knocked down.

Mathis pushed up the steps fast enough to fire his pistol into the Ember who'd been laying prone in front of the stairwell. A moment later another Ember burst through the door on Mathis' right and he came at Mathis with a knife... but Mathis was still holding a pistol. Mathis put two bullets into the charging Ember's chest and then he heard his pistol click, so he tossed it aside and picked up the rifle of the Ember who'd been camped out at the peak of the stairs. Another Ember burst out of a doorway with a rifle but Mathis was faster to aim. He pulled the trigger and the gun clicked- it was empty... maybe that was why he'd been able to shoot the Ember before the Ember shot him. The Ember across from Mathis tried to fire as well but the same happened so he tossed his gun aside and charged. Mathis flipped the gun in his hand and swung it into the charging Ember's head like a baseball bat. There was a loud crack and the Ember fell to the floor holding his head and groaning. Mathis picked up the knife from the other Ember and began stabbing violently away at the downed Ember.

No others came out to attack but Mathis kept stabbing into the one on the floor. Every thrust of the blade driven by some newfound passionate hate for these people... for these monsters. He'd violated Ziellmas the same as them but he'd done his best not to. He tried to warn his commander not to enter the city but his warning had not been listened to. Langston pulled Mathis off the Ember he'd so brutally killed and Mathis- in his frenzy, nearly turned the knife on Langston but he managed to compose himself.

"The Embers are coming across the street, Erik and Gaston are being overwhelmed!"

"Let's go." Mathis replied and the two of them began scurrying down the steps back towards the first floor. Yet when his feet hit the bottom level, the knife wielding Mathis was suddenly distracted by the scent of spices and an unfamiliar warmth that seemed to radiate from the top of the steps. His head swiveled back to the precipice of the stairs and he took a few mystified steps back up it to see what was causing this unusual sensation. The battle at hand was almost entirely forgotten.

At the top of the stairs he found a shortbow and quiver full of arrows sitting and waiting for him. Mathis looked around briefly to see where they'd come from but there was no one near. Then suddenly the echo of gunfire pulled Mathis back to the problem at hand. He grabbed his Ziellmas gift and put the quiver on then ran up the steps to a window on the second story where he could take shots at the attacking Embers. Langston found Gaston lying dead with a few dozen bullets in his chest and simply took his position. They'd all have time to morn once they were through the city.

Erik found himself backing away from the door as more and more soldiers neared him. He didn't have enough bullets for everyone. Eventually when Erik took aim at the Embers coming towards him, his gun clicked- empty. And in that moment Embers began to drop like flies. They were as boldly out in the open as the Rynmere troop had been and arrows began to sprout from their body- well strike their body at such speed they seemed to sprout from it. Embers fell left and right and Mathis fired the arrows. There weren't enough of them to figure out where the silent killer was striking from until it was too late.

With the Embers of Auschelle dead, Mathis, Langston, and Erik would push on through the city. Their number too greatly reduced to advance anywhere else- the three would find an abandoned bar and pillage what drinks had been left behind. From Auschelle they were expected to campaign into the heart of Sirothelle... but they'd stop here. This was where the fight in them died.

War. War didn't stop for anyone... and war never changed.
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Eliza Soule
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Re: The Christmas Writing Challenge


A Homecoming Story

It was Ziellmas Eve in the arc 1945; and of all the shops along the usually busy streets of Desnind this early evening; just a season after the Second Great War had officially ended, the little gallery on the corner of 1st and Lori was one of a scant few with it's lights on. The only other nearest exception was a family run coffee shop on the opposite side of the street. A wooden sign outside their door on the sidewalk advertised the trial's blue plate special Granny's Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans, and an additional note that the kitchen served the best apple pie in the city. The owner of the gallery could vouch for that. It was very good pie indeed.

Ordinarily, the sidewalks outside the two shops would be crowded with people; going about their trial to trial business, heading to work or returning home again. Then if not that, and on this particular trial, local families or tourists desperately trying to check off their gift lists before nightfall; so not to disappoint their little ones come morning. Even the small crowd of stragglers, the ones who'd waited until the last bit, had thinned out by the time the sun had set, and the lights inside the gallery came on.

Eleanor Soule, the owner of Photographs, was one thousand, four hundred and sixty two eras old; though she didn't look a trial over twenty. Not that anyone alive would know it. At some point over the course of nearly fifteen centuries, she'd somehow managed to achieve something beyond mere mortalborn status. The daughter of Ymiden suspected that she had her father to thank for it; but no matter how many times as Eleanor come face to face with him in the past, in any number of curious ways, he'd never so much as admitted that he was responsible.

She had another reason to thank him. Whether it was Ymiden directly, or him that had arranged it, she'd been granted the ability to alter her appearance every so often. Perhaps it had even been Vri's doing. No matter. Whoever was responsible for the gift, it was a very useful one in an age where the reality of Immortals, magic and fantastic beasts of all kinds had slipped from the minds of mortals, and become imaginary legends instead. Just stories, they said, and It was easier for her to change her name and her looks every few decades, than to explain why her face and figure seemed to defy the passage of time.

She'd owned the gallery for four centuries now; but she alone knew it. As far as her longtime customers were concerned, for as long as they could remember and longer, the shop had quietly passed from one owner to the next. All artistic young women, and often with similar names. The gallery's offerings of course tended to reflect the changes in ownership, and the times Where once fine paintings had hung, musical instruments or old books had occupied every nook and cranny, or marble sculptures balanced precariously upon wooden pedestals, now there were photographs on the walls.

The Second Great War was officially over. It was Ziellmas Eve and the troops had come home to their families. There was a lot to celebrate and give thanks for; and the citizens of Desnind were no exception. But not everyone wanted to celebrate, and many didn't want to forget. The number of losses, Idalos wide, had been staggering, and countless souls had never come home again. Mothers and fathers had lost their sons and daughters to the war. And now, here in the little gallery, haunting black and white images of some of those sons and daughters crowded the walls.

Ziellmas Eve might seem like a strange time to debut her latest series of photographs. But for Eleanor, it seemed appropriate in a strange, if solemn sort of way. Even if she wasn't sure why. Of course, many of her photographs had already occupied the front covers of glossy magazines, or been splashed across newspaper headlines. A few had even found their way into the grainy medium of home television. She'd even received awards for a couple of them. But the ones here on the walls; these were the special ones. The grand opening would be far from a crowded event, since most people were home celebrating with their families, drinking wine and trying to forget. It wasn't for them that she'd opened the doors on Ziellmas Eve.

The old woman stepped in off the street, and Eleanor looked up and smiled as the little bell above the door alerted her to the newest arrival. There had only been a few, and might be a scarce few more before she locked up the doors for the night. The cozy warmth of the small gallery was briefly disrupted as a cold breeze followed the old woman indoors. There was no decorated tree included in the exhibition, no garlands on the walls or mistletoe dangling over the threshold. The only nod to the season was an old fashioned phonograph in the corner which was quietly turning an old, scratchy Ziellmas recording.

"Good evening," Eleanor said as the woman came in and unwrapped her fur stole. "and welcome." The visitor smiled, though it was the sort of smile that to Eleanor, seemed crafted by the grudging acceptance of a life marked by tragedy and loss, rather than one of too much luck or prosperity. "Good evening to you as well," the woman responded. "I saw your advertisement in the newspaper. It's an unusual time for an opening, don't you think?" Yes, Eleanor responded, and yet she smiled and said nothing more on the topic. The old woman had come, after all, when others had not.

By then, the woman who introduced herself as Milicent, had crossed the floor and was studying one of the photographs. All of them framed with simple, smooth edged glass and nothing else, to let the images speak for themselves. Eleanor hovered nearby, not wanting to intrude. The photo had been taken from inside a transport plane. A long line of soldiers with parachute packs on their backs, waiting to be dropped off at their destination, some with cigars or cigarettes held between their fingers or lips. Young, smiling, excited and optimistic. They'd all had stars in their eyes back then, like heroes in waiting. If only they'd truly known what hero status would cost them and their loved ones.

"I've followed your work since Desnind first entered the war. You have a very good eye for someone so young. An interesting perspective, and I wondered what it was that made such a young woman as yourself, want become a combat photographer." Right there in the thick of it, the old woman meant, and Eleanor smiled. "It's not the first time anyone's wondered," she admitted. "I suppose it's because I wanted to record it all, in hopes that people would see and never forget."

They wouldn't remember. At least, not like they should. She'd photographed the First Great War as well; different name, different face: and they'd said that there'd never be another one. They said the same after all the great wars over the centuries and they'd say it again as time marched on. Eternal life had its drawbacks. It meant you had a front row seat to all of man's foolishness, over and over again. "We were headed for Sirothelle," she said, coming to stand beside Milicent. "Airlifted in under the cover of darkness on a moonless night. It was the first time I'd ever been in a plane and I was supposed to jump out with a piece of canvas strapped to my back. They had to drag me out kicking and screaming," she admitted with a grin. "But after that first time, I couldn't get enough of it."

What she didn't say, was that a within a ten trial or so, half of those soldiers were dead. Some of them hadn't even reached the ground alive because of the snipers, in spite of the cover of darkness. Meanwhile, as the photographer who was barely able to hold a rifle upright to fire it, she was always protected. "Are any of these photographs for sale, Eleanor?" Milicent asked. The daughter of Ymiden smiled and shook her head. "No. At least, not right now. But please, call me Ellie."

The next photograph that caught Milicent's eye, was one of Eleanor's favorites. But it was also one of those that haunted her most. It was taken in Rynmere, where she'd been sent to take photographs just before Valtharn's airborn forces rained bombs down on the capital city. It was a portrait of a smiling young family on the stoop just outside of their flat. A husband and father, dashing in his military uniform. His young doting wife beside him with her hand resting on her daughter's blonde curls. The little girl had been dressed in frills, patent leather shoes and had a doll tucked under her arm. Their dresses had matched: mother, daughter and doll. A ten trial later, the flat was reduce to rubble and she'd been told that the husband had come home to discover that his wife and daughter had died.

Milicent seemed to sense without asking, that the family's outcome had not been a happy one, and she'd moved on to a strangely cheerier scene. "What's this then?" The image was of a group of performers, of the sort that traveled round Idalos in trains, setting up their tents wherever they were allowed and making what money they could. "It was taken a few trial's travel by foot from the combat zone. Before the troupe's performers themselves were targeted, run out of the area if they were lucky, or rounded up and killed if they weren't. I spent a few trials with this group," Eleanor explained. "I'd given them rations of coffee and chocolate for the children. They came to trust me enough to reveal that many of their group were actually refugees that they were helping to escape persecution. There were a surprising number of tunawa that were hoping to reach Desnind. Very few of them were lost, as it happens." Tunawa after all were diminutive creatures and in a pinch, could easily pass as a houseplant. Therefore they were easily smuggled.

There were dozens of other images, many of them taken in or from foxholes or even in the heat of battle. The most disturbing and gruesome, she'd chosen to leave off the walls temporarily or perhaps permanently. There were other images, taken once the war was over and the detention camps were liberated. They were as haunting, some of them, as the ones she'd chosen to leave out. But these, she'd had to include. And then there was one of herself, taken by a fellow soldier, seated in the aftermath of an armed engagement with a large chunk blown out of her field helmet. She'd come just that close to getting her head blown off.

Suddenly, she realized that the old woman had wandered off and was no longer listening. She was standing in front of yet another photograph. Her face had turned white as a sheet, a hand lifted up to cover her mouth as if to stop herself from crying out. "You took this? Where?" Eleanor joined her and studied the image. "This was near Sirothelle. Choke's Gulch. And the men and women in the picture this is the unit I was assigned to. The mission was related to sabotage. I was to accompany them, and the plan was to blow up a bridge along a major supply line."

But somehow the plan was uncovered, and the Sirothelle forces were waiting for them. "It was an ambush," she explained. "Two thirds of the unit was lost and the mission failed." The photo however had been taken several trials before the battle, when excitement filled the air and most if not all of them were smiling. Though the more experienced ones knew the risks and were pretending for the sake of the younger men and women.

Belatedly, she looked away from the photo towards Milicent, and saw the old woman's eyes brimming over with tears. She pointed out one of the smiling young men in the photo. Eleanor noticed that Milicent's hand was shaking. "Did you know him?" the woman asked, and her voice shook much like her hand did. "That's my grandson. My late husband and I took him in when my son and daughter in law died in an automobile accident. James Prager. Prager is my married name. They told me he died in Sirothelle. But they've never sent him home."

It was James, and Eleanor remembered him well. He'd been killed, just as Milicent said. It was heart wrenching. She should have anticipated the possibility that this might happen, as she related the last few trials of a young man's life to his grieving grandmother. Every person she'd photographed during this war, was somebody's loved one. And here was this woman who'd come to a gallery and seen her own grandson there. "James was kind, and generous and funny," she said. "He took it upon himself to be my keeper, the one that shoved me into the foxhole or out of the line of fire, or told me when to duck rather than weave. Once, in the heat of an earlier skirmish when a retreat was called, in all the confusion and smoke, I lost my sense of place and direction. Wrong way Ellie. That's what he called me. He was my friend. He also saved my life." And for the first time, Milicent Prager smiled past the tears and nodded. "That sounds just like my James."

A few bits later the old woman stepped out of the gallery and into the cold Desnind night. Under her arm, she carried a large, flat package, wrapped up in butcher's paper and tied off with string. Eleanor stood outside the door of the studio and watched her go. Milicent had resisted only a bit when Eleanor had taken the photograph down off the wall and wrapped it up for her. After all, she'd said it before. These photographs were not for sale. "It's not for sale, and I won't take your money," Eliza insisted. "It's a gift. It doesn't belong to me. It belongs to you."

As she watched Milicent climbing into a taxi out on Lori street, Eleanor hugged her arms around her, against the cold, and smiled. She hadn't been sure what had possessed her to open an exhibition of her work on Ziellmas Eve, just a season away from the end of the war. She'd been bound to see few if anyone attend. Her personal feelings had also been mixed. She had struggled with questions about her part in the war. What had she really accomplished? She'd recorded as much as she could on film, and it wasn't nearly enough. But now she knew; why now, why this particular evening. The remains of Milicent's grandson might never be recovered. If not for James, Eleanor might have been one of those who'd never returned from the war. But now, for her friend, and for Milicent, she'd brought James Prager back home for Ziellmas.
Last edited by Eliza Soule on Sun Dec 01, 2019 4:09 am, edited 2 times in total. word count: 2637
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Re: The Christmas Writing Challenge

Together Forever

Thunderous friction of metal on metal.

Rushing air.

Chugging of the engine, high pitched scream of the whistle.

Unbearably loud, it rumbled through the landscape, rushing over the snaking rails.

Inside, the noise was still present, though not obtrusive. Some of the passengers however, engaged in conversation that carried to the other end of the carriage. No regard for their surroundings, oblivious to the fact they needn’t shout at each other. They were sitting right next to each other, after all.

A particular bout of screeching laughter made him glance at the source from the corners of his eyes. Momentary annoyance could not dampen his mood, and he resumed his staring through the window. See the scenery flit past like blurry streaks of predominantly white and browns, but occasional flash of green. Most of all, he reminisced. About what he’d lost while away. About what he’d gained in return. Some of the latter were unknown to him, and if he’d had the option, he most likely would have left those behind.

Even by train, it took several hours to reach his destination. He did not mind, as the seats –though not as comfortable as in first class—were more of a luxury than he’d seen in months. His thoughts drifted off into fantasy, giddiness buzzing in his stomach. A smile played on his lips. Impatient as he was, he could stand to wait a little bit longer.

The massive metal vehicle shrieked as the breaks were pulled, losing speed at a rapid pace. It did not stop though, instead reducing its momentum to a more modest and relaxed trot. Steel lungs powered by a diesel-fed heart exhaled smoke in pants, relieved to finally catch a break. Outside of the beast’s belly, the environment came into focus. Snow-covered plains, orchards with leafless trees, farmland populated by flocks of birds and the occasional incompetent scarecrow.

On the other side, a dirt road solidified by the freezing grasp of winter. Bared from the white as many feet, hooves and carts had traversed it regardless of the weather. He could see the last snaking coil of the tracks, leading to a lone building. Separate from those he knew stood about a mile down the road, it had been built rather recently. Well, when seen in a historical context anyway.

He disembarked with the necessary trouble, struggling to get his modest luggage from the train down onto the platform. A red-haired conductor provided a helping hand, and was thanked with an appreciative smile. Before long, he was on the road, eyes focused on the silhouettes of the houses on the outskirts of the small town. They grew larger and clearer every passing minute. The butterflies dancing in his stomach grew more and more frantic, the excited smile on his face widening. Despite the limp in his step and the suitcase in his hand, his legs and feet felt lighter than they had in a long time.

* * *

Askyra impatiently glanced at the clock hanging above the mantlepiece. Half past four. Hadn’t he said he’d be arriving around three o’clock? She fished a letter out of a pocket of her dress. The paper was smudged with ink, dirty fingerprints, and the paper had warped from being held an awful lot. Her eyes reread the sloppy handwriting for the thirteenth time that day. Trice in the morning, seated at the kitchen table with a cup of watery coffee, and a piece of hard, old bread –no butter, as it was too expensive. Done three times in quick succession to make sure she was awake, had read it right, and that the date jotted down there was the same as the date on the calendar. Four more times before noon, sprinkled in between housework, excitement and disbelief both bubbling up. Doubts she could not shake, but the letter proved real time and time again. Past noon, two more times, when patching up old clothes proved ineffective in sending her thoughts elsewhere. Once five minutes past the noted time. Then once again, half an hour later. Another half an hour later, she went through the contents again. Now, at half past four, she’d read it for the thirteenth time.

She hated waiting. Her grandmother had often winked conspiratorially at her, saying it was because of the fire in her soul. Distractions had not helped today though. They had barely held up in the days leading up to the present time, but now that he should be so close, it was all she could think about. She wished he was here already. Sitting on the sofa, thumbs twiddling idly, glancing at the clock, she desperately wished for him to appear. Fifteen minutes passed. He didn’t. She stood. Maybe there was something left to do around the house… but of course there wasn’t. All distractions had been used up in the hours prior. There simply wasn’t anything to do but wait.

A knocking on the door interrupted the impatience. Immediately, Askyra jumped out of her seat to rush into the hall. Her fingers fumbled with the key in nervous excitement. Just like the first time she’d read the letter, she felt like a schoolgirl again. The lock clicked, the door swung open, and there he was.

Dark hair, shorter than she remembered, but longer than the standard military cut. Stupid grin on his face, a twinkle in his eyes. She could feel her heart leap into her throat. Both of them stepped forward simultaneously, falling into a hug. While she squeezed him tight as if to ascertain he was not a hallucination, his grip was firm but gentle, as it always had been. Something was off though, a lack of pressure where there should be. Just a little twinge in her subconscious, something she knew was not quite right.

Face buried against his chest, she felt him breathe in the scent of her hair. His chest rose and fell with a contented sigh, and Askyra heard him smile. They each were just as comfortably warm as the other remembered, a welcome respite from the biting cold of Winter. He released her then, she allowed the separation with reluctance, but remained close. For several moments, he just stared in her eyes, regarding her like something he’d been coveting for too long. A precious item, perhaps.

He began raising one arm, but switched after a moment of hesitation. Rough fingers were placed gently under her chin, lifting it upwards like he’d always done, though again something was different. Askyra shrugged it off, preferring to focus on the moment, rather than the details. On his approaching lips, slightly chapped. The stubble on his chin and cheeks. Hard lines near his eyes, creases that had not been there before.

She answered him in kind, lifting her body with her toes, lips pressing on his. Lock and key matching perfectly. She knew his quirks, and he hers. Heels touched back down, drawing him along, slightly stooped. Their arms snaked around the other’s body, finding the spot they were most comfortable with. She melted, losing herself in the moment. Tardiness forgiven the moment she’d laid eyes on him. Finally, finally he’d returned to her.

Neither could tell how long it lasted, using their lung capacity to the fullest. There were breaks in between, brief intervals that took only a breath. Then they continued, reveling in the intimacy they’d had to miss for too long. When they did stop, it was clear neither wanted to, but they still did anyway.

“Come, Dessa will be so happy you’re back!” Askyra beamed, reaching to grab his hands and draw him inside the house. Her left found his right, but her other grasped only air inside a sleeve. Something clicked inside her mind. Shock was clear on her face. Her eyes flicked from the empty fabric to his face. She found a sheepish embarrassment there, along a hidden sadness. He smiled at her, no words. Careful but calloused fingers wiped away her forming tears, arms pulling her close again. His hand rubbed the back of her head, his chin resting on her crown. Comforting, familiar. Different.

“It’s fine. I got lucky,” he soothed, “And it brought me home faster. It’s not that bad.”

She could tell he wasn’t entirely honest. Her tears were for him, for what he’d had to endure. However, she knew he’d rather not have her draw more attention to it. That had always been his way of dealing with such things. The death of his parents, his conscription, … He needed time to deal with it by himself. Fussing about it wouldn’t help, regardless of the intention. Trying to comfort him would only upset him more. What he wanted was the pretense of normalcy, and Askyra would grant him that. It took a while, but she willed away her tears, broke free of his embrace, and smiled a genuine smile.

“I’m glad you’re back, Bran. I’ve missed you.”

“Me too,” he grinned, “Now where’s that little scamp? I brought a little something for her. Maybe she’ll forgive me for missing her birthday!” He limped inside laughing, dragging the case along.

Askyra watched him pass. Not all of him had come back, but at least he was here, alive and well. A smile. “You being here will be the best present ever, I’m sure,” she muttered.

* * *

“Dessa, can you cut daddy’s meatloaf?” Brantyn Oberdaine asked his daughter, futilely trying to use his fork to slice it.

She giggled happily, practically running around the table. His knife and fork in hand, she deftly began cutting it in smaller pieces. For good measure, she did the same with his potatoes.

“Thanks darling.”

“Also eat your veggies daddy,” she grinned at him, rushing off before he could give her a playful slap to the head. Her mother attempted to suppress a burst of laughter, disguising it as a coughing fit.

“You little shit, and you want to come with to work? Well, know-it-alls aren’t allowed!” he laughed.

Her expression went from a smile to a pout. “No! Daddy, I want to come with! I will be good! Promise!”

He tapped his chin for a few seconds, pondering in a most dramatic fashion. Askyra rolled her eyes, Dessa looked worried. “Mmmmokay then. But I’ll warn you, it’s very boring. You’d be better off playing outside with Jesse and Katja.”

“No, I want to come with!”

Brantyn shrugged, popping a piece of meatloaf in his mouth, followed by some carrots. “Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.”

As soon as they were finished eating, he donned a heavy coat, checked his pockets for his keys, and struggled with the laces of his boots. Still, by using his stump as a too-thick, imprecise finger he somehow managed to tie a knot that held. Dessa was already waiting for him, rather excited for something so mundane. He rolled the sleeve of his coat back down, and headed outside, holding his daughter’s hand.

Most of the snow on the main road had been reduced to black sludge. It had mixed with the dirt and mud, creating a most unpleasant underground for anyone not wearing boots. Naturally, most of the children love to play in it, slinging the muck at each other while shouting profanities. Brantyn pitied the parades of captured Yludih, Tunawa and Ithecal forced to walk through, half-starved, bruised and broken. They came in with a train, packed together like pigs, forced to march for several hours to the nearest camp. Immortals knew what happened in there, but Bran knew he should be glad he wasn’t born one into one of those races.

Some of the soldiers had carried whips to encourage the prisoners when they dallied too long, or if their frail bodies failed due to cold, starvation, or exhaustion. Bran’d ducked behind a low wall upon hearing the whipcrack. Heart racing, vision blurring, breathing labored. It’d taken a while to recover, and he’d arrived late.

As such, he made sure to keep up the pace, determined to make up for the lost time this morning by arriving earlier in the afternoon. Perhaps a futile effort to please the boss, but Bran did not want to lose this job. It’d been hard enough to find employment now, the loss of his hand and most of the upper arm severely limiting the labor he could perform. He held no special qualifications, so his current position was an act of kindness from Mr. Sachrin to a soldier wounded for the Fatherland. Still, it did not mean that Brantyn got any special treatment. Even now, after several weeks of work, it did not seem he’d earned any credit with the older man.

“Remember what I told you?” he asked his daughter when they rounded the last corner.

“Yes, daddy,” she said, nodding fervently.


He limped up to the door of a small general store, unlocked it, and stepped inside. He made sure to turn the sign so it read ‘open’ instead of ‘closed’. Music drifted from behind the counter. Upon hearing the chiming of the little bell above the door, Mr. Sachrin arrived from the back room of the store. As per usual, he stood right underneath the flag of the Ember Party, pinned to the wall behind the counter. His arm raised in salute.

“Heil Valtharn!” he droned.

Both Brantyn and Dessa returned the gesture. The former clicking his heels and standing as straight as could be. “Heil Valtharn!”

“You’re early, Oberdaine.”

“Yes, sir. Making up for this morning, sir.”

“Ah, good manners. I like that.” The older man nodded contently. “Very well. You know what to do. And you, little lady, behave yourself, yes?”

“Yes, Mr. Sachrin,” she agreed, pleased to be here more than anything else.

Contented with the reply, the owner retreated back into the back room. The music grew more silent, until it could not be heard within the shop itself. Brantyn felt his shoulders relax, unaware of the tension that’d been in them as soon as he’d entered the building.

It was the one request he’d made of Mr. Sachrin when he started work. The old man liked to put the radio on, the louder the better. It was necessary for the air raid siren, yes, but the owner simply enjoyed his music at a high volume. Brantyn on the other hand, felt panic rise in his chest when the radio crackled and sparked with static. It was as if orders could be issued through it at any time. It brought him back to where he did not want to be.

As Brantyn had warned, the day passed without much of interest transpiring. He helped customers with questions, fetched products from behind the counter, kept an eye out for scamps that were prone to stealing candy, and kept the shelves stocked. Of course, he also rang up the customers’ totals, struck conversation, and made sure the shop was spick and span. During the second hour of his shift, he noticed Dessa growing rather bored. While she definitely could leave, her pride forbade her to do so, and she remained by his side the entire time. He bought her a lollipop when closing up, but only after he made her swear not tell her mother about it.

* * *

Weeks rolled past. Temperatures fluctuated, as did the weather. There were days with freezing cold, some mild and sunny, others moist and oppressive. Rain, hail, snow all took their turn falling from the sky. Askyra and Brantyn saved up as much as they could, preparing for the Ziellmas to come. For a gift for their daughter, and for festive food that would brighten the mood during this war, even for but a day.

Many a time the broadcast stations warned for approaching aircrafts. Radios stopped playing music, announcers ceased their babbling. The siren whined from the little box, and everyone quickly dropped what they were doing. To the shelters they rushed. Basements and cellars, they were, makeshift. However, the Embers had come measure and check, and those that passed had been appointed as official shelters during the raids. People flocked to them when the sirens wailed, huddling together like sardines in a can. Uncomfortable, scared. Waiting. Until another siren announced the danger had passed.

Rain, snow and hail fell from the sky in those weeks, but no bombs.

* * *

Ziellmas eve rolled around. The family gathered inside, Askyra’s parents came over from the city, bringing with them a bottle of wine from their secret stash. Sitting in the living room, warmed by the cackling flames in the hearth, they regaled each other with stories. Music played softly in the background for a couple hours, until Brantyn turned it off. No-one noticed the difference, too caught up in discussion and laughter and merriment. He did though, immediately feeling more at ease.

For the entire evening, the war was shunned, avoided. Not forgotten, always looming like a dark shadow over their temporary joy, but ignored. No-one wanted to ruin the mood with talk of politics, death, the poor arrested sods, or what would happen next. Each of the adults tried to lose themselves in the moment, the relief Ziellmas brought.

Perhaps, then, the silencing of the radio was not an inconspicuous thing, but one those present refused to acknowledge. It could be fear for the war intruding within the warm bubble they’d painstakingly created, shattering the illusion with a loud cry. Maybe there was hope that the unofficial ceasefire of Ziellmas would keep them safe for one night.

Unfortunately, it did not.

During supper, when the family relished in more expensive food, when gifts had been given –small trinkets, mostly, more thought than present—and the twenty-fifth was fast approaching, it happened. Smiles were wider, tongues looser, thoughts happier. Aided by festive dish and sweet liquor. A toast was made, glasses and cups clinking together above the center of the table.

“Merry Ziellmas!” they exclaimed but a moment before fire and brimstone roared. War, dormant for most of the evening, reared its ugly head.

But they were none the wiser about the ending to this Ziellmas eve and that of their lives.

word count: 3089
Just because I shouldn't doesn't mean I won't.

Mortalborn Abilities | Die Roller | Capstones
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It's A Kind Of Magic....

Post 1: Challenging The Doors of Time

Off Topic
Please note. Faith and Padraig's posts both contain a combination of writing from each player. We've written one story from both perspectives, and therefore we've split it into two parts. In part 1 (this post) we explain the circumstances of their reunion. In part 2, we explore what happens when - as always - things start to go wrong. For the purposes of this post, Faith is known as Hope, although Padraig knows who she is... was.... well, you'll see.
The Waiting Seems Eternity.
The Day Will Dawn of Sanity

Hope's Letter to Professor Augustin

Dear Professor Augustin,

My name is Hope Mistral. You do not know me. However, I am a student and I am fascinated by your work. I am currently studying History, with a specific interest in the history of language. I have followed your work for a number of arcs now, and I would be very pleased to spend time discussing a number of your theories.

I am in the process of writing a paper on cryptography and its use in times of conflict. I understand that you are busy, but I would very much appreciate the chance to discuss it with you. I am attending the keynote lecture you are giving, and would appreciate some of your time before, or after. Preferably before, as I suspect that many people will wish to take your time and attention after.

I very much appreciate your time, if you can take some of it to give to me. I have been a follower of yours for as long as I have been able to comprehend the wonders of what you write. It would fulfill a most ardent desire, were I able to meet you.

With best regards

Hope Mistral.
Padraig's Reply to Faith
Ms. Mistral,

I am always pleased to hear from a fellow student, no matter their field of learning. While I have not studied history formally myself, it is a field which has interested me for quite a long time. As has language. Though I must admit that cryptology is a language that I'm much more inclined to grasp, given my field of study, than many others.

I am humbled to learn of your interest in my work, though I do not feel less than worthy of such praise. Nonetheless, I have instructed my assistant Cyrus to look into my calendar and he has informed me that he has been able to schedule a break during which we can meet, prior to my address. He has also instructed me that there is a small coffee shop on the northwest corner, directly opposite of the venue that would serve nicely.

Until then Ms. Mistral

Prof. P. Augustin
One Dream

Extracts from the diary of Hope Mistral.

I had the dream again last night. It’s always the same man, but as always, the experiences we’re running through are different. It’s so strange.

There are flashes of memories, snippets of them, flying past me and I can’t catch them. In this one, I’m walking down an almost-medieval street, clutching books in my hand. I can feel the hard ground beneath my feet, and my hair is in a thoroughly modern style; victory curls. I’m excited, eager. I get to the door, and as the door is opened by him. I’m on a boat, fighting with a sword! Creatures made from shadows, but there’s the man with me and his eyes are like molten brandy. He’s holding my hand, and we run, together, to the water. We jump in and I lose his hand. But soon, he finds me. He always finds me. Or, we always find each other. Next, I was running through the snow, and I had no coat, but I was running to the same house. He opened the door and wrapped me in a blanket. He gave me socks, thick socks, and told me to take off my ridiculous shoes.

Then, I’m looking at him, under a tree, I think we’re in a forest. He steps forward, and then he’s taking the baby out of my arms and looks down at it, I’m holding the other one, and their ours, I know that. Before them, or after them, there was another, but I can’t hold on to her. Kneeling, there, he looks up at me. It’s the eyes, it’s always the same look in his eyes. Flashes, memories, they keep falling in on me in the dream, but we’re running together as fast as we can. There’s a massive church and I’m speaking to what seem to be millions of people, and I can feel my knees knocking together, but he’s there. He pulls me ever onward, running together. There’s a grave, and a middle-aged woman with blonde hair and vivid make-up sobbing, we’re with her. Then we’re at her grave, I think, and always he looks the same. I never see a mirror in the dream, but my hands are aging, I go from young to old and people around us die, but he’s always the same. Our children grow old in front of me, but he never changes. The last image is always the same, he’s there with me when I die. “I’ll see you soon,” he says, and I seem to understand.

Then, it becomes that strange mausoleum-place, and the woman with the red eyes. She’s comforting, always so comforting and with her I feel safe. She asks me if I want to go back, reminds me that I can go forward, but I shake my head. I have to go back to him. The red-eyed woman puts her hand on my cheek and nods as she kisses my forehead. Then, she tells me to have faith, and I woke up. I was crying. I’m always crying when I wake from these dreams. Mother thinks it’s all the reading that I do, but I’ve had this dream since before I could read. It’s my first memory. Sometimes, those lives I dream of feel more real than this one. Mother worries, I know, especially since Father went to the war. She wants me to be out more, having friends, being like ‘other girls my age’

More and more, I feel like I’m waiting. I just have no clue what for. So, in the meantime, I will throw myself into my studies and become the best educated I can be.
One Soul

Time, for the son of Famula, was a very complicated thing. Some mortals when they were young, optimimistic and had stars in their eyes, were sure that they'd live forever. Padraig had often heard his grandchilren, great grandchildren and so on, wishing the same for themselves. They had no idea, he often thought, and ought be careful what they wished for.

Fifteen odd centuries had gone by for Padraig, not in one long stready stream, but in bursts and snippets. Blocks of decades; eight or so full of love and companionship with a loving partner at his side, then a long moment of grief followed by another few decades of waiting before it started all over again.

At some point along the way, Famula must have decided that 'as good as immortal' wasn't quite good enough, and she or someone in cahoots with her, had made it official. Padraig wondered if he'd ever see his sunset arcs, and knew that he probably wouldn't. And yet, his love had come and gone, and he'd had to witness the going, almost twenty times over now. He'd like to have said it got easier with each passing. But it never really did.

What got him through those decades without Faith though, was the absolute knowledge that Faith, under any given name and visage, would be born anew and would always come back to him. Famula's gift therefore giveth, and it taketh away. Before it gave back again. He'd concluded, sometime during the sixteenth century, that Famula was a sadist at heart.

Not that it was all misery, in spite of those periods that he waited for his love to return to him again. Sometimes there were children to keep him company, in spite of the fact that they outpaced him in apparent age and passed in their time. Of course, there was always another generation that sprang up to take their place.

But in spite of it all, there'd been plenty to keep an immortal scholar's mind occupied. At first, progress in science and knowledge had moved at an agonizingly slow pace. Sometimes it had even moved backwards. But from roughly the fifteenth century onwards, there'd been an explosion of knowledge, scientific discovery and progress that simply couldn't be stopped. And he'd been there for all of it. Some of it, he might like to think he was responsible for. In less than two decades, Padraig was sure, they'd be exploring the stars and the moon in person. And as troublesome as eternal life could be sometimes, he was determined to be in the thick of it.
One Prize,

Extracts from the diary of Hope Mistral.

I’ve written to Professor Augustin. I don’t imagine that he’ll even read it, let alone reply. After all, there’s a war on! However, I have to try. Mother thinks that I’m foolish, pursuing study even now, but surely now, more than ever, an understanding of linguistics, and history, is paramount. I can not claim a mind such as his, but I have been intrigued by his writing since I first heard his name. I firmly believe that mathematics and physics can work with language studies. I should have told him about the study I have done to understand his work, but I didn’t wish to appear as though I was bragging.
One Goal

It wasn't all smooth sailing however. Padraig had witnessed, and participated in any number of conflicts by now. And every one of them, someone had said, this will be the war to end all wars. But it never was. He fought in the trenches in some of them. Sometimes his love lived through those conflicts with him and fought by his side. At other times, somewhere in the world she was a child again, witnessing conflict through the eyes of a child. In either case, there was a five centuries old wardrobe upstairs in the master bedroom, that was filled with uniforms from each and every century. This one was no different.

Most times however he hadn't been in the trenches, or embroiled in the heat of battle. Padraig had learning that was useful in different ways, in different places and to different people and organizations. His grasp of alchemy, physics, mathematics and chemistry had proven particularly useful to whichever side he'd chosen to join. And sometimes had proven troublesome for the side that he hadn't. Most recently, he'd been able to confound the enemy with code. One that they'd never quite managed to figure out. At least not reliably. In part it was because he combined complicated number systems with ancient languages that few if anyone left alive these trials could begin to translate. And yet at some point he'd spoken them himself and quite fluently.

Of course, in an age where the old gods and wondrous creatures had been cast aside from reality and become myth, Padraig's habit of remaining constantly young, one generation after another, couldn't have gone unnoticed. Those who had drafted him into service had certainly taken note of it. But some of those in power were also those who knew the truth of it all. Privately, they believed. But for public consumption, they did not. Which made his very presence an inconvenient truth, but one that they chose to blithely ignore because of the services he could provide for them.

But while the war was not over, Padraig's part of it had returned closer to home in Rharne where he spent his time out of uniform in lecture halls. And he couldn't have been more pleased. The time was drawing near again when she would remember or think that she did, and return to him again. Faith was out there somewhere, and now with the arrival of the letter, Padraig knew. She'd come soon, and they'd be together again.
One Golden Glance...

“Mother, I really don’t need to see a doctor.”

“Doctor Phillips is just down the street, Hope. He won’t mind, I’m sure.”

“I have no need to see a doctor, I’m not unwell. There’s no point wasting his time, there’s a war on.”

Felicity Mistral looked at her daughter and her eyes narrowed dangerously. “I’m very well aware that there’s a war on, Hope. My husband and son are both there fighting, you may have noticed.”

“Yes, Mother,” Hope said with a soft smile. “I have noticed. Mostly since they are also my father and brother.”

“None of your smart talking, young lady. Just because you’re getting all educated and no one in the family ever has. I don’t know where it comes from, this behaviour. My mother wouldn’t have allowed it.” Hope nodded as her mother lectured her, mostly not listening, but rather running through the list of what she had in her bag. She looked up as she realised that Mother had stopped mid-rant and was looking at her oddly.

“What is it, Mother?” Hope asked, kindly.

“You’re not listening to me at all, are you?”

“Well, I am a little,” she said with a smile. “But mostly, I’m thinking about how I’m going to get to the train station.”

Felicity’s gaze turned to one of concern. “Hope, you are actually serious about just going, all the way to the City?”

Hope considered that the way her mother said it, it was like she was jumping through a portal into the unknown, but she said nothing about that. Instead, she focused on what was important and, pressing her hands together, the pads of her fingers pressing hard against each other, she lifted her eyes and spoke clearly. “Yes, Mother. I have to.”

Felicity shook her head. “It is obvious nonsense. I shan’t allow it Hope, and that’s that.”

Something ~ something unknown and before now unseen flashed in Hope’s eyes. But, rather than argue, she simply spoke quietly, firmly. Her fingers entwined one around the other as she did. “Mother, I have to. The name Cyrus. It’s … maybe it’s him. Maybe it leads to him. I don’t know, but I know that Professor Augustin’s assistant is important. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been so intrigued by the Professor’s writing all my life but Mother … please.” Suddenly, tears stood in her eyes. Hope never cried, it simply wasn’t her way, but her words dripped with emotions as yet unreleased from her lashes. “It is not a whim. It is not what I want. It is what I need. My soul needs to understand, Mother. All I know, all I’ve always known is that he makes the sun rise, and wobble in its orbit. I need to find out. Please. Please help me?”

All her life, Felicity had been pragmatic and sensible. She did not understand this heartfelt plea, but she knew one thing without a doubt. She loved her daughter.

“Very well. Get your coat, for goodness’ sake, Hope. You’ll catch a chill and you know how you hate the cold. Gloves and a scarf, too. Come on, we don’t want you to miss the train.”

Hope looked down at the table where she sat in the kitchen of the house where she had taken her first step, spoken her first word and lived her entire life. As the tear she shed landed with a tiny splash on the scrubbed-clean surface, she whispered. “Thank you, Mother.”
.... Of What Should Be

"I didn't always believe you, you know, when I was a kid." Padraig grinned a little as he climbed into the back of the 1920's automobile, pulled off his gloves and Cyrus followed him in and shut the door. While Padraig appeared to be not a trial older than twenty five or so, Cyrus was a tall and lean man of nearly seventy arcs, with a full head of white hair and laughlines etched deeply around his eyes. Obviously, his had been a complicated upbringing that hadn't gotten any simpler during his senset arcs.

After all, he was about to meet his mother again, twenty full arcs after he'd sat by her deathbed and told her goodbye. "What wasn't to believe?" Padraig joked, since naturally there'd been plenty. "I could hardly deny it once I grew older but you didn't seem to. But truthfully," Cyrus added in a more solemn tone. "It was only after mother died that I wanted it to be true." Cyrus had worried, the younger looking man knew, that he wouldn't live long enough to see his mother return.

"Long as you don't call me dad in public," Padraig quipped as the car turned the corner, onto the street where the lecture was to be held, "we'll be alright." Cyrus was, Padraig's lab assistant and general secretary. And it was all that the rest of the world needed to know. The only other person who needed to, would, Padraig thought, the second she laid eyes on her son. And then there it was. The coffee shop where a new cycle of love and companionship would begin all over again. They'd been her before, many times, and he wondered if she'd remember.

One Shaft of Light, That Shows The Way

Sitting on the train, Hope was unmoving. Her hands were clasped firmly in her lap, her back straight. She kept her eyes down and did not make eye contact with anyone, except the ticket conductor. The steady rhythm of the train allowed her thoughts to wander and she could not help but feel a surge of hopefulness. It had been the name; Cyrus. She knew that name, she knew she did and yet, despite her perfect memory, she did not know where from. It was related to him, she knew, the man in her dreams. Maybe this Cyrus was him or knew him or … something. She had no doubt that it would be, potentially, awkward asking Professor Augistin to meet his assistant but, with a little luck, maybe he’d be along too. After all, the Professor was a busy man.

Hope’s study of history had included fables and ancient stories of great beings, infinitely powerful and playing with the destiny of mortals. There were many of them, but she had felt a real fascination with a few. Famula, Vri, Moseke, Ymiden. Yvithia. The more that she’d read, the more she thought that perhaps Famula was the woman in her dream. The woman with red eyes. But they were only legends and myths. Why would she be dreaming of Immortal beings, along with the man who she believed - but did not dare to say - she had loved in every lifetime? The further away she got from home, the more she allowed herself to consider what she had known for a very long time, but not dared to admit even to herself. Somewhere, he was there and ~ as he said he would ~ he waited for her. He always had. Perhaps, Hope thought with an ironic lift of her lips, all things considered, she should have let her mother ask Doctor Phillips to check her out.

Her imagination meandered along as the train moved, the countryside giving way to a sprawling city. Steam and smog rose and Hope looked at the jagged skyline. For reasons she couldn’t quite understand, she looked up at the large blimps, and she smiled. None of this made sense, but she knew, she could feel, every moment of her life had led up to this moment.

And soon, her true life would begin.
No Mortal Man Can Win This Day

Once they'd arrived at their destination and their driver opened up the door at the curb, Padraig spared the briefest of glances at the centuries old structure across the street. It was a college, a very old institution of higher learning, and had served that purpose uninterupted since the very last brick had been laid. Amazingly, the construction had survived so well that it was by far the oldest surviving structure in the city of Rharne. Padraig had wondered whether or not she'd recognize it. She should. After all, if not for her, it would have never been built.

Inside that building was where he taught advanced astrophysics to aspiring space adventurers, and on occasions such as this one, he was expected to give another longwinded talk. Something he'd never really cared for in principle. But in practice, in spite of his distaste for public speaking, he seemed to have an unnatural talent for lulling his audience into a glassy eyed trance, and to leave them clambering for more.

There was already a buzz of activity in that direction, outside the building, but Padraig wasn't interested. In fact if he could have postponed the engagement, he'd have done it. But he'd done it before, and they'd sent out the hordes out looking for him. His mind though was on one thing, and one thing only. Or rather, one person and neither he nor Cyrus wasted any time getting into the coffee shop, and finding themselves a table with a good view of the door.

When the waitress came by, he ordered two cups of coffee though neither of them were interested. It was for appearance' sake and no other reason. "If she looks different, how will we know it's her?" Cyrus asked, while dropping no fewer than four sugar cubes into his cup.

Padraig merely smiled. "I'll know. It's not the coloring, the hairstyle or the current fashion. It's the heart and and the soul." They'd known each other, each and every time. And would, he knew, for another fifteen centuries to come.
It's A Kind Of Magic

There it was.

The coffee shop across the street, the place Professor Augustin had told her to meet him at. Hope knew that she was early, but somehow, she also thought that he would already be there. She looked at the place and pulled her gloves, smoothed down her skirt, and generally fussed with her clothing. Hope wasn't normally someone who cared about such things, but the sense of urgency which had built in her over the train journey was incredible. There was a near-overwhelming sensation of needing to get to him - who she assumed to be Cyrus - and to do so now. How could she make sense of it, she did not know and it had taken all of her self-control to go and check in at the hotel where she was staying, not simply come straight here. However, she had gone and checked in, and taken a few moments to make sure that she looked her best.

"You are being quite ridiculous, you know." Hope muttered to herself, irritably. Then, she wrapped her fingers around the lever and turned it. She heard the tinkling of the bell above the door, and cast her silver eyes around the place.

Then, she saw them.

She was normally pale, but all the colour left her face as a gasp escaped her. She couldn't move, simply standing rooted to the spot as she saw the elderly man and then, the man next to him. Those eyes, she met his gaze and she felt herself begin to sway, slightly. Her hands clasped together, pressing hard against each other as she saw him. "Padraig?" Hope ... Faith, her name was Faith, she realised ...Faith whispered and while tears threatened at the sight of him, it was the older man next to him which prompted the first tear to fall. "My.. Cyrus?" She couldn't move, couldn't stop staring and really didn't even notice that she was standing in a coffee shop.
To be continued in .... Love Exists
Last edited by Faith Augustin Champion on Tue Dec 10, 2019 6:49 pm, edited 1 time in total. word count: 4136
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Re: The Christmas Writing Challenge

Post 2: Love Exists

Off Topic
Please note. Faith and Padraig's posts both contain a combination of writing from each player. We've written one story from both perspectives, and therefore we've split it into two parts. In part 1 (Faith's post) we explain the circumstances of their reunion. In part 2, (this one) we explore what happens when - as always - things start to go wrong.
It Can Be Born, Anywhere

In the last place you'd expect

They'd been early, just five bits or so, but he looked up and knew her the moment she walked through the door. She looked just as she had, the very first time he'd laid eyes on her. His heart swelled when he saw her, just as it always did and he smiled. Cyrus stared in wonder, just as his father did, but he alone had grown much older now. However, he knew his mother when he saw her. Maybe he'd gotten a little dose of his Immortal grandmother's magic. Who knew?

She was as beautiful as ever, and by the looks of her expression, she knew him and her son as well as she ever had, all in an instant. Padraig stood up, and Cyrus after him. But it was only Padraig who joined her at the door while their son watched. Gazing into Faith's eyes, he smiled and took her hands in his. "Hello again. I knew you'd come. And it's about time," he teased. "I hope this is alright," he added with a glance around. "It's a coffee shop now, rather than a tea one. But as I understand it," he said, rekindling a centuries old good natured squabble as if she'd never been gone. "they serve very good cake and pie these trials."
In a way you'd never dreaml

The room, the people in it, the entire world fell away and she knew nothing more than her husband and her son. "Padraig?" This had happened before, she realised. "It's like... when I ... oh your grandfather was.." Memories, one after another fell in on her and Faith's hand in his tightened. It was a coffee shop rather than a .. "Tio's tea house?" she whispered and at the information that he'd arranged to meet her where they served cake and pie. Faith lifted her spare hand and, trembling, touched his cheek. There was a small part of her which almost believed he wasn't real and as her silver eyes gazed into his amber ones, he saw the tears of joy which sparkled there. "But you'd always rather savory." She smiled at him shakily and then turned her gaze away. There was really no one else alive that Faith would drop Padraig's hand for, but she did just that and flung her arms around her son. Apparently a half century older than her, Faith stood in the body of an eighteen year old with the memories of twenty lifetimes pouring in on her and as she held on to him, feeling his arms wrap around her, she was unashamed at the tears falling. "You're putting too much sugar in that coffee," she said, and Cyrus chuckled. Faith's hand reached for Padraig's and kept hold of Cyrus' in the other. Quickly, they were sitting down together.

"It's... I remember it. Oh, love." Faith's hand squeezed in Padraig's as she looked at their son. "This doesn't get easier. Now, you've got a talk to give?" Looking down at her hand in his, she smiled. "Mother isn't going to believe me. Oh dear." It was another war, that was all. Just another war and she knew that Padraig would be feeling the same. "Tell me?" Faith asked, looking between the two of them. "Tell me what's happening since... since I've been gone?" The waitress, Faith was fairly sure, was having a field day. But that was not important. "And... I look like me. I never look like me. Why do I look like me?" Faith asked, frowning.

It can grow from nothing,

Faith, or Hope as she'd called herself in the letter, remembered it all in an instant. Padraig could see it as plainly as this early Ziellmas Eve was a bright, sunny and mild one. But he'd had the advantage of forever keeping his memories steadily intact, even if he hadn't always been willing to thank his Immortal mother for that. How strange and unsettling it must be for her, to experience all of those memories tumbling over and around each other in an instant, all rushing back in at once.

He kept hold of her hands to help keep her steady. Especially once she realized that her own son, who might otherwise be old enough to be her grandfather, was standing just a few yards away. And now, she recognized the coffee shop as well. "Tio's," he said when she made the connection. "They've even branched into meat pies. I'd like to think it's because I once asked." She'd known his preferences well, after all.

"It's funny, isn't it?" he asked then, and they'd yet to move out of the threshold. "Fifteen centuries gone and it's the first time you look the same as I remember, so long ago." As to why that was, well he couldn't begin to fathom the reasons why. Meanwhile, if anyone was to overhear their conversation, they'd have an awfully difficult time explaining it.

And they should probably move away from the door. While they'd been standing there, a youngish woman and two men slipped into the shop, and had to maneuver around them to get by. The two men dressed in gray suits and fedora hats, the woman; pretty, blonde; stylishly dressed with heels and a fashionable hat on her head. Padraig hadn't given them a second look. Still..."Come," he said to Faith, and keeping hold of her hand, led her to the table where they'd join Cyrus.

Of course Cyrus immediately reached out, wrapped his arms around the much younger woman and pulled her into an embrace. "Mother," he said quietly. "I'm so grateful it's true." As they sat down and Faith mentioned her mother, Padraig grinned a little and shrugged. "I've lost track of how many mother in law's I've had now. Most men need only survive one in their lifetimes," he joked.

There was so much to tell her about the time that he'd gone on without her. Not the least of which was a tyrant having come to power, and his own sense of helplessness during that time, so far as attempting to stop it. It was a strange mix of tyranny and charm that had allowed it after all. But just when Padraig began to collect his thoughts in a way that he might put it all into words, Cyrus cleared his throat to get his father's attention. "Behind you...Don't look," he whispered, before his father could do just that.

"The three that just came in. The woman," he whispered again, and Padraig frowned. He'd barely registered their arrival after all. Rharne wasn't exactly the center of a combat zone at the moment, and there was less to worry about and be watchful of than elsewhere. Quickly, Cyrus pulled a pen out from his pocket and hastily scribbled a single word on a napkin before folding it and sliding it acrss the table to Padraig. The scholar opened it up to see, as could Faith at his side, and there was a single word written there Ember?

Of course to be sure, Padraig needed to see the woman for himself. Unfortunately the trio was seated at a table behind Faith and himself. Of course the memories had come back to her, and with them, the connection they shared. He knew she'd feel the sense of urgency and concern. "You have a compact?" he whispered in her ear, as if leaning over to give her a peck on the cheek.
And blossom in a second

They moved over to their table, Padraig's hand holding on to hers, and Faith thanked the Immortals for it. Without that support, she didn't know what she'd do. But they got there, and she immediately felt the tears overwhelm her at the sight of her son. "You're going to pull the mother-in-law card?" Faith said, with a smile. "Really?" Famula's son, after all, was what her husband was and as such, Faith felt that she had the mother-in-law situation sewn up nicely. But, her and Padraig's constant battling and bickering about who had the worst deal was a million miles away from her mind as she saw their son. She held on to Cyrus tightly, whispering into his ear. "My boy. Oh, my beautiful boy. You're so handsome." It was always unnerving this bit, now and for the next few weeks and months, she would experience flashes of things as they slotted into place. Yet, none of that mattered, nothing mattered right now. She was here, with them, and that was all that was important. "Oh, they make pies here," she said, as though he wouldn't know. Padraig knew that aspect of her, of course. That part of her which meant that she replaced overwhelming, impossible emotions with factual statements. Hugging her son tightly, she stepped back and looked into Cyrus' eye. "You like pie. Just like your father. You've both lost weight," she said, with a shaky smile. She blamed it on the lack of good cooking. She'd be remedying that.

As they got themselves together, though, she looked at the two of them. Oblivious was not usually something Faith was, but in this moment, she was so focused on her husband and son, on the myriad lives they'd lived together, she and Padraig, that she didn't notice anything else. "Tell me, how are the children and grandchildren?" Faith asked Cyrus. She meant his, of course, they were her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but probably best not to mention that too often in public. "Are there more that I don't know about?" She glanced at Padraig and smiled, slightly. She knew that he was thinking about things, pulling his thoughts together in order to tell her what was happening, what had happened, and all of those things.

But that didn't happen. Something passed between Padraig and Cyrus, and Faith heard the whispered words between Father and son. One word then, Ember? Faith had no idea, but she didn't need to. There were a hundred possibilities of what this was. After all, there was a war on, he was a high up well-renowned scientist who was involved in the government. But more than that, there was a single, driving force which Faith understood. "It's happening again? Already?" She gave Padraig a vaguely accusing glare but her eyes were sparkling with mirth as she looked at him. "You know," her hand was in her purse and she pulled out a compact. "We could have had five minutes, surely?" With a sense of confidence which she only ever felt in his presence, Faith turned her head and met his kiss, their lips touching. Then, she turned and leaned her head against his shoulder while she powdered her nose.

Cyrus watched them and Faith saw her son's expression. He'd seen the two of them work together before and there was no doubt that this was them. It must have been so hard for him, Faith knew. Padraig could see, in her mirror, that some kind of exchange was going on. Faith had a much more limited sight and Padraig could see "it", whatever it was, much more clearly. But as she sat and was quite content to do so, Faith saw one of the waiters moving forward, and there was something in his eyes that meant she spoke, softly and calmly.

"Look out," she said, and Cyrus turned, just as the waiter tried to grab him. Padraig's sight was lost as Faith launched the heavy mother-of-pearl compact at the waiter attacking her baby boy (seventy years old or not, he was hers) and it hit him, hard, square between the eyes.

Of course, that also meant that the woman started to move, the man who she'd been making the exchange with, too. And the burly gentlemen who'd been watching? They moved to block the way of any Augustin who got any funny ideas.

A Single Glance Is All It Takes

At some point between Hope, or rather Faith, asking about their children and grandchildren; of which there were many; and the note that Cyrus had slid across the table, something in Padraig's mind immediately switched gears. There'd be time later to speak of those who'd passed on and those who'd been born. Those who'd married, and so on. The single word, Ember, scrawled hastily, was all that it took.

The two of them, Padraig and Faith, shared a connection that was unlike that shared between most other couples, if any others. It had always been, and likely, always would be. She'd know immediately even if he didn't let on to the rest of the world, that something potentially dangerous was afoot. In spite of a rather benign inquiry about whether her nose needed a good dusting with powder, or not.

For all the world, they looked like a couple completely absorbed with each other. At least to those who lacked the keenest of eyes. But as he tilted his head closer to Faith, in the reflection from the mirror he was able to get a good look at the object of Cyrus' curiosity. A woman, two men. There'd been a photograph of a person of interest circulating among the higher ups in the military ranks, and among those who were deemed as needing to know. In the case of this particular person of interest, it was particularly critical that he know he'd personally been targeted by the enemy.

Dead or alive, preferably alive, and it wasn't hard to guess why. It wasn't just code breaking that the Embers were interested in. When Padraig wasn't developing code for use in warfare, he was tinkering with weaponry as well. The woman's disguise was good. It was very good, but not quite enough if one knew what they were looking for. How ironic that the woman would catch him here, now, just at the moment when he and Faith were reuinited again. Perhaps it was expected that whenever they were together, things happened.

But it appeared that it wasn't just the trio at the table behind them, who were in cahoots. But a waiter as well. Not the waitress who'd been hovering nearby previously, but another one that Padraig didn't recognize. It was enough to take notice of, but not quickly enough to avoid the man reaching out for Cyrus. Not surprisingly, Faith moved more quickly that Padraig or Cyrus either one, and she used the only weapon she was currently equipped with. A thrown compact, right between the eyes.

He'd have paused to congratulate her on her aim, but things moved too quickly to do it. By the time Padraig flung his chair back and got to his feet, the women and her two companions were already closing in on them from behind. But if they thought he'd do nothing, they'd have been better off thinking again. Or Cyrus, for that matter.

The son that Faith and Padraig shared might be seventy arcs old now. But he'd fought in the First Great War, was plenty proficient with a firearm, and as it happened, he was currently armed. Padraig however was quicker. Though it might not seem so at a glance. He lifted a hand, palm towards the woman as if in a bid to avoid violence. "We don't want any trouble," he said. But as he spoke, he curled his hand around a beam of sunlight slanting in through the doorway, and a firearm made of pure energy and light appeared in his grip. Gone were the trials when he'd summon a sword or a bow just as easily. And in front of Faith appeared a golden hued sheild, made of the same stuff.

"We don't want any trouble," he repeated, levelling the business end of his weapon at the woman's chest, while Cyrus reached inside the front panel of his coat and retrieved a more conventional pistol, which he kept trained on the man who'd attempted to grab him. Padraig carried a similar firearm, stored in much the same way, though there was no question that the weapon he'd chosen was the preferable one. It was unexpected and it's appearance was likely to buy additional time, by dazzling those who'd seen it appear.

"Move towards the door," Padraig whispered to Faith, though he wondered if it would truly be that easy, to just walk out into the streets and go on their way.
To get inside you

As much as she knew - or remembered - or knew and remembered this connection of theirs, experiencing it was something quite else. She looked at her husband and in that moment the world stopped. Her heart seemed to beat clean out of her chest. Faith remembered all the lifetimes, but she experienced her own feelings and then, she understood his. She understood his love, his devotion - literally undying devotion - and she knew that every moment of joy he was feeling now was punctuated by the pain of watching her grow old and die. He'd been with her every time, even though she'd begged him not to he'd hear none of it. Instead, he had simply insisted on living their lives.

And, of course, never going on dates. Through the lifetimes and arcs, there'd been a lot of dates. Ever had it been the same. Whenever the two of them got together in a public place and there was a threat of a romantic time ~ somehow especially on times like Ziellmas ~ weirdness happened. Pirates, cut-throats, bandits ~ but there'd also been the teleporting mad-man, the sudden influx of ghosts from a ouija board session gone wrong. That time that the opera he'd taken her to had been attacked by anti-Immortalists. It was across lifetimes and throughout the worlds. Dates, for them, ended in Trouble. Always.

So, when his mental state shifted to one of concern, Faith felt it and responded in kind. Her external appearance seemed not to change at all, but he knew that she was ready. Even if she hadn't thought it, hadn't been linked with him so closely, Padraig would have been in no doubt that she was when the mother-of-pearl compact mirror. "We're going to have to set another place at the table for Ziellmas Dinner," she said with a smile, casually, "unless you prepared for me? Did you learn to cook?" He never had. It was a matter of some principle to him that she was chef. She spoke calmly and then retaliated against the fool who had thought to harm a hair on her baby's head.

Twenty arcs ago, when Faith died last time, the Immortals had been more or less in hiding. Things didn't seem any different now, although of course there were those who knew and they were those who knew. Yet popularity had never bothered her Padraig and it didn't seem like it had changed any. So, he summoned a light-weapon and a shield for her. "It's not me that needs protecting!" Faith hissed quietly, but then there they were. Her husband and son, pointing guns at the people. People in the coffee shop which had once been Tio's Tea House in Rharne were still in shock, it seemed, and Faith nodded her head.

They moved, together, the woman watching him. Her eyes, focused entirely on Padraig's. The three of them were able to get to the door unhindered. Faith, however, had an entirely other idea. Padraig knew it, before she said a word. "You were right, Professor Augustin. It brought them out. Good work." The woman, who had largely ignored Faith till now, turned her ice blue gaze. "You're under arrest, we'll be taking you for questioning." Faith said with a smile. The blonde woman - irritatingly tall, Faith considered - looked at the diminutive human and asked with a sneer. "And what makes you think that?"

Faith lifted up the small bottle of perfume which she kept in her bag. It was a tiny sample, and although the woman didn't know it was - in fact - watered down eau de parfum. There was a war on, as mother told her. "Because this is the antidote to the poison in your drink." Faith said, softly. Looking at the Emberite with an unwavering gaze (not that Faith had any clue who she was), she used the mark of Gwelliph and she smiled. "You're already starting to feel the poison's effect. This is the truth, isn't it?" Cyrus kept his gun trained on the waiter, moving them together with slow gestures. Faith smiled, mirthlessly. "Take them in, Professor." As the woman looked away, Faith lifted a hand and blew, gently. The seed sleep of Moseke puffed out in a green mist-like smoke and the woman, and her companion fell to the floor. Faith raised an eyebrow. "On our way to wherever we're going, you can tell me who they are?" She hoped that Padraig and Cyrus had some clue about what was happening here. Because she certainly didn't.

Invading Every Thought

If the previous onrush of memory and understanding hadn't already caused Faith to feel overwhelmed, then this new development could certainly cause anyone's nerves to tip right over the edge. Except that Padraig's love was no ordinary person, even if she hadn't fully realized it yet, and he had an abundance of faith in her ability to adjust on the fly. In the thick of trouble, she'd need to.

She might have been sheltered from the war to some extent, where he'd been tossed headlong into the thick of it. In an instant it had changed for her, and the scholar felt partly to blame for that, simply by virtue of being present. There'd be an opportunity to apologize for that later. For now, it was organized chaos and more than one innocent customer in the small coffee shop was seen diving for cover when he produced the weapon made of pure energy, while a few others stared, fixated on the thing and fixed to their seats with nowhere to go.

But if Faith could sense his heightened sense of danger, she'd also realize that he'd sacrifice himself before firing off the weapon in a room full of innocents. Those who stalked and threatened them didn't need to know that however. Of course A mother's instinct was to defend her own child, regardless of however odd the age span between them. But Padraig knew what she did not about their most recently born son. In spite of his gray hair and the wrinkles that lined his face, Cyrus as a soldier himself, was as capable as they came. That knowledge allowed Padraig to focus on the problem at hand.

"He'll do more than hold his own," he'd have reassured Faith, had she worried about their son's immediate welfare. So they moved towards the door, the three of them, Padraig never lowering the weapon that he had trained on the would be assailants. He'd thought they'd just manage something of a departure by climbing into the car that he'd asked the driver to park just round the corner. But as usual, just as it always had been, Faith had other ideas and managed to slip right into character.

As if this had all been a ruse designed to flush out the enemy, and one that had gone off just as planned. They were under arrest, she told them. Good work, she said to them, as if she was in the position of authority here. If the circumstances had been otherwise, Padraig would have grinned and teased her. But this was not the time and he simply nodded, solemnly and said, "Thank you."

"Outside," he told them. 'Into the car." Of course the woman was skeptical and why not? She hadn't spent months laying low in the city, stalking him, observing the habits he kept, taking note of the places he visited in preparation for just this moment. But if Faith had no idea about what was going on here, she was doing a very good job of bluffing, and it seemed she was also prepared.

Perfume. It was just a bottle of perfume that she pulled out and threatened them with. And yet, he knew all too well that she had the ability to convince them otherwise. To convince them so readily that they'd been poisoned by just a sniff, that it would work just as handily, had it been the genuine article. Their eyes widened as they realized they'd been caught and had, and before Padraig could order them all out into the street, they collapsed to the floor, all of them. Of course that meant that they were now left with a handful of unconscious would be assailants, and there'd be no walking to the car or anyone else for that matter.

"Call the authorities please," Padraig called back to the waitress who'd been ducked down and hiding behind the counter since the scuffle had begun. Better to leave them in the hands of the law and the military anyway, Padraig reasoned. But at any rate, it was the end of at least one enemy plot to capture or kill a military asset, that being him. "Sirothelle. Embers," he said, quietly and just for her, as an explanation of who and what they were. "I tend to sleep with one eye open these trials. More popular than I'd like to be." It was putting it mildly to say the least.
And every beat of your heart

Two Days Later: Location: The Office For Immortal Affairs: Desnind
Security Clearance: Top.

"So, they did it?" The man who sat back in the large leather chair looked at his companion. The woman sitting opposite him nodded.

"Yes. Padraig has broken the code, we've been able to infiltrate Sirothelle. We have the Device." Famula looked at Vri and the two of them shared a communication beyond telepathy or any mortal understanding. She sighed. "I think he, at least, suspects that we created this situation for them."

Vri nodded, his pale face unreadable. "It is a price worth paying. They both know that. Besides, now it stops." Famula sighed slightly and her tone was sharp. "You forget. He is my son, she my Champion." Vri's dark eyes swirled like stars in eternity and his smile was mirthless.

"I do not forget," he didn't think she needed reminding that it would be rather ironic if he did, all things considered. Still, his tone softened. "So, they have served. You are happy. We will walk this land once more, the Final Battle is averted. It is well." He glanced at the window, out into the vast metropolis of Desnind. "We let them rest now."

Famula nodded. "And give them the same lifespan?"

Vri frowned. "Giving a mortal immortality is reserved for my champion, you know that."

Standing, Famula looked at Vri and her gaze was pitying. "It is not what I ask. I'm going to make him mortal. They will find each other next time, and the time after. It will be as inevitable then as now. But they will not know it. We give them a life, Vri. A life together and a death and another life after. That was my price, and you agreed." Vri sighed and nodded.

"Where are they?" The Immortal of Death asked. Famula smiled and shrugged. "I have no idea," she said honestly. "But I'm sure wherever it is, they're getting into trouble."

After all, thanks to the actions here, this war was averted. But the Immortals both knew. There'd always be another.
The ... end?
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Arlo Creede
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Re: The Christmas Writing Challenge


The Devil You Know


There was an old saying among the old timers. Better the devil you know, than the devil you don't. But after everything that he'd witnessed or even played some part in, Creed Ruloffsen had become convinced that the reverse, in this case, might just be the truer of two options. Now, during this winter of 1943, well within the occupied, newly expanded territory of Sirothelle, the high ranking Ember officer was rolling the dice, and putting that theory to test.

To turn back now meant certain death by firing squad. That's how the Embers dealt with their traitors. A public execution carried out in a crowded square was the most likely option, in order to make a public example out of him. That was the extent of his betrayal. Everything they needed to convict him; though a trial was just a formality for public consumption; he was carrying with him in the form of documents, missives, ciphers and photographs.

But if turning back was suicide, the path forward, towards those forces beyond the border with their eye on invasion, assassination or sabotage, was just as deadly a gambit. No question they'd be waiting for him, for better or worse. But then they could as easily shoot or hang him for war crimes as Valtharn would. What Creed carried with him was a temporary life insurance policy, a reason for them not to shoot first and ask questions later. No matter what deals had been made, the policy would expire the second he handed over all that he'd promised them.

The run for the border, mostly under the cover of darkness and begun a handful of trials earlier, was in itself a recent betrayal of Sirothelle, and of Valtharn herself. But the real betrayal had begun the moment he'd signed his name on the dotted line, had sworn the oath and had slipped on the uniform. And now, he only had to stay alive long enough to make the betrayal complete.

The Birth of a Traitor

For as long as Creed Ruloffsen could remember, he'd been different. Different wasn't a good thing to be, in or near Sirothelle. His parents and older siblings had done all they could to discourage his active imagination, lust for adventure and his curiosity about the world outside of Sirothelle, which most in those parts did not consider to be useful or even desirable. The distaste for the outside world had almost certainly been forged by the aftermath of the First Great War; that came with shortages, severe rationing and a wounded economy.

The boy learned quickly to keep his contrary inclinations to himself. His fascination with ancient history and obsolete religious beliefs and practices that Creed couldn't help but feel strangely connected to. Almost as if he'd lived through those things and interacted with those beings face to face.

Then there were the dreams. Vivid, immersive, beyond the ordinary. For as long as he could remember, in his dreams, Creed walked in places that when he woke, he was sure he had walked in before. No matter how impossible it seemed. But he was never a boy in his dreams. Always a man. An older version of himself, if somewhat unkempt and without discipline. Lifting swords against foes and beasts that he'd only read about in books that his parents said were nothing but made up nonsense. Sailing the vast oceans, dropping anchor in harbors, beside great cities that he could find on a map, but only dreamed about visiting.

There were other more modern seeming dreams. One that particularly plagued him was of an explosion during what must have been the First Great War. One trill he was that scruffy grown man setting a timer while perched high upon a bridge rail somewhere near Sirothelle. The next, a woman's voice called out for him to get down and take care, and then....Boom! He always woke with a start, in a sweat when it happened, bright, white flashes of light before his eyes and then...nothing.

But as soon as he drifted back to sleep, a being larger than life was there to greet him. Tall and muscled, wild and adventurous looking with tokens strung round his neck and woven into his braids. "Well then," the man would say to him. "That went badly didn't it? I think we'll give you another go. See how it turns out next time, son." The Immortal Cassion. Somehow, Creed knew it and even stranger, he felt a connection much more complete than he did with his own earthly father. Not that he'd ever dared to say it. Some things were better kept to oneself.

But the single constant was a woman. A beautiful woman with a fair complexion, freckles across the bridge of her nose, curious eyes that shifted in color and a crown of wild, glorious red hair. She was a presence that that would invade each and every dream as he grew into a man, for good or bad, and her image was one that both fascinated and haunted him.

An unusual boy, and one more likely to battle the tide than not. Those who'd known Creed Roluffsen from his childhood onward, would never be able to say they were shocked by what he'd ultimately done. In fact, some of them might swear that in retrospect, they'd seen it coming all along.

Rising in the Ranks

From the moment the Embers appeared on the scene and began their rise to power, the Roluffsen family, all of them save one, became true believers. Truth, hope and patriotism, for them, dripped like honey from Valtharn's lips. Naturally, being human, they were among the chosen ones. So why not? Only Creed, the youngest of three sons, looked on with a dark sense of dread as his fellow citizens became trapped in a trance-like state.

Not that he dared allow his parents, or anyone for that matter, to know how it all repelled him. It was as if there was a ticklingl deep in his subconscious: We've been here before, tyrants and monsters have been and will always be a silver a dozen. It was a dark foreboding he couldn't quite shake, even when his older brothers rushed to join up and his parents looked on proudly. They were the chosen ones. But Creed understood that for every chosen one, there were those who were not.

He'd considered leaving home. He'd even thought of joining those who were already coming together in opposition. But something compelled him to stay, and to do something. Something Creed couldn't begin to fathom back then. But more and more frequently, the wild Immortal who'd called him son would appear in his dreams each night. "This is your chance," he'd say. "What a grand adventure it will be."

And so a plan began to take shape. One so dangerous that it boggled the mind. But then Creed had begun to sense that somehow, he'd been in the world before, and had never gone at anything in half measures. It might even have been the death of him once, and might be again. As soon as he came of age, he made his mother and father proud by joining the Embers and starting his rise through the ranks.

Creed was a exemplary soldier, and an excellent marksman. He was liked by his fellow enlisted men, and later, by his fellow officers. Whatever his assignment, he applied himself so diligently that he was sure to gain the notice and approval of those higher up. It was a dangerous game he was playing; a long game. But once started, there was no going back.

A Plum Assignment

The trial that he'd finally reached the rank and position he'd been working to achieve all of those arcs, was the only time that Creed had ever paused to reconsider his plan of action. Maybe it wasn't too late. He hadn't done anything yet, mostly, that could be called treason. He'd been careful, only reproducing or altering documents and missives that wouldn't be missed or traced back to him.

He could become a model officer in earnest, perform his duties without question, and retire a peaceful life without the specter of certain death looming over him. But by then, Creed had seen too much. Too many crimes, too many atrocities. He'd even taken part in a few, though he'd done his best to minimize his involvement. But to remove himself from those things absolutely, would be to attract suspicion and a quick end to his plans. The only way he could live with himself now was to carry on as planned, so that the good he did in the long run might overshadow the bad.

So when offered a position at Valtharn's side, as head of her personal security detail, outwardly he was proud and humbled by the promotion. Privately, it disgusted him. But he also knew that finally, he'd be able to play a small part in ending it all.

He'd worked hard to keep his record a spotless one and as a result, Valtharn was inclined to trust him. He accompanied her everywhere, along with the men he commanded. His family had never been prouder. Private gatherings and public dinners, speeches for the masses, journeys in lines of cars and trucks along the roads of Sirothelle from one place to another. He was always there. Where mass rallies were organized and televised, he was there at her side. By then, the opposition would have become familiar with his face as someone in Valtharn's tight circle, for better or worse.

He was, in fact, close enough to have killed Valtharn himself. He might get away with it. But Creed understood something important. Valtharn inspired others to follow and to believe. She was good at it. But so were others. It wasn't the woman so much as what she represented. In a sense, Valtharn was a figurehead. Cut her down, another would spring up to take her place. To bring down the Embers for good, Sirothelle itself had to fall.


As Valtharn's head of security, Creed was in the position of viewing every document that passed to her or her staff from elsewhere. It meant that every letter, every map, photograph, every note about every moment and gathering, movements of troops, passed through his hands.

The game had become even more dangerous. But Creed had connections of his own. There were precious few that he could trust, those of like sentiment. And they were invaluable to him. He'd managed to get hold of a small camera. So small that it fit neatly in the palm of his hand. With that camera, he recorded every scrap of paper, every map and every photograph that crossed his desk. Later, he'd pass the film off to one of his contacts, and there, the journey into the hands of Sirothelle's enemies would begin.

He didn't know at first whether his efforts were successful or not. Not until one trial on the road, when an official caravan was ambushed from the treeline. At just that bend in the road that he'd made note of in one of his missives. It was a failed attempt on Valtharn's life, since at the last minute she'd chosen to travel in a different car than her usual. But there'd been a lot of damage and a number of officers killed. The enemy had seemed to go out of their way to avoid killing him. Though he'd been wounded, a flesh wound to the shoulder. He'd wondered if it had been deliberate. A way to avoid him coming under suspicion, should he be the only one to emerge without a scratch.

After that, he doubled his efforts as the war itself seemed to rage more furiously than ever before. It was necessary, but on the other hand, it made it all the more likely that sooner rather than later, his position would be compromised. It was inevitable and he knew he'd be forced to flee towards the border, and straight into what Sirothelle considered to be enemy territory. He had to be careful, to avoid waiting too long. Should others become suspicious enough to arrest him, it would be too late. And yet he needed an insurance policy for himself. Something so valuable to the allies that they'd rather him alive than dead.

It was a tricky balance and the timing was so critical and fragile that he came too close for comfort to losing his opportunity. But he'd gathered what he could, sent off a message and a request through one of his contacts, and prayed that it got there in time. Otherwise, he'd arrive at a location of his own choosing, only to discover he was on his own. He'd be at the mercy of the Embers and Valtharn's fury at being betrayed by one of those closest to her.

Taking Flight

Creed left his home in the middle of the night. He'd rolled his officer's uniform into a tight bundle and stored it at the bottom of his leather sack, and opted for clothing more usually worn by common laborers. He slipped out onto a dark abandoned street, under a moonless sky, and began the long walk, through narrow alleyways and abandoned, ruined courtyards, towards the outskirts of Sirothelle City. In four trials, it would be Ziellmas Eve. Just four short trials to reach his destination in time.

He'd chosen Ziellmas Eve, having decided that if there was ever a night to go undetected at such a critical point in the journey, that one was it. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement among all combatants, that on that night, the killing would cease and all men would be of good cheer. As if it somehow redeemed all the killing and murderous mayhem of previous trials and arcs, and all that which came after.

But in the meantime, he'd be a man hunted with soldiers, guns and dogs. His fate at the hands of Sirothelle's enemies was just as unsure. But Creed could do nothing else but hope, and put his faith in the promises of others who might or might not have any interest in his long term survival.

The Ziellmas Miracles

The distance that Creed needed to travel in just four trials was troublesome. He'd had no choice. His departure from Sirothelle City had been delayed by a full trial. He'd already managed to attract the attention of the authorities, and their suspicion. They'd been watching him more closely than ever. It was only by chance that between one streetside observer and the next, there'd been a gap of ten bits or so. It was the only chance he'd get, and he'd taken it.

It was a journey that would have been difficult on foot under ordinary circumstances, even had Sirothelle not been at war. The terrain was marked by thick forests, deep rises and falls and fast moving rivers. And it was the dead of winter. The landscape was one miserable, endless sheet of windblown ice. It would take a miracle to get him to his destination on time, and another one to stop them shooting him on sight.

He stuck to wildlife trails through the wooded areas, or sometimes the narrow, back country roads. Creed avoided the main roads at all costs, even the smallest of villages or places where people tended to gather. By slipping out of the city undetected, he might have bought himself eight breaks or so before they'd have noticed he was gone. At best. But by first light, they'd have sounded the alarm. They'd have searched the city first, but eventually there'd be soldiers patrolling the roads and the countryside. They'd know by now as well, the extent of what he was carrying with him.

It was mid-morning when he realized, deep in the woods, that he was being followed. Much of what he'd been, Creed had left behind. But he wasn't stupid, and had brought his firearm with him. When he'd stopped in his tracks and turned on his heel, it was with his handgun at the ready. But what he saw there wasn't a man at all. It was a dog. A large one, the likes of which had been used to keep order on the streets, on the railway platforms and in the camps. The animal looked as if he too had been traveling for some time. Creed shook his head and put the weapon away. "You shouldn't be sneaking around like that. I've shot lesser than you without a thought. Deserting?" he asked. "Can't blame you. Get out while the getting is good."

It was only then, when the dog tilted its head and its tongue lolled out, almost as if it was smiling, that Creed noticed the homespun collar the animal wore. Woven leather, strung with beads and polished stones, their centers worn through on a riverbed. And it struck him. Images of the Immortal Cassion in his dreams, the man who'd called him 'son'. Those were the things woven into his braids. Creed was still staring in confused wonder when the dog rose up off it's haunches again and sauntered past him. As if to say, follow me. And when Creed turned, he spied an old beaver felt hat that had been snagged and left behind on a branch, at some point or another. It made no sense. Not the dog, not the collar, and not the hat, which fit as if he'd worn it for all or most of his life. And yet, all three things sparked something that was just out of reach. Some memory that wasn't his, and yet felt completely familiar.

At any rate, it was good to have company, and the dog seemed somehow to know where he'd been going all along.

Few people were as familiar with Sirothelle's train schedules as Creed Ruloffsen was. He'd rather not the reasons why, but in this case that knowledge was critical to his escape. There was a time, before joining Valtharn's security detail, that he'd been assigned to overseeing the boarding of the trains that carried the undesirables to their final destinations. Not that they knew it in the beginning, and he'd been part of the lie that convinced them there was nothing to fear. At first, he was as ignorant as them. But once he'd learned the truth...It was the nightmares that kept him awake at night. He might have fled Sirothelle then. But instead, he'd resolved to work harder than ever to help end it, no matter how small his part.

By mid-afternoon, he was nearing the location where he knew a train would pass through. The trains were always on time. At the beginning of a steep rise, the conductor would be forced to slow the train down and by Creed's calculations, it would be just slow enough if he timed things correctly. "Sorry pal," he said to the dog as he crouched down behind a row of hedges and waited while the train began rumbling through. "I'm going it alone from here." Strangely, instead of waiting by his side, or later, trying to run and keep up, the dog simply let out a single woof, wagged it's tail and trotted off through the trees without him.

There was no time to reason why the dog had left him so easily. It was now or never and as the train's last car, a cattle car filled with humanity began to pass by, Creed leaped to his feet and made a run for it. What a sight he must have been. Someone trying to get onto a train headed for a camp near the border, rather than running away. Dozens of sunken and miserable eyes observed him in wonder as he ran to catch up and jumped on, clinging tightly and pressed against the back panel. Desperate hands reached through, grasping onto his clothing, both trying to keep him in place, and pleading for help.

He'd only planned to jump on, then make his way along the sides in search of an open cargo container to hide himself in. After all, the train was heading in just that direction he needed to go. What Creed did next, however, had never been planned. It was impulsive, and possibly foolish. But he knew their fate as well as they did, so before he left them, he pulled the pin loose on the back panel lock. Without it, the gate could easily be pushed open. "When you reach the top of the rise, the train will slow down. Now or never. It's the only chance you'll get," he told those who were standing closest to him, and then he left them to it. By his calculations, as long as he wasn't discovered or forced to bail early, he could remain hidden on the train through the night. All the more ground covered that way, and finally he'd be able to rest.

It wasn't a comfortable way to travel. Creed couldn't risk sliding the cargo door shut. Someone would notice and sound the alarm. It was cold, windy, miserable even as the frozen countryside raced by. But it was better than walking the whole night through, out in the elements, and he'd managed to sleep for a break here, another one there. By mid-morning into the second trial, he'd traveled a great deal further than he ever would have on foot.

Up on his feet, he'd leaned out to have a look. He'd have to jump at just the right moment, and hope for the best. The train was approaching the edge of a rise and if he went there, he could quickly roll down the hill and out of sight before he was seen. His timing was impeccable, but unfortunately his form left something to be desired.

As soon as he hit the ground, he landed hard on his feet and never mind the sturdiness of his boots, Creed felt his ankle jar and twist. He hissed through his teeth to stop himself shouting any number of curses aloud, but as if it add insult to injury, the mishap caused a clumsy head over heels tumble downhill, rather than a gracefully controlled roll. At the bottom, a good sized stone was waiting to give him a knock on the head.

It was dawn on the third trial when Creed opened his eyes again. Not in a crumpled heap in the woodlands, as he'd have expected to be. But instead, he was laying in a soft, warm bed, a cozy fire was roaring in a nearby hearth, and the scent of mediocre cooking had invaded his senses. His clothing had been removed and was folded neatly on a chair, and several of his recently acquired wounds had been tended and dressed.

"It's about time you woke up," said a woman, who'd been tending something on the stove. She turned round, her eyes fixed on him curiously and wiped her hands on her apron. "It appears you'll live after all." There was something about that voice. The sound of it instantly struck a chord deep inside of Creed. Mother. But that was impossible. His mother, not this woman, was back in Sirothelle the last that he'd heard. He struggled to sit up, and she scurried to his side.

"Not so fast. You've had a good knock on the head." It took a few trills for the room to stop spinning, for his vision to clear. Once her face came into focus, Creed's eyes widened in surprise. That face, like the voice, the imitation pearls that she wore round her neck..."I know you," he said quietly. She only smiled and tutted, "Don't be silly. You've been out cold for a good trial."

A trial? All that time gone. Temporarily, the sense of odd familiarity gave way to more urgent matters and he began to swing his feet off the edge of the bed. "I have to go. Now," he said. As was, he knew he'd never make it in time. Were those who'd be there to meet him, wait? He Creed couldn't take that chance. "You won't get far in that state. You'll get back in that bed while I get something warm in you," the woman said and returned to the stove to ladle up a bowl of thin chicken broth. "It's not much, but it will do you good."

Creed was more concerned with getting out on the road again, than about whether he could trust her or not. If she'd wanted to alert the authorities, she'd have done it already. But glancing towards the table nearby, he saw his opened sack. The documents that he'd brought with him were scattered across the table's surface. She knew. Or thought she did.

The woman pushed the bowl into his hands. "If I was going to turn you in, you'd be on trial already." Creed didn't say anything. Much better not to. "That's risky business there. From what I can tell, you were heading for the border. You're lucky it was that found you. Anyone else, and they wouldn't be wishing you good luck. I'd drive you there myself if my husband's old car wasn't left useless in the shed."...
It was midnight when Creed left the little house in the woods, and waved his thanks to and farewell to the woman. She'd insisted he stay for the rest of the trial, to rest, and then leave under the cover of darkness. At first, he'd said that it hardly mattered anymore. He was a dead man either way. There was too little time left to reach his destination on schedule. To make things worse, he'd sprained his ankle after his tumble from the train, and it would slow him down more.

But the impossibly familiar woman, had insisted that he take her old mare from the barn. Peg, she called the sorrel mare with the shocking blue eyes. Yet again, Creed felt as if he knew the animal and even more strangely, she knew him. There was no time to reason why, on either account. He'd thanked the woman before saddling up and riding off into the woodlands.

It wasn't long before Creed realized that that the ground he was covering, wasn't on any of his maps. He'd planned so carefully, but hadn't counted on being dragged off the beaten path. More time lost. But as soon as he thought of reining Peg around and doubling back, there was that dog again on the path just in front of him. "How did you..." he said, but found himself at a loss. It was impossible that the dog could have traveled so far across difficult ground, then found him again just a trial and half later. Yet there he was, barking out a greeting and trotting off down the trail.

By now, Creed had decided that there were some things he'd be better off taking on faith. Too many questions, and no ready answers in sight. So where the dog went, he followed into more familiar surroundings. It would still require a miracle, was he to reach the rendesvous point on time. He'd never believed in things like otherworldy intervention. But with each bit that passed, it was becoming more difficult to maintain a reliable state of non-belief.

If Not for Bad Luck

By Creed's calculations, so long as he could keep Peg on pace, it would take another break and a half, maybe two, to reach the rendezvou point. Not enough time, but it was all he had. But then, for no reason or rhyme, the old mare stopped dead in her tracks. No matter how he nudged and conjoled her, Peg refused to move. His temper had grown short and he dug his heels in and cursed, "Move dammit!"

Peg's retribution was swift and merciless. The mare's eyes rolled back in her head, she pinned her ears and reared up before launching herself into a full bucking fit. Twisting, turning in every direction. Creed Ruloffsen was a seasoned soldier forged in battle. An exemplary officer and an expert marksman. What he was not was a horseman. In spite of his best efforts, he was unceremoniously tossed from the saddle and dumped onto the thin layer of ice on top of a slow moving stream. As Peg turned tail and bolted for home, the ice cracked, and Creed found himself neck deep in an ice cold drink.

Climbing out required little effort. But he was left soaked to the skin. He knew if he didn't act quick, he'd succumb to the freezing night air in no time at all. There was no other choice. He'd dug into his sack and pulled out the uniform and the boots that he'd sworn he'd never put on again. The risk of being spotted in uniform and easily identified was almost worse than the thought of freezing to death. On top of it, the minutes continued to tick away, along with his chances.

In order to cut what he could off of the rest of the hike, he was forced to take to a dirt road along the rise. His only hope was that it was close to midnight on Ziellmas Eve. Surely the roads would be completely deserted. The world was white all over. He could barely see three feet beyond his nose. But then, the faint sound of an idling engine came from behind, and suddenly, twin headlights came on just as he turned round, and he threw up an arm to stop the glare.

Before he could bolt into the trees, yet another maddeningly familiar voice called out. "Not a fit night for man nor beast. You look like you could use a lift. Climb in the back. The dog too." From Creed's perspective, he'd just met his savior, or the man who'd drive him to his execution. He could shoot the man and take the truck. But something unexplainable compelled him not to. "It's just a few miles up the road," he said while climbing into the back. "I know the way, and you'll get there on time," the man with the pipe clenched between his teeth said while slipping the truck back into gear. How could he know? It was impossible and yet something told Creed that it wasn't.

And just as promised, the truck came to a stop at the top of another rise, and the man leaned out the window as Creede and the dog jumped down. That face. He knew that face. Just like the woman, the mare. But "I know you," Creed said. "But how?" The man only chuckled and shrugged. "Maybe it'll come back to you. Name's Jon. Meantime, get going or lose your chance...And son?" he added just before Creed disappeared into the trees. "I'm proud of you."

Dreams, meet Reality

Just a quarter mile into the hike, the dog that had become a welcome companion over the past few trials, suddenly stopped just behind him. Curious about why now Creed turned round, only to find that the animal had been transformed. The Immortal from his boyhood dreams, Cassion, stood there in it's place. Oddly, under the circumstances, smiling at him. Creed shook his head in wonder. "You. All this time, I thought you were a figment of my imagination."

The Immortal grinned and let out a laugh from deep in his chest. "I'd have liked that better, had it come from the sweet lips of a pretty girl. But fair enough. I'll take it." Everything that had happened during his flight from the Embers, the odd and the impossible, came rushing back to him. "Was it you? All of it? How?"

"All you need to know right now," the Immortal told him, "is that everything that's happened, every bit of your life, all that you've done has brought you to this moment. But from here, you'll need to go it alone." The Immortal talked of destiny, but in riddles. "I don't understand."

"You will," Cassion said, and then he vanished into the air.

The Devil You Know vs. The Devil You Don't

The time had passed for asking the reasons why, and it was running out fast. Creed sped his pace so much as he dared, and he figured his destination was just a head. A quarter mile, maybe more. He didn't dare give over to relief over caution however, and kept as keen an eye as possible on his surroundings. Winter landscapes in winter however were tricky things, and could hide a multitude of sins. In this case, roughly two dozen of them, half each on opposite sides of the clearing.

The faint, muffled sound of a firearm being primed and readied got his attention quick, and thinking he'd been hunted, caught up with and spotted, the traitor in Ember officer's uniform reached for his pistol, swung it into the direction of interest and crouched low to the ground. And then everything went to ruin and chaos in an instant, while men shouted and bullets flew through the clearing in each direction.

In spite of his first impulse, he hadn't walked into an ambush created just for him. Instead, he'd strolled right into the middle of a would be skirmish between those he'd betrayed, and those he'd been looking to join. He was wearing his uniform. One side saw an Ember officer. The other saw a traitor. He wouldn't be doing himself a favor by calling out to either of them, Don't shoot! I'm on your side! So was this his destiny, the culmination of all of his actions, for most of his life? To reach the end, only to die and be filled with bullet holes courtesy would be friends and foes? The Immortal Cassion seemed to have a fine sense of humor. But surely even for him, this was too much.

He'd rolled out of the way of the worst of it, and found a low hanging shrub to partially conceal himself. Neither side must have expected what he did next. But Creede was the most surprised of all. He'd recognized voices, he was familiar with some of those Embers, the ones that shouted Traitor! in the thick of it. He'd served side by side with them once. And now, he turned his weapon on them, and started picking them off, one by one.

And when most of the shooting was over, it was those who'd come from Desnind that won victory that night. What Embers hadn't been killed, had retreated into the forest. And there he was on the ground, shot in the shoulder but alive, and dressed in full Ember regalia right down to the medals pinned to his coat. "Drop your weapon, Ember scum!" a soldier shouted, the man's rifle focused on Creed's own forehead. He complied. And did the same when getting up on his knees as instructed. Similar, when told to place his hands behind his head. "Don't shoot. My name is Creed Ruloffsen," he said. "Ask. They'll tell you I'm meant to be here."

To several of them, the name meant nothing. And hardly a thing more, to know that when he'd fired his own weapon, it had only been Embers he'd shot. "What do we do with him Captain?" one man asked. "Shoot him," the captain replied.

Redemption, or Reckoning

From the moment that he'd put on the uniform and began putting his plans into action, Creed had always known that this moment of truth would come. He would live to witness the fruits of his labor in action. Or he'd die at the end of a rope or the business end of a revolver. Right there in the snowy wilderness of Sirothelle. He'd told himself that whichever the case, there was value, and good, in what he had done. His own survival, or demise, wouldn't change it. And so he'd been prepared for this moment as best he could be. He'd resolved that should it all end this way, then he'd be damned if he begged for his life.

He didn't. When the order to shoot was called, Creed was halfway to expecting that this how it would all end. And just when the muffled click of a firearm's slide reached his ears, a sure sign that he had seconds, if that to get right with his maker, another voice in the mix brought everyone up short. A woman's voice, which at that moment seemed both vaguely familiar, but then, not. At any rate, for the moment, the woman who pulled rank seemed to be the only thing standing between him and a bullet to the head. If temporarily.

The exchange was a fascinating one, which he'd have felt more engaged in, had his own life not been dangling there on the outcome. In the shadows, it was difficult to see her clearly, but she didn't lack spine. The voice alone, or rather more unfamiliar tone of it, told him that she wasn't one to be trifled with. That she was a woman and not a man, didn't give Creed a trill's pause. Not even when she fired a bullet past the nose of his would be assassin. He'd fought beside women on the battlefield a number of times. They were as capable of ruthlessness as well as any man. Under certain conditions, even more so.

But then she shifted in the dim light that reflected off the snow, and from beneath the front of his uniform hat, he could see her more clearly. The eyes....Those eyes. And the braid over her shoulder that was the same as...Something happened then. Something that had seemed inevitable and was only waiting for just the right moment. And apparently, this was that moment, with him still on his knees in the snow, hands raised and clasped behind his head. Memories, emotions, sensations rushed over and filled him. All the things he'd dreamed from the time he was a boy, becoming reality in an instant and overwhelming him. So much so that they dizzied him and he rocked unsteadily on his knees while trying to get to his feet.

It was all too much, and almost as if in a trance, he staggered to his feet, grabbed the leather sack that he'd tossed aside during the skirmish, and stumbled after her, past the men who'd just been robbed of their opportunity to kill him. He followed her at first, just as ordered, but silently as his mind reeled. Faces, names. Nella, mother. Jonas, his earthly father. Cassion, his Immortal father. Even Peg. And the face that had haunted his dreams for as long as he could remember. Was this what the Immortal Cassion had meant? That everything he'd done, and been in spite of all else, was for this moment? They hadn't even made it to transportation yet when he uttered quietly, "Vega?"


She stopped, but didn't turn to look at him. Creed knew that her mind was reeling, trying to sort it all out. He was still caught up in the process as well. She was Vega. And him? He knew now. His name was Arlo. Or at least it had been, once upon a time.

There they were, standing in the middle of a forest path, still within the dangerous territories of Sirothelle. But those thoughts were miles away at that moment. "You died," she said quietly. Died, and she'd had to go on without him, and it changed her. For all intents and purposes, the Vega she'd been once had died with him. Except that Creed realized that just as he'd been reborn, she herself had been forged anew. They were the same, and yet different. Both of them.

"I did," Creed said. "I died, and though I didn't know it till now, I was remade. Even now, we're more alike than different." When she spun round to look at him, he could see the mixed emotions in her swirling eyes. And they arced off of her in reddish gold sparks. She hadn't changed as much as she thought she had. At least if memory served him. "I should have died a dozen times more on the way here. But the fates stepped in at every turn to make sure that I reached you." Though he hadn't known it, until just a few seconds ago.

"We're different. Both of us. Something tells me that maybe we can resolve those differences together?" It was a very large ask. She'd either melt into his arms, or she'd punch him for being presumptuous. And just as it always had been, Vega did both. There was a wollop behind the fist, but he caught her soundly and wrapped her up in his arms.

And it was only then that Creed understood. No matter his accomplishments, no matter where life had led him or how he'd gotten here, there'd always been something missing. A hole in his heart or his soul, it's jagged edges worn and dulled by time, distance and an inability to see. Until now when he wrapped his arms around her on this white Ziellmas Eve in enemy territory. Suddenly Creed was whole again, in a way he'd never once been during this lifetime. There were cracks and narrow gaps where the pieces came awkwardly back together again. But Immortals willing, in time, they'd smooth out those edges together.
Last edited by Arlo Creede on Wed Dec 11, 2019 12:21 am, edited 3 times in total. word count: 7157
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The Ghost of Ziellmas Past

Arlo was dead, to begin with.....

In the quiet and dark of her room, Eva Creede stared out of the window with an expression which seemed to be of pure fury. It had been thirty years or more since she'd cried and she wasn't about to start now. She stood, her back straight and her eyes ablaze with swirling, complex emotions. In her hand she held, with the gentlest touch, a photograph of a young man. Not of any young man, of course, but of Arlo Creede. However, Arlo had died, she'd seen it. Yelling to him to get down, he hadn't damn well listened to her and the bomb had taken him. All the Immortal heritage in the world wasn't bringing him back from that one and so, in the Great War, Arlo Creede had died.

And with him had died Vega Lei'nox. She'd always kept her name, for the thousand years they'd been married, she'd been Lei'nox. Yet, now, she had a new life and her old name. Eva Creede. Looking down at the photograph one more time, she picked up the tumbler of whiskey and drank its contents in one gulp. The liquid burned her throat in a welcome discomfort before the pleasantness of the taste. Lifting the bottle, she poured another then she put the photograph down. In a voice that no one alive had heard, Eva Creede spoke. "I swear to ya, Arlo Creede, if this Creed Ruloffsen is you, I'm gonna punch you righ' into next Ziellmass. This is right flibberyin' my gibbet this is. You'd better still be dead, cos it's not funny, this, if you think yer havin' a giraffe. I'm gonna kill you with yer own intestines."

Looking at the photograph, Vega abandoned the tumbler and lifted the bottle to her mouth. But still, no tears fell. When the morning came, the bottle was empty.

A Ziellmas Carol
After the Great War, Vega Lei'nox had more or less disappeared. She hadn't, of course, that wasn't something that you could really do as easily as in the good old days. Yet, she and Arlo had been working within the intelligence and dark ops areas of the military and so, they'd helped her. They knew who she was, what she was, and what she could do for them so they didn't argue. In fairness, they did the opposite and gave her whatever she wanted. Because whether she called herself Vega Lei'nox or Eva Creede, she was a dangerous woman.

It had been a dark time for her, in fairness.

She and Arlo had been together since Vega was 20 arcs old. Now, at over a thousand, she was alone. It wasn't something she did well, and it wasn't something she took to. Solitude didn't bother her, they both had needed their own time and space. No, it was the lack of anything else which was the issue. Self-inflicted, largely, of course. Arlo had been so much more than her husband. He had been her first - and for a long time her only - friend. With their lifespan (and her temper) friends had not happened for her often and so, with his death, her isolation had increased. She didn't want friends, she didn't need them. They could - to coin a Vega-ism - jog right on.

So, with a new name which was an old one, Eva Creede had thrown herself into her training. They'd worked together previously, at those jobs which were too difficult, too specialist, too dangerous for anyone else and they'd done it damn well. But now?

Now, she was hurt and she was angry and if anyone got in her way, Eva Creede had no problem with taking care of them. She'd sing them a Ziellmas Carol as she did, her lilting voice evidence of her lack of concern, because she didn't care one bit whether they lived or died.

Unless they annoyed her. Then, they died.

So, she'd come to be known by the code-name "Fox". Maybe it was the red hair, Eva figured, maybe it was her ability to infiltrate almost anywhere, but it suited her and people called her it. Over the next few arcs, she'd been given increasing "dark ops" missions and she'd made it home successful every time. She had killed who she needed to kill, silenced who needed to be silenced. Usually, those were the same thing. She'd learned disguise, stealth, assassination. Those things that Vega Lei'nox had been so bad at. But Vega Lei'nox lived in a different world and, as she so often said, needs must when the devil drives.

The Chimes
So, Eva Creede aka "The Fox" had really been born on that cold and miserable trial that Arlo Creede had died. Yet, there was something which she hid, even from her superiors, something which she would have only told Arlo, even if he'd still been here. On the trial he died, the glowing dragon on her chest had faded and all but disappeared. Eva had felt dismayed and betrayed, yet even in the darkness, there had been that one, glowing freckle. Her "Magic Freckle" they'd called it.

The Great War had ended and, after far too much bloodshed and needless loss of life, the chimes of peace had rung. She wanted to believe it would last, but she didn't. They didn't. There were dark forces rising and Eva knew. Things weren't done yet, not by a long shot. So, in the arcs between the Great War and this one, Eva had worked tirelessly. She'd gathered intelligence on codes and cryptography, which had been passed on to Professor Augustin. She'd never met him, but she knew who he was. He was married to Arlo's friend after all and, after a while, those who had an eternal life - or near enough it seemed - popped up here and there. She'd found plans for a bomb, and sought out wells and other things. Eva had been behind enemy lines more times than she could count and always, always she'd got the job done.

It didn't matter to her who she had to kill - so long as it wasn't children. The Mortalborn of Children, ironically and cruelly childless, would not harm a child, or allow one to be harmed. They'd considered a court-martial when she'd apparently calmly stabbed a commanding officer through the neck for telling her - when she'd refused to harm a child - that it was an order and she would do as she was damn well told.

"No," Eva had replied calmly, in her well-enunciated and clipped accent. "I am the Fox, and I go where I want." They'd never asked her to harm a child again and there had been no charges brought. Maybe because she'd have done it anyhow, but either way. Either way, she knew. The hurricane would begin again and then? The chimes of peace wouldn't last.

They never did.

Cricket on the Hearth
And then, this war had begun. In a way, Eva welcomed it. Better to know who you're fighting, after all. Better to see it. She was uniquely placed to gather information and, as the darkness in Sirothelle had grown, she'd done her best to quash it. But her best had not - she knew - been good enough. There were rumours of dark things happening there and so, Eva had been dispatched.

This time, she'd had to build up a network. It had taken months and seasons. Tiny bits of information here, tiny bits of information there. Each one coming from a different place. It had taken a long, long time, but she'd built up a network which had sung like a cacophony. Each one the tiny chirping of a cricket on the hearth, but together they made a symphony. A symphony which she reported back. There had been things which needed to be done, things which Vega Lei'nox would not have considered. But Eva Creede knew that it was necessary; she had to do everything she could to end this war because every minute that it continued, people died. Good people. People like Arlo left people like her alone in a world which made no sense.

So, like a spider in the middle of a web, Eva Creede had built up her network. Again, in the time she had - in almost every available moment - she had continued to develop her skills. There had been a number of extraction jobs to do - either Desnind agents working as spies in Sirothelle, or Faldrun's own who needed to be persuaded to part with information. Eva had become well-known for them, and she was effective. But she had rules. Mostly, they were straightforward and her commanding officers stuck to them. She worked alone. Always. There had been offers of partners, suggestions of people to work with over the years, but Eva had refused. Point blank. It was non-negotiable for her.

No other people. She didn't like them, didn't want them and had no intention of watching them die because she messed up. That was rule number one.

Her second rule was that she did things her way. If they didn't like that, that was fine. They could either live with it, or they could get someone else. Those were their only two options. There'd been a commanding officer, a few arcs ago now, who had tried to tell her not just what to do, but how to do it. Eva had refused, he had insisted and she had calmly taken off her jacket, put it on the desk, and walked out. They'd come looking for her within a week, of course, because the war effort needed her and, so, she'd added an addendum to her rule. She didn't work for that idiot again. Ever.

Then, there was the third - and final - rule. She would not harm a child, or allow a child to be harmed. It was simple, it was clear, and after the throat-stabbing, no one argued it. So, she'd worked. Never stopping, never resting. Others wondered about her, but no one knew. Not really. So, Eva built up her network of information, of informants, of people who knew people who knew people who knew things.

It was invaluable, and being Faldrun's daughter, red haired and foul tempered had helped.

Battle of Life
So now, she had to extract this man. This man who looked like Arlo. Vega had memorised the name, Creed Ruloffsen, she'd read the intelligence reports and she'd done everything she could to get completely up to date on him. Apparently, he worked for the right side, but his birth was marred by a family who were far from likely to make you think well of him. But then, Eva Creede knew that people in glass houses should get dressed in the basement - and not throw stones. So, she put aside that thought.

She had to get to the rendezvous point and so she made sure that she was there and in plenty of time. Once they were over the border, there was a hidden bunker she could get them both to. Hidden in there were motorcycles which they would take via a different entrance and she'd get him out. Eva was on her own motorcycle, and she was making her way to where she'd meet Creed. Trying not to think about how much like Arlo he looked, trying not to remember the sound of his laugh or the feel of his arms around her, Eva Creede mumbled a prayer which she'd whispered every night since the night he'd died. "Look after 'im, Cassion," she said, her face hidden behind her scarf. Maybe that explained the thick and heavy emotion in her voice. "Wherever he is, look after 'im an' tell 'im I love him. He knows that, I know, but it's easy for him to forget, an' I bet your realm's got dozens of beautiful woman. Trixie an' her knockers better not be there." It was impossible not to feel, but Eva simply ignored the emotions which bombarded her. "Look after 'im. Tell 'im to stop bein' such an' idiot an' jus' be happy."

Every night, she'd prayed to her father-in-law. When Arlo had died, Vega had spied a mangy-looking dog and she'd been more than half-sure it was the Immortal. But that was probably just wishful thinking, she knew. Still. She continued, as she always did, with her closing sentence. "An' Xiur, I'm righ' sorry I let you down. There's jus' no hope without him, you know?". Unaware of the glowing freckle on her chest, Eva Creed paid attention to the dusty road in front of her as the rendezvous point approached.

She'd stopped living, she knew, the moment he had. Every morning, just getting out of bed was difficult. Each step hurt in a way which no one could understand and yet she carried on. One foot in front of the other. She wasn't ready to fight for this Creed Whatshisname, or even really the war. Eva Creede was fighting because only when she fought, only when she was in danger - those were the only times she felt anything. Anything at all.

She was in a battle for her life. For feeling. And every day, a part of her knew the simple, sad truth.

She was losing.

Haunted Man
Eva Creede was at the rendezvous spot for maybe twenty minutes before movement in the treeline caught her eye. There, in the snow, stood a dog. Not just any dog, of course. No. The one - the exact same one she'd seen when Arlo had died. Looking at it, Eva frowned. "If you think I'm falling for any kind of funny business, you can think again. I know how long dogs live." Yet, she turned around suddenly as she heard, from all around it seemed, the deep and hearty chuckle of her father-in-law. Eva's hand dropped to her firearm, but then she looked back at the dog and it gave a single - almost amused - wuff and then turned and disappeared.

But it left paw-prints in the snow. Clear ones. She thought about it, considered, and then sighed. She already knew what it was that she was going to do so, she pulled her coat tight and dropped her long flame-red hair down over one shoulder - it was braided and out of the way. Then, she began to follow the tracks. She didn't see the dog again, but the trail it left her was just that. A trail - and as clear a one as she could wish.

She heard voices, mumbled at first. Then, there was the sound of gun fire and Eva sped up her feet. Not so much that she was sloppy because, judging by the distance she heard it from, it would be done by the time she got there. Still. She moved and then, there they were. Desnind's troops victorious and there, one wounded ember and ....

It was the cold of Ziellmas, but that was not what froze Eva's heart, turning her father's curse into ice not fire. He looked so like Arlo. He couldn't be, she knew, even if the dog had been there, and even though she had never wanted anything more in her life. He couldn't be because, if she thought for even a trill that he was and then he wasn't? If that happened, she'd die. Not figuratively, not metaphorically, but her heart would break and that would be that. So he wasn't Arlo. He wasn't some reincarnation or rebirth of the man she'd shared a thousand years with.

He was no one. He was nothing. He was a haunting of a memory. Because anything else, and she could no longer exist.

Hard Times
"What do we do with him Captain?" one man asked. "Shoot him," the captain replied.

The woman who walked out of the treeline was tall. Slender and with flame-red hair which fell in a braid over her shoulder. She wasn't wearing a uniform, rather she had on a pair of black trousers, skin-tight, and a white blouse tucked into the waist. Her eyes were swirling colours, black, a vivid turquoise blue and a deep mustard yellow. She didn't look at Creed.

"Hold your fire," she said. One of the soldiers, either ignoring her or not hearing her, continued to raise his gun. There was a shot, a single one, and while Creed might expect to find himself dead, he was still there, kneeling with his hands behind his back. There was a gun in Eva's hand which simply hadn't been there and the soldier - who had literally felt the bullet whizz past his face - had wide eyes. "I'm here to rendezvous with this man. He's in my custody now." The captain, whose own expression showed his surprise, turned and looked at her. "And you are?" He asked, not lowering his weapon.

"I'm Agent Fox," she said, nothing with pleasure that the captain took an involuntary step backwards. She didn't look at the prisoner. However, she spoke to him. "Our transport is this way. Come with me." That said she turned and started to stalk off.

"Wait," the captain said and Eva stopped. She didn't look, she didn't ask, and Arlo noticed that the captain looked a little unsure of himself. But it was like he couldn't help but ask. "Is it true that you killed General Smidt?" One eyebrow raised and Eva's hand twitched, just ever so slightly. "Yes," she said and, just as she started to walk again, the captain blurted out, "Why? I mean ... why?"

Turning to look at him, Eva regarded the captain with an expression of pure contempt. "He delayed me by asking me stupid questions, so I killed him." She paused, just for a few seconds. But a few seconds was all it took. "Slowly." The captain nodded once in a 'good to know' sort of way and said no more. "Try and keep up." Eva said, addressing Creed but still not gazing at him.

And then, she began the walk back to their rendezvous point. They were still behind enemy lines, so they were still in danger. So, she kept her eyes and ears open and didn't think about the fact that the selfish bastard even had the audacity to smell like Arlo.

Great Expectations
They'd been walking a little while when he spoke. Just one word, but it was enough. "Vega?"

She stopped dead in her tracks. No one knew that name, no one did. Her back was straight and her stomping as purposeful as it had been the trial they met when he'd jumped down from his tree-branch. But at his word, her shoulders pulled back and her head lifted, but she did not turn. She didn't turn to look at him, because if she did she wouldn't be able to speak.

"You died," she said, softly. "You died an' I had to live without you. An' I did. But I died with you, an' I'm not her any more. Vega died, an' .. an' now you think... well, she's dead Creed Rullofsen, an' she was replaced by me." She stepped forward, kept on going. She had to keep on going. She had a mission, he had information. How dare he? How dare he be Arlo? How dare he!?

Embers flew around her, sparking off her as Vega suddenly turned and spun on her heels, looking at him. Fury filled her eyes, from which tears poured. As once she had, on an island in Scalvoris, she felt a total confusion as to whether she wanted to thump him or kiss him. Her legs couldn't move fast enough to close the gap between them and, as then, she did what she would always do.



He'd spoken, but she hadn't really listened. She never did, after all, and the blood rushed in her, pounding in her ears far too loudly for her to be paying attention. His arms wrapped around her, even after she'd punched him and Vega clung on to him. There, as the snow started to fall again, she allowed herself to cry, for the first time since he'd died, and she held on to him as their lips met. One shaking hand lifted up and stroked his unruly hair and Vega smiled. "Eva Creede. That's what my name is here. Vega, again, now." She looked at him and she wanted to tell him, more than anything, just what she felt. But Vega had never been good with words.

"Right, well, lets get home then," she said, gesturing around. "Bloody hell, I've missed your cookin'. I tell you what, to celebrate? Lets get a turkey?"
word count: 3579

Vega's skin has a reflective metallic sheen with a red glow. Her eyes still swirl biqaj colours, but one colour is always bright red which glows like fire. She has a bright red glow in her chest, situated directly under the mark of a heart (Daia mark) in the middle of a glowing silver dragon on her chest (Xiur). She's unnaturally warm to the touch
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Re: The Christmas Writing Challenge

Of A Prince and Princess

Of an age long ago, in a land that has had its' names changed during generations of the past through war and diplomacies
A look into the introduction of two esteemably great nobles.

It had been a very long day, and she was quite sure that if the horses found one more pit in the road to jounce the carriage wheels into, she would be permanently bruised. The carriage was, of course, suitable to transporting royalty, with cushioned seats and comfortable interior. But it was time that slowly wore away even the most stalwart patience. It wasn't exactly the proudest day of her life, either, and she was prone to being a little cranky under the circumstances.

Today was a day unlike any interest of peace. And oh yes, she did sparkle, being coifed to look her very best. She was renowned throughout her land and others for her beauty, and today she was dressed to the nines, to impress and show what a true prize the country of Corione had won for itself. Adorned in crushed blue velvet, finely-carved facial features. Lips painted a dark red, eyes highlighted with kohl, everything set just right. She was a vision to behold, though the look in her grey-blue eyes at the moment was not one to be trifled with. Emotions ranging from outright indignation to trepidation to simple discomfort ranged across her face as she glowered at the Kistrel diplomat who was her escort to the castle of the royal family of Corione. Completely ignoring for the moment, the small servant girl who sat upon the seat next to her, hands folded demurely in her lap and short legs swinging slightly, feet not touching the floor.

Then eyes closed, and a small, slow sigh escaped the Princess. It was like a nightmare. She was to meet the man she would marry, someone she knew nothing more about than that he was a big soldier in his father's army... and that army had been days away from crushing her homeland. She had slender and delicate hands, long fingers with perfectly manicured nails. But they were currently clasped onto the fabric of her dress, fisted tightly in the velvet as if to draw comfort from it. She couldn't even see the border they were approaching, that the diplomat assured her they were close to arriving at, as the sun began to set. Curtains across the carriage windows protected her anonymity. It wasn’t for the common folk to know what precious cargo was transversing the land, though surely all had heard about the royal wedding to take place in one week's time, she thought wryly.

Who was this... Crown Prince, she wondered, then straightened her back and perked up slightly as the clatter of hoofbeats beneath her burst into a cadence and rapport that indicated they had crossed from dirt roads to cobblestones. They had reached the border... and her new home. What a thought, with clenched teeth and mental gathering of thoughts. It would not do to show her discomfort, her anger. She must put on a good show, for her father, for her country, and for her own pride. She would not disgrace herself. [d]

Upon a hillock not far away from the border where the two roads were designated to cross generations in the past, was mounted the crown prince whom many had heard tales of his epic battles upon the fields in the recent battles of the ongoing war between the two kingdoms. Even now, below the hill where men of his legion had set up a brief camp for the night. The camp was his to view from the vantage point he held as her carriage merged into the cluttering crescendo of cobblestones below. The dignity of the carriages' drivers was noted, the infringements of fear already glistening within the man's eyes notable even from this distance as a warriors bred to kill, whose blades had already massacred many of the drivers countrymen already. The tinge of fear thus entered the air, though the bearance of honor and fate in the codes of civility were being clung onto as soldiers leaning on their spears with the hang of their shields adorning the side of their bodies began to be passed as the carriage continued down the road. Squads of the legion had been sent to the very borders edge to await its' arrival. To ensure it entered his country under protection. It was also for the sake of honor, and display of chivalry that they stood in trained precision and attention. The remainder of his men spanned the borders open lands.

Lands already torn and pillaged by the war. Splotches of earth were charred from fires, whilst across from him, on a distant hill a once thriving farmland was nothing but trampled earth, and crumbling walls that were black and lifeless. The trees in this area as well had been chopped down, and put to use for warfare purposes. Thus it was not the prettiest of sights. Unlike the carriage, and more so the delicacy that was known to the prince's eyes to be held within it. Despite the cold, heartless climate that was surrounding him, a life that had become well known to the young noble, the adorations for such a beautification in women was openly desired when they were within the splendors of the castle.

Even now, the bronzed depths of his eyes were centered upon the carriage, spanning its' sides to seek a glimpse of the princess within whom would be bearing his heir, and every emotion of satisfaction and love that would be able to be drawn forth from within the hardened shell of the softer side of him deep within the confines of the battle-marred armorments that were being worn this day. Early in the morning there had been a brief skirmish, a last plight to kill him that had left some blood freshly splattered upon his armor, now a darkened stain of droplets and spilt life. It was a common sight to find on his men. A handful of which were mounted on gallant steeds beside and behind him. All of whom were armored as he was, ceremonial emblems and etchings chiseled into the heavy metal of their platings of armor that otherwise shimmered beneath the remaining splendor of light that was emanating from the distant horizon where a firey hue was in the skies, and that sizzling orb was sinking out of sight. Campfires were beginning to be lit up along the countryside by his men, and perhaps the warring one across the border.

A truce had been called for a week whilst the marriage would be impending to its' end. And at that point the war to be called off, and peace finalized. The heels of his boots, leathered with attachments of plates of matching prestigious armor dug into the flanks of his steed which lifted its mantle of long sable hair from its residue of attention upon the earthen ground below where it had been seeking remnants of grass to munch upon. The steed cantered down the hillside with agile skill. The sound of heavily laiden horses pursued him as his men kept him company until the carriage was reached. His men at that point split up and circled it, ensuring there would be no surprises, even whilst foot soldiers lined the spanning road beyond them. A warrant of awaiting death was in the air, being breathed upon and remnant upon sheathed blades and spear ends that were hoisted and kept in the air. The carriage was commanded to come to a stop. A regal and overly confident tone, fluent with a dialect of a tongue that mastered well the sabotaging of a womans' boredom and inflicting her with the knowledge that the speaking tongue was threatening to make her heart stop with promisings that it wanted to delve between her thighs for a taste was slipped into the air, sent to joust the curtains of her carriage to the ears of the woman within.-"...Hail, my eyes await the sight of a princess...'

It was perhaps best that the curtains were drawn, and her eyes couldn't see the devastation that had befallen her country along its borders. It likely would have brought tears to her carefully made-up eyes, for until now, she had been shielded in the family castle, and had not been privy to the horrors of the war being waged. She was her father's pride, and he did not want her to be tainted by the true evils of the world. However, that desire was overridden by the desire to stop the war altogether, and so here she was, being thrust into the very evils she had been until this moment shielded from, as an offering upon the altar of negotiation.

The carriage flowed to a stop at the command of the soldiers, and she suddenly found a lump forming in her throat. Her back straightened even further in absolute tension, like a string at the top of her head had tightened and pulled her into absolute perfect posture. The diplomat whom accompanied her even went so far as to reach out a wizened hand and gently pat her delicate and slender hand in comfort. Then the door of the carriage was pushed open by that very same diplomat, and he exited the carriage to do the appropriate announcements. The man was an older gentleman, dressed in the same level of finery as the princess, though his garb was more to the tune of diplomatic robes of a dark burgundy. He bowed his head with great respect to the Prince, expertly hiding his discomfort and trepidation behind years of experience at difficult negotiations. "Good evening to you, Lord Prince. I hope this evening finds you well. I pray that your inspection of Her Grace be quick, so that her delicate sensibilities need not be wounded by the sight of such... base violence." A smile offered as he diplomatically pleaded for the princess not to be exposed to the war torn lands for long. "May I present Her Royal Highness, the Princess Auralia Josephine Genevieve of Kistrel." His hand reached back as he took a small step back, and Aura knew this was her cue.

For a brief moment, she wondered if perhaps she could disappear entirely if she wished it enough, then she rose to the occasion. Her soft, small hand reached to take the offered help, though inwardly she always grated at having to act so helpless. Velvet and satins shifted as she slipped forward in the beautiful but cumbersome gown, first one, then the other slippered foot coming to rest on the cobblestone of the path. Her head was bowed, only taking a glance at the Prince through her long eyelashes, as was a perfect court curtsy. She spoke then, her voice not high and girlish as so many princesses tended to be. But instead, her voice was a bit deeper, with a throaty smoky undertone to it, still beautifully feminine but with a hint of the exotic. "My Lord, it is an honor." The first thing she could smell was blood. And she hadn't quite gotten her courage up enough yet to look the man straight in the face.

The Exiting of the two diplomats was an unspoken relief to the prince and his men who surrounded the carriage. They had been also waiting for a crossbow, or a few men worth of crossbows to jut out and comit some suicidal attempt of killing the prince with them at the sake of their own life. The war placed such paranoia into his mens' attention. Instead, they were blessed with one of the most gorgeous and welcome sights that had come to their eyes since they had luxuriated in the courts of the castle days to some, weeks for many others if at all. Even these men, had not seen the likes of a princess so well kept and placed into a state of pristine that came out of the carriages' threshold even now. Gasps were heard being released by a few nearby men to the sight, whilst a few horses lost their footing and had to step this way or the other commiting the sounds of iron-shod hooves clicking upon the cobblestones.

The steed beneath Rahmor remained perfectly trained and acute to all differences. It was laiden with its own ceremonial entrailings of oiled leathers and canvasing cloths that portrayed his insignia of lineage and kingdom, replicas were worn upon the handful of other horses that remained vigilantly at the ready surrounding the carriage. There were intricate detailing's about the princes armor that kept him different than his men. Gold had been melted, and painted into many of the engravings chiseled into his armor for decor and exhibition of wealth that demanded respect from the foot soldiers they normally rode amongst...even taunting those they fought with, loot that they could make away with if killed in combat. Nor were they laiden with courtly niceties, the coldness of war was equipped upon his saddle, a bow and a laiden quiver of arrows. A lance that was harnessed in back of him reached into the air with proclamation of a banner fastened onto it's impaling end high above him. A helmet had to be removed, now that the threat of death was void from occuring.

As the shimmering roundness of metal was slidden from the entrails of intricate chain-mail links, it was sent to his lap where a gauntleted forearm rested with the newfound perch. The movement was not just this, but also a merit to her beauty as particular fascinations from the depths of his being were already warming to thoughts of having her, and the etchings of the unseen taking place in the lap beneath his helm began to trespass the aura of physical certainty and enter the silent coherency that was sent with his attention to the awe inspiring woman now before him. As if there was with only the necessity to have her so deeply within his sight that that inner yearning was warmed to, and felt significantly enpowering him with the aid of his lusts that were already wanton to be quenched with a woman of such exquisite exoticness.

The hood of chain mail links was tugged upon by his other hand to let it fall into caught place around the burl of shoulders layered with decored plates of steel and leathers that intensified the sight of him to many of his opponents that the man beneath such was well layered with muscles to so easily maneuver beneath such enlaidenments. Eyes of those depthed bronze auroras remained upon her, and no one else as she courtesied, and the endowments enpressing against that plush material of velvet at her chest was his to view in full dignity and appreciation that ignited pridefully upon sly and promising lips that lifted all so very cleverly that she was indeed more than beneficial for the purpose of making peace between the two kingdoms. Sable locks of thick long curls weighed lightly before his eyes as he shifted to gain all the more sight of her before him. His cheeks were clean-shaven and darkened some from the sun's berating illuminance from days past. The linings of a well-trimmed and narrowly teasing beard traced the linings of his jaw, and circled his maw. Many women were caught by his attention alone, his eyes a devastation to their innocence, and fallen prey to their devourance many a times.-"...The Gahds have blessed your father with the makings of an angel..."

word count: 2639
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Re: The Christmas Writing Challenge

The Last Seer


Shortly before the turning point of the war.


The palace of Valtharn, daughter of Raskalarn, leader of the Embers and the most powerful woman in the world, had been lavishly decorated in a mixture of gold and green and red, and there was even fake snow here and there so that it looked like some sort of exceedingly luxurious winter wonderland. In the foyer, a Ziellmas tree that was at least ten metres high and decorated with a hundred alchemical candles and priceless ornaments stood.

The trial before, a couple of Aukari and human children, carefully chosen for their pure-blood ancestry and their perfect looks, had been allowed to visit the palace and eat dinner with Valtharn. They had received gifts, and a photographer had taken pictures with Valtharn and them that would appear in newspapers all across Sirothelle – and beyond.

The media were an exceedingly powerful tool, and Valtharn could be quite charming if she wanted to, hiding her true, cruel and sociopathic nature behind a radiant smile. She wasn’t smiling now though. Instead, she was sitting in her private chambers, her head bent over a map of the known world, furrowing her brow. Instead of the black plate armour that she had worn in the old world, she was dressed in an olive-green military uniform that was decorated with countless medals.

Unlike some of her Mortalborn brethren who insisted on dressing as if they still lived in the Middle Ages and making a fool of themselves, she had decided to go with the times and adjust to the modern world.

She was currently busy deciding which country she should conquer next – because Sirothelle wasn’t nearly enough.

At least she was busy deciding which country she should conquer next until the wall in front of her suddenly began to turn transparent. She was about to open her mouth and call for the guards, but closed it again abruptly when she recognized the man that stepped out of the portal, confidently, as if her palace really belonged to him, and the entire world was his playground, as if he were her equal and not some sort of curious little upstart that had suddenly crawled out of the gutter some twelve-hundred arcs prior.

Even after all the centuries he still looked like he was in his twenties, she observed. In fact, he looked better than she did, which irked her. These trials, he hid his strange violet eyes behind a fashionable pair of tinted glasses as anything magic-related would attract too much attention in a world where magic had almost disappeared. He wore an expensive suit – in a rather flashy kind of red – and shoes made of leather. On his head was a hat with a black Avriel feather.

„You“, Valtharn spat, her eyes ablaze.

“Yes, me”, Devin replied, smiling brightly, as if he had not noticed that the most powerful woman in the world was currently quite irritated and strode into the room, taking a look around as he did so, noticing the Ziellmas decorations and the fire that burned in the fireplace.

“Devin Thorn, Son of Zanik, Chosen of Delroth, Beloved of Edasha and, quite possibly, the last true seer since our mutual friend Ziell decided to go into hiding, just like the rest of the Immortals”, he said, as if he wanted to remind her who exactly he was, bowed in a somewhat exaggerated fashion, plopped down on the sofa next to the fireplace somewhat unceremoniously, draped an arm across the backrest and eyed the papers that were lying on the table, next to the map, with unmistakeable interest.

Valtharn quickly grabbed them so that he would not be able to take a closer look at them and asked, “What do you want?”

“May I?” he asked and grabbed a Ziellmas cookie from the bowl on the table in order to munch on it. It looked quite delicious, with glossy white icing and almond and chocolate chips, and it was shaped like a little Ziellmas tree. It looked really nice in his opinion, like a little work of art.

“So”, he said, with his mouth full – etiquette was superfluous in his opinion - and patted the spot next to him, inviting Valtharn to sit with him. “I saw something again – something really important - and I might be willing to tell you what exactly it was. I might even be willing help you prevent it – if you give me something in return.”

Valtharn did of course not sit down next to him. Instead, the daughter of Raskalarn crossed her arms over her chest, sneered and told him in no uncertain terms, “I could just throw you into prison and force you to tell me what you know. You know what my domains are.”

Devin momentarily stopped munching on his cookie and nodded.

“Torture, murder, yadda … yadda … yadda”, he said and pretended to stifle a yawn in a somewhat exaggerated fashion before he grabbed yet another cookie, put it into his mouth and turned to face her again. “Do I have to remind you what happened the last time you tried to lock me up? You can’t keep me imprisoned and turn me into your little pet seer, my dear.” She opened her mouth, as if she were about to say something, but Devin wagged a finger and shook his head. “Don’t even think of mentioning the chains.”

“They don’t work either, you know?”

“Besides, it’s Ziellmas. We are supposed to be nice and peaceful and pretend to get along”,
he reminded her.

Valtharn closed her mouth again and glared daggers at him before she asked him, with gritted teeth, “What do you want, Thorn?”

“Let’s see”
, Devin murmured and grinned. “For starters, I’d like to become the next Pope or whatever you call the foremost religious authority these trials. I’m sure you can arrange something. I miss preaching to the masses and such. And I want you to make me your co-regent. I think that would only be fair, considering the magnitude of what I saw in my vision. I’ve always wanted to rule one trial. I’d be like King Cassander and Queen Emerson in one person, only prettier – and alive!”

“You do remember Queen Emerson, right?”
he asked. “She was the religious leader of Rynmere, back when the Immortals still showed their face every now and then and lots of people had magic and such, and you didn’t have to hide your Blessings. By Delroth, I miss that time!” he exclaimed, momentarily feeling a bit nostalgic and wistful.

Of course, he had been far less powerful back then. He had still thought that he was a mortal, the son of a builder that had grown up in extreme poverty and often been ridiculed as a child because of his old and unfashionable clothes. He had not yet been aware of his divine gifts. He had just been a young man with a penchant for lying, stealing and deceiving and a strange and somewhat risky interest in necromancy and other forbidden arts.

But by Delroth, the world had been so much more interesting back then. There had been no cars, no planes, no cinemas, and people had still sat for paintings instead of being photographed, but there had been magic! There had been all kinds of strange and exotic creatures, most of which were extinct or living in zoos where people stared at them now.

Idalos had been full of adventure, and people had still believed!

When he talked about zombies and other undead creatures nowadays, they just giggled and started to ramble about the latest movie they had seen or the latest horror story they had read – and actually got excited.

This was unacceptable, but he couldn’t even do anything about it!

Valtharn didn’t say anything for a while as he spoke of the old days. Instead, the leader of Sirothelle just looked at him. She was strangely melancholic as well. She was about to open her mouth in order to tell him that she missed the way the world had been as well, that she would do anything to bring the magic that had been Idalos’ lifeblood back and find her Immortal mother again, that she felt so very, very alone here, in her fortress sometimes.

It was just then that she remembered where she was and who she was facing again though. The look on her face instantly darkened, and her mouth became nothing more than a thin, red line. She didn’t have anything in common with the man that sat on her sofa, eating her Ziellmas cookies and making outrageous demands, and she did not like him at all.

If he hadn’t turned out to be occasionally useful in the past, she would smash him!

~ ~ ~

“We can talk about the Papacy”, Valtharn told Devin, shoving those depressing and inappropriate thoughts back where they belonged – deep inside her heart and soul where they would stay until the end of time. “But I won’t share Sirothelle with you. Either way, I will need something from you before I do anything. Tell me what you have seen, and I may find myself willing to compensate you for your help.” From the tone of her voice it was obvious that she thought that she was being generous. She even smiled benevolently at him. Of course, the smile didn’t reach her eyes.

Devin laughed out loud as if she had just made a particularly funny joke.

That moment of shared melancholy was over.

“Sorry, but I won’t fall for that again. The moment that I tell you what you want to know, you will probably call for those guards of yours again, and I’d really hate to punch another hole into your wall. Those Mortalborn powers always make me slightly sick. No, we will do it my way or not at all. I have a contract right here”, he informed her and pulled a piece of folded paper out of a pocket of his jacket. “I want you to sign it, and then I want you to appoint me – in front of witnesses so that you won’t be able to break your promise as easily. And then I will tell you.”

he added.

“I’m being generous, you know, Valtharn? I could just demand your throne and all of Sirothelle – because you would still be better off than if I allowed my vision to come true. This way, you’ll still be number one – although we will of course pose for the photographers together. I’d like the suite in the tower, by the way, when I move in. The view from there is quite spectacular”, he told her and flashed her a bright smile.

Valtharn stared at him, wondering how he knew what the view from the tower was like, no doubt.

“Once I’m your co-regent, you may share my bed if you want”, he continued and wiggled his eyebrows somewhat suggestively.

Valtharn seemed to be at a loss for words now, he observed. She just looked at him. He wasn’t sure if his last statement had tempted her or not, but he decided that the former was much more likely because he was quite optimistic and considered himself irresistible on top of it.

A moment later, Valtharn’s face suddenly turned bright red, as if she were a few trills from exploding or having a heart attack or some sort of terrible epileptic fit, and then she finally informed him, “Your abilities are somewhat unique, I have to give you that, Thorn, but I doubt that whatever you have seen is worth sharing Sirothelle with you and giving you the Papacy on top of it. No, I’m afraid that I’ll have to call the …”

“… guards!” she exclaimed.

Devin rose from the sofa somewhat reluctantly – it was quite soft and comfortable, and he’d really been enjoying the cookies as well – they’d been incredibly delicious – and rolled his eyes.

Again?” he complained and sighed. “This is getting old, Valtharn! Can’t you try to stab me or shoot me for a change? I just told you that imprisoning me and chaining me up won’t work a few bits ago! How many times do we have to play this game until you finally get it? Are you demented? Are all those centuries finally getting to you?”

“My poor, mortal grandmother was demented”,
he informed her, as if that piece of information was incredibly important. “In the end, she insisted that King Cassander would come for dinner and romance her every single trial. She even tried to cook for him – and nearly burnt down the kitchen once. It was quite annoying …”

He could hear footsteps in the hallway, quickly coming closer and paused for a moment.

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to take my leave, Valtharn”, he decided, tipped his hat and moved towards the opening that was still visible in the wall, like some sort of temporary tear in the fabric of reality. “I’m not sure when we’ll see each other next, so – enjoy this winter!”

“You may find it quite interesting”,
he said, emphasizing the last word, stepped through the portal and closed it. A moment later, he was moving through the streets of Sirothelle again, past humans and Aukari that were busy buying Ziellmas presents for their families. The city was peaceful, and people were happy – because they didn’t know about the darkness that would befall them. Within less than a cycle everything would change.

For a moment, he mourned them, he mourned the future loss of all those lives, but a few bits later, he was smiling again. He grabbed a bag of cookies from a street vendor’s stall, without paying for them – he didn’t really have to steal anymore, but it was just so much fun – and munched on them as he swiftly moved towards his secret hideout that was filled with so much treasure that it would take him at least another millennium to spend it all. He saw no point in being depressed about something that was inevitable now due to their leader’s stupidity.

Being depressed felt bad, and he had no interest in feeling bad.

Besides, he would leave Sirothelle in time, and that was what really mattered. He would arrange the transport of his possessions the next trial, he decided. Twenty planes would most likely be enough. He had enjoyed Valtharn’s kingdom for the past couple of arcs. He had enjoyed occasionally teasing her, occasionally being marginally useful and getting on everybody’s nerves – but Sirothelle would soon become a rather unpleasant place.

The next big battle that she was planning would be the beginning of the end. Valtharn would underestimate the war against the Eternal Empire. Her army would be stuck in a frozen wasteland in the middle of winter, and food and supplies would not arrive in time.

For the first time, Sirothelle would be forced to retreat, and soon afterwards, everything would begin to fall apart.

He had seen it as clearly as if he had been looking at a movie screen.

word count: 2559


  • Due to an encounter with a magical tree Devin has bright violet eyes.
  • Devin has fancy black claw-like nails. The Grafter Rakvald made them from the spines that grow on the dubaebo's back and attached them to Devin's hands.


Devin owns a Ring of Reversal. He's always wearing it, unless stated otherwise.


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