• Mature • Trust Hurts

Continuation of 'Fodder for the Crows'.

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Limbo
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27th Zi'da, 716
18th Break

It had been a silent sojourn so far, and it seemed that it would remain being so. The vegetation and treacherous terrain offered no chance to deviate one’s attention from the soil, and if it did, then the eyes would fly towards the other male. Noth, the genetically imperfect avian, had expressed several times the doubts he had regarding Paplo, or at least he had in their first meeting. It was unlikely for the situation, or his situation, to have changed, for Paplo’s certainly had not. The Mortalborn was the one imprisoned in this situation. It was he whom carried a poorly-decapitated body on his shoulder, and it was his life the one compromised in this situation.

The trial was still alive, although it was certainly not young. What remained of the sun was not only hidden by the trees that overwhelmed the horizon, but also by the clouds that now swept in to claim the vacant skies. The cold was creeping in far more silently than the crunchy steps of the males, whom advanced forth with their mouths shut and their ears open. Paplo followed from behind, perhaps five yards away from his captor – for that was the term that best described the avian in the situation. Whether it was deliberate or not, Paplo knew that rushing towards him was out of the question, and that facing him face to face was doomed to fail. Furthermore, his body was already aching due to the added weight of the dry female, and so his chances were reduced even further.

All the free time allowed Paplo to think about his mistakes, about his failure in some parts of his acting, about how badly inconvenient his improvised story had been. He didn’t regret anything, of course, for he was too intelligent to hinder himself with negativity, yet appreciating one’s mistakes was always helpful. It wasn’t like he had much to do, anyway.

A snap somewhere deep within the forest returned his attention towards the male he followed, almost as if expecting him to turn around at any time and trying to end him. The one-winged abomination had proven just how damaged his social attitude was, be it by the great distrust it felt, by the uninterested approach towards murder, or the desperate attempts to connect. Some of those concepts could be applied to himself, yet Paplo refused identify himself with such a damaged creature.
“How much longer, if I may ask?” queried Paplo at last. “This frame of mine is starting to quiver under the weight.”
No reply just yet, and so Paplo used the moment to extend his speech.
“Unless we’re already breaching the proximities of the previously mentioned copse, I believe a temporary halt in our march would be most appreciated – unless you’re willing to aid me in the transport of this creature, which I would appreciate even further.”

Another snap of a branch somewhere far in the forest. Perhaps the local fauna was already finding refuge from the pending night, something Paplo only envied, for his clothing was not thick enough to support the incoming drop in temperature. Being ill was perhaps what he hated most.
“May I ask,” Paplo halted his query, for he had to lunge over a few tree roots. His legs were already shaking due to the exercise, which Paplo apparently did not practice much – even if he was getting paid to. “How come you lack a wing? Old wound, perhaps?”

Panting already, Paplo halted his pace for the time being, bowing his head and using some time to recover his breath. He eyed his comrade, almost expecting to have triggered another of his surges of distrust, which wouldn’t be surprising.
word count: 641
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There was something about silence that helped Noth to concentrate. Perhaps it was the simple lack of sensory information flooding into his mind, distracting him from his goals, but he couldn’t tell for certain. It allowed the twilight hybrid to reflect on the events of the past, and to determine the best course of action for the future. Crimson eyes cast themselves backwards, observing the figure of their traveling companion. Paplo Ynush had proven himself to be nothing more than a murderer; evidenced by the decapitated corpse he hauled, though he had tried to weave assorted tales to promote his innocence. The stories might have been believed as well were it not for the manner in which they constantly added new details which confounded and delayed Noth’s attempts to learn, almost as if though they had been falsified from the start.

It appeared as though the sunlight would die shortly, and a quick glance upwards showed the greater luminary begin to creep downwards, falling quickly underneath the clouds that it normally illuminated. His view of the luminary was lost as a set of tree branches obscured his vision, forcing him to return his eyes to his own world. There was a gentle shiver that crept partway up his back, and which refused to be expelled except after he shook himself, a nervous twitching motion that betrayed the chill that he too felt.

A distant snapping noise caught his attention, and his grip tightened upon the longbow that was still clutched within his palm, crimson eyes scanning the horizon as he searched for potential enemies. He stopped his movement, listening for any noises in the woods before continuing along his way. That particular piece of knowledge had been learned whilst fighting in the darkness of his cavern home, and he intended to use it to its full potential whenever it became either necessary or useful. He knew as well that he could only trust himself to defend his own life, the man that walked behind him had not proven himself capable of either combat or trust. Taking a shard of glass and jamming it into the skull of some poor girl in the woods didn’t make someone a warrior, though admittedly Noth could appreciate the efficiency of such an assault.

There was the rising sound of a nuisance, like a mosquito buzzing around his head, but it resolved itself into Paplo’s words, asking him whether or not they were near their final destination. He didn’t answer immediately, glancing around him in order to retrieve his bearings, and allowing the fellow to sweat under his question for a few moments. He spoke again, asking for a respite from their journey, a break in their adventure so that he might rest his wearied muscles, or else that Noth could assist him in the packaging of his meal. As much as he distrusted the fellow, he would rather be within more familiar territory before nightfall, and that meant assisting him with the carrying of the girl.

“Very well, take a moment to rest, but we depart in three bits. I will take hold of the corpse by the feet if you will take hold of her hands. That should hopefully expedite our journey considerably, as well as reduce the… strain upon you.” He emphasized the last part of his sentence, giving a humorless chuckle as he glared at the man. “As for your previous question, we should be nearing the copse within about ten bits travel time, though admittedly that number is calculated based upon my normal travel speed, and so it might be somewhat longer.”

Noth sat down upon a nearby log, wiping away moss from besides his hands before placing them upon the fallen chunk of lumber. His longbow was placed directly between his legs, sticking vertically upwards, ready to be retrieved in a moment’s notice should danger suddenly present itself. There was another snapping noise from farther into the woods, and he listened deeply once more for the sounds of a predatory beast or worse, a predatory man. Satisfied that nothing terrifying was coming towards them, he glanced over at Ynush, hearing his question as he spoke it.

Of course, some individuals liked to react towards comments about their disabilities with shrieks of rage and terror, but Noth did not quite see the point such activities. It was a simple question, and though he could have layered on levels of intimidation if he had chosen to deny the request for knowledge, he instead simply decided to grace it.
“It was stolen away by the meddling godlings upon my conception. Ripped away from me before I could ever sail the sea above.” That was somewhat similar to a dream he had had once with some character named Aeon. He remembered seeing an endless sky in that dream, and he remembered the longing sensation that had flooded into his soul at the sight of it.

Longing eyes stared up at the sky once more, watching the wind currents whip against one another, ever-flowing as though it were a river, heeding his presence, and yet… never could he answer the call.




word count: 871
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Credit to Pegasus


As a note: Noth is a Grandmaster in Intimidation. That means that he's at least as scary as the Count from Sesame Street. Beware.

"The tyrant confuses those he can't convince, corrupts those he can't confuse, and crushes those he can't corrupt." - Anonymous
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Once Noth had agreed for a small break, Paplo unceremoniously dropped the corpse he carried on his back, which landed upon the soil with such force that it’s poorly decapitated head snapped loose from the frame, and proceeded to roll down near the avian. Not too much blood pooled off of the headless frame, for most of its blood had already been drained during the transportation. Apparently, some of that blood had landed upon Paplo’s lower leg, and the already dirty and ill-fitted clothing was tainted even further. Next time, he promised himself, he would bring a male in the forest and steal his clothing on top of its life and soul.
“Three bits of rest is more than satisfying for me, dear Noth. I must admit that with age I’ve also developed a certain distaste for physical activity,” said Paplo, whom sat atop a nearby rock, and breathed out his words between pants. “However, and without wishing to express a changing mind, I will retire my offer of sharing the burden of transporting the creature, for our destination is not too far away, and I suspect that I will be confined to spend the night within this forest we roam.”

Paplo’s tongue relished on his lips as he looked towards the corpse. It was far from appealing to the stomach, and devouring raw meats was not something he enjoyed, yet it was unlikely the defective individual he traveled with possessed a fine cooking skillset. Some spices, a good roast, a nice oil, or even a pinch of salt could improve any meal so much. If only he had the patience and discipline to avoid eating the ingredients raw, Paplo would’ve made a great chef. Thankfully, Noth’s mild confession drove Paplo’s mind away from delicious thoughts.
“I see,” he replied. “Well, if you ever wish to dispose of your imperfection, I do believe I’m capable of wielding a scalpel quite safely. No use having said vestige, correct? So far it only makes you lopsided. No offense meant, of course.”

Paplo snickered nonetheless, a rare sound that mixed fact and act. Surrounding himself with imperfect creatures on a daily basis was something, yet Noth was so defective that the contrast was astonishingly poetic. The Mortalborn, a eugenic prodigy, could change shapes to anything biologically possible with the mere thought of it, and Noth was stuck into a defective shape for eternity. Death would be the most merciful act one could do for the Avian, or his immediate castration, if one wished to be more dramatic, in order to avoid proliferation of his subnormal genetics.

The resting time slowed down Paplo’s breathing, yet his heart beat was as elevated as always. Thankfully, his breathing did not show such, for it was always deep, hiding just how fast his body’s metabolism raced forth. The silence of Zi’da made its way into the peaceful woods, which one could appreciate in their vast glory whenever nobody moaned or slushed its blood all over its vegetation. Peaceful moments like these Paplo hated the most, for it felt unnatural. Life was busyness, noise, movement. Anything that lacked any of those lacked life.

That previously mentioned silence now died, for there was a very audible event happening somewhere in the forest. The so studied snaps of twigs and rustling of bushes returned in numbers and in a very distinctive pattern – the pattern of movement. It reverbed through the forest, and it was faint, yet without a doubt it was growing louder, and thus nearer. Paplo was unable to distinct from whence it came, yet he quickly guessed it followed their route. Quickly, he stood up.
“Noth,” he said, calmly, as he looked down towards the male. “Please, take a hold of this creature’s severed head, and let us run towards the copse immediately!”

The urgency was quite the fuel for Paplo’s strengths, for now he loft the decapitated body of the female onto his shoulder without much effort, and after securing it with his hands, Paplo began running forth. Being chased was no good, and leaving behind the one hundred and forty pounds of evidence behind was quite the risk. Because of this, Paplo ran as fast as humanly possible – for he was playing a human, of course.
word count: 731
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The very instant that Noth agreed to take a small break, Paplo launched the corpse onto the ground with such force that it was finally decapitated. The hunter of such creatures had attempted to finish his work earlier in the trial with a shard of glass, but he had quickly discovered that such activities were far too difficult for makeshift weaponry, and it was truly a wonder that he had not cut himself somewhat on the jagged shard whilst he worked. The ball of hair and flesh tumbled towards him, apparently drawn to him as if though it were still attempting to escape from its killer, as if though death itself had not stopped its desire to live, to survive. A discomforting thought fluttered into his mind as he remembered that supposedly such beings were capable of reawakening after their unfortunate demises. With little pause, he lazily stretched a talon over to the fleshy head, and began idly carving away at the area around its eyes, somewhat used to the sensation of meat being caught under his monstrous nails after his time in the conflict for Treid’s heart.

Paplo rested himself atop a nearby rock, admitting that age had made him dislike most acts of physicality. Noth couldn’t help but to think it was somewhat strange considering that the man had effectively confessed to being ancient, and yet still held the body of a far younger fellow. Despite that, however, it was clearly a sentiment shared among the elderly that physical activity was the bane of their existence, far more threatening than robbers or predators, or the diseases that almost inevitably wracked their already broken bodies. He could feel some sympathy for them, especially since he knew that he would probably become them eventually, and yet somehow he knew deep within his own mind that his life would never reach that milestone of elderliness, especially not with the violent lifestyle that now stalked his daily activities.

His answer to Ynush’s question about his disability seemed to incite the fellow to make a remark about surgically removing what he deemed an ‘imperfection’. That caught his attention, and his anger far more than simple curiosity, and crimson eyes settled upon the fellow, watching as he sickly snickered to himself at his horrid jest. His voice was neutral, allowing only the slightest semblance of humor to creep into it, though it was clearly a falsified humor, one of those social stigmas that allowed him to say something in a ‘joking’ fashion with it clearly being more fitting to use a ‘threatening’ tone,
“Of course, and I cannot help but to notice that you have only one mouth upon your form. The Immortals must have cursed you to be so asymmetrical, but fret not my friend, I may not be capable of wielding a needle as well as the finer seamstresses of the land, but I think I could aptly sew shut that yammering maw of yours, and then perhaps we would have no need of you to demonstrate your powers. Indeed, the only thing you’d be able to eat would be your own cheeks, and I simply doubt that they would provide much sustenance.”

The silence between them was audible, Noth still somewhat steaming after the insinuation made that his wing was an imperfection. He had finished tearing apart the head, and there were not several pieces that had once attached themselves to its form. It was honestly as simple as stripping away pieces of paper mache that had been attached to a piece of wood, though it was far harder to reattach said chunks of meat than it would be to simply add glue to a piece of cloth or paper.

There was a rustling sound somewhere farther off in the foliage, the crackle of a stick, the flutter of spooked birds as they retreated away from their resting places. He took notice of these sounds the same instant that Ynush urged him to gather hold of the head, and to lead them both to their destination. It seemed as though someone was following them, and whilst that wasn’t really a threat to their safety; especially since he was armed to the talons, it was still better to avoid conflict with some wandering stranger than to draw the ire of their relatives upon them. Rapidly, he took hold of the bodies’ hair, holding it upwards and hoping that most of the pieces were attached enough to continue, though admittedly he might as well have been holding a chunk of seaweed for the manner in which it fluttered about in the wind and with every shake of his arm. With one final glance behind them, the twilight hybrid began to lead his newly found associate deeper into the woods, towards the location of his copse, the same place where he had buried another pair of bodies underneath the soil.

He genuinely hoped it wouldn’t need to be three.


word count: 838
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Credit to Pegasus


As a note: Noth is a Grandmaster in Intimidation. That means that he's at least as scary as the Count from Sesame Street. Beware.

"The tyrant confuses those he can't convince, corrupts those he can't confuse, and crushes those he can't corrupt." - Anonymous
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Running whilst carrying a body other than one’s own wasn’t easy in the slightest. It wasn’t only the effort needed to avoid crumbling under the weight, and it wasn’t exactly the tricky terrain what made the task as dire as it was. It was keeping one’s balance intact what proved to be a challenge, for every time the body bounced atop his shoulder, his musculature had to compensate, tense and relax in whatever parts, in order to remain straight and on the move. Loud pants escaped Paplo, whom couldn’t help but envy how easily the bitter Avian advanced forth. Suffice to say that Paplo, unused to these sorts of situations, was slowly falling behind, and what was once a chase was now a mere jest.

The arrows flew through the air, almost grazing Paplo’s frame in their flight. The mere sight of them startled him just as he was traversing a set of tree roots, feet now tripping with one of them and his body collapsing forth. The landing was harsh, landing straight on his face, the body on his back only adding to the rash that now formed on Paplo’s forehead. He was out of the chase, but not out of consciousness. Noth, on the other hand, was a far more difficult target for whoever chased after them, and perhaps unwilling to scout the entire forest in their search, they seemed content with one of the two preys they followed.

The footsteps gathered around him, Paplo’s ears listening to the patterns of their footsteps, eventually concluding they were three individuals. They all panted, one of them halting right behind him whilst the other two moved here and there, surely looking ahead in case the Avian was to return. With the few moments he had, Paplo needed to figure out a way to explain all this, be it the corpse, or being in the company of Noth. Meeting the Avian had certainly been a mistake, and now he would be able to fix it.

As Paplo groaned and shifted, his eyes began tearing up. It was a mixture of both the pain the felt and his capacity to act what summoned them – a task that is not as difficult as often imagined. Crying on purpose without need could be easily trained, and easily achieved, yet said revelation was surely out of the general populace, and the reason it was such a powerful tool. What began as tears soon turned into a smothered wail, and Paplo eventually freed himself from under the body, looking back towards the drawn bows that aimed at him. In his expression there was clear emotional pain, as signified by not only the tears but also the snots that ran down his beard. Once the tears came, the rest came on its own.
“Look at what he did to her,” he growled in anger. “Why did you let him escape!?” His yell echoed through the woods.
The three males furrowed their brows, slightly confused. Their aim did not falter.
“Look at what he did to my girl!” yelled Paplo once again.
One of the armed males approached Paplo, and his kick neutralized the male by landing it upon his stomach, hoping to silence the loudness.
Paplo’s breath was gone, holding on to his stomach with his mouth wide agape, with all his tears, snots and blood forming the disguise of a tormented male. Once air returned upon it’s lungs, it was distributed to fuel his silent cries and his pain management, which left him no opportunity to think on his next move.
The three males, armed with bows and donning no armor whatsoever, drug the body away from Paplo, and continued to stare at him whilst they murmured between them.
Upon seeing the seed of doubt planted in them, Paplo’s security grew. Even when he was crying like a child, he could easily see how the three men were far more valuable partners than Noth, whom had proven to be not only difficult to manipulate, but also mentally unstable and dangerous to dwell around with. If he could persuade them into finishing Noth for him, his troubles would end with the flight of an arrow.
“Stop crying!” said one of the males, moving up to Paplo in order to shake him back into calm. It didn’t work that much. “For a murderer, you’re fucking pathetic. Bring the axe! I bet this fool’s head carries a bounty.” Paplo was then dragged towards the nearby root, and was forced to lay on the ground whilst his hand hanged loosely from the edge of the root, body held down with a strong foot.
They were going to decapitate him, but far more professionally than his own attempts.
“No, please!” begged Paplo, trying to resist. “I am no murderer! He did it, he killed her!”
“That’s why you were carrying the body, right? That’s why your hands are tainted red, and so is your clothing, right? Because he killed her? Bah,” replied once the voices from behind, as a stone was run across metal, the axe being sharpened.
“He killed her, and once she was dead, he tortured me by forcing me to cut off her head and carry her body least I wished the same fate for my children!” cried Paplo, whom was unsure if she should continue with his attempts or reveal the predator that he was beneath it all. “Spare my life, I beg you! Give me mercy, for I know where the knave hides and where his all his treasures are gathered! Allow me to avenge my wife!”

Nothing happened. If Kovic heard just one step, he would forget about his act and trigger his mutations in order to escape, yet he heard nothing but the life in the forest.
“You say you know where he hides, murderer?”
“He told me about his den, where he would do unspeakable deeds to the body of my beloved, and where I would meet death once my soul was as rotten as his smile!” It was hard to speak whilst crying, and Paplo hoped they were able to understand. “Please, allow me to avenge her, I beg you! Allow me to die fighting his evil!”
The men, greedy in their nature, saw reason, and a second head to return onto town would certainly mean a bigger pay. “I really hope you haven’t lied to us, boy. If you cry, you’re dead. Do you understand?”

And so Paplo was spared, and even with his hands tied behind his back, his situation only improved as he now advanced with his new group. Advancing forth, in front of them all, Paplo hoped Noth’s copse would be nearby or in the same direction. Whenever Noth was dead, he’d just figure a different excuse to spare himself. Even with all the tears, snots and blood that mingled upon his face, his grin shined for the forest to see.
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It seemed as though he would have to dig five graves as opposed to the three he originally fretted. The instant that danger had made itself readily available, he had abandoned Ynush and fled into the bushes, using his knowledge of the local terrain and his many lessons in the art of stealth to stay hidden as a gang of men cornered the poor fellow with drawn bows. Of course, Noth could simply have abandoned the poor fellow to his fate, but he genuinely despised the idea of having wasted his entire trial only for the only potential rewards to be squandered on a set of amateur bounty hunters. Admittedly, they had done well to sneak up upon the pair, but that had mostly been the fault of the prey, not the talents of the hunters. He had simply assumed that the noises in the forest were the average ones that he heard nearly every trial, the standard movement of animals throughout their territory, but now he regretted having been so terribly casual about his lack of detection.

The twilight hybrid made a wide arc throughout the foliage, gradually returning to the scene, his hand now clutching his bow in one hand and the head of the decapitated female in the other. He kept out of sight, careful not to rustle any bushes so as to reveal his position. He was witness to the intriguing debacle wherein Paplo Ynush broke into tears, accusing his only potential ally of having murdered someone close to him and then fled into the dark of the forest. His acting skills were incredible, and though Noth had little experience with theater and such arts, he could easily see the fellow as having a career in any manner of theatrical pursuit. Naturally, that also called into question how much of anything he had said was true, especially since he was so ready to assume a new character in the snap of a finger.

At first it seemed as though the trio of males wouldn’t believe his fantastic act, but after a short conversation and a series of threats to hush his whining, the men seemed to have been convinced that they were hunting a murderer. Paplo had stated that he knew where Noth was living, and yet the spying Avriel knew that this was a matter of deception. He was not at all frustrated that Ynush had so readily betrayed him, after all, he had done the same thing to Chanyalla when the time for such acts had arisen. Selfish acts were the reason why people did many of the things that they did, and at the very least he could understand such motivations, even if they didn’t necessarily work in his favor.

They were a foolish trio, however, if they thought they would hunt down the murdering avian. They hunted not only a pathetic murderer, some scowling deviant, or some form of domestic abuser. Immediately he knew that they had underestimated what they were stalking through the brush, and he knew that in only a matter of a few bits they would all lie dead upon the cold ground.

The fellows tied up Ynush’s hands behind his back, and urged him forth to guide them towards the den of their prey. All the while, a pair of crimson eyes peered from behind a bush, watching as they gradually began to climb up a rocky hill. It would have been difficult terrain to have carried the body, but that implied that Noth wouldn’t have simply gone around the mound of dirt. Sadly, these men knew little of where they were going, and even poor and pathetic Paplo did not truly know where he was going, only the general direction. Slowly, patiently he took hold of his longbow, tightening his grip as he pressed a fresh arrow against its taut string, feeling it snap into place. It took only a moment to draw the arrow back to full strength. They were nearly twenty yards away now, not terribly far, but with the obscuring features of the vegetation all around them, it was no surprise that they had yet to spot the dark bird.

The arrow slid through the air with a hearty twanging noise announcing its presence a mere instance before the projectile buried itself with a meaty thunk in the first fellow’s side. He recognized his target as the man who had first called for execution of poor Paplo, and now he had suffered a far similar fate. He collapsed to his knees almost instantly, suddenly weak legs buckling under the full weight of a grown man. Watching him slide down the hill only to land in a curled pile at the bottom was rather amusing, and it reminded him vaguely of a waterfall, albeit with somewhat more blood than water, but that was only a miniscule detail. It seemed as though the projectile had pierced directly through his heart, and thus he had suffered an instantaneous fate.

Already, the other pair of fellows were drawing their weapons, firing into the underbrush where they assumed that the arrow had come. There was a gentle whistling noise as one of the arrows went directly passed his own skull, nearly ending his career and his life. He removed one of his hands from the longbow, grasping hold of the decapitated skull upon the ground, and hurling it over towards the men. It landed short, but it was clear enough what manner of object it was, and it drew their attention away from their target for enough time for Noth to reposition himself.

He worried not about rustling bushes now, and he heard another whistling thud from somewhere far behind him. His harsh and frightening voice carried out from the vegetation, challenging the pair of swearing men who remained with a confident terror,

“Pitiful hunters! You hunt not some wild animal, some ailing criminal!”

The arrows thudded far closer this time, the pair of men obviously honing in on his position as they listened to his monologue.

“You face the beast that hides within the shade, the monster that gluttons itself upon the weak.”

He rushed through the underbrush now, charging directly towards the pair as he notched another arrow, attempting to ignore the manner in which the arrow jiggled about on the taut string, as if though any moment it would fall upon the ground.

“You may have heard who I am from the drunkards, and thought that such things were untrue. I am the voice in the dark, the creature with blooded eyes.”

He burst forth from the vegetation, hearing one of the frightened men fire his bow way off of his position. The other was far more disciplined and his arrow slammed directly into Noth’s chest with the gentle clinking noise of chainmail, a noise overshadowed by his own voice in an attempt at making the fellow’s believe him unable to be harmed, and not simply better armored than they were.

“I am the prince of eternal mercies, and this is my kingdom.”

He lifted his bow, firing an arrow almost pointblank into the disciplined fellow’s throat, and sending him stumbling backwards off of the slight hillock, out of view of Ynush and the last fellow.

“I don’t take kindly to trespassers.”

The last man squealed, as if though he were facing some abomination born from the darkest depths. He dropped his weapon pitifully, curling up and shouting for the thing to get away from him. That made it incredibly easy to simply slap him across the face with the edge of his longbow, and render him unconscious.

“I don’t quite take kindly to traitors either, you know.” Crimson eyes glanced over to the entrapped Ynush.





word count: 1300
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Credit to Pegasus


As a note: Noth is a Grandmaster in Intimidation. That means that he's at least as scary as the Count from Sesame Street. Beware.

"The tyrant confuses those he can't convince, corrupts those he can't confuse, and crushes those he can't corrupt." - Anonymous
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Paplo continued crying and mopping whilst he advanced. He did so gently, though, as not only he wished to spare himself the complaints of his new peers, but also because he lost passion in his act. Crying all the time was pathetic and boring. It offered no challenge whatsoever, and it was psychologically tiresome to have to bear with such an individual. However, and since he still breathed, it was definitely a useful tool to have.

The forest continued and continued onward, for it seemed to have no end. The bits stretched into infinity, making it seem as whatever distance they advanced was minimal or, at the very least, insignificant compared to the size of these forests. The terrain was growing somewhat trickier, and their path was advanced even slower. Thankfully, this was an advantage, for Paplo was truly ignorant about Noth’s location. Even if the plan was somewhat incomplete, improvisation was a big part of any good act. Following scripts and lacking surprise developments or twists to the tale was somewhat boring, as well.

It didn’t take too much before that twist came in the form of a very straight arrow, which quickly claimed the life of one of the males. Paplo, upon looking back at the sudden death, and the immediate reaction from the other two amateurs, moved away. He found refuge behind a thick tree, safe from the arrows fired, eager to see whoever claimed the life of the other. It was funny that people fought over him, for that was the conclusion he had. Crouching down, Paplo would wipe off his tears and snots from his knee as best as he could. Afterwards, he’d slide his hands under him, something that took him a while, but eventually was successful, his hands still tied but located before him. He then waited for all to be over.

As he listened, he learned further about Noth. There was clear ambition in him, and his narcissistic nature was proven once again. Glory and fame were possibly concepts he craved for, perhaps even fantasized in the night, for otherwise he would not be stroking his own ego to the folks he murdered. They would die nonetheless, so what was the point of such prideful yelps? Pride and ego, of course. Paplo could definitely help with those goals. It was a shame Noth hadn’t perished, but nonetheless he proved his strength and his use to the Mortalborn.

Soon enough, it was only the Avian and Paplo in the forest, and so there was no reason to continue hiding. Peaking over the edge of the trunk with a smile, Paplo stepped out.
“That does seem somewhat obvious, and I shall keep it in mind” he announced, his features still somewhat tainted by the produce of his act, or the wound in his forehead. “What was not obvious is how well you handled these individuals. You are a very capable fighter, Noth.”
Looking around the scene, Paplo’s eyes laid on the body before Noth. He couldn’t tell if it was dead or not, but no arrow was lodged onto his skull, which was a good sign. Paplo now began slowly walking towards Noth.
“Whilst you fight with arrows, I fight with the mind. I certainly hope you hold no grudge against me for feeding vile lies to the deceased. I had no intention of falling as stiff as they are, and I trusted your ire would befall, sooner or later, upon the now deceased intruders. I was obviously right,” he said, chuckling. “Would you care to untie me?”

Paplo kept approaching, and eventually stopped a few yards away from Noth. His features were friendly, and that cocky smirk of his returned upon his lips. His confidence was obvious. Showing doubt would be fatal. From that distance, a quick glance towards the body below Noth’s feet revealed the breathing of it, the rises and falls of his chest, and thus his life as being still present. A grin came to his features.
“Don’t kill him!” he yelled, almost fanatically. “He’s one of them, a maggot! Look now, Noth of the Woods.”
Paplo looked around, and quickly found a bow and an arrow laying around, surely abandoned by the unconscious male. He took the arrow, and returned towards the body. Then, he’d straddle it, and looked up towards Noth.
“Behold now, comrade, for I had tricked you not. See for yourself the power hidden within these beasts. Before I do it, however, I want you to pay especial attention to the sentiments held within you, and tell me if they vary in any way as I perform the deed. That is my only condition. Now, witness me.”

The arrow head was pressed against the male’s neck, and the throat was ruptured quite ungracefully. Blood pooled out from the hole in said throat in great quantity, and the unconscious male awoke, squirming and afraid, trying to grasp at his throat in vain. As this happened, Paplo remained on top, waiting for his Ether to be available. Whenever death was about to claim it, Paplo would claim its soul.

A few thrills of struggle after, it happened. Paplo leaned over, and his tied hands hovered over the features of the boy. His breathing increased, and his teeth shined beneath his beard. Through his eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and every pore of his flesh, a thick and gooey black mist escaped, like the smoke from a combustion, and moved onto Kovic. It was certainly an unnatural event, and the sin committed right there and then could easily be branded as evil. Having flayed a female a break before, Paplo’s spark was full, and so now his Ether Lure increased its intensity to levels never before felt by Paplo. Binge drinking was never an issue for him. Every bit of that ether was released by said ability, and were a mage present, its mind would surely be lost under the flooding false magical potential Paplo secreted.

As quickly as it came, it ended, and what had once been an unconscious boy was now a dry, old corpse, like a raisin. Paplo looked up from the body, grinning towards Noth.
“Did you feel anything?” He needed to test the effect of his Ether Lure on non-mages such as Noth, for he was obviously not a mage. A mage would’ve been crazed by the amount of ether extracted, driven into a magical lust that could easily turn them to flaying. “I was not lying to you, Noth. My word is my bond, as I’ve said before.”

Quickly, Paplo reached for the arrow, and with a swift motion, he’d stab the corpses’ head. He had to keep his tale consistent, perhaps for the last time.
word count: 1145
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Noth
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Throughout their short time together, Noth have attempted to observe Paplo Ynush to the best extent possible, to learn who he truly was, and what use he might be for the Avriel. He had perceived in the last few moments that he was a clever actor, one with a true talent. Whilst that had called into question all that he had said, it also now filled the hybrid’s mind with another thought. Paplo Ynush would make an absolutely excellent spy were he ever capable of infiltrating an organization. Arcs had passed now where the twilight hybrid had desired to place himself upon the throne of Etzos; though technically there was no such thing, and it seemed as though he had finally found a worthwhile tool to use to reach those ends.

Such things could be called into question at a later date. For now, the twilight hybrid simply approached his newly discovered acquaintance, and unleashed him from his bounds with a rapid slash of his hunting knife, allowing him to go free once more. Ynush complimented him on his fighting, stating that it had not been so obvious when they had met. At this, the crow simply harrumphed, his voice still excited from the recent activity, but already beginning to calm in the relative peace following the storm of combat.

“I am no better a fighter than any man. What I am is an accomplished murderer, we prefer to strike from behind.”

It was true that he had almost never allowed the men to see him until the very final moment when he had burst forth from the underbrush. It was not an honorable activity to hunt down frightened men who had no true chance of ever fighting back, but Noth had no use for honor if it would restrict him from performing necessary deeds. It had been completely necessary to eliminate the scum so that he might rescue Paplo Ynush, and then perhaps press him into his own services. On top of that, these fellows had set out to hunt him, and so really his actions were basic self-defense, nothing more nor less.

After being freed of his bonds, Ynush attempted to apologize for his deceptions, to which the twilight hybrid simply nodded, accepting them without further question. With all of the other mysteries that surrounded the apparent ancient, it was well enough to forgive him of something that he would have done himself. Noth was many things, but he strived not to turn himself into some hypocrite whom others would despise and revile. His memory flashed back once more to the exact instance where he had slashed Chanyalla’s throat outside of his cavernous home, and the way that her eyes had steeled upon him with a look of absolute understanding.

He glanced down now at the unconscious fellow before him. He had been intentionally left only disabled, as opposed to confined to the eternal sleep that his companions now shared. Noth had a sinking inclination that had crept into his stomach, one that he wished to test now upon Paplo. It proved correct a moment later when the fellow pleaded to spare the life of the unconscious boy, making it known that he was one of the worm-like monstrosities that they had discussed hunting down earlier. It was far too coincidental in the Avian’s mind, but he obediently observed as Ynush went about severing the fellow’s jugular with an arrow tip, and then proceeding to absorb his… energy?

It was clearly some manner of supernatural occurrence, and Noth felt immediately incorrect in his prior assumptions about Paplo Ynush. Clearly, he had been telling the truth, at least to an extent about his own abilities, and that must have meant that he truly was nearly a hundred years old, or at the very least that he could absorb the energy of others. He had been asked to self-observe before the process began, to see if he could notice any potential changes in himself or in the way that he felt, and whilst for a single trill he felt as though he might have noted a change, he quickly realized that nothing within him had transformed whatsoever.

“I am afraid that your feast has done nothing to sate me.” He stated, reaching down slowly to the corpse and rifling through his pockets for any belongings that he would humbly donate towards the twilight hybrid’s personal charity. It seemed as though the boy had possessed little, and other than a wrapped sandwich which had been stuffed messily into a pocket, and a single glittering stone, he had nothing of value upon him.

One thing still prodded at his mind, one final question that needed answered before he could begin to trust Paplo, one final revelation.

“You should become aware that I have made myself decently versed in the art of fear. Nearly all creatures feel fear, from the beasts of the field and the woods to men who stalk upon their castellation and ramparts. Prey tend to run, to sprint, or at times even to freeze in the heat of the moment, the moment where their hearts beat a thousand times in an instant, where their blood rushes to their brain at speeds they cannot comprehend.” He made a gesture with his hand, holding it outwards palm upwards to represent the prey animals.

“Predators though, they are fierce and must always be so in order to live. Surely, if they are outmatched in a contest of tooth and claw then they might retreat, but never do they shrink in terror, never do predators whine and cry in fear, never may they yield lest they surrender their animalistic pride. I watch the hunters in the field, and strive to learn from them so that I might better my craft, and so I have become at least somewhat acquainted with their workings.”

“My point, however, is this. You state that we are hunting down predators, worm-like shifters which hide amidst the populace. Yet, I took a single look upon the frightened face of that boy, that dried husk you’ve created, and I saw far more fear than should ever grace the face of a monster. On top of that, the cornered beast did not fight back, did not amplify his own viciousness so that he might taste life. No, instead he collapsed, he whined and cried and yelped like a wounded pup.”

“Now, you say that you will not lie to me, and I shall believe you henceforth, shall trust your word for what it is if you shall not lie to me any further, if you shall reveal the truth to me.”

“That man was not some worm, he was simply a boy that ran with the wrong pack. In fact, I believe not that there are not, and have never been any sort of worm-like beasts, or else I’d think it reasonable that someone would have learned of their trickery, and written it down or passed it along in the oratory commonly recited when near the campfire. So then, now, reveal the truth to me on the matter, and we shall see how we might benefit from one another’s company.”
word count: 1212
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As a note: Noth is a Grandmaster in Intimidation. That means that he's at least as scary as the Count from Sesame Street. Beware.

"The tyrant confuses those he can't convince, corrupts those he can't confuse, and crushes those he can't corrupt." - Anonymous
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Apparently, his Ether Charm had no discernible effect upon Noth, a non-magic user, which was always good to know. Next time, he wouldn’t bother to flare out his ability more than once, and if they felt him, then they would be mages. Paplo was satisfied with the results, anyway, and so now he stood up, allowing his avian comrade to loot the corpse. It was then when his speech came through.

Paplo found himself at a bit of a crossroad currently. His lie had been caught, and he had to make a decision. Honestly was, obviously, out of the question, and so Kovic did what he did best: he created yet another character, another layer to the mystery. Explaining Paplo’s actions would be much easier with it, and the character itself would not be compromised. He sighed.

“You remind me of my younger self, Noth, because I asked the same to what was my mentor back then. What I told you earlier is what he told me, and perhaps I repeated his lesson in the exact same way as a sort of a memento from the past. The doubts invaded me with every supposed creature we hunted, and one eve, I gathered my knowledge and told him what you just told me. Do you know what he said?”

Dramatic pause.

“Does it really matter? Would you care if they were creatures of evil when you cut their necks just like me? You’ve seen how they mingle, how they laugh with their families and work in the fields. You’ve seen all this, and yet you’re convinced they are not what they seem, that even if they do not hunt for anything, nor do any foul, you still hunt them and punish them for whatever they become in death.”

“That same night, in between tears, I did to him what I did to this fellow, or that girl I was with when you happened to interfere. Imagine my features when I discovered that, according to his teachings, he was just alike to those same creatures we hunted. I do not know if anything of what he taught me was true or not, yet every time I do it, I still stab their heads, because I truly fear they’ll wake and haunt me in life as they do in my dreams.”

Paplo laughed now.

“Thankfully, that was a very long time ago, and a long life has taught me how to shove those feelings aside. You’re strong, Noth. You know how little value a life has in this world we share. What does it matter if this one lives and that one dies? As long as we and our little bubbles are not disturbed, minding the life of others matters not. Although you may be somewhat angry for my deceptions, I am certain you can see beyond such petty details, and look at the big picture instead. A longer life, and a bigger and perfect bubble is what I’m after. Tell me; is that not what you crave as well?”

Compliments, a detailed story, and a bit of philosophy would surely secure his survival. Noth’s lack of capacity to function within a society could perhaps find a bit of comfort in the relation with this new character, this individual that claimed lives for his own good, and did not interfered with the avian’s own selfish existence.

“To be fair to the truth, I shall also confess that my name is not Paplo Ynush as I’ve claimed. Said name was the one I wielded upon birth, yet one I have move past once my life began to stretch into, hopefully, infinity. I would prefer to be referred with such name, but, as we find ourselves alone and away from the settlement, you may also call me Mammon, for that the man that steals souls for his own life. Oh, and I do not eat corpses. Your fearsome presence somewhat confused me, and so said gruesome detail was included within my tale. It would’ve been quite a giveaway once I disgorged whilst holding a fork and knife, don’t you think? ”

Mammon was the character beneath Paplo Ynush. He was the flayer, the actor, and the individual that craved for something big. He sought power, control, and dominion over others. He wanted praise, respect, and adoration from his allies. Another layer added to the overcomplicated orchestra of characters, to the play the young Mortalborn directed to explain his existence. Even if said characters was just created, Mammon already liked Noth, and was eager to work with him – or dispose of him, were he to lose his value as an asset.
“Now, I believe we discussed the possibility of heading to a copse. I’d say it is no longer necessary, for the truth is yours to take, and the proof you required has been given. Speak now of what benefit you seek from me, for currently I crave nothing more but feed, and so I would gladly accept a dinner invitation if you were so courteous to host me.”

.
word count: 864
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There was only a single moment that passed before Noth’s grand monologue was answered by Paplo Ynush’s own. He spoke of the Avriel as reminding him of his younger self, something that made the twilight hybrid snicker for the fraction of an instance before re-devoting his attention to the man before him. It seemed incredibly unlikely that they had shared very much in common throughout their lives, especially since it seemed as though Paplo Ynush was far older than he appeared at first glance. He stated that he had asked the same questions to the fellow who had been his mentor after they had completed several hunts, likely ending in the deaths of innocent beings.

The mentor had questioned whether or not the morality behind their actions truly mattered, and Noth found himself somewhat caught off-guard by the answer having been eagerly awaiting another poorly-crafted deception. What Noth had observed was noted to be somewhat true, that the beings that were hunted seemed to act human enough that they mingled among one another, spoke with one another and acted just as though they were any other person. There was even a mention that they had families, something that would almost certainly prove the idea of them being soulless predators false. He was immediately reminded of wolves and determined that having a family did not necessarily make someone innocent. Every murderer had someone who cared for them, and every psychopath is trailed by adoring fans.

Paplo Ynush recollected that the very night he had received his answer, he had set about to murder his mentor. That act made him somewhat like Noth, and he found himself feeling a hint of sympathy for the man before him, though that hint quickly vanished as he steeled himself once more in the presence of a killer. His thoughts wandered momentarily back to the abandoned corpses that now lay just beyond the hill, and he wondered how they would manage to gather them all together now that they were so numerous. Apparently, a revelation had been made after the man’s murder, particularly that he may have been one of the monstrous beings that they had hunted, or perhaps that there were no monsters after all. Ynush had simply kept to the stories that he had been told in the same manner that a child will eventually recite the oral tales told by his elders.

The story ended with a laugh that seemed to hold little humor to the twilight hybrid. Ynush mentioned his long life once more, and noted that it had helped him to push aside the feelings of guilt that he had once felt, allowing him to perform his necessary work. Necessity was one of the driving motivations for murderous Avriel, and he could definitely relate to having used it as an excuse many times in the past. Just like Paplo Ynush, he knew that the acts he committed were almost certainly those of evil, and yet he could push away some of the terrible guilt that followed his actions if he simply forced himself to think of it as unavoidable, as though there had been no true choice in the matter and that anyone would act in the same way that he had chosen.

Ynush called him strong, something that was quickly recognized by the Avriel as being an appeal towards the slight egotism that he had displayed only moments prior as he dispatched the trio of kidnappers. He spoke of the petty value of life in the world, and then asked a rhetorical question as to whether it really mattered whether a person lived or died. The hybrid nearly answered that he would prefer to live personally, but he found that the same conclusion had already been made by Ynush. It was true that as long as their own personal lives were left unmolested by the outside forces of the world, and as long as he was capable of caring for himself and accomplishing the goals that he had set, he was utterly apathetic towards the needs of others. Let each man care for themselves, and each woman do the same, and if they all focused on selfish needs then perhaps they would all be satisfied when their lives inevitably ended. The only people that Noth at all considered helpless were children and small babes, and he could make an exception to his heartless rule for their sakes.

“It is true.” He spoke in response to the question regarding his ultimate goals, though it was far too vague to truly let known all aspects of his grand scheme.

Another aspect of truth was revealed to him, something that he had never actually questioned though that didn’t quite surprise him given the recent string of revelations. Paplo Ynush was not actually named such, but instead took on the name Mammon. Apparently it meant something along the lines of ‘the man that steals souls for his life’, and Noth could immediately understand why he might have felt inclined to change his name to something somewhat less menacing when making first impressions upon people. Noth himself was somewhat unsure as to what his name actually meant, and though he had heard many different meanings from individuals as he had grown, he could find little evidence to support the validity of such statements. Mammon or Ynush also made it known that they did not actually agree with the detestable practice of consuming bodies, something that actually made the fellow somewhat more relatable to the Avian hybrid, though it would make it somewhat more difficult to feed him should he be brought along to his cavernous home.


“You are correct. We no longer have need to head near the copse of trees, though it is generally in the same direction as my home, so we may yet depart towards there. If you will agree to consider working with me in the future, then I shall promise you the feed that you so desperately desire, as well as the opportunity to absorb more of the shadowy energies that you seem to delight in. Allow me to loot these deceased ones of their valuables, and then we shall leave them for the carrion birds and the beasts of the field, and we shall depart. Do you find this agreeable?”


For perhaps the first time, his offer was not forced with the draw of his longbow.



word count: 1081
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Credit to Pegasus


As a note: Noth is a Grandmaster in Intimidation. That means that he's at least as scary as the Count from Sesame Street. Beware.

"The tyrant confuses those he can't convince, corrupts those he can't confuse, and crushes those he can't corrupt." - Anonymous
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