• Solo • Final Scene

Alex completes her mission

The capital city of the of Rynmere, here is seated the only King in Idalos.
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Vluharqih
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63rd of Zi'da, Arc 716
Valyeria flapped her wings, propelling herself up to the windowsill. She landed awkwardly, her hands and feet scraping for purchase on the small stone ledge. Valyeria froze as she heard the clanking of boots inside and her eyes caught the flicker of torchlight on the walls.

She cast a glance around, seeing nowhere to hide. Out of options, she gripped the windowsill and dropped. Her hands shook at they tried to support her weight, the forearms cramping almost instantly. The footsteps stopped suddenly and the light washed out the window.

Hurry up, hurry up

She forced her fingers to dig in and hold on. They were spread wide, barely obvious against the rough-hewn ledge. She couldn’t drop down to the ground- there was still the occasional passerby, not to mention the fact that she had been very careful to avoid leaving footprints anywhere nearby; hardly an easy task when Avriel were outlawed in Rynmere. The slowly falling snow dusted her fingers and the cold sapped her energy.

She felt her fingers slip on the ledge, scraping them raw as she dropped a half inch. Valyeria unfurled her wings, fluttering them, just enough to keep her holding onto the windowsill.

The clunking footsteps began moving again and Valyeria breathed a sigh of relief. With shaking arms and cramped hands, she pulled herself onto the ledge and groaned. Her hands snaked their way into her armpits as Valyeria tried her best to warm them up. The lock on the window was simple; a one pin tumbler. She honestly didn’t know why they even bothered using this lock- it was a third story window and any burglar who could get here would have no problems opening it.

She sat silently as she warmed her hands, listening intently for the returning footfalls, but all was silent. The black, form fitting clothing she wore was slightly mottled, breaking up her shape, and was surprisingly warm. When she had control over her numb fingers again, Valyeria pulled out a simple U shaped pick and found the pin. It was a matter of trills before she found the fault line and popped the lock open. The window swung open soundlessly.

Valyeria dropped inside, closing the window behind her. Luckily there wasn’t much in the way of snow on the sill, so no one would notice snowy footprints in here or out there.

She crept soundlessly to a small alcove and waited. She was inside now, so part one was a success. The second part was going to be far harder- she had to find Evelyn’s room.

It had been several trials since she heard her attempt to poison the woman using Moseke’s Mist-laden candles wasn’t successful, so tonight was to fix her mistake. Luckily, no one suspected foul play. Evelyn Andaris was a whore, to put it bluntly. She entertained countless men and never got pregnant, so an overdose of a common birth control was hardly unexpected.

Valyeria tried her best to remember everything from the visit here- the woman had come from upstairs, though that was no guarantee that her bedroom was up here. She hadn’t been given a grand tour, so she was working in the dark, in more ways than one.

She snorted quietly to herself at her bad pun, then moved out of the alcove. The Brightfern she had purchased on her way here was coming in handy. She moved slowly, quietly, watching the wooden floor for any loose boards that might give her away. She still hadn’t seen the guard again, and Valyeria assumed there was only the one for the whole house. It would make sense, given that Evelyn likely wouldn’t want to be disturbed.

Room by room, the same pattern every time, like clockwork. Creep to the door, listen for movement and check the crack for light, then slowly push the door open and check the room. Rinse and repeat.

The house was way too big for one woman, she decided. She must have purchased the house from someone else, someone with a large family, or else had planned on having one at some point. That thought made her sad as she recalled Tristan telling her that her husband had died, and she had to shake herself out of it. This wasn’t the time or the place.

Valyeria paused by the stairwell, listening carefully for any sound of movement or rustle of papers. Nothing but the creaking of an old house greeted her ears.

She carefully began to tread down the stairs, putting most of her weight on the railing. She had rarely heard a railing creaking, but rickety stairs were all too common. Halfway between landings, she heard the noise she dreaded the most; metallic clinking. Her gaze flashed to the second floor landing, and saw the torchlight flickering on the walls. She turned her body quickly, only to see another light growing brighter on the third-floor landing.

Shit

Out of options and trapped in a bad spot, Valyeria did the only thing she could. She jumped.

Her wings snapped out to make a soft thump, and slowed her descent enough that her landing didn’t break her legs. Pain shot through her calves, however, and a quick check of her skin told her that the damage wasn’t serious, however much it hurt. There was no light or blood obvious, and her skin was smooth, uncracked.

The thump seemed to escape notice and Valyeria hoped she had moved quick enough. Scuttling along the ground, keeping her body low, she moved to the study where she and Evelyn had first met- that was somewhere she was sure she’d be safe. The door opened smoothly on well-oiled hinges, and Alex backed into the room. She peered out at the staircase as she shut the heavy oak door, the latch sounding louder than it had before.

Sighing in relief, Valyeria rested her head on the door, trying to drown out the pain shooting through her legs. They may not be obviously injured, but she would have a hard time walking for a few trials, that was for sure.

The loud rumble shattered her solitude.

Valyeria spun around, her heart racing. Behind her on a bed that was definitely a new addition, Evelyn Andaris lay resting.

She lay a hand over her chest, breathing deeply as she tried to calm her racing pulse. Her hand had automatically dropped to the dagger at her belt, and she slowly relaxed it as she surveyed the rest of the room. No sign of anyone or anything else out of place.

The large bed was sitting in the room much like an elephant would- the desk and chair that had been the centre of attention were now shoved off to the side like a toddler’s discarded toys. The bed sat hulking in the corner, too large and ornate for the room.

Valyeria touched her waist- good. The three needles she had brought were all still there. None had been broken or slipped from their case. One was for Evelyn, the other two were blood clotters- simulate a heart attack or stroke, in case anything went wrong. Two dead bodies from different causes would cause eyebrows to be raised, but less so than a man disappearing or having his throat slit.

Valyeria didn’t bother pausing to think about why the woman was here, or why there had suddenly been two guards instead of one. That wasn’t her concern, and it had no bearing on this mission. But she wasn’t stupid. She checked the indent left by the woman on the bed- she hadn’t moved in a long while, something someone actually asleep didn’t do. There was a slight tinge of urine in the room, or perhaps a strong alcohol. Valyeria always equated the two. That meant she either needed to be cleaned, or they had a bedpan for the woman. It was impossible to tell under all the heavy blankets, but she felt reasonably sure this wasn’t a trap. And if it was...well she had three needles, didn’t she?

Valyeria slunk to Evelyn’s bedside and peeled up the blankets, baring her right thigh. She carefully watched the woman’s face for any sign that she was waking up. Nothing.

The cool air raised goosebumps on the woman’s leg and Valyeria moved quickly. She located the large vein that ran down the inside of the thigh and followed it up, as close as she could to the woman’s crotch. She carefully pulled out one of the needles and lined it up. This was something she couldn’t mess up.

It slipped into the skin easily and Valyeria waited for the five-count to ensure all the poison had left the stinger. She withdrew it and looked at the mark- it was too large for her liking, but there was no evidence beyond that which would make someone think this was anything but an accident. Valyeria hadn’t been seen, and really, with a woman like this, odd marks in and around that area would be the norm.

She slipped the needle back into its holster and covered Evelyn back up. The drug would take a while to be activated- probably not for till mid-morning at least. By that time, Valyeria planned on being long gone.

She ensured there was no sign of her presence in the room, even checking the tile to make sure her feet hadn’t scuffed it. The window was her best bet- less chance of running into more guards. She began to move towards it quietly, noticing the torchlight bouncing in the crack under the door.

Her foot collided with a large book and sent it spinning across the floor, under one of the bookshelves. The thump it made as it hit the wall was loud- loud enough that she heard a grunt of confusion from the hallway.

Oh for f...

Valyeria darted out the window, closing it as quickly as she could. The pounding footsteps drew near and the guard threw open the door just as the it closed. His hard gaze swept the room quickly, hovering on Evelyn for a moment as he assured himself she wasn’t harmed, nor was she awake. There was no sign of whatever had made the noise, and he narrowed his eyes.

Valyeria was crouched in the dead garden, thankful for a large overhang that kept the snow off her. Her one eye was all that was visible as she watched the guard bustle about checking all the obvious hiding places. As he began to walk towards the window, she flattened herself against the wall beneath it and held her breath. She heard it open, saw his breath cloud, and prayed with all her might.

Not now, just leave. Please, just leave. There’s nothing to see here. Nothing at all.

It seemed someone was listening, as the guard hovered for a moment longer before shutting the window firmly. Valyeria waited until she heard him close the door, then paused for another sixty-count.

She sent a quick glance back into the room before leaping to the air and taking off. She beat her wings hard, sacrificing stealth for speed. There didn’t seem to be anyone about and she made it away safely, without any alarms being raised.

The flight back to Andaris was uneventful. Valyeria was absorbed in the thoughts of her mission, and she missed something she never would’ve normally.

Avriel are forbidden in Andaris.

She was high enough that no one noticed her until she landed on the streets. The screams came all at once and Valyeria looked around in confusion. It hit her like a ton of bricks and she gaped at her stupidity. Her gaze darted from person to person like a cornered animal and she took off running when they finally moved. Two men were right behind her, shouting out that damned word- Avriel.

She could try to fly away, but people would be on the lookout for her now. She didn’t have the time to climb out of bow range, nor the energy. The flight there and back had exhausted her wings.

But Valyeria was too tired. She had spent most of her energy in flying here and her calves still ached from the fall in the house. She drew a knife and spread the contents of one of the needles down its length as she ran, sending quick glances back over her shoulder to see the two men gaining on her. Valyeria ducked sharply into an alley, waiting for the two men to rush after her. One was younger and in good shape, but the other one was slightly fat and breathing hard. She waited until the younger one had darted forward, slowing as he realized he was in a dead end alley.

Valyeria lashed out with the knife, slicing through the fat man’s throat as he barrelled around the corner. The unsuspecting man never stood a chance. His hand flew up to his throat and he brought it up to the light, confused at the dark blood covering it. He staggered sideways and fell to the wall.

One to go

The other man had turned around by this point and Valyeria held the blade ready.

“Leave me alone,” she hissed, trying to lower her voice as much as possible.

The man said nothing to her, only shouted louder for help as he reached down and pulled a chunk of timber from the garbage pile filling the alley. Valyeria nodded, and darted forward. The man moved too fast for her, the timber blurring in the darkness of the alley.

She flew sideways, her head cracking against the wall as pain exploded in her ribs. She fell to the ground and rolled, barely dodging the next blow which missed her skull by inches.

Gasping, she pushed herself to a knee in time to see him wind up a two-handed backswing. Valyeria gritted her teeth and pushed off with all her strength, beating her wings once to get the extra speed and power she needed.

The blade sunk into his chest just as the beam collided with her other arm and Valyeria heard a crack. The blade was wrest from her grip as she smacked into the alley wall, and she lay panting on the ground. She heard the wet sucks of the other man trying to breathe, but couldn’t get herself to stand. Bits passed, and Valyeria heard the stomping of boots.

For once I want that sound to be good for me

Valyeria gingerly rose to her feet, looking around for her knife. Her right arm was cradled against her body and she couldn’t move the fingers. Flames licked their way up her arm from the elbow to shoulder and she gritted her teeth against the pain. She couldn’t afford to leave it. The stomping boots were getting closer and closer and she felt a weight drop in her stomach.

Leave, her body was telling her, Run. You can’t win this fight, you’ll die! The adrenaline rushed through her as Valyeria caught sight of the man. His chest was still rising and falling with the hilt of her weapon embedded in it. She took one hesitant step forward as the torches stopped in front of the alley.

Before they caught sight of her, Valyeria lifted off and landed atop the building. Her feet slippedShe moved quickly, doing her best to ignore the pain rushing through her whole body. It didn’t work.

Limping and favouring one side heavily, Valyeria stumbled across the rooftops, using her wings to lift her the extra few feet to make it to the next roof. An outdoor staircase led to the ground level and Valyeria shifted back to Alex before making her way down. The cloak was wrapped tight around her body, but no one in Low-town gave her a second glance. Avoiding the main streets, she made it back to the Inn she was staying at, taking the back staircase up. Her father was waiting for her, his face a troubled frown.

“I’d heard the guard’s talking... I assume that was you?”

In response, Alex opened the cloak to reveal her shirt, soaked with the fat man’s blood. Her one arm refused to work at all and stayed curled up near her body. She went to reply, but the world wavered before her eyes and her knees buckled. Warren rushed forwards, catching her in his arms.

“I’ve got you, Vlu. Relax now...”
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Black Mottled Boots- 8SN
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Munchkin Mod Bomb....
"You say she went that way, the Avriel?" the guard asked, his eyes sharp and serious. Normally, he wouldn't be one to believe this kind of tale. An Avriel unnoticed in Andaris, for this long? But there were more than just the one witness, and the story this man had made sense. He wasn't trustworthy, though, by any stretch.
"A shapeshifter, sir. I'm tellin' ya! Went from an Avriel to someone else, cloaked an' all. Saw it with me own eyes" the man said, his appearance adding to the fact he wasn't trustworthy. If he didn't know any better, Radur would have been certain he had arrested this man at least twice. But that wasn't the point right now. Instead, he gave the man a friendly nod and started on his way, two guards following alongside him. The three were skilled enough to do this on his own, he insisted to his commander.

"Becomer?" the youngest guard, a newly appointed Knight who ended up being a pure diamond compared to the rest of them, asked. Radur shook his head, frowning a little. His closest friend, and usual companion, let out a small and excited grin. If it wasn't a becomer, he knew exactly what that meant. The rookie, however, still looked confused.
"Yludih, boy" Radur's friend, Jason, asked. Jason was a shorter man, seeing as he wasn't a Lothar. But in comparison to humans, he stood a lot taller than most. Radur, being a Lotharro, stood at around 6'6. The rookie was notably different in his size, standing at around 5'6. He was a Biqaj, tanned and considered handsome by many. His handsome appearance was hidden by the chain mail that him and Jason wore, matched with their badges. Radur wore his plate mail perfectly, the figure of power and authority.

After a little more discussion, the two arrived at the Inn that they had been told about. Radur walked in, making the bar fall silent. The other two walked in beside him, weapons in their holsters. He walked up to the man behind the bar and stood, towering above him. "By order of the Iron Hand, I need to ask you a few questions. We're looking for a woman, injured, presumably came in to your Inn recently. Cloaked, too" he asked. The bartender thought for a few trills.
"Just upstairs, a woman that was cloaked came up. She didn't seem injured like, but she was cloaked. If that helps..." the man asked, voice fading as the guards all drew their weapons and walked to the stairs. Radur had his sword, whereas Jason held a mace. The Rookie also held a sword, the same blade he was well known for using despite being a new recruit. A few people stood up and left, not wanting to be a part of whatever was about to happen.

"Go find out which room" Radur ordered, the rookie quickly following. After some trills had passed, the rookie came back up with no answer. Radur considered the best way to handle this, before deciding on it.
"Avriel, we know you're in here" he said, shouting so any rooms could hear him. As much as it might panic the civilians, the idea of a shapeshifter would probably scare them more. "We know what you are, and what we're looking for. By the Iron Hand, you are under arrest. Show yourself immediately or we will enter with brute force. You have ten trills."
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The knock on the door woke Alex from her sleep, jolting her upright. Her gaze fell on Warren, frozen in the middle of his packing. He was in his noble form, though his disheveled and dirty clothing made it obvious he had fallen from grace. He shot a glance towards the door, shuffling the bed and groaning loudly. It was late enough to be believable that someone had gone to bed, and the lanterns were still on in the hallway- no chance of their light being visible under the doorway. They heard the footsteps leave their door, and Alex glanced around.

The room was spotless- far cleaner than it had been upon their arrival. Warren looked over at her, his eyes saying everything she needed to know. Wincing as she drew herself upright, Alex shifted carefully into her old form, that of the old, liver-spotted woman. Her murky eyes surveyed the room again before a jab of pain brought her attention back to the moment.

She lifted her shirt, looking at her skin around her waist. It was unblemished and whole. Other than her limps and occasional hiss as pain jabbed into her side, there were no obvious signs of damage. Her bloodstained clothing was gone, though what Warren had done with it was beyond her. She grabbed her cloak, tucking it around herself and changing the color to a dark maroon, the fashionable color of the season. A handful of mud off her shoes made the edges appear worn, and Alex grabbed a nearby stick to use as a rough walking stick. She was nearly bent double, her already short frame appearing smaller and less threatening. Warren had used the time to ruffle the bed, making it look like someone had been sleeping in that one, while there was no need to do so with Alex's.

"Avriel, we know you're in here. We know what you are, and what we're looking for. By the Iron Hand, you are under arrest. Show yourself immediately or we will enter with brute force. You have ten trills."

"Come on, come on!" Warren hissed silently at her, his ear pressed to the door. Alex shuffled her way over to him, her gait shifting to that painfully slow old woman. Together, her hand on his arm, ostensibly for support, they made their way out into the hallway. Several other people were already out, though it had been deserted when Alex had arrived.

Two shifty looking men were standing in their doorway, peering out while keeping the door mostly shut behind them. Whatever was going on in their room was obviously not meant to be seen, but ignoring summons like these was asking for someone to barge in.

She heard a set of giggles as the door to her left opened and a young woman with only a sheet wrapped around her body stumbled out, a much older man tugging up trousers as he followed her.

Several couples were poking their heads out of their room, the eyes of children seen between their legs.

Four doors remained shut- two to her right, and two at the far end of the hall. The conversations quickly died off in the hallway, though the old man and his "girlfriend" kept whispering to each other and giggling, giving the rest of the occupants the impression they were being laughed at.

Warren turned to the guards as the ten trill warning ended, and opened his mouth.

"Yes? What seems to be the matter? My mother is tired and we are trying to sleep. We're supposed to be shipping out tomorrow, and you're barging in here shouting about an Avriel?"

Most people likely only heard the threats to "open the door or else we'll enter by force", and began to drift off as soon as Warren brought up the Avriel, though Alex caught a few grimaces as if the name alone could leave a bad taste in one's mouth.
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Radur listened to what the people had to say, keeping his eyes peeled for even the slightest sign of injury. He knew well enough that the bruise on the young woman wasn't obtained from any kind of fight, the faint mouth shape of it gave that much away - as well as her lack of clothing. It made him remember the days gone by, when he'd been reckless and free of care. He'd met his wife in this very Inn, and it had lasted for Arcs. He quickly snapped out of the memories, focused on the job again.
Radur turned to the man who came out of his room, seemingly unhappy. This wasn't right, and it wasn't easy. A shapeshifter was hard to find, he knew that much. He'd had to find a few in his time, and the only signs would be the damage left over between forms - assuming they had no knowledge of healing. He couldn't let this situation carry on as it was, and he couldn't trust anyone of these people.

"I'm sorry to say this sir, but we need everybody outside now. I understand you must be tired, but this is a matter of importance" he saidm, before turning his head to the crowd of people. "I'm sorry to be of bother, everyone, but we need you all outside."
Hearing this, the other two guards looked to him expectantly, waiting for orders. Sure enough, he looked to them and gave it. His eyes fell first to the Rookie, sharp and authoritative. "Make sure everyone makes their way out, if anyone tries to resist you immobilize them and call for backup immediately. Understand?" he asked, the boy nodding in reply. His gaze then fell to his more common partner, who knew how this went.
"Guide them outside, and stop anyone who tries to escape. Avriel or not, shoot them down - but don't kill. I think the commander will want to see this one himself" he ordered, his friend nodding with a small grin. He had no ranged weapon on him, but he was handy with his mace. For a big guy, he was also quick - he had this.

Radur then turned to Warren, frowning a little. "Again, I am sorry, but you and your mother will need to come with us sir."
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Warren's face grew thunderous as the man spoke, his brows lowering over his deep set eyes. "I-", but whatever he was going to say was cut off as the guard turned and spoke to the rest of the patrons.

A door slammed shut as he was speaking. The sound of a bolt sliding home punctuated the end of the guard's sentence as the sketchy men barricaded themselves inside. Scraping and rattling was heard from behind the locked door as the men made themselves busy doing Aelig knows what.

The rest of the men and women began trudging out, rather begrudgingly. A dingy inn in the heart of Lowtown was hardly a spot that one expected to get raided in the middle of the night- Most here figured the guards would have better things to do with their time.

"H-Hey, wait a second! You said there was an Avriel? None of us are Avriel! Look," one of the men shouted, turning around to show his bare back. "No wings!"

He gestured around to the people around him. "None of us have any wings! You'd be able to see if we did!"

His family shrunk further back as if they were expecting a blowback from the guards, but the man stood, eyes held high as he challenged them.

Warren sighed explosively, the gust of air escaping from his lungs apparently the only thing holding him up. His posture slumped, his shoulders rounded. "Okay, fair enough. Let's get this over with." Warren led Alex down the stairs and she kept her head down. No sign of the pain showed on her face- her time with Warren had given her a greater tolerance for pain, but even this was stretching what she could handle. They trudged down the stairs before the guards could reply to the challenger, two other families following behind them. The prostitute ducked into her room to emerge with a pair of pants and a loose, ill-fitting shirt, and the pair of them joined the group leaving the Inn.

As they emerged from the warm barroom, they were corralled together. The wind bit cruelly into their exposed flesh, and most were shivering within bits.

"W-where are we going?" Warren's teeth chattered audibly as he asked the nearest guard. "C-can we not get somewhere warm? My mother's going to freeze to death!"

The cold would sap their energy, make them tired quicker and cause them to die slightly faster than a normal person. As it was, Alex had lost a lot of energy tonight and hadn't been able to replace it yet. She was running low, to begin with, but she had a few things on her side. She had the excuse that she was an old woman, and feeble, and unless her foes knew a lot about shapeshifters and were prepared to kill off a lot of civilians, they weren't going to use the cold to find them out. They should be able to handle it for quite a while- they would be hungry come morning, that was for sure.

A shiver worked its way down her spine as she felt the last vestiges of warmth from inside escape her. Wherever, and whoever, this "commander" was, she hoped he was nearby.
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Hearing the sound of the door slam shut and lock made Radur sigh. He had no doubt that the shapeshifter was someone else entirely, if they were that secretive about it all then they wouldn't go making such a ruckus in front of everyone. He glanced to the rookie with an authoritative look, one that even the newest recruits had learnt to read - 'go deal with that'.
Just as Radur was ready to leave, a man stepped forward and made a statement - a bold one. It was beyond infuriating, you would think that people would learn to trust in the guards - but no. He found himself tense suddenly, before turning to face the man. It would be unprofessional for the commander to hear of his guard losing his temper at a civilian - would probably cost his job. But, Radur always stood by that, the lives at risk were worth more than his own.

"No, you're right, none of you have wings" Radur replied, tension flooding the air. "But someone did, and they then transformed. You know what that leaves my options as? Yludih, Becomer or absolute freak. Now I was withholding that truth from you in the hope I could, perhaps, keep people calm. But you had to be the 'brave' one, didn't you?"
Radur looked down to the man, towering over him. "There's a fine line between brave and stupid. Don't cross it."

When they finally arrived outside, Radur realized his error. Shapeshifter or not, the majority of these people were just civilians - and it was damned cold. In this state, nothing would happen apart from complaining and bitching. "Alright, back in-" Radur started, before hearing armored footsteps.
The commander, and his two personal guards, were approaching with another five guards - all of different abilities. Radur and Jason saluted, waiting for dismissal - which they received a few trills later. They then stood normally as the commanders eyes fell over the situation before them. He stopped as his eyes met Vluh, piercing eyes watching for a trill, before moving on and scanning as he was before. Once the entire situation had been looked over, he turned to Radur authoritatively.
"Your orders have changed. Get these people indoors and have the place locked up. I need your partner, Jason, for a different mission - so it will just be you and your newest recruit. Is that clear?" he asked with a sharp and harsh authority. Radur saluted. "Yes sir, loud and clear."

Assuming there was no fuss, Jason then departed and Radur led everyone inside - where the rookie was waiting with two guilty looking men. Once the door was shut and locked, all attention from the guards looked to the two - waiting for an explanation as to what vial they had in their room.
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Silence greeted his statment at that- the people in the small hallways gave nervous glances towards eachother, their gaze dropping whenever it met another's. They went silently, dociely after the guard's outburst.

When the commander appeared, Alex was thankful. The cold was beginning to bite, and shivers worked their way across her body. She didn't notice his gaze, her back and shoulders rounded as she tried to fold herself in. Warren met the commander's eyes, dropping them after a moment. His gaze, thankfully, moved on without pausing.

Alex's mind was abuzz. What were their options? It wasn't like the normal citizens of Rynmere were required to carry any forms of identification, and they could easily claim to be shipping home to Etzos on the morrow.

They had the tickets and their bags were packed- their quick disappearance wouldn't be odd nor something to take note of. As far as Alex knew, there was no way for someone to determine if she was Yludih or not, though a knot of worry made her stomach hurt. What if?

What if.

Alex missed some of the discussion, but as the one guard departed, they were quickly ushered back inside, Alex shuffling with her arm carefully through her father's. He pushed his way forward, leading Alex to the fireplace. She groaned quietly in relief as the heat washed over her, chasing away the numbness. She heard some grumbling and hard looks being shot to the remaining guards as people shook the snow off their shoulders and huddled close together.

The two men were staring at their feet, shuffling their feet nervously. Those who were close enough could see the traces of powder still encrusting their noses, the bloodshot eyes. The one on the left opened his mouth, but a swift elbow from his friend clammed him up.

"We didn't do nothin wrong," the right one said with a thrust of his chin. "And we ain't an Avriel. Sides, how are you gonna tell whose them anyway? Things were too loud to hear anyone comin up the stairs anyway!"

The man had a tendency to say anyway, a word which he accompanied by a slight sneer.

Warren's eyes opened wide as the right one puffed up his chest, staring the guard in the eyes without a hint of fear. The left one seemed to sink further and further into himself as his friend spoke, but all eyes were on the guards now. That arrogance, if unchecked, wouldn't make things easy for them as they tried to find the Avriel.
word count: 443
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Munchkin Mod Bomb....
Radur held in a sigh as the man claimed innocence, then tried to change the conversation. Although he wouldn't admit it, Radur knew the man was right.
How were they going to tell who they were looking for? It was near to impossible, he knew that much. At this rate, with this much fuss, he wouldn't be able to do it. But he had to try, he knew that much. He didn't have a choice.
As the man stepped forward, the Lothar knew that he had to deal with these men with force of some kind. But until he was at some kind of risk he couldn't do a thing. There were a few ways around that, and he was very experienced with one - get himself at risk. He let out a sigh and looked down to the man, puffing out his chest.
"I can do that too, sir. You're not proving anything. So stand down, before I have to make you. I'll find the shapeshifter, and you're not going to stop me from doing so - is that clear?" Radur begun. To nobodies surprise, the man didn't like that. But it wasn't enough yet. He took a step closer so the two were near to touching, pressed together. In size, the Lothar had the man beat. But in muscle, the smaller man's were more prominent. Not that it scared Radur off though, he'd fought a lot stronger and won.

Radur met eye to eye with the man, staring through him. Behind Radur, the rookie was ready to jump in and intervene. He knew that the Lothar could take care of himself, but that didn't stop him from wanting to help. After all, it was his job to do so. He'd been doing it a long time, and he'd dealt with much worse than this - but something felt uncomfortable. They were looking for a shapeshifter, in a crowd of seemingly normal people - none of which particularly compliant.
So a thought hit him? Who had kept their head low? After all, a shapeshifter that was hunted after wouldn't make a scene, would they? He glanced around the room and for a second, his eyes fell to Vluh - the 'old woman'. What better a disguise? His thought didn't last, however, as a fist was swung and Radur had taken the man to the floor. Seemingly out of instinct, the other man jumped on to Radur to try and stop him.

As the rookie went to run in, the Inn seemingly erupted in to chaos. A few others joined, with no clear knowledge of who was fighting who. But the rookie's gaze was focused. He knew Radur could handle it, and he had a clear order - get the job done. He looked over to Warren and Vluh as he walked through the crowd, trying to duck and dodge punches. One hit him and he fell, before looking back to the two.
"You two, with me - now!"
word count: 512
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Together, Warren and Alex watched the altercation- perhaps they would be lucky? Maybe they wouldn't be seen for what they were.

The knot of anxiety had begun to disappear as she watched the man make a spectacle of himself. His immature posturing made her roll her eyes a bit and scoff, but internally she was happy. The less attention paid to her and her father, the better.

When the fist was swung, Alex was completely caught off guard. The man was instantly down on the floor, the guard holding him, and everything erupted into chaos.

One of the men nearby with a family went wading into the throng, though whether it was to help the guard or the others, Alex couldn't tell. "Hey, over here," Alex croaked out, her voice raspy and thin. She gestured the family over, a mother and two children who look terrified as the sounds of breaking wood and shattering glass filled the room. Warren stood between them and the brawl, standing tall and broad. Only two men came near Alex and the family- the first was easily turned away as Warren stared at him, silently daring him to make a move. The other one was drunk, someone Alex didn't recognize from the rooms- where had he come from? Was this turning into a bar brawl? She watched as three men stumbled off their stools.

They weren't the smartest bulbs- the remaining drinkers in the Inn hadn't cared about the guard appearing en masse, nor had they given the group a second glance until now. The fight was raging with no sign of stopping when the younger guard broke through, shouting at them. Warren glanced around, pausing. The stairs were almost clear of the fighting, and she recognized the set of his shoulders well before he launched himself. Two men went down under his fists, clearing the way for the family. He waved a hand, gesturing them up the stairs before turning and following the guard. He kept a protective stance around Alex as they skirted the edge of the fight, always between her and any who would harm her.

Alex, for her part, was moving slowly. Her ribs ached and it hurt to breathe. The slow shuffle was the fastest she could manage, and she was impressed that Warren didn't complain.

After what felt like far too long, Alex and Warren were alone with the guard. "Yes?" Warren asked icily. "What was so important that you needed to let that continue?" He said, gesturing towards the room where the sounds of fighting were still coming from.

He rubbed a hand across his face, as if calming his emotions. For all Alex knew, maybe he really was trying to calm himself. She knew how he got after a fight- jittery and hostile for breaks. Now wasn't a good time for that.

"Sorry... There's just women and children in there, and they're going to get wrapped up in that. Can you tell me what was so important that you couldn't protect them first?"
word count: 523
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Final Scene

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Munchkin Mod Bomb....
with a guest appearance by Peg!
"What's so important?" The guard looked at them and shook his head. "The act is a good one, but it hasn't fooled me, I'm afraid. You're under arrest." He did a good job, it had to be said, of appearing to be completely sure of himself. His gaze was firm and he looked at them both, not just Warren.

"Old lady, perfect disguise. Concerned son, don't buy it." He nodded, he was convinced himself, although he knew that he had not a leg to stand on in terms of anything resembling evidence. Still, he was a determined fellow, this guard, determined to make his mark and earn his fortune and glory. "I don't buy a lot of things, of course. The wages we get, well, they don't allow it."

He looked at the two of them and he raised an eyebrow. "So, yeah, it would be a shame if the shapeshifter was never found. See. If it is, then we get a bonus. I'm going to get that bonus, one way." He was being as obvious as he dared, "Or another"

So, it seemed that Alex and Warren were faced with a quandary. How much could they believe? What should they do?

Decisions, decisions....
word count: 221
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~~Red in hoof and claw... ~~
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