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Fantasy Cinders and Ashes

Sub Genres
Adventure, Magical, Mystery, Romance, Supernatural
Fantasy

ArcticFox

Dreamer
Vivan Price
25
Spina: 11


You weren't able to make it to the funeral, but the people had told you that it was a nice and calm ceremony. Your guardian didn't know many besides you and had led a quiet and isolated life. With no other relatives, he had left you all his fortune, which he invested in your family's estate. Part of it had already been spent, after all you just went through four long years of studies, and college was expensive. Yet, a good part is left, bound up in the estate as it may be.

It could be a few months, if not more, before your inheritance can be liquidated into movable currency which you can use, providing that you want to sell the estate and return to the city.

Either way, now you are left in Cinders, among its whole questionable glory. The Season is fast on your heels, and, while it's not a bad time to be here, there is an itch in this place, a quiet pressure that is unlike any other. A slow terror that digs in at unexpected moments.


Cinders is a paradox, as it always has been. A small town at the edge of nowhere, huddled at the edge of the thick forest and the wilds that lay beyond it always seemed a poor choice for a hideaway. Certainly, it's a far cry from the bustling city you've quit to see to your guardian's affairs.

In contrast with the crowded, labyrinthine city, Cinders is well-planned and well-composed. Sweeping circular drives show off half-moon rows of grand townhouses, ostentatious in their well-balanced simplicity. The sun hangs in the sky, and, in this light, with the roofs gleaming, the spectacle of life that is here looks appealing indeed.

Here, at the centre of town, gentry and commoners mingle. In the summer, the seasonal miners and dock workers congregate around the marketplace and river harbours, while, on the other side of town, well-dressed persons of all possible description amble and nod their way through the streets, chasing fortune in their own way.

Also, in the midst of it all, the demons, spiky and resplendent in frock coats of crimson, vermilion, cerulean, and gold, are like glowing coals against their greyish retinues of the Fallen.

And that is another shock you've gone through after the funeral of your guardian. The demons had set up a permanent residence in Cinders, for one reason or the other, and have been keeping a watchful eye on everyone. They have left you alone for the time being, but you have been in the town for only three days. You've seen demons before, just not in such a number, and out in the open like this. Yet, you have never before seen the Fallen. Even their name you've first heard when you returned to Cinders.

A carriage with colours of gold and black drives in front of you forcing you to step back onto the curb. Behind the drawn curtains you see the vague shape of its occupant. When you spot the Fallen thralls on the drivers' seat, you can only assume that the being inside the carriage is a demon.

The people on the street beside you avert their gazes automatically, but you are at loss of what to do.

- Look at the carriage.
- Look at the Fallen.
- Avert your gaze.
 
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Ezri

Senior Member
Vivian had expected to feel a little strange when she returned to Cinders. While it was hardly some backwater village, she’d spent so much time in the bustle of the city by now, a little culture shock was to be expected. But this was something else entirely.

Cinders now bore a heavy, expectant atmosphere, and it was difficult to know what she should and should not do... and what exactly the consequences for falling out of line entailed. As if it was a matter of course, everyone in town was now at the mercy of the demons, but what had led them here was still a mystery to her. The Fallen, too, were a total enigma, although judging by the downcast gazes and oppressive weight of the air, they could be nothing good.

But Vivian’s weakness was that she had to know. What was she up against, here? She tried to get as good a look at the thralls as she could, hoping that simply keeping her eyes on the procession wouldn’t draw too much attention.
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
The demons are a feast for the eyes, and they know it. Your overlords are nothing, if not sumptuous in their tastes. If this one were human, he would be beyond the height of fashion.

However, although mostly human-shaped, he is not one of your kind, and the finery only serves to emphasize his otherness. His coat fits tightly around his narrow shoulders, and his pale fingers, showing from beneath the tapered sleeves, are a bit longer than a human's. Each shining button and gilded braid that adorns his clothing adds to his general air of carefully polished menace.

You can see the demon's eyes, as he moves the curtains of the carriage. They are like dark, polished stones at the bed of a swift cold river. You can also see him nodding slightly, a cruel smile curling his lips. The moment seems to linger for far too long.

A piece of parchment falls from slender fingers through the window of the carriage, the wind carrying it to your feet.

But then the carriage drives past - the moment passes.

- Pick up the parchment.
- Leave it.
- Call out to the demon.
 

Ezri

Senior Member
Looking at the demon’s eyes, Vivian felt for that impossibly long span of seconds that maybe she had made a mistake. There was so much glimmer to look at it was almost overwhelming, but it was tainted by the fear that she shouldn’t have looked at all.

With a small gulp she crouched and took the parchment from the ground. Regardless of what could be written on it, she’d feel much more uncertain if she just left it behind.
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
Welcome back to Cinders,

You are hereby formally entered into a contract. Your soul and your will belongs not only to you, but to the demon folk. You will be watched closely and judged accordingly. Should you try to leave Cinders, the contract will be terminated and you will immediately be considered a Fallen.

Your first spina were delivered to your home. They represent a tithe to the demon folk. Take great care not to lose them all.


That's all that's written on the parchment and you are left with more questions than answers. Things have looked odd when you returned to Cinders, but now they started to get complicated.

You breathe in the heady aroma of roasted almonds, sold on carts in the market and remember what you were up to before this interruption.

Minutes later, the door to your house squeaks slightly as you open it, the walls have gathered a little dust since their owner's passing, but otherwise, everything is as you recall. Were it not for your guardian's absence, it would be as if time had stood still.

Your guardian - a good person, if troubled.

- You were on good terms with your guardian.
- You disliked your guardian for their sternness.
- You loved them like a parent.
 

Ezri

Senior Member
Vivian returned to her errands with the forceful stride of someone protecting their pride. Now she had done it; even if she didn’t know what had brought Cinders to its knees, she was now properly caught up in it. She had a feeling that arguing over the legality of this contract would not get her very far, either. The last thing she wanted was to be at the beck and call of those self-important monsters, but she would have to be careful...

Coming home, as it now was, was not as comforting a feeling as she hoped it would be. The house was familiar conspicuously empty, as if the absence of her guardian was a presence in itself. The two of them had gotten along well— neither of them had anyone else, so it seemed natural that they should. Even when they were apart for long periods their correspondance was always warm and comforting for her.
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
He raised you cautiously, to prepare for the outside world, and, perhaps, in an attempt to shield you from the harsh reality of life in Cinders.

The house is empty, save for your two small travelling trunks, memories, and Bruno the stalwart, the one servant who remains. You've already put away most of your guardian's memories there, the rest was cleared out by the servants before they left for better prospects.

You pass the good oak door leading to the study - yours now, should you choose. Now, there is space cleared for you. Your guardian never placed great importance on possessions.

Still on the desk you notice an envelope. It bears your guardian's family name and your own, too, as their heir: Price. The insignia on it is that of Cinders. Next to it is a crimson bag neatly tied with golden thread.

- Open the envelope.
- Open the bag.
- Look around.
 

Ezri

Senior Member
Although it was hardly as crowded as had been before, it was a small comfort that at least she wasn't in this big old house completely alone. It wasn't as if she could blame the other servants for leaving, however; if they had any idea what would become of this place, they should be counting their lucky stars. She and Bruno were not so fortunate.

With the study as empty as it was, the items left for her were difficult to miss. She felt that the letter demanded her attention first, and so she opened the envelope with careful precision. That decision had nothing to do with the fact that she had a suspicion about what was in that bag, and wasn't looking forward to confirming those thoughts.
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
My dear Vivan,

If you are reading this, then I have died. It must have been a sudden death, otherwise you wouldn't be here. My attempts to contact you so far have all failed. They are not allowing any incriminating letters to leave Cinders and I cannot count the number of the letters that have been returned to me from the post. I cannot find a reliable way of getting out, though I still haven't given up.

I'm leaving this letter to you as a last resort, should everything else fail and I'm not able to reach you in time. They own Cinders now, Vivan. The demon kind. They have come suddenly, not in singles or pairs, but in a swarm. We had no time to react. No one breathes here without them knowing of it.

Yet, they haven't simply killed us off. For a lot of us, life resumed as it was. They gave us these... tithes. Thorns. Spina, they call them. I don't know if that's some foul entertainment of their own, or they have something to gain out of it, either way, once you lose all your spina, you are turned into a mindless husk. Fallen. Worse than death, yet they consider this mercy.

If you are reading this, then I have died. And you have to find a way to end this.

The bag next to the letter is still unopened. You can feel a strange aura emanating from whatever is inside.

- Open the bag.
- Panic.
- Look for Bruno.
 

Ezri

Senior Member
If there were any doubts about the seriousness of her situation, this letter swiftly and efficiently destroyed them. It was as bad as she thought. It was probably even worse. Vivian’s eyes darted to the bag and then back to the letter. Knowing what was in it only made it more repulsive.

“Bruno?” She called out, attempting to keep her voice steady. If he was still here, he must have some knowledge of what had gone on in this town, and perhaps a definitive explanation of what the bag was and how it got here. As much as she knew she should open it,
as far as she was concerned the longer she could avoid it the better.
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
"Yes, madam?" Bruno calls out, appearing at the doors of the study.


Bruno is of the old fashioned sort, always in a suit and always working. He had been taking care of the estate since you were little and he was the best and only honest friend of your guardian. If anyone would be able to answer your questions, it would be him.

- Ask Bruno about the bag.
- Ask him about Cinders.
- Ask about demons.
- Ask something else.
 

Ezri

Senior Member
Attentive and proper as always; no one could ask for a better servant than Bruno. The circumstances of their terrible entrapment aside, it would be a shame for him to stay in a place like this. He'd be welcome in any other more prosperous house, surely. But he must feel some sense of duty, to her late guardian or the family and general, even if that conviction wasn't in his best interest. She sighed. She shouldn't take his presence for granted, then.

"You've witnessed this... this..." She struggled to find the word, and eventually gave up and shook her head, simply gesturing to the bag in front of her. "How does one... lose spina, exactly? What do the demons expect of people here? Do you have any idea?"
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
Bruno nods slowly, his expression serious.

"The spina are given to the gentry only, madam." He explains. "The servants, such as me, don't have them. We must not be valuable to the demons, for whatever reason." His eyes shift to the bag on the desk. "There will be six of them in there, the same amount everyone gets to start with. There are no official rules handed out, but the demons are always watching. Do something they don't appreciate, and they will take away your spina. Lose everything and you become Fallen."

Six spina, six thorns emanating power. More valuable than money for you now. Because once you run out of spina, you will be turned into one of the Fallen.

Your guardian had advised you in his letter, if you behave acceptably, you keep your spina and you continue living. If you are content with that kind of a life, always on the knife's edge, you can continue living it as if nothing happened.

The bell downstairs rings, cutting short your reflections. From the window, you spot a menacing figure on your doorstep, corseted and starched to the extreme, every particle of attire minutely considered, from the trimmings on the hat to the angle of the parasol. You know her. It's your neighbor, Jocasta Smythe.

Still here, after all these years.

- Tell Bruno to open the door.
- Pretend not to be home.
- Something else.
 

Ezri

Senior Member
“Why does it all have to be so vague?” She grumbled, picking up thr bag and crumpling the fabric in her hand. It was a small relief that not everyone had been forced into this ‘contract’, although that only begged the question of why they were spared. And no matter how she looked at it, only being allowed six chances for the rest of her life seemed like a pathetically small number...

As Vivian peeked out the window, she made no attempt to hide her sour expression. She very much doubted that Jocasta had come by to offer a warm, neighborly welcome. Vivian was hardly in the mood to entertain strangers, but she wasn’t about to hide from them either— with a resigned wave, she asked Bruno to answer the door.
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
The enmity between you and Jocasta Smythe is of a particular, and yet baffling, nature. As a member of upper class, she is known as one of the most stalwart presences in town. It is hardly even worth saying that Jocasta is as determined a gossip as ever lived, for her behaviour is accepted as point of fact. You cannot recall a time when she was not looking out from her window as you ran across the drive to the neighbouring residence, or to the meadows, or into town - judging you all the while.

Bruno nods at your request and walks downstairs and to the door with elaborate and determined steps, yet you can see in his stance that he is tense. He was a mainstay of your childhood, now, only he remains to assist you in taking care of the property. A charkeep comes to cook and help with the cleaning, hardly a situation befitting a member of the gentry. But it is all that there is, now in this in-between stage.

Bruno lets your visitor into the sitting room, where you receive her.


She enters and takes a seat with all due decorum, but her eyes are constantly darting around, checking for anything out of the ordinary, any little detail that might betray a secret. If the walls that separated your houses were any thinner, you'd have no doubt that she'd be pressing her ear against it, with a glass bowl to amplify the sound.

"So. Back in Cinders at last, Miss Price. You stayed away a good long while. And now you've returned, not a moment too soon. Anyone could have seen that your guardian was ailing. Do you plan to stay with us long?"

She has manoeuvred you already into a position of divulging information that she probably does not need to know, and most certainly intends to share with others. She is also evading to mention the contract, demons or spina, for whatever reason.

- Charm her.
- Antagonise her.
- Twist the question back on her.
- Make something up.
- Talk about the demons.
 
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Ezri

Senior Member
While Cinders may be in total upheaval, some things never changed. Jocasta was as intrusive and shameless as she ever was. But regardless of the mess she was now in, Vivian had nothing to be ashamed of, no matter what insinuations were thrown at her. But she had to tread carefully; Jocasta could twist her words any way she liked, of course, and often in the most unflattering way possible. Vivian had no intention of answering any of her questions, if she could help it.

"Thank you for your condolences." she said primly-- despite herself Jocasta had neglected even the pretense of that much grace, but Vivian shouldn't have expected much. Maybe she was so eager she'd gotten ahead of herself. She smiled, although there was no warmth behind it. "I wasn't expecting visitors so soon-- I didn't realize my absence had such an impact on you, Jocasta. Did you miss me?"
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
Your neighbour leans forward, a malicious gleam in her eyes.

"Of course I did. It was such a pity that you missed Mr Beeker's wedding, now that was a fine occasion. But perhaps… did you not receive an invitation? One would think you would have, given everything."

This is a low blow, and she is obviously angling for another piece of gossip. Heavens know how many rumours she has circulated throughout your years of absence.

"A wedding at that time of year is often a risky proposition - they ought to have waited for the autumn, at least. But what is your opinion?" She fixes you with a glance that will brook no rebuttal. "I would have thought that you would have cared in particular about this matter."

Mr Beeker - Rowan - is your childhood friend. The closest thing you had to family along your guardian. You were inseparable during your growing up, but he had stayed in Cinders and you left to pursue your own goals. For a long while it looked like he never forgave you for leaving him behind. Your contact was minimal, until it completely ceased, and you have not known that he married until Jocasta so helpfully notified you of it.

- You are shocked.
- You don't care.
- You are angry at Jocasta.
- You are angry, but careful.
 

Ezri

Senior Member
For a moment Vivian only blinked as the information sunk in. She was never satisfied with how she and Rowan had drifted apart -- she never felt like she was doing anything wrong after all-- but had he really decided to cut her out completely? Was he really that bitter? It was hard to imagine him getting married, but there must be lots of things she didn't know about him now. It was more a shock than anything else, a sharp reminder that the past was far behind them.

But for Jocasta to use that as ammunition, that made her blood boil. Her smile remained, although it was tight and thin like a cord about to snap. Still, she couldn't lose her composure, that was what Jocasta wanted.

"My opinion... well, I'm sure it was a lovely ceremony, regardless of the season." This conversation may only have been going on for a few minutes, but somehow it felt like an eternity. She glanced at the door. "Is there anything else you would like to catch me up to speed on? Or is that all?"
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
"Ah, you must have had pressing business matters? They do drive a person hard in the city," she says, though you cannot recall hearing that Jocasta has ever been there. But she seems mollified by your reply.

You bear out another agonized quarter hour of the niceties, until at last, she leaves.

The bell rings again - even if you might contemplate hiding, Bruno is too quick. He comes to you, having answered the door.

"A card just arrived, madam."

Bruno hands the card to you and you read the all too familiar name - Rowan.

His parents were best friends of your guardian, and you were constantly thrown together. Much of your childhood is a hazy memory of running to and from his family's estate. You even took lessons together, sometimes.

If there was trouble to be found, he found it. And let you take the blame for whatever scrape you inevitably got into.

- You admired him.
- You were friendly rivals.
- You were inseparable.
- He was your first love.
 

Ezri

Senior Member
As soon as Jocasta was out the door Vivian felt her shoulders slump in exhaustion and relief, a feeling which was totally shattered once the doorbell rang again. Thankfully it wasn’t another unwelcome visitor, but it wasn’t something she expected to receive. Vivian turned the card over in her hands.

Back when they were children, and Vivian was much more rambunctious than she was now, she and Rowan had countless misadventures. He was always able to convince her of whatever hairbrained idea he came up with (no matter how badly their last misadventure might have gone). As often as they got into trouble, she usually brushed it off— despite his shortcomings, she had more fun with him than anyone else: The two of them were thick as thieves, which was why it was such a shame that they had fallen out the way they did.
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
You terrorized your houses and grounds together.

When you went away to school, you cried for two whole days, not for homesickness, but because you missed him.

He never properly answered your letters, though, and, in time, you fell out of touch.

There's a rustle - you look up - he's in the hallway, looking a you.


"Viv," he says, bows, laughs. The same laugh as he always had, "Sorry, I couldn't wait for you to visit so I came along with my invitation. I told Bruno not to tell you, so... surprise!"

- Greet him warmly.
- Greet him coldly.
- Hug him.
- Something else.
 

Ezri

Senior Member
"You scared me half to death!" Vivican scoffed once the shock subsided, half laughing herself. She couldn't have imagined what he would have grown up to be like, but now that she was seeing it for herself it was remarkable how much he seemed to have stayed the same. But... he wasn't acting like someone who ignored all her attempts at contact for years. What was that about?

"You haven't changed a bit." she smiled warmly, although she didn't move to close the distance between them. It must be a good thing that he wasn't showing any hard feelings, but the situation was too confusing for her to be as comforted as she wanted to be. She held up the card. "This invitation?"
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
"So it is true. You are here again, at last. I thought you might never return."

Rowan stands there for a moment, watching you with a smile. Then, he steps closer and gives you a warm hug.

Although Rowan cuts an imposing figure, standing tall and elegant as he does, his manner is all warmth and artless ease - no affectations, nor prying, roving glances. He looks well.

"Yes, I wanted to invite you to visit me, since that's the proper way to handle things... or so they tell me." He gives you a sheepish smile as he steps back, "But I just couldn't wait."

- Ask about the wedding.
- Ask about his life.
- Ask about Cinders.
- Ask something else.
 

Ezri

Senior Member
Well, it wasn’t as though nothing had changed. He was much larger now, for a start. The hug was unexpected but not unwelcome, and almost in a daze Vivian reached up and gave his back a solid pat. As far as she could tell he was acting completely sincerely here, but her list of questions just kept piling up.

“I heard you got married.” She said, starting with the first one that came to mind. She had no reason to doubt it, but it still wasn’t a concept that felt quite real.
 

ArcticFox

Dreamer
"I did, yes." He responds without a pause, the smile on his face not faltering. "It was time, you know, I am old enough. And it's a proper thing to do." He speaks with a carefree smile, but without any enthusiasm a newlywed should have.

You spend some time catching up, talking about your studies and how slow life passed for Rowan while you were away, but he doesn't mention the wedding invitation or any hard feelings, let alone the demon presence.

"…And, of course, there's the Assembly ball tonight, which I hope you'll attend." Rowan lowers his head and regards you. "Vivian. You will attend, will you not? I would be very pleased if you would attend with me, as my personal guest. It has been too long since you went away. You must come and dance. Francesca won't mind."

There is a special light in his eyes, or perhaps you're imagining it. Now your full attention is on him and you start to realise that he is intentionally speaking about trivial things. It is all a game. If you attend the ball with him, he will skirt the edges of trouble, but you alone, if you do not take sufficient care, will fall straight into it.

Going alone with Rowan, who is married, would be courting scandal. But he does seem to wish it, and Rowan can be a powerful ally, when he puts his mind to it.

Despite your long absence, you're not exactly a stranger in Cinders. Your guardian was well-respected, by and large, and you're from a good family. If you choose to try your luck alone, the Master of Ceremonies will surely let you in - it is a local affair.

There is a middle path, to attend as Rowan's guest, but insist that his spouse accompanies you both - that should smooth appearances sufficiently to avoid exciting comment. It's your choice.

- Go as Rowan's companion.
- Go as Rowan and Francesca's guest.
- Go alone.
 

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