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Fantasy Terrorchild: Awakening

1. Obey Summons - You head for the church to maintain appearances, making no effort to link up with the circle.

The tolling of the bells feels extra loud, and ominous, as you join the growing throng of people headed for the church. You glance around at their faces from under the edge of your new, more subtle hat, and take note of their bleary eyes and vacant expressions. None of them seem to resent this interruption to their daily lives; all of them are willing participants. It just seems that maybe they're hopeless, as they already know that the cause of the assembly will not be found. With only infants, the elderly, and the infirm excused from joining, you all meet in a crowd numbering at least four hundred. The center of Tashlaan becomes a huge audience awaiting the one who calls for their attention.

And soon, at the head of this assembly, a group of strange men emerge from the entrance to the church, along with the priest, whom you have yet to meet, and a few other trusted associates, including, to your amazement, Iona. Eventually, the priest gives a signal to the belfry and the ringing stops, as he's satisfied that the town has turned out completely for the summons. Clearing his throat as the murmur dies down, he holds his hand in the air for attention.

"Friends!" he shouts. "We are visited by hunters of witchcraft! Our town is a stalwart one - committed to its faith and goodwill! ...However! We are not without incident! Not without sin! There are those who keep secrets! And those who know! ...Those who know of witchcraft and do not testify are in the company of demons!" he cries.

The town grumbles. You can feel a sense of unease rising, and you know why. The past couple of days have been strange in Tashlaan. Word gets around quickly in a small community, and rumors of two residents fleeing in a fit of hysteria have only been galvanized by the fire and the robbery of the liquor stand. The people know something is afoot. It could merely be crime, or it could be witchcraft; they just don't know who to blame.

Stay calm, you tell yourself as you glance around, looking for anyone you might recognize. Nobody knows a thing. Warrik already left town, as did the witnesses from the morning of day before last...

"I have something to say!" a male voice calls out. You search for the source among the crowd, but can't get a good look. The priest beckons the speaker to come forward, and the crowd parts, allowing the unknown man to appear.

Your heart stops.

"Two days ago, I saw two women conspiring to cast a hex on another man!" the witness yells. "And when I tried to call attention to them, they used their magic on me! I'm Tokas - you all know me! You know I ran from my home; I ran for a day without rest, I was so possessed by fear!"

"Tokas!" the priest shouts back to the man, trying to speak over the growing volume of the crowd. "You've returned!"

1. RUN - You've heard enough. You know this is one of the witnesses that you and Ika scared away two days ago, and you only have seconds remaining before you're identified as a witch. You should have stayed away, stayed hidden. Now, is there even any chance of escape? You have to try!

2. Stand Your Ground - This is about to get deadly. Ika won't stand idle and let the town burn her, and you can presume the circle will do all in its power to save her. You'll wait and stand with them, so that you can provide them all you can. You owe Ika this much after exposing her.

3. KILL - You've heard enough. If things are about to get deadly, then hells... You'll strike first.
 
2. Stand Your Ground - This is about to get deadly. Ika won't stand idle and let the town burn her, and you can presume the circle will do all in its power to save her. You'll wait and stand with them, so that you can provide them all you can. You owe Ika this much after exposing her.

In a seemingly frozen instant, your mind races - could this be Corrinth in disguise again? Had she learned about the incident two days ago and made a plan with Ika to blame someone else for Tokas' disappearance?

No.

"It was the goblin fishmonger, and a tabaxi dressed all in black!" he howls. The crowd erupts, as everyone around you turns and searches for the culprits. While some begin to call out Ika's name, you don't hear your own, but you know it won't be long before it happens. For only a fleeting moment, you aren't identified - you're dressed in your new clothes and your immediate neighbors don't know you - but their eyes fall on your tabaxi features with heavy suspicion. As you instinctively shrink away, you hear someone else cry out:

"Agranne! The tabaxi is Agranne of Rychten!"

It's Lucyk - that bastard! He even remembered the town I'm supposedly from. He's probably been waiting for something like this!

Now, your anger is rising in equal parts to your fear, flooding your mind. The crowd parts, and now there's an unbroken line of sight between you and the church's groundskeeper. His arm lifts, and the world disappears aside from his eyes, his hand, and his finger extended, leveled, pointed directly at you. You're certain that all makes sense in his world now: the urchin who washed up in his town who deserved no charity, who was only a fool to be taken advantage of, had the nerve to carve out a living instead, winning the respect of a few of his neighbors. That crime which haunts you more than any other - to have been born poor - made your minor successes intolerable to him.

Now he has the explanation he has been searching for; of course, you cheated, you tricked, and you stole. You're in league with demons! How else can a worm like you possibly have risen above the mud beneath his feet, even by a fraction of a measure!?

You hate him.

Instinct takes over. The spider's clutches emerge as your arms lift from your body. You pull Lucyk's body in one direction, and his head in another. Pushing and pulling - as easy as playing with dolls. He barely has time to scream as he's lifted from the ground, rising above the crowd around him in your nightmarish display, before his head is spun around backwards on its shoulder with a sickening crack!

You release his body to fall to the ground like a ragdoll as the crowd explodes into panic and dismay - every person trying to get away from you at the same time while you search your surroundings for the rest of the circle. Then a jolt of pain crashes through you, dropping you to your knees. You look down at yourself, through the dissipating shadows of your magic, at the arrowhead which has just emerged from under your collarbone.

Two other arrows had already buried their heads in the dirt nearby before the third shot struck you, but you hadn't noticed. Now, you turn as you fall to the ground, just in time to see Corrinth cutting through the crowd in the opposite direction from its panicked flow. She doesn't run to you. Instead, she erupts in shadow herself and emerges in the form of a crow once again, taking flight toward the source of your agony - the bowman on the rooftop of a two-story building.

Instead, another bolt of pain shocks you through the channel of your wound as Embryx arrives from seemingly nowhere and grips onto the exposed, bloody shaft of the arrow behind the head before stomping on the tail of the arrow to break the shaft in two. She then yanks the arrow the remainder of the way out of your body from the front as to avoid dragging the barbed head the wrong way through you. "Come on!" she yells, pulling you to your feet, but the pain is staggering - you can barely breathe.

The next thing you know, you're falling to the weedy ground between two houses. You're coughing up blood in agony when Corrinth arrives a moment later, pulling an elixir of some kind out of her bag and shoving it into your hands. "Drink it!" she demands, scowling at you. It feels as if you're reliving the scenes that unfolded after your first murder, nearly a month ago, but this time with a mortal wound. You do as you're told, letting the fluid wash down your blood-filled throat and numbing you. You expect to again fall into a deep sleep, like you did before...

Except this time, you don't. You instead watch as Corrinth nods to Embryx before standing guard. A cry of "they're here!" rings out from the end of the alley from one of the panicked townspeople, and as a pair of witch hunters arrives, Corrinth raises her wand. You watch as one of the men crashes to the ground right next to you, and as Embryx drives the tip of her wand into your barely-numbed wound and unleashes a mote of enchanted fire to cauterize it, your screams join the hunter's as his own comrade drives his sword into his back at Corrinth's command.

Embryx grabs you again and lifts you from the ground as you struggle for breath, pulling you away from Corrinth as she slits the second hunter's throat with a knife. The man doesn't even scream; he dies fully under her compulsion. "Get her to the tavern and stay with her; there's six more!" Corrinth directs Embryx before running the other way, and you find yourself ushered toward relative safety. You can barely think straight, but it occurs to you that the hunters must be expecting you to head for the stables for escape, or to run for the woods.

By the time you reach the tavern, the medicine has fully kicked in and you no longer need Embryx's support to carry yourself along, although you're still short of breath. She locks the door behind you as you head for the bar, and the two of you drop behind it for safety. "They won't be long," Embryx urges, her eyes wide with fear and excitement. "Get ready - find something that can help."

1. Liquor Bottles - There's plenty of alcohol behind the bar, and Embryx knows how to throw fireballs. That should work.

2. Knives - The cutlery kept for food service is located back here, and so you grab a handful of knives - some for stabbing, if it comes to that, and others for telekinetic attacks.

3. Empty Handed - Your anger is still boiling underneath everything. Having killed already, you sense an inner instinct about your surroundings that tells you that you don't need any gimmicks to dispatch whoever's dumb enough to kick through that door.
 
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2. Knives - The cutlery kept for food service is located back here, and so you grab a handful of knives - some for stabbing, if it comes to that, and others for telekinetic attacks.

As you grab your knives, Embryx picks up a wicker basket that Iona normally uses to deliver bread to the tables during the dinner hours. It isn't immediately clear to you what she intends to do with it, but there's no time to question her. Within seconds, there's a pounding at the door.

"Reveal yourselves!" a weathered voice demands. "There are witches about; show yourself or we'll break down the door!"

You look to Embryx, who shakes her head. "Let them kick it in," she says quietly.

A moment later, there's a series of much harder bangs against the door that gradually splinter the frame, until, at last, the door flies open. Two men walk through the opening with short swords and shields, moving and watching carefully as they cross the room.

You eventually lose your nerve, standing and throwing a life with your offhand, since your dominant shoulder is still in pain. The blade flies across the room before bouncing harmlessly off one of the hunters' bucklers before you reach out to it with your magic. You wish you still had the energy to break these men's necks, but you can already sense your pneuma weakening as you use telekinesis against them. The knife halts in mid air off the bounce before launching itself into the hunter's upper back, piercing his leather armor and embedding itself in the flesh. He lets out a yelp, but it turns into a scream as you drive and twist the knife.

The other hunter, meanwhile, launches himself at you, lunging with a stabbing strike, but at the last moment the sword meets the bottom of the wicker basket as Embryx steps between the two of you. The blade punctures, the tip leaving a gash on her face, but she keeps her resolve and twists the basket violently, wrenching the blade out of his hand.

You pick up a knife, again in your offhand, and try to stab the man as he leaps the counter, but unlike the first time, the knife fails to puncture and the hunter punches you in the face. You stumble and fall to the floor, but before the hunter can finish you with a boot kick to the head, Embryx hacks into his neck with the man's own sword - a fatal blow. She helps you up before turning to the other hunter, who had just gotten the knife out of his back. She levels the sword at him, and instantly, you understand. The moment she drives it forward with telekinesis, you do the same, and watch as the sword impales the man with such force that even the hilt goes through, exploding through the opposite side in a gory mess.

Embryx sighs and smiles at her handiwork, having saved your life and struck down both hunters with your help. "Good riddance," she says, but her smile quickly fades. "They were green; they went down too easily."

With both men dead, you can only sit and wait, and hope your circle sisters can survive on their own, outside. Embryx tries to close the door again, warning that the townsfolk might join in with the hunt if they feel emboldened to do so. You simply hope that what you did to Lucyk discourages them.

You finally have a moment to think about what you did. Yes, you hated him, and he exposed you to the town at the first opportunity, knowing it would send armed killers after you. But he was harmless. You could have kept him at bay with nothing but a broom stick, but you chose to kill him violently, terrorizing him and the community in the process.

And you enjoyed it.

Your heart sinks a bit as you realize how much you've changed since awakening to dark magic, and you wonder how much worse it might get in the future, assuming you survive the wound you received.

"How are you feeling," Embryx asks quietly.

"Still breathing," you rasp, still short of breath. The numbing elixir you drank is slowly wearing off, and the pain is growing.

"Once we're on the road, we'll find a cleric. A wound like that is probably going to take light magic to bounce back from," she says. "I've heard that some witches can stitch themselves back together, but healing other people is a different story."

On the road. Yes, you will need to leave this place and never come back, just like Ryggander. "We're going to stick together?" you wheeze. You figure that a mysterious group of young women traveling together would be very conspicuous.

She nods, grimly. "We're all in this together. If we split up now, more hunters will come and pick us off one-by-one."

"In here! In here! Oh gods, they're here!"

The voice belongs to Rythe, who's just pushed the door open enough to see the carnage you left behind. You can see the fear and rage in his facial expression, and the tears in his eyes, having just lost a friend.

1. Strike Hard - You've used too much magic to use telekinesis, but a hard strike could possibly knock him unconscious. You decide to hit him as hard as you can.

2. Push Door - You put out your hand and use your magic to push the door back at him, making him feel as if there's a magical barrier keeping him away.

3. Get Sword - Embryx already has a sword and can probably handle this herself. You decide to take the moment to grab the other hunter's shorts word for your own defense.
 
Somewhere far below, a million damned spirits swirl and howl in anticipation of your arrival.

You killed a man. How could it have happened!? You - a whelp, nothing but a peasant farmgirl - you murdered a merchant of the Sea of Cassia in broad daylight! And now, you dare to rest your head and shut your eyes, as if you could close out the world and keep to your imagination. But you won't be safe, not even in your own mind, where visions of a violent vortex of darkness and evil tugs at your soul, even as you clutch your fragile body and breathe ragged breaths.

Try as you might, you can't bring yourself to pray. The Gods have never felt more distant than they do now... But you never really felt their grace in your sixteen years, did you? All those days you called on them, hopelessly seeking some reprieve from the cruelty of life, the cruelty of fate and its fickle whims. The cruelty of others. But while murder may be the most decried act in all of scripture, there is one sin which is greater, in fact:

Poverty.

The poor are beyond saving, and always have been. They are less than dirt in the eyes of the nobles, less than vermin to the merchant class, and less than the lowest and most depraved heretics in the eyes of the church, because they have nothing to offer beyond the most meagre of tribute. You had nothing to offer: all your life, you and your brothers and sisters worked with calloused hands in your father's field, or in your mother's shadow, always working, cleaning, cooking, and caring for others without so much as a scrap of luxury for yourselves. And yet, what of the sum total of this labor? A few baskets of produce to offload for a pittance at the market square, only to be taxed and tithed away before it could ever return to your homestead as "profit." Seasons change, children grow into wiry and world-weary adolescents, and your family grows poorer, grows sick, and eventually...

No loving Gods could beckon you to paradise, only to pull back the veil and reveal a place full of the well-fed and contemptuous: the very same pious, vainglorious gluttons who allowed you to suffer and starve in the name of God and Country. What is the conclusion, then? They say it's for the safety of the Empire. They say it's for the salvation of your soul. But what of your body and your better years!? For most of your life, you've cried, late at night, questioning why such suffering was an inseparable fact of existence. You gave all you could, and yet it wasn't enough in the eyes of all who offered such phantasms as security and deliverance. And for that reason, they would ignore your shivering in the winter cold, and the scraping of your spoon against an empty pot in search of soup.

You feel the anger rising within. The anger that caused his death.

It's always been there, lurking somewhere deep in your heart, licking its ghoulish lips in hungry anticipation for the moment you would finally break. It was the very same darkness which called your sister away, four years ago. You watched her, late one night, creeping out of the farmhouse and stealing away into thin air. Her eyes, wild and young and scared, nonetheless burned for something. Freedom? Vengeance? Perhaps your own eyes resemble hers, now that you've become what all who knew your sister feared that you'd be.

You are a witch.

---

Choose your race:

1. Human - You are a human named Azel. If nothing else, your membership in the majority race of the Empire of Zuklanar guarantees that this realm, and others nearby, will be tailored to your needs, if only you could afford it. Other beings will view you with indifference, and you will have no trouble blending in as long as you don't make a habit of slaying any man who looks at you cross. Humans are known for their affinity for combat and skill with tools, although a select few become great magicians of light.

2. Elf - You are an elf named Aenwyn. Many years ago, your ancestors ventured across the Sea of Cassia, during the golden age of elves and their homeland of Sonnamille, in search of rich and fertile lands. Instead, they became subjects of the Zuklan march, and had everything that distinguished them ground away under the boot of poverty. Nonetheless, you are heartier than most humans and will probably live longer than them, which leads to some resentment. Elves are also said to be natural mages, although many are equally skilled with the bow or the blade.

3. Drow - You are a drow named Akryth. Your heritage traces back to the coasts of Aelesh, where colonists from Sonnamille experienced a shocking transformation, centuries ago. Many blame the divergence in the ancestral religion for the sudden appearance of dark-skinned, silvery-haired elves with yellowish eyes. Elves are especially weary of their dark cousins, although humans often characterize them as dark, moody, and possibly dangerous as well. It is often asserted that there are more witches and warlocks among the drow than any other race, but there is no reason why they cannot be skilled in more common crafts, and in fact, most are.

4. Tabaxi - You are a tabaxi named Agranne. Your lineage traces far south, to the jungles of Chasamein. While the catfolk of that distant state have experienced their own golden age as of late, having stolen away nearly half of the elves' ancestral lands, the glory and prosperity could not reach you all the way in cold and barren Zuklanar. Your sinewy body has allowed you to work faster and more deftly than a human would, not that it's brought you any closer to escaping poverty. It's rare to hear of tabaxi witches, but given that two have been born to your family, perhaps they're more common than the humans believe. Either way, most will expect nothing of you aside from physical talents- aside from the elves, who view you as a bloodthirsty marauder.

5. Goblin - You are a goblin named Aga. It isn't quite clear how or why your ancestors left the swamps of Athea and Sonnamille and marched north overland through Turadal, and eventually west into the wastes of Zuklanar, but it was a terrible decision. At least the elves, and even the drow, recognize the great martial aptitude of the goblin race, and its occasional penchant for engineering brilliance, but the humans are largely ignorant, and judge you by your lowly appearance alone, deriding you as a "beast." Perhaps they should be afraid, as goblins aren't strangers to dark magic, either.
May I join?
 

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