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Episode III Opening
Episode iii: Wanderjahre
Previously on TOTTDLMTH...
Following up on the investigation at Nova Heights Prison, the Hero Sylvia took matters into her own hands to look into the incident - against the advisement of the Black Watch's Grandmaster, Friedhelm of Brecourt. Framed for a crime they did not commit, the Iris Company consequentially resisted arrest and was forced to leave the city. The Companions took to the sewers, in order to avoid Friedhelm's might and the elite wyvern sky patrols. There, they stumbled upon an ancient evil, designate Vulture, that confirmed the continued existence of the Harbingers. Under the combined might of Sylvia's leadership and their sturdy bond, the Company was able to defeat the Vulture, albeit at the cost of their Vice Commander's life.
On the ground, the Companion Irelia stood her ground alone against Friedhelm's forces, but not before being aided by a Black Watch member, Sigismund of the Fifth Breaching Troops. In the subsequent development of the ordeal, Sigismund was slain by Friedhelm. In his dying breath, Sigismund made an enemy of the Iris by mentioning their involvements with the Harbingers. The explosive demise of the Vulture beneath the scene caused a collapse, giving Irelia a chance to escape and regroup with the Companions below.
Meanwhile, the Harbingers rallied under Sylvia's husband - Rael, at the behest of Hershey, his trusted confidant. In a turn of event, the Harbingers were able to retrieve a piece of Rael's old armor from the Starline Magecraft Institutions. Despite this, Rael deemed himself incapable of achieving what is expected of him, ultimately passing his leadership to the Thousand Swordsman Harbinger Hassan, his now-estranged friend and right-hand during the war. During the ensuing skirmish with the mages and their formidable autonomous Star Sentinels, Hershey vanished from the scene without a trace. The Harbingers, under the leadership of Hassan, entrusted by the amnesiac Daemon Lord himself, took to the sewers in hopes of finding Hershey and escape Dragonsreach together.
As the Harbingers and the Companions stumbled upon one another in the underground waterways of Dragonsreach, they managed to corner a mysterious trenchcoated figure with Hershey in his custody. With Sylvia and Rael reunited, the couple and their associates were poised on another battle to retrieve Hershey from the grasps of the trenchcoated man. Before a fight could break out between the Iris-Harbinger coalition and that of their mysterious assailant, another figure appeared on scene. It is revealed that their identities were Five and Eleven. Their purpose and actions were authorized by their presumed master - the Director, whose real identity is not known.
Plagued with questions, the Iris Company and their Harbingers counterpart are forced to leave Dragonsreach. Tensions arise between the disavowed heroes of Grozny and that of their archnemesis during the Fourth Daemonic War. With the recent delegation of duties to apprehend the Iris fugitives and their Harbinger associates, the Grandmaster of the Black Watch is poised on bringing them to justice and unravel the mystery of Sigismund's cryptic last words. Given a limited window to redeem themselves in different light, the Companions and Harbingers are now forced to take the high road together - in hopes of pursuing Five and Eleven. For better or for worse, the two must make amend with one another in order to rid Grozny of its new evils.
Aurora 4-2: Aurora 4 and Aurora 5 circling back to Nryx and going into holding pattern.
Vesta AFB: Vesta copies. Prowler 2-2 do you read?
Prowler 2-2: Prowler 2-2 reads you loud and clear Vesta. Send, conclude.
Vesta AFB: Be advised, Aesir Relay is picking up some heat signatures about two hundred meters south of your location. Recommend you investigate over.
Prowler 2-2: Acknowledged. We are inbound. Conclude.
Vesta AFB: Prowler 2-2, your rear units just flat-lined. Requesting situation check, conclude.
Prowler 2-2: They're here! Positive identification on the Angel of Verdan! Check that corner! They're everywhere! Vesta, we need backup, now!
Prowler 2-2: Unidentified Sentinel closing in fast! Swordsman on your left!
Vesta AFB: Aurora 4-2, patching you through to Prowler 2-2. Break. Prowler 2-2 is under heavy contact with Iris Company in sector Gretel. Commence close-air-support at will.
Aurora 4-2: Confirmed. Rerouting to the AO.
Vesta AFB: Prowler 2-2, do you read? Prowler 2-2?
Aurora 4-2: Aurora 4-2 to Vesta. Multiple friendlies are wounded. No visuals on hostiles. Going into holding pattern. Requesting medical extraction for Prowler 2-2, conclude.
Vesta AFB: Copy your last, Aurora. Hold that vector until reinforcements arrive. Conclude.
LOCATION:Anthem County, Dominion of Venelia IRC & HAR PRIMARY OBJECTIVE:Find clues on the mysterious Five & Eleven. Evade Imperial pursuit. EPISODE SPECIAL CONDITIONS:
- All Imperial forces are now hostile and on high alert.
- Iris Company is disavowed. Iris Badges are obsolete and will alert authorities.
- Mercenaries and Bounty Hunters have been augmented to the Imperial manhunt.
- Degrakes may be persuaded to leak intelligence - for a price.
“In order to alleviate the circumstances of overcrowded prisons and other detention centers, as well as augmenting a sufficient number of troops in preparations for Operation Aquila, the Imperial Council of Haven has decided to establish a new branch under the directives of the designated commander in the field. The Disgraced Alternative Article Number Two, as proposed by Field Commander Sylvia, is noted and agreed upon by the Council’s unanimous meets. The Degrake (Disgraced) Corps will serve as a supplementary reserve pool and auxiliary fighting force that will facilitate the operational integrity of the standing field army. Degrakes' rights as a citizen of Grozny, as well as their reprieve assessment will be redacted until their appropriate sentences are carried out.” -
The Disgraced Alternative Article II (1208 AC)
Neither shedded tears nor choirs upon the passing of the siegebreaker. Her friends and allies absent, chased away by the malicious phantoms that tainted their name, as well as the black-cloaked guardians of the law. There were many things he had said, as well as the unspoken words that he wished he had said. Yet here he stood, upon a nameless vacant hill. Twenty-one rifles forlorn, a lone olive tree as their company, while the Dovean rested beneath its shades. Upon the Grandmaster's hand was a small bouquet. Where his subordinates scurried off to enact his orders, Friedhelm grieved in their stead. First Sigismund among the others, now in solitude upon the frozen meadows. The cheerful vice-commander of the Company deserved a better ending than to be buried beneath the sewers. As he honored her passing in silence, Friedhelm's resolve strengthened. He knew what had to be done.
"Upon your frozen tomb, I solemnly declare that I will bring to light the cause of your death. Consider it a professional courtesy from one warrior to another. However, I will not show mercy to the Angel of Verdan and her ilks. Justice will be done, no matter if they are a silver-spooned Junker or a heralded hero of the world. Rest easy, Yrix. I shall visit you again soon enough." Friedhelm spoke to himself, expecting the dead to remain silent as many have passed before him during the war.
Friedhelm's eyes veered to his right, surprised by the unexpected presence of another.
"I knew you would be here." the woman in black announced her arrival.
"And your details?" Friedhelm inquired, turning back to meet her. The latter bore the insignia of a captain with the same set of attire that matched her superior's.
"We concluded our canvas from Nryx International towards DiContis, as you ordered. Underground tunnels, public transports, local eyes. We cleared the place three times over and nothing, Grandmaster." the captain elaborated, taking off her czapka cover, as she set her offering of daffodils beside Friedhelm's tribute.
"That's the Iris Company for you. Our suspects are highly elusive as they are mobile during the war. Take a breather and get yourself the day off, Hellriegel. We'll expand our perimeter soon enough." he passed Hellriegel's shoulder.
"Miss Yrix was my idol, Grandmaster. I will give it my all to find the person responsible. Anyways. Our brethren on Fifty-Ninth are hauling back most of the marked evidences on scene. Mostly personal effects of non-military nature. What exactly are we looking for, Grandmaster?"
"We will know it when we find it. First things first. I need answers regarding the sudden disappearance of our internal affairs' associate. Tag along if you wish, Captain." Friedhelm motioned Hellriegel to follow.
Hellriegel leaned in, before she jerked back by impulse.
"You stink, Grandmaster! Go home and take a shower, please! For the sake of those poor desk-jockeys, I beg you."
"Says the one who has been slogging through the wastes from Nryx International and back." Friedhelm retorted, prompting Hellriegel to spring her arms in an effort to halt his steps.
"We're getting nowhere at this rate. Please, Grandmaster, at least go home and see your wife! I'll send a firefly should something arises. Please!" she whined with a dramatic expression.
Friedhelm eyed Hellriegel briefly, then continued to pace himself towards the city.
"I'll take that as a yes? I'll pick you up in two hours!" Hellriegel waved her superior off with a huge smile.
Lawbie Manor, Scene 2
Friedhelm Lawbie Manor
Cpt. Hellriegel Lawbie Manor
Lady Bella Lawbie Manor
Friedhelm heeded Hellriegel's words, much to his dismay. He found himself brushing the grimy dirt and residue off his shoulder, while the faucet continued to rain on his soaped-up hair. The once oily sensation was replaced with a sturdy and silky texture upon his strands of seeping hair. Yet, the running water was unable to wash away the oozing texture of crimson clots that once painted his hands. His back was so deformed by the numerous scars that he had endured in his childhood, that the man no longer feel any sort of blemish even if he tried to. The wounds that he bore made up his pragmatic and cold demeanors. Everything else in between was simply a piece of history to be carved upon his flesh. The heavy shower ended with Friedhelm donning a new set of clothes that he had conjured up for himself prior. While the thoughts of recent events plagued his mind, there was something else that kept him on his toes. Before long, a voice called out to him, as he descended the stairs. A familiar figure eyed him with a stern look, as their hands folded with purpose. Friedhelm was in for a reckoning borne of his recent absence.
"Look who's finally home."
"I will not make any excuse. I apologize." he replied softly, standing tall as he expected a storm of words from his counterpart to follow.
"That attitude! The audacity! Do you know how long I waited?! Five different fireflies! Those things don't grow on trees, you hear?! You think this is a lodging inn?! That you could just come and go as you wish? Don't even answer that. A runner would have been nice. Twenty eight hours! How negligent can you be?! Meals! Two cold sets of smoked salmon. Who conjured them, you ask? That's right, me! Guess what? I consumed them all because food expires! You absolute boob!"
"We had a small window to do our job. I'm sure you understand-..." Friedhelm replied, but not before being halted in his words by a sharp pain in his abdomen.
"Small windows!! I have a small window of patience too, ya know? By Aerilia's grace! I don't care if you have a sucking chest-wound, at least let me know! I... can't bear the thought of silence, you ken?! I was worried sick!" the woman began to sob, slamming her hands repeatedly against Friedhelm's chest. The man took a deep breath and pulled her closer.
"I was in the wrong. Forgive me, my dear Bell. It has been... a difficult weekend." Friedhelm's voice grew soft and gloomy.
"I heard about the Companion and Sigismund. I'm sorry." Bella brushed Friedhelm's wet bangs aside.
"The world is turning upside down. But it matters not, I am home now." Friedhelm embraced Bella. Their compromises were fruitful, albeit short. The couple could not help but feel a disturbance in the air. They broke their prolonged gaze, veering slowly to their sides towards the hideous sight of their assailant.
A face embedded upon the kitchen window, with their cheeks pressed against the glass panel. Their excited visage was filled with rude intentions. When their peeping endeavor was blatantly exposed, they made no effort of exiting the scene. Instead, they gave a thumbs up gesture at the creeped-out Bella and her blank-expressioned husband.
"Who's the window licker? Should I call the vigiles urbani?" Bella put up a false smile at the individual outside their window, while muttering her true thoughts to Friedhelm.
"I am inclined to say yes. But alas, that odd personnel is my subordinate - Hellriegel." Friedhelm sighed.
The main door to the Lawbie Manor opened, as the captain eagerly awaited their superior's answer. Friedhelm emerged from behind the red door, he eyed Hellriegel with a raised brow. A few things surprised him, but her ability to track his residency was quite a feat.
"I should consider setting up a perimeter fence in the future. How did you acquire my address?"
"I followed you." she said with a straight face.
"Restraining order would be a walk in the park for someone of your skill. If I could comprehend what's running in that head of yours, I might just be in the mind of a genius." Friedhelm shook his head, while pinching his temple slightly.
"Really?!" Hellriegel raised her voice in excitement.
"That was sarcasm, Captain. My wife and I are having dinner. Come back later."
"Aww! Hmm. Two days at work can be super stressful without affectionate relief. Didn't take ya for an impoverished tile-laying artisan, Grandmaster. Very well, I'll come back later then."
"Nothing of the sort, you degenerate. Go on. Git." Friedhelm said, brushing Hellriegel away but only to be halted by Bella's voice.
"Captain Hellriegel was it? Dinner's about ready. Would you like to join us?" Bella proposed.
"The captain is just dropping by. She'll be leaving now." he chimed in.
"Of course, missus Friedhelm. If you'll have me! Haha!" Hellriegel replied decisively, bringing out Friedhelm's annoyed eyes and a looming aura of dread. Hellriegel hurried herself along and attached herself to Bella, in hopes of getting shielded from the Grandmaster.
Hellriegel promptly washed her hands and aided Bella in preparing the dishes. Friedhelm studied the two's interaction from afar, surprised at how well the two clicked. A recurring image flashed before his eyes, bringing about a certain gloom that he had chosen not to share, but knew all too well. He excused himself from the room, catching up with his breath. Once within the solitary confinement of his study, Friedhelm finally broke, clenching his teeth and sobbing as he did in anguish. Upon his desk, was a picture of a familiar visage that plagued his mind as he saw Hellriegel conversing with Bella. Upon his reentry of the kitchen, the man held his mundane nonchalant visage, as he sat down with the two and partook in their evening meal.
"You didn't tell me Captain Hellriegel here is such a darling!" Bella said to Friedhelm, as the latter veered their killer gaze towards Hellriegel. The captain nonchalantly chuckled it off. Friedhelm did not voice his opposition to it, however, for he was glad to see Bella entertained by Hellriegel's presence.
Tranquil moon lit their path, as the Iris Companions and their Harbingers counterpart kept to themselves. Lines were formed, led forward by Hassan, while the two groups eyed one another with distrusts. The Hero kept a distinct space against Sertek - a mutually-assured destructive land should the latter cross it. In the light of their recent encounter with the Vulture and the numerical instruments of their current state, Sylvia was no longer a fool to her husband's unsincere words. She knew what had to be done. Even now, her blood boils with hatred and anguish when the truth had been unveiled. She felt her Solomon Edge's coursing through her veins, ready to make up for what she failed to accomplish on Mount Hornet. Yet, the aetherial surge of energy tugged back and forth, failing to materialize as she still clung onto her already-broken heart. She was bitter, at her failure to slay Sertek and inability to save Laure. She could still feel the burgundy sludge that tainted her hands upon the fractured flesh of her Dovean mentor. Those greyish pair of green eyes would haunt her for the rest of her remaining days on thisworld. What horrified her the most was her inability to shed any tears more than she should. Sylvia felt as if she was simply a vessel for another being that vicariously share but never experienced the full weight of her emotions. A surrogate orphan within the shell of a cold warrior. She often wondered if she had fulfilled her role or was she simply playing hero for the sake of justifying her gifts? She needed those comforting and reassuring words from Rael, but was not willing to accept his true name as Sertek. She needed time to process, as any sane person would do. After all, the Angel of Verdan was simply a Solarian.
Sertek's heart throbbed with anticipation and guilt. He had chosen to slowly broker his recently acquired memories and the revelation of his purpose to his wife. Yet here he was, defeated by the schemes of the Harbinger Hunters that called themselves Eleven. Eleven's blatant words rang truer than what Sertek could have gone about it. Words were dangerous weapons, far more sharper than the most sacred artifacts. It only took Eleven a few sentences to cause a division between him and Sylvia. With the lost of Laure, Sertek had little-to-no opportunities to shoulder Sylvia's woes. Distrust among friends and loved ones, as he finally realized it, was the very reason he had distanced himself from the inhabitants of Grozny. Yet, the Daemon Lord refused to give in to the notion of relinquishing his strength just yet. Perhaps in these turbulent and trying times, their bond would be strengthened with efforts, he concluded.
As the night lulled the coalition of Companions and Harbingers to their reprieve, Sertek gathered his strength and finally sought out his wife, of whom had stationed herself upon the lonely hill as their voluntary firewatch. Sertek, despite the knowledge of letting Sylvia reeling in her thoughts by in solitude, has decided to involved himself. He approached her nonchalantly, before a glimmer of dark blue energy knocked him off his feet. Before him, an obsidian tip, laden with golden embellishment began to stretch out towards his assailant's arm. The lance blemished his cheek with a stinging sensation, but the man refused to give in.
"Any closer, and I'll truly fulfill the prophecy with your blood." Sylvia remarked, with a fiery pair of crimson eyes.
"Why haven't you?" Sertek inquired, brokering a brief truce of silence between them. He knew that she could have struck him down at any given time, but had chosen to stay her hands.
"Once you have gathered your old strength, I promise that it'll be a swift one." Solomon Edge withdrew, as the lancer turned away.
"Sylvia, wai-" Sertek reached out, grabbing her hand.
"Don't touch me." she retorted, flashing her Solomon as Sertek blocked it with his steeled arm. Their eyes interlocked, with Sylvia's wrath no longer withheld.
"My dear, please. Let us talk this through. Like a sane couple."
"Sane?! I am insane to fall in love with the very being I swore to destroy!" Sylvia retracted her lance, and landed another strike to bear on Sertek. The latter continued to use his hardened arm as a shield.
"Talk did not save Friedhelm's sister at Onyx!" Sylvia pommeled, landing another strike that sparked a burst of aetherial energy.
"Talk did not vanquish your deeds for the last two thousand years!" another strike followed, painting the unlit forest blue and amber. This time, it de-coupled Sertek's dark scaled gauntlet.
"And talk did not keep Laure from death!" the final strike shattered the Daemon Lord's armored limb, throwing him onto the ground.
"Here I am before you, Sylvia. Take my life if it pleases you. But know that my heart will always be yours. My affections unwaned, and I will take it to my grave knowing that you have taught me the fundamentals of the soul. There is nothing more precious than our sacred matrimonial bond. I am willing to give away from existence for it." he said softly, catching up with his breath as he did not attempt to stir - exposing himself fully for Sylvia to deliver her killing blow.
"Don't. Cease your honeyed words, Sertek. I will not be tempted and fooled as I did for a year. This has to end now. It has to." Sylvia raised her Solomon, and bore down upon the smiling Daemon Lord.
A reticent, but audible echo of her lance against a soggy entity. Sertek's eyes widened, as Sylvia held tightly onto her lance, and on her knees. The Solomon Edge stemmed itself against the cold soil and grass, merely grazing Sertek's cheek with a straight but lenient cut. Sylvia finally got up, with her face blemished by incessant tears.
"Return to your underlings, for my Solomon Edge will not miss your black heart next time. Begone from my sights." Sylvia concluded, venturing further from her previous post.
Sertek eyed her off, with a certain gloom about him. He made his way past the clearing, and into the hedgerows. Before he could conjure up a plan to bridge their fractured paths, a shuffling noise caught his attention. Sertek reinforced his arm, as he studied the bush before him. A lone figure stepped forth. From the looks of their attire under the moonlight, they were not a part of the Imperial armed forces. Instead, their visage was as clear as day.
"You must be Rael. The Angel of Verdan's betrothed."
"You certainly know me. But I'm afraid we have yet to be properly introduced, even though I recognize your visage." Sertek responded with an inquiring tone.
"I am Sofia IV Nowak. I'm sure you've seen my face all over the Grozettes. I can't help but overheard your arguments. Perhaps I could be of help. After all, Mr. Vik, the Company's Dragon Slayer is currently a guest of mine in Shirley's Forest. Alas, I must be brief to detract any Imperial attentions. I come bearing gift. A Conestoga Wagon for your travels, just hidden out of sight behind that hedgerow." she replied with a delicate smile.
"May I ask why you are helping us, Lady Nowak?" Sertek asked.
"A friend of Mr. Vik is a friend of mine. Call it a favor. Your merry band of Companions and Harbingers may prove yourself most useful to my cause."
"Wait. How did you chance upon the disposition of the Harbingers?"
"Eyes and ears, Mr. Rael. Eyes and ears. For the time being, our interest aligns. A good partnership is a good business, wouldn't you say? Besides, this could be a good opportunity to win Mrs. Sylvia's heart back. Anyways, ta-ta, Mr. Rael." Sofia finally left alongside her attendant, leaving Sertek dumbfounded. Thoughts ran him by, but his instincts gave into the notion of a positive outcome.
The man peeled off towards the tree line before him, matching his steps with the shadows before he back-traced his steps. When Sertek returned to the small camp that was shared by the Companions and the Harbingers, he eyed those around him, studying their intentions as he walked. The Daemon Lord made sense of the unspoken hostilities among them, while some received each other's presence to be a comforting factor compared to the unpleasant encounters with the Imperial forces. Despite having only been acquainted with Markas once during the dinner party from two nights ago, Sertek reminisced how Sylvia addressed him. If he understood what Sofia meant correctly, Markas must have gotten out of the city with her help. Thoughts ran him by as to what Markas has involved himself with to have the backing of a billionaire. It matters not, for as long as he was alive, it was a fruitful news to bear for the taut ensemble of Companions and Harbingers. The Daemon Lord held in his words, still wary of how the Companions perceived him at this point. Mustering up his strength, the man finally brokered the news to the Companions and the Harbingers that Markas was alive and resided in Lady Nowak's custody. Unsure of how this could be taken, Sertek relinquished his half-hearted and uncertain attempt of compromising with his wife's associates.
"I understand if you are wary of my personal revelations. However, in light of recent events, it is imperative that we stick together. Companions or Harbingers, it matters not. So long as we survive another day to tear down the wicked puppeteer behind the shrouded curtains. Perhaps this is also our hour of truth, to redeem ourselves alongside one another. What say you, Harbingers and Companions?"
"As much as it pains me to say this, but Sertek's right. We have little choice. But mark my words, as soon as our joint-endeavors are concluded, your time on Grozny will also expires." Sylvia chimed in, before taking point to secure the Conestoga Wagon.
Sertek brushed his hair back slightly, and eyed his wife off, as he turned towards his right-hand man.
"What is Hershey's condition?" he asked Hassan, hopeful that the Aries will turn out fine following her recent predicament.
Intricate heartache and confusion caught the hero off-guard. With her mentor's demise still fresh upon her mind, the revelation of her husband's true past made her wary of all the things that she have accomplished thus far. She was a fool to think that by doing what her preceding Sygises could not do, Grozny would forever put an end to the Emperor of Darkness. To think that by exterminating the evils at its roots, that she could forever be remembered for the extinction of evils. Such was the downfall of her negligent ideals. Sylvia now realized that she was simply an instrument of the Creator's will. She looked to the absent stars and cursed her fate. The irony in being betrothed to the very one she swore to destroy. What hurted her the most was that she was too hopeful of a romantic ending to her adventures - to finally be compensated for her lost youth. But like the rest, she now finds herself lost. Another victim of the Fourth Daemonic War. Were all of those cherished moments a mere ploy to expose her softer sides? Surely, Sertek was capable of tearing it all down at any given time, yet he stayed his hand. Suffering was a far worse fate than a glorious death upon the battlefield, she concluded. Sertek wanted her to bear the pain. A sadistic scheme that worked well enough. Every fiber in her being yearned to put an end to his wretched life upon that frigid field of grass, yet she could not bring herself to do it. She had already lost to the Daemon Lord's subversion technique long before she realized it. She was no more than a pawn in his game of world domination. Those mesmerizing eyes, Sylvia could not get them out of her thoughts.
In her solitude, the distraught and melancholic hero saw herself as a pathetic Sygis. Rather than bleeding herself on the field, Sylvia found her heart bleeding of emotions. She understood now why the Daemon Lord was so feared since the Mythic Age. A monster not in physical prowess, but by the power of his versatile and diverse arrays of manipulation. She underestimated her enemy, and now she had to pay a tremendous price for it. She felt her fist upon the nearby yew. Her gauntlets brazen, contusions formed upon her rough hands. All her pent-up frustrations were cast upon the sturdy trunk. She sobbed to herself, unleashing her full might of anguish upon her inanimate target. Reeling back briefly, Sylvia conjured forth her Solomon and struck the tree, breaking its center mass with burning aetherium. In the quake of the fallen tree, Sylvia got on her knees and cried to herself. Of all her might that she could muster up now, she could not bring herself to slay the Daemon Lord mere moments ago. His confident smile shattered her will, his sultry words petrified her arms, and his alluring eyes finally subjugated her own being without even the slightest hint of an attempt to fight back. She truly had lost.
The steely sensation beneath her gauntlet caught her attention. The bond of her matrimonial pact with the one she loved. In a swift attempt to unbind her armored hand, Sylvia was prepared to throw the false ring into oblivion. Yet, as she was about to unleash her powered stance, the hero could not bear to relinquish her claim over the white-gold accord. A part of her wanted to believe that she had loved Rael truly and faithfully. An earnest man that was killed by Sertek. Such a simplification of her issues was perhaps her only coping mechanism. She had to believe that it was the truth, with what is truly at stake for her fellow comrades. She had to be strong for their sake. Sylvia's selfishness had cost her a friend and a husband. She willed herself to believe what lies that she had concocted for herself. In the end, she still loved Rael, and that man is slain by Sertek. Plucking a string from her attire, Sylvia fashioned the ring into a necklace. A symbol of change, even if she was unwilling to throw it away. Rael will forever be with her. She tucked the ringed necklace between her bosom and willed herself to accept the falsified truth. Wiping away her tears, Sylvia continued to pace herself towards the Conestoga.
The wagon, in its relatively compact state, was more than enough to meet their needs. It's profile were reinforced with Krupp beams, and its wheels were wider than the ordinary covered wagons. The seams in the body of the wagon were caulked with tar to prevent water from seeping through. For protection against bad weather, a tough white canvas cover was stretched across the wagon. The frame and suspension were made of sturdy Kausoan wood, and the wheels were Krupp-rimmed for greater durability. Water barrels were built on the side of the wagon to facilitate provide immediate hydration, with toolboxes held for needed repairs. The Conestoga was not simply built for prairies and road alone, but also river crossings with its floor curving upwards like a gondola. Powered by a twin set of grozite-engines that did not require an animal to draw. The grozite reactor is enchanted with several earth runestones to facilitate its light-weight profile. Utilizing the latest designs of experimental land-creepers blueprints during the War, the Conestoga's coachman seat had a steering wheel and the appropriate pedals with ergonomic textures. Behind the driver seat was an open-hatched turret station as an elevated observation post, with a versatile circular railing to mount a variety of weaponry or a grozite-powered Aesir Thermal Device.
Within the wagon resided a purple grozite-core embedded within a reinforced reactor, separate from the engines. This reactor is capable of opening up a built-in pocket dimension for a spacious interior. The occupants may gain access to the main living room by entering the floor-hatch while the core is active. Due to it's volatile nature, there must be at least one or more personnel keeping watch of the core on the outside, lest the entire crew be trapped within the living room.
Having inspected the wagon, Sylvia came upon a note attached to the driver's seat. As she opened the letter, it reads:
"A parting gift to compensate for your future services. Mr. Vik is quite safe with me for the time being. How exciting! This is all I can do for you at the moment. Rest assured, the Conestoga's pocket living space is connected to a safehouse of mine. Use it wisely. Perhaps I will return Mr. Vik to the Company when the time comes. Until then, he is my respected guest and I will accommodate his stay accordingly. How wonderful it is to spoil him rotten! Godspeed, Companions and Harbingers. May your travels bear fruit to your endeavors!
PS. There is something I would like to entrust upon you all, in exchange for a lead on your assailants. Get in contact with my contact at the Red Cartagena in Reisdorf. They will brief you on the details of the assignment in person. The passphrase is 'Dreams of Albion, Far from Avalon.' When inquired, simply answer 'Five bottles for seven rhyns.' Tata, Companions and Harbingers.
P.PS. I've taken the liberty of storing two bottles of Albian whisky beneath the hatch for your travels. Don't waste them."
Sylvia eventually returned to the camp. She gave Sertek a murderous glance, then back at her allies.
"We have been entrusted a Conestoga Wagon from someone who is currently keeping our Dragon Slayer with them. Belay any concerns you might have, they seem to harbor no ill-will towards us. In fact, they seem to be elated with Vik in their custody. In return for their gift, we will follow through with an assignment they have for us in Reisdorf. We'll make contact with their agent at the Red Cartagena. While I am wary of their true intentions, they might have a lead on Five and Eleven that I cannot ignore. Even if it means that I have to abandon my creed and fight alongside Sertek and his minions, I will avenge Laure. No matter the cost. If you want out now, walk away now. This is a black path that I have chosen for myself, you need not bleed for me." Sylvia announced to the Company, eyeing them with a stern but concerned pair of eyes.
To say this week had been tough on Hassan would be an understatement.
If you were to tell the Endless Swordsman that he would not only encounter his old companions and Sertek under a single week but also ally himself with the Iris Company, you would have been met with an odd look at best and a laugh at worst. The idea of what was currently happening was so incredibly out of depth and laughably ridiculous it would only be written in stories. But even that had a degree of realism to it, much opposed to the two things that Hassan learned this day. One being that the one his lord and close friend (at least, he assumed they still were) had married to was none other than the woman that had killed him and caused him nightmares, Sylvia, the Whore- Angel of Verdan.
And the other, naturally, being that the Iris and Harbingers now had a common enemy to fight.
The worst part is, as Hassan walked and led the two groups out of the sewers and away from Dragonsreach, he could, in a way, see it. As he looked down onto Hershey's sleeping and so easily defeated body, the thought of someone using the war and the two group's fame to work on their own projects away from the eye of the public who was unaware and celebrating a simple 'peace' that they only had for a single year became something increasingly obvious to Hassan. Of course, there isn't just the Iris and the Harbingers in this world- how could he assume that was the case, in a world so wide and filled with people that were so selfish with their own dreams such as himself?
Maybe that wasn't even how this mysterious group came to be. Maybe he's attaching his own experiences again into the matter. But as Hassan contemplated his current predicament as he held Hershey's unresponsive body away from the eyes of the Iris, he couldn't help but feel both confused as he tried to grasp at an answer that both felt like it was and wasn't there at the same time.
...He kept her away from the Iris, of course. He kept her away from the Harbingers too, to a certain degree. Even though he made sure to memorize the face of the two involved in her kidnapping, he still needed some time for himself, and he didn't quite trust the Iris' own doctors to keep watch or treat her even though he knew it would be necessary. Even though they could see his face, sharp and focused like a true leader; deep down, whenever the Angel of Verdan spoke or the Sword Maiden of the Sun, Irelia, walked upon his gaze, burning spite was held down by many, many different ropes. It was truly taking everything in his power to not ask a thousand questions and scream directly into her face. To make her take her blame for his pain, his nightmares, his grief.
...Yet he knew that wouldn't matter now. None of those feelings would. It's just as Irelia had said: He'd have to live with the weight of his sins and pain silently, hm.
Eventually, though, those thoughts were broken away as Sertek's voice rang out to him. The Swordsman definitely had a different gaze whenever he looked at his estranged friend, but what the gaze actually meant was something that even Sertek would not be able to tell in this currently sad state he was, with memories and faces floating with only a basic meaning around his face. Maybe, in the past, he and Hassan truly were friends. Maybe they weren't, and he played this man perfectly to milk every single ounce of loyalty he had, ever since he was a kid.
"Physically? She's fine," He eventually replied, looking as Hershey silently rested a fair distance away from him. "Yet she's unresponsive. I tried waking her up, but no matter what I do, she can't escape her own dreams. It's almost ironic."
His gaze landed back on Sertek as he continued. His mouth opened for a moment, an obvious question hanging on his mind before he silently closed it. It didn't matter now. Hassan didn't need eyes to realize the way Sertek looked at Sylvia. Whenever she stopped speaking, they still lingered on her.
"I can't say this predicament pleases me, Sertek." A sigh escaped his lips as he looked at the grass and the scent of the wind. So natural, compared to the streets and sewers. "I can't say I'm accepting of Sylvia and her troupe being our allies, I can't say I understand your relationship with her or any of us, but..." Silence lingered for just a moment before Hassan forced himself to stand up, not even looking at Sertek. "But I hope you're holding up well."
'Even though I don't think I really know you anymore.'
This time, Hassan was the first to leave, but not before telling Sertek what he should do. "I'll be contacting the Iris' Doctors to check up on Hershey, to make sure it isn't anything serious." He considered repeating the obvious to the Harbingers, but he neither found the energy nor the motivation to do such a thing. And he knows his group is more than aware of their situation at this point. Repeating it over and over won't do them any good, it'll just make tensions higher than they already were. "Watch your back, Sertek."
With that, Hassan walked slightly closer to the Iris- gaze landing upon Preston and Eryn, a finger beckoning them to come closer, but face unchanging.
Ódhran von Starkenburg Location: Campfire, Anthem County, Haven. Mood: Downcast.
Ódhran was exhausted, to an extent he hadn't felt since the end of the war; the raid on Preston's clinic, the battle with the Vulture, joining forces with the Harbingers and...Laure's death. Even though he wouldn't have been as close to the Dovean as the other Companions, he always recalled her earnest efforts to ease him into the rather eclectic group, owing to his late arrival and general temper. The sight of his colleague being flung back by the hulking blow of that ghoul in the sewers beneath Dragonsreach, the blood seeping from her side, the colour slowly draining from her face as tears flooded from Sylvia's eyes in anguish at her mentor's all-but-certain fate, was hard for him to even wish to recall, such was the heat of emotion in that dingy, rotten place. Instead, it only served to increase the young islander's latent ire, both towards the situation, and towards those happened who to bring it about. Though, if there was something to alleviate such annoyance, it was the appearance of those two characters, Five and Eleven, who seemed in some way, at least to Ódhran, to have played a part in the events of the day, if their having one of the Harbingers in their grasp was anything to go by.
Indeed, of all the things to have occurred in this latest period of time, the banding together with the Harbingers had to be the least odd. To say that there were some rivalries between the two groups was something of an understatement, notwithstanding the rather fantastically-complicated situation that Sylvia found herself in, learning in such a short period of time that her husband Ra'el, was actually the demon lord Sertek, the very person she was prophesised, as Sygis, to destroy. Despite having fought against them for years, though never in close-quarters combat, which was Sylvia, Markas and Irelia's domain amongst others, Ódhran couldn't exactly bring up overt feelings of hatred for Sertek and the Harbingers. In their current state, or at least when the young islander looked upon them first, in the sewer, they aroused pity as opposed to contempt. Despite being the very reason that Ódhran was drafted into the war, it was still the government reigning in Dragonsreach that compelled him to war in the first place. If there's anything that gives me cause to worry, it's the potential bust-ups between Irelia and Hassan, and especially Sylvia and Sertek, or Ra'el, he thought to himself, glancing over towards Sertek as the latter made his way across the unspoken boundary between the two groups and began to give a speech. It was only after he finished that Sylvia made her appearance, the tension between nigh-palpable, made even more tactile by the Sygis as she proclaimed that the moment this threat had been checked, so thus would this alliance would end.
Indeed, it seems, if their parting after Sertek's exhortation for all of them to work together something to deduce from, it would seems that their fated battle might play out sooner than all of them would have wished for. It was only a few moments later that Sylvia, holding a note in her hand, informed the Companions of a rather generous gift lent to them by an unknown benefactor, who was keeping Markus in their company for the time being, rather happily, it seems, on the sender's part. Sylvia, the outer edges of her eyes still tinged red as a result of her weeping, spoke with a slight fluttering in her tone, as she once again enquired of the Companions whether they wished to stand beside her in this continued struggle. In that brief moment, as the offer stood in the air for anyone wishing to take it, a voice rang out from the back of Ódhran mind, urging, 'Take it.' As much as would have wished to excise this thought from his mind as something unnaturally-selfish, the young man couldn't do so in any vein of honesty. He pondered upon his family on Aran, and through his being branded as a traitor, whether any adverse effects of that would bear upon them in some way. They were the ones that weighed on his mind, and, were something to happen to them owing to his involvement in this 'coup', as the government called it, he would beside himself with wretched grief. Yet, even in concern for his family and the irritation he felt at the current situation, it was no excuse for desertion: not now, not ever.
Ódhran was better than that.
He had to be.
"Even though I worry for my family in this climate we all find ourselves in, I don't plan on leaving," the islander said, a soft, though restrained smile forming on his lips, the campfire serving to highlight his pallor, "And I know you might need some time to sort out your...feelings, given what's happened, but we'll follow after you, Sylvia."
sir Galious Meeples
Anthem County, Haven
interaction: (not anyone in particular)
the past few days had been, incredibly strange to say the least and at most a confusing, cryptic esoteric dance of new and old, shadow and spotlight. leading them all here both Harbingers and Iris stuck together in an uneasy alliance of necessity. Galious wasn’t sure how to feel about this, on one hand, he‘d gladly take the chance to rip the spine out of any one of the Iris Company, but on another hand that wouldn’t be at all productive since they were all now stuck in a very small and cramped proverbial boat. Even more so now as they had been so generously gifted a form of mobile command center no double the maintenance would fall to him, Bisi couldn’t be trusted with such a task the white wolf would inevitably find some way to cause a nuisance.
though as much as tiny Astarian tried to keep his mind off it reviewing the past day's events in his head inevitably came up who were those strange agents they saw? What did they know? Why did they know? surely they were connected to whatever Hassan had seen at Nova Heights. Even further past these questions, a deep feeling of fault festered in Galious tiny form even if it was hidden being the blacked plating of the sentinel. For this feeling came not from where one might expect but from Galious’s own self-centered thoughts, as it was laid out clear as day to him this whole series of incidents one after another were indeed caused by his presence as the universe itself or some petty deity Conspired against Galious as it always did, after all without him the whole Nova Height situation would likely have gone far smoother, if He wasn’t there he’d not have suggested to go find Fealca roping the poor general into there plans and running into sertek along with sparking everything else that had happened and subsequently led them to the situation they found themselves in and in a strange backward way of thinking Galious felt just a bit guilty about it.
Still hidden behind the cold steel suit he could at least refocus his efforts and on the bright side most of Iris company had yet to witness the great Dragons diminutive stature, even if none recognized who he was, it could matter later, for now, Hershey the one that had been their guide so far was left unconscious and Hassan officially their leader, Galious trusted Hassan but emotions clearly clouded his sertek’s and that vile Sylvia’s judgments, he could only hope that they were not walking into the jaws of death. ”if you require my services I shall be inspecting the Conestoga Wagon for a suitable workshop area and assembling templates,“ Galious Commented his voice modified to sound deeper and more ominous by the armor he was Within, even then there was a palatable tone of annoyance and disdain in the words he spoke. with that Galious turned away from the others walking towards the wagon in hopes some piece and quiet would settle his mind
"And though one could deny faith in favor of pride, one must always return to their creator."
- Patriarch Eliam
Presently: Abandoned Church, Anthem County
His words rang across his fleeting mind. He had encountered a man preaching heresy after his ferry docked on the port of Dragonsreach. It was nothing to chatter on, it served its purpose, as what the All-Maker has deemed it does. The infidel, they who had spouted nothing but falsities had been hushed to silence by the patriarch only for his holy presence to leave for his journey. He would let the heathen process his words. Understand the weight they carried in life. Comprehend what he could not. There was less and less time to be wasted. The church called upon the renewed patriarch to bring life to lowly and otherwise abandoned churches. If Eliam were to be blunt; it was a tedious duty. Incredibly difficult to convert and make a populace understand the cause of the church and who they so religiously follow. He was unsure the reasoning of his assignment. A gathering of disciples could easily match a patriarch's level of devotion and knowledge, not to mention how so pleased they would be; offered a chance at proving what worth they had in the church.
Regardless of his complaints, denying such a request would mean the loss of favor with the church and worse. Eliam has heard many a tale of those denying the church of what they desire; none end well. He fears the day that a decision such as that would have to be made; he fears, even more, the consequences. His time with his church has been admirable, to say the least, he cannot dismiss their eagerness to accept an unbeliever and allow them board. The feeling of acceptance couldn't be described with words and his memories could not serve him the right to reliving the experience. For all it was worth, he was content with the church but their ways were mysterious at best and strange at worst.
Eliam's trek from Dragonsreach was brief, he had decided to take a route that would take him across a small county outside of the Epirean District. Those of the church made it explicitly clear to spread the truth of the All-Maker and allow His greatness to be experienced by those who have not yet embraced Him, Eliam resolved to visit everywhere he could to fulfill this request. Unfortunately for him, maps made in mass don't typically catalog smaller townships let alone places most never visit, leaving that for the niche cartographers. Eliam had managed to acquire a more local map of Venelia by the grace of the All-Maker; one that detailed everything one could visit should they wish. The patriarch settled on a quaint little settlement by the name of Anthem.
He arrived in what he could deduce as Troyes. A collection of neat small dwellings built in what appeared to be a circle. It was an adequate amount of people to preach to, he much preferred smaller gatherings; it was hard to carry one's voice through many ears. Eliam approached a young child, likely 7 or 8 years of age. The child was faced away, crouched and playing with the grass. The patriarch kneeled, reaching the child's eye level. "Child?" He spoke softly, announcing his presence so as not to frighten them. The response was less than what he could hope for. The adolescent screamed in terror after turning about and ran as fast as their legs could handle. Eliam had experienced this reaction plenty, children were hardly the exception but yet, time and time again, he was always left astonished. Following the child's sprint from the patriarch, a woman, presumably their mother, hastily left their abode and confronted what they could as a danger.
"What did you try to do with my son you freak?" The woman screamed out as she approached Eliam.
The Albian stood up, his height and sudden movement eliciting a cautionary step back from the mother. "I apologize dearly. I am a patriarch from the Church of the All-Maker. I have been tasked with spreading His truth." His words were backed by his conviction, his desire to see more embrace the rightful faith of these lands.
"Nobody wants anything to do with your cult!" Her yelling was loud and obnoxious. More of the townsfolk began to notice the commotion and see for themselves what was happening. "Leave you abomination!"
"I-" His words began to fall apart, only able to stutter out a request. "Madam, I only wish to know where-"
"You best make yourself scarce or by the Empress and her advisors I will have you leave by force."
He resigned from complaining, better to leave a bad impression than one of violence. "I understand madam."
As he left, he could feel their gazes burning through him. Ignited by suspicion and questioning. For him, a different feeling arose. Not one of contentedness nor of disappointment but of wrath. Rage filled his heart. Filled every crevice and molecule in his body. It coursed through him like an aqueduct would carry water. It was hard to suppress and one could even call it sinful to deny what their heart truly desires. It would be worse of a sin to have a township massacred over a bad impression.
Eliam walked south, encountering a farmstead. He could not say it was inhabited but surely something or someone was tending the fields. The patriarch approached the door, kicking it with his sandal as to imitate a knock, withholding his rage from knocking the door clean off its hinges. A man of moderate age answered the door, his eyes peering into Eliam's very soul, he could feel his body being scanned for hostility.
"Hello! My name is Eliam, I am a patriarch for the Church of All-Maker." Eliam could see skepticism in the man's eyes, at this point, Eliam had forsaken attempting to bring light to this township through door-to-door pitching. He'd let whoever takes over the church deal with that. "I was wondering if there was a church of some sort here? I have reason to believe it is abandoned." The owner's face turned from one of skepticism to a grimace. As if he was disgusted by the patriarch. Shortly after, he slammed the door shut, ignoring all further requests. Not with his time, Eliam thought.
South-east of the farmstead was a camp, it was an assortment of various tents all haphazardly put about, that would be his next target. Though by this exact point, all hope had left Eliam, his drive to bring these people to embrace the All-Maker had faded. Replaced with nothing but wrath and anger. Thoughts of violence and decimation filled his mind. He could easily leave this a ghost town before the sun even dawned and none would be the wiser as to who genocided a small county outside of Epirean jurisdiction. His attempts at calming these perverse thoughts failed. They invaded and pulled at the former mercenary's desires and feelings. As easily as he could brand this an act by the Adversary, he could not deny what his heart truly craved. Destruction.
The patriarch did what he could. Prayers and his reciting of the All-Maker's Pilgrimage didn't go a long way in allowing him comfort and it was no cure. One way or the other his wrath would escape, none could predict what it would do. He made his way across the small clearing towards the camp, scouting it out for people more comfortable with Eliam looking as he is. He proceeded towards a young man missing an arm. With any luck, he could some sort of relation with the arm-less patriarch. They spoke rather briefly, each making their introductions and Eliam making his request. The young traveler spoke that he remembered crossing a structure that looked like a church just north of the camp and past a sawmill. With all the gratitude the Albian could offer, he thanked the adventurer and went on his way before he could intrude any further. The looks of suspicion were growing, not only within the encampment but from those traveling from one destination to another within Anthem. He caught in the corner of his eyes a woman who dropped her pales of water after catching a glimpse of Eliam's head. It mattered greatly to him, to see such repulsion. His resentment of people almost burned a hole in his chest.
He reached the church with hardly any hassle. He tried to greet the group manning the sawmill but to no avail. He couldn't say if he wasn't loud enough; if the mill was too loud; or if they couldn't give a damn. He looked upon the ruined house of prayer. It was crumbling apart, stone fractured and wood columns are shown bare from a lack of maintenance and care. The church's roof was practically missing and its color washed out from dozens of rain showers. Blessings from the All-Makers to the populace; curses to the church and its integrity. It would take much work to give life to something that seemed so devoid of it. The patriarch surveyed, taking a jaunt outside and around it. Making mental notes for what needed to be done should the church decide to rebirth it. Returning to his point of origin, Eliam sat down on the spiky grass. He channeled aether through his foot and from forth came a small column of dirt and grass. The column bent and stretched to reach his arm socket, once there, the dirt molded together with his flesh. An arm of adequate size burst out from the column, he stretched his surrogate arm, keeping his concentration as to not lose it. This is sufficient, he thought.
Eliam repeated the process to produce another arm so that he may have a complete set. It weighed on his mind however, dry dirt was not especially easy to keep in a cohesive form. He loathed the day he'd have to make a form out of sand or some sort of powder. The patriarch fiddled with his pockets, manifesting a small notebook bound in leather and a pencil. Adjusting his hold on his note-keeping standard as to not dirty it, he brought forth his mental gatherings and put them in ink. He had not the abilities nor the time to assist the church at the present moment, he was no architect. At best, he could refer it to the church and pray they make some use of it before the winds of time collapse it.
Preston Saytzeff Pacer, Preston of Met Di Plurida Mentions: Sushi MuncherDoctor NopeCelestial Speck
Location: Anthem County, Haven.
These past few days, muddled by pain and morphine, have off-balanced Preston's core. Often he would be awake but unresponsive. Replaying the string of events synchronistically. First, the rending agony in his musculature afterwards the wobble. Crushed, he saw her. Face pale and lifeless; the crimson fluids—that transported oxygen, nutrients, and hormones—drained. He wanted to scream but found it difficult. The injuries sustained threatened to rob his consciousness. The encounter with the Harbingers, Sertek masquerading as Ra'el, and the mysterious lackeys: Eleven and Five. Once they fall into Preston's grasp: he will show them true agony. But for now, the arachnid questioned how he ended up here. Sitting in this wooden chair. The chitin on his hands was cracked; he turned them over to inspect. They remained useful for the surgical tasks. The hands of a Surgeon are his greatest tools. Maybe he could've saved—
"Since when did you become a moper?" A grizzled voice, familiar to the bone, spoke. Preston's head shot up as he saw him, pupils dilating. An arachnid with an angular faceplate. A vertical scar trailing from his right main eye to the third top. His two spear limbs furled out but capped by metal trappings. It was him. "What's wrong, sleepy?" Inquisitively asked. "Didn't expect to see me?" Preston grit his jagged teeth. "Never did I ever expect to see your mug again." The arachnid was taken aback. "Is that how to greet the spider who thought you all that you know?" Preston almost spat. "Alright, complex visual-auditory hallucinations but what caused it?" He asked himself before the figure responded smugly. "Stimulant-induced plus the pain and trauma didn't help your case, bucko." Then the figure lazily gestured to him. "Wha-? But morphine isn't known to induce hallucinations this quic--" He was interrupted. "Ah, ah, you're forgetting the metabolite built-up and sensitivity for us." Caught off guard, Preston grumbles. "Hehe, nothing to it, kid. You're distraught enough as it is." The figure's tone lightened. Preston mumbled: "I will butcher them." The figure tilted his head. "I'm sure you will, kid, in due time." He lifted his pointer finger. "Just don't let your reckless indignation be the death of you." "I am never reckless! Ever!" The Doctor cackled to Preston's ears. "Really? Isn't that what you're doing right now?" Preston had almost snarled at his jabs. "To hell with you." "Not dead yet, you know that." The figure suddenly pulled out a piece of paper, rolled. Then he slid it to Preston. "What's this?" Puzzled, Preston asked. "When you're ready to bury her." The figure got up then vanished when Preston next blinked. Although the paper did not disappear. He dare not open it, he suspected what it was.
The arachnid got up and tucked the paper away. The pain that had been absent up until now returned albeit still muted by the opioid. "Ggrrr..." His mind needs clearing. However, he will not get the chance as Hassan The Swordsman beckoned him and Eryn to aid the ewe. Most likely. Immediately he denied the order by turning his head but then, was stubbornly reminded of his Doctor's oath. Begrudgingly, he moved to him. "What do you require?"
Caenis ran, or rather walked briskly home from where he was. The news had been spreading and his mind was made up. It was best to leave the city as quickly and as silently as possible. He had the hood of his jacket worn up, trying his damndest to keep people from noticing him. ”Act as if you belong, and no one will bat an eye.” The memory came unbidden and Caenis listened. Straightening his back and slowing to a relaxed pace, he made his way to the apartment complex that served as a temporary place of residence. Walking up the stairs of the building, he made his way to his apartment and opened the door. A sparsely furnished, almost Spartan-like apartment greeted him as he walked inside, locking the door behind him.
Immediately, Caenis set about with a mentally prepared list of tasks. Going to his bedroom, he opened the closet doors and grabbed a backpack from a shelf. He hurriedly shoved clothes, tools, a few rations, a canteen of water, and other necessities into the bag, before zipping it, and moving to grab the guitar case. Laying the case on the bed, Caenis opened it, and made sure to see if everything was where he left it. Heavenly Tipota and Demonic Kati stared back at him, the two firearms laid within the case. Grabbing Demonic Kati, he broke open the action, checking to see if the weapon was loaded. Satisfied, he holstered the revolver on the back of his waist, underneath his shirt and jacket. He’d only draw the weapon if needed. Once more going to the closet, he took a few extra boxes of regular ammunition and threw them into the case as well. Shutting it and locking it, Caenis looked around his temporary home for anything else. Nothing else was needed.
Going around the apartment, Caenis turned off lights, closed window blinds, and removed all traces that he was there. He knew that if he stayed, the authorities, or rather someone would come knocking. He wished to be long gone, out of the county by that time. “Into the belly of the beast I go,” he said as he made his way towards the fire escape. Taking the stairs in his mind was too risky. Opening the window, Caenis, with both backpack and guitar case, slipped out. Closing the window behind him, he silently crept back towards the streets. A back alley, or anywhere he could possibly slip out of the city was preferred. Once more adopting a hurried pace, Caenis began walking.
Rounding a corner, he spotted a group of security forces. Halting, he realized he still had his IRC badge on. Ripping the badge from his jacket, he pocketed it and quickly began to resume his walk. Head down, but eyes forward, Caenis walked past, his heart pounding. As they passed, Caenis let out a sigh of relief as they didn’t stop him. Finally nearing the city edge, Caenis’s pace picked up once more. With enough distance between him and Dragonsreach, Caenis went into a full-on sprint.
Anthem County, he figured, would be the easiest place to get to, as well as the closest. Running in that direction, Caenis stopped as he heard the sound of fighting, as well as a slight light between the tree lines. He moved closer to observe, then he heard familiar voices. Sylvia, the Angel of Verdan. He was tasked to attempt to kill her if commanded. She was the enemy, he had to remind himself, or rather, was she? Shaking thoughts off, Caenis’s lone eye widened at the second voice? Lord Sertek? But he was dead, killed by the same woman whose voice he heard. Gripping the handle of his revolver he snuck forth more, when he spotted him, Hassan. Cursing, Caenis’s mind went into overdrive. Stay and fake being an Iris. That was the plan. Sneaking past, Caenis made his way to where he saw a wagon.
Purposefully making noise and stepping on branches and leaves, Caenis made himself known as he cleared the treeline by the wagon. Panting and wiping away at sweat to convince the others, he put his hands on his knees as well as dropping his bag and guitar case. “I- hah… I made it… I got out…” Gulping in a large breath of air, Caenis faked trying to straighten out, but ultimately failed to do so. “Lady Sylvia… Mr. Starkenburg…” he gasped out. “Senna Pragmatikos, reporting for duty…” His eyes quickly took in the surrounding area. Iris and Harbingers, both with members he recognized. He sent a nigh imperceptible pleading look to the Harbingers as if saying “Don’t blow my cover!” Hopefully they caught on. “The city is on complete… everything is in chaos right now.”
Sertek studied Hassan's expression as the latter described of Hershey's comatose. Unspoken feelings beneath his stern visage. Sertek felt weak, as if he was simply being dragged into the current of fate. He had carelessly attached his personal feelings to the matter, intertwining his troubles with that of Hassan's true thoughts. He blamed himself for the situation that they found themselves in. Perhaps it was the best course of action to impart his role to the swordsman. It gnawed at him, however, as a sign of weakness for simply running away from the problem. Sertek's eyes lit up upon Hershey's helpless state. Her unconscious self reminded him of his promise to himself and that of the Harbingers. He had to take actions, here and now. There will be a time to repair the bridge between him and the Angel of Verdan, he thought.
"If it wasn't for me, perhaps she would be weaving dreams instead. Perhaps the Harbingers would not have to suffer my fate." Sertek said to himself.
"My well-being is as right as rain, thanks to the efforts of the Harbingers. But it is time I take action. I do not wish for anyone else to suffer at the hand of Five and Eleven. I'll take it from here." Sertek reaffirmed his beliefs with his own words, giving Hassan a pat on the shoulder, as he eyed the Arachnoid Companion. Despite their reluctant gestures, Preston was swift to answer Hassan's nonverbal call as he did. Perhaps something can be done together, Sertek thought. The Daemon Lord was optimistic enough, but in his heart, he knew that it would take more than words to mend the scars of the War between this fragile coalition.
"Our dreamweaver is still unconscious. I understand that this is most difficult for you, as it stands. I must wholeheartedly beg of you to examine Hershey's conditions and treat her accordingly. Please, Preston, Hershey is pivotal to our shared quest, and more importantly, she aided much of our endeavors thus far to unveil the mystery behind Five and Eleven. Whatever you need, I will see to it." Sertek spoke to Preston, his firm eyes beckoned the doctor's help.
Sertek then turned to Hassan with a nonverbal gesture to follow suit with the prior's stance.
"Thank you, my friend." he concluded, before lifting Hershey from the ground.
"Perhaps the Conestoga will provide a much more suitable environment for your work. Please." Sertek said to Preston, with the unconscious dreamweaver in his arms, akin to a father carrying his child to be treated.
Sylvia blamed herself for Laure's demise. Even now, her body yearns to simply let loose her fury as she did at Onyx Valley. Her only source of restraint was that of her self-indulged, sanctimonious honor - the pact that she brokered not so long ago with Sertek. Even now, her mentor's lifeless eyes haunted her, causing her hand to shake uncontrollably. Her coping mechanism for grief was in the form of pent-up monstrosity that resided within her. Odhran's words did not comforted her, even if she wanted to hear it. Time and again, she had asked too much of her allies. Eventually, she would bleed them dry. Sylvia willed herself to rally them, against her own creed. She saw herself as a mere instrument for the Creator to use. She often wondered, if only she had been less commandeering, perhaps the young boy from Willemshaven, Friedhelm's sister, and Laure would still be here today. She was always the loudest in the room, stirring the hearts of her peers. But it has proven time and again to be laced with deathly intents - inevitably leading most to their deaths. Was she truly an effective leader, or was she simply masquerading her destructive self behind the doll-like icon that the people have attributed unto her. A mere child, playing soldiers among the greater pretenders. She knows this, more than anyone else. It hurts her more than she would like to admit, but she had conjured such great lies that she could no longer tell it apart from the reality of her wishes. Grozny did not need a Hero, they needed an icon of resistance to stir them into action. A symbol of fanatic zeal and nothing more.
"There is an abandoned church not far from here. The local troopers will no doubt send out some patrols. The semi-hard structure will provide us some concealment and cover for the night." Sylvia folded her arms and addressed those within earshot. She gave Sertek a dark glimpse as the latter sought after the Company's medical assistance.
"Five minutes, Preston. We will see about the dreamweaver's conditions at the Church. You. Wretched Malefactor. Man the Conestoga." Sylvia chimed in, glaring at Sertek with a killer's gaze.
Sertek gulped slightly, as he followed suit to carry Hershey towards the Conestoga before Preston. The Daemon Lord had many things running on his mind. Among those feelings was a distinctive allure drawn from Sylvia's dreadful aura. He cannot help but shudder with vigor at the behest of her command. Even when she was angry at him, keen on running her spear through his heart, Sylvia was still beautiful in his eyes. Sertek smiled softly, as he went about his way. Sylvia, on the other hand, was disgusted by Sertek's slight smile. While she reasoned it as a scheming smile, her heart felt light for a split second. She despised the feeling and wanted to toss it out like a primed grozite grenade. Alas, she must abide by her words.
Before long, a mysterious figure crept up upon them at the campfire. Sylvia was on the edge of materializing her Solomon when her assailant finally addressed themselves. A name that she had not heard of for some time, but all too familiar. Sylvia was glad they were able to escape Dragonsreach mostly unscathed.
"How did you get past-... No matter. It is good to see you unharmed. Catch a breath." Sylvia greeted them, patting their shoulder with comfort.
"We will displace this position shortly. Keep your distance with the Harbingers. A turbulent turn of events, to say the least. I'll be sure to catch you on in due time, Senna. Until our mission is concluded, they are our circumspect acquaintances for now." she concluded.
As the Daemon Lord walked alongside his friend, he could not shake his uncertainties. Sertek eyed Hassan briefly, veering his eyes back and forth. He finally voiced his thoughts.
"I'm sure you have yet to adjust to this image of mine. But I'm sure we were meant for more than needless conflicts. This concept of paradoxical sensation that we call love. An anemic and feeble sense of vulnerability, yet an empowering one. Perhaps you will come to understand this feeling one da-... No. I'm sure you know this better than me. What do I know? I've been on Grozny for more than three thousand years and I haven't the slightest clue how women works." Sertek remarked with a slight sigh, subtly nudging at what he believed was their shared woes.
"Mind not my words. I'm just rambling on at this point. Although I must ask something of you, my friend." Sertek settled Hershey inside the Conestoga, wrapping his own jacket into a pillow for the dreamweaver. He then turned to Hassan with a stern visage.
He let out an amused scoff under his breath as Preston turned his head around to ignore him only to very clearly begrudgingly follow along with his duties and come after him. While Hassan couldn't exactly say the feeling was unwanted, a part of him found it amusing that this doctor still had a sense of honor to him. Perhaps he should be grateful about such a fact, in the end. After all, the only notable doctors came from the Iris' side.
He was about to calmly and professionally explain the situation to him, with as little emotional bias for the sake of his own pride and the sanity and calmness of the arachnid doctor. But, of course, fate had other plans as Sertek spoke and tried to take control of this situation. Hassan mentally cursed as he saw his old master and companion use emotional bias just as he was planning to avoid it. Things were still too early, and being professional with the companions was the best course of action so far as to avoid any conflicts. Anything more would likely cause Preston to lose his patience, even if Sertek knew him during his time as Sylvia's husband, as he lacked memories.
...Still. Those thoughts and that disappointment evaporated as Sertek thanked him and said that simple, wretched word. 'Friend.' Hassan flinched and swallowed, as he found himself incapable of looking at his old friend's general direction for an instant.
It did, however, give him enough time to see a familiar figure who he did not expect to see anytime soon. Caenis was someone they had sent on a mission long ago to infiltrate himself upon the Iris Company, someone to kill the Angel of Verdan from the inside. Such a thing never happened, for the war ended with their loss and the Harbingers fracturing. It would be a sincere lie to say that Hassan remembered Caenis up until now. The last contact the First Harbinger and Sertek had with the spy was four years ago, after all.
His nonverbal sight was caught and fully understood by Hassan- who in return blinked a few times in a certain rhythm to him. It wasn't any sort of code, but from the stoic expression and raised eyebrow he was raising, it was clear he was trying to send some manner of message to the other despite his fake suspicion and clear acting that the other was a member of the Iris Company. 'Meet with me later.' Yes, perhaps that was something close to what he was saying; after all, many things happened these last few days, these last few years, and Caenis deserves to know.
With that, Hassan walked away from the scene: Sertek following after him. There were times in the past where such things happened. They were rare and few in-between moments where a younger swordsman and Daemon talked to one another. Even if times changed and both friends changed over the years, it still brought a certain nostalgia to Hassan. Yet his friend's words were just as sincere once again: And Hassan cursed under his breath as it appeared as Sertek noticed his thoughts. It wasn't as if they were particularly hidden, anyways. Hassan made many of his thoughts and feelings noticeable through these past few days.
"It's fine, I still meant what I said when we met at Fealca's butcher shop," At least, to a degree. "It's just...Of all people in that city...I didn't expect you to be married to the same woman who killed you." He winced slightly at those words, the memory was still fresh in his mind, after all. Even if Sertek was alive and well in front of him.
...Yet Hassan couldn't help but blink at Sertek's words about love. Once again, he felt those feelings, conflicting and strange, that appeared when he first refused to kill those Guards at Nova Heights, and when he thought of Irelia's words to him long ago. It was obvious that Sertek didn't mean the swordmaiden specifically, but he couldn't help but raise a careful eyebrow. "...I had thoughts about it. This year...I had many things to think about. I think...I think I can say that dream I had when we first met, was foolish." He chuckled slightly, the thought of the 'Strongest Swordsman' being something so childish, so amusing to him. Ah, he truly hoped Preston wasn't hearing this.
"Love is...Powerful," He spoke seriously, his tone calm as he looked at Sertek directly into his eyes, despite his status as a daemon. "Many good things can be shaped by love, I think. Some of these things can end bittersweetly or painfully, or...They can lead to new things. I don't mean just the romantic kind, either. I'm...Not sure how you feel about her, or her about you, but if fate led us to this point, and you can still say you can 'love...' Uh...I think it still means good things can happen for all of us."
Hassan blushed. That sounded awfully pretentious. What was he even talking about? He long accepted that his loyalty goes beyond just his duty, but to say such advice to Sertek is still like saying about his childhood dream as a child again. Ugh.
"...I'm also rambling about topics I know little about. As I said, I just had...Some time to think, I suppose." He chuckled lightly, but eyes soon heeding to Sertek's words again. "Ah, speak, Sertek. I shall aid in whichever way I can."
────────────────────────────────────── Irelia Sonan
────────────────────────────────────── — The Dawnbringer —
Smouldered behind a stout bole, Irelia reclined against the bark. Her breath, soundless, scrupulously controlled, creating the pretence of her absence. No more than twenty paces from where she hid, atop the hill, two figures confronted one another with antipathy.
Sylvia, and... The Demon Lord, Irelia commiserated, a desolate countenance plastered upon her face for non to see.
In silence, she listened attentively to the, former, lovers' quarrel.
Sylvia was quick to show signs of temperament, as she swiftly swept Sertek, or Rael, unto the ground, accosted him with her fabled Solomon's Edge, and then offered her tirade. Inversely, the erstwhile Emperor of Darkness was acquiescent in his demeanour—seeming ready to proffer his fate to the woman, who not long ago, was his beloved. Whatever was to unfold within the coming moments, Sylvia's indignation was justly felt. A concoction of doubt, regret, frustration, anger, revenge and betrayal likely brewed in her heart and mind. To have learned that the one man she cherished so dearly, was the very same man she was destined to destroy. Heart-wrenching is the only way one could delineate such adversity.
It begs the question, was the prophecy truly gospel? Or had some unholy intercession tainted the path of indefinite truth?
Irelia was partially nonplussed when Sylvia relinquished her spear from its threatening locus. Her withdrawal prompted an immediate response from Rael, who attempted to reach out to his wife, but to no avail. It was as if Rael knew that Sylvia did not possess the resolve to slay him and consummate the prognostication. Perhaps, therein lies the Demon Lord's insouciance—the Devil already had Sylvia's tender heart in shackles
Make yourself scarce, fiend. You are unworthy to remain in Sylvia's presence. Irelia peered around the tree with narrowed eyes.
While Sylvia could not bring herself to commit the deed, the Swordmaiden had half the mind to decapitate Sertek in his vulnerable state herself. The opportunity at present was at its prime. That is to say, it was evident that the Demon Lord's days of tyrannical glory were of a bygone epoch which had long passed; his current power, a slight fraction of his zenith. But no. Irelia pacified her keen hand. She too quelled her anger, in part, because she felt that it was not her place to intervene, and befoul the prophecy, which surely would incite grave consequences—despite Irelia's growing scepticism. Another reason is that Irelia despises the need to resort to underhanded tactics; she hopes to face all her opponents in a fair light, even if the said opponent was someone as dangerous as the Demon Lord himself. But supposedly the main reason she impeded her decision to end things here and now was because of Sylvia. Deep down, Irelia knew that Sylvia had reserved a special place for Rael in her heart that she refused to let go of. She could sense it, in spite of her commander's contemporary disposition. Irelia simply could not allow herself to be the cause of inflicting yet greater grief upon Slyvia, while she was already in profound pain mourning the death of Laure.
Irelia rued the absence of her sword in her allies' hour of need. She continued to blame herself for the loss. But Friedhelm and his hounds had stood in her way. Had either herself or Markas been in the sewers as well, the outcome of that grim encounter would have been much different. Alas, it was not the case, and Sylvia was left without the aid of two of her most powerful combatants. And they ultimately paid the price—in the form of Laure's blood. An overwhelming feeling of guilt consumed Irelia, submitting her to anguish.
She exhaled. An attempt to abate the mental agony some modicum amount.
The disputing couple soon parted ways, and Irelia observed as Sylvia melted into the porous umbra of trees. The Dawnbringer decided to follow her commander. Silent, and undetected.
In time, Sylvia came to a halt, unleashing her pent-up frustrations on a nearby tree. She first struck with a closed fist; Irelia winced. The Commander then called upon her weapon and penetrated the heartwood with a single strike, there was a dull sibilance that would portend an earthshaking THUD as the tree and its boughs crashed into the ground. Her body tensing, Irelia scrunched her already sealed eyes tighter. While she could not blame Sylvia entirely for her actions, the Swordmaiden felt disapproval for her leader's needless usage of an innocent life form as an outlet. Indeed, Irelia felt some remorse for the tree that had become a victim of Sylvia's exasperation.
Irelia waited, letting her Commander end her weeping in peace. Only after Sylvia collected herself and left the area did Irelia emerge into the open. She slowly paced herself, stopping a short distance from the base of the felled tree.
Irelia let out a dejected sigh.
"Such a pitiful demise," she said wearily to the brutalised plant. "'Twas not your time."
"Forgive her. She has endured a great loss." Irelia dipped her head. "One could say, two losses. I can vouch, that she is usually far more prudent... Just not right now... After all, we must all face our demons at some point."
An air of melancholy surrounded the Swordmaiden as she subjected herself to meticulous introspection. Memories of a past she longed to forget returned to haunt her. An inescapable torment.
She recalled the events following the initial collapse of Hirana - during the apotheosis of the Fourth Daemonic War - there was a time when Irelia succumbed to the darkness caged within. She and her Oeki sisters defended their homeland against a myriad of vast legions until the Demon Lord ordered for one final siege on Hirana. Exhausted from the ceaseless fighting and perpetual drums of war, the Oeki finally lost to this endmost campaign, led by The First Harbinger. At this eleventh hour, The Eye of Dawn, Kaguya Sonan, a member of the triumvirate, sacrificed herself to shield the remaining survivors from Sertek's encroaching forces. Irelia, though among the few fortunate to have lived through the nightmare, gazed upon a field of swords - the resting place of her kin - with resentment in her heart. In pain, she accepted the weapon that once belonged to her mother and egressed from the Oeki monastery with only one thing on her mind—retribution. The endless bloodshed that her eyes had witnessed turned them crimson, and the crushing defeat that left her bereaved had awoken something sinister. An alter ego. A polar opposite identity. Thereafter, the guardian became a huntress, preying on Sertek's forces wherever they revealed their corrupted heads. In madness, she slew her enemies by the thousands. Her carnal bloodlust was insatiable, and her sanity festered. She was a virtuoso of death with the perfect tools: the sanguine ichor of her foes, her paint; the legendary golden blade bequeathed to only its chosen, her brush; and the sacred earth she once swore to protect, her canvas. Her masterpieces - the grim carnage left in her wake - earned her the dreaded title 'The Bloody Maiden'. Now, Irelia loathes it.
Had she not met Sylvia when she did, Irelia assuredly would've descended far too deep into deliration, beyond a point of no return.
However, since her rendezvous with the other Companions, Irelia had been on edge. Not due to the revelation of two new adversaries, Five and Eleven, though it would seem that lesser evils had spawned from the ruins of yesteryear's war. But, at present, their involvement in matters did not concern the Swordmaiden. She was ready to strike them down in a heartbeat, had the need arisen. Instead, her judgement was at odds, and she hesitated. Drawing the line between friend and foe had been obscured. Though it made sense now, back then, it seemed strange how Rael had ended up in the sewers, not alone. Sylvia must've been too preoccupied in regards to her husband's safety to have realised, but Irelia recognised the identity of his entourage in an instant. After all, that man was among them. She could never forget his face. It was unmistakable. It was him. Her heart had dropped at that moment. Fate is a cruel thing, she didn't think she'd cross paths with him again, but at this rate, she wondered if their destinies were intertwined. In Jianki, some warriors believe that one's sword is an extension of one's soul, thus it then follows that Irelia's and that man's soul have waltzed twice in the past. She did not want to make it thrice. For he was the reason her sisters perished. He was the reason she fell from grace. He was the reason she turned her back on her own tenet. Yet, he is also the reason she lived. The reason she remains to tell the tale. The reason she is able to uphold the memory, and honour, her fallen kindred. And the reason she was able to seek justice, and redemption.
Maybe that is why she harboured no hatred for that man specifically, for all he'd done. She'd personally felt his soul whenever their blades kissed in a cacophony of hissing metal and ripping air, and she saw the truth about him. A benevolent psyche, misguided—much like what happened to her not long after this first encounter. Irelia remembered lying on the scarred earth, defeated, she struggled to keep her eyes open but managed to glimpse the man cut down one of his own without discrimination, exacting punishment on the executed soldier who had killed a woman, heavy with child. It bought a smile to her lips, one of the last things she could remember before everything turned black. They were both two sides of the same coin, something Irelia came to learn amid their second duel, a rematch set on a grand stage for the war's final act on Mount Hornet. This apprehension is what led Irelia to forgo her chance at revenge and have mercy on her opponent, just as he once showed her. The two were now on equal terms when they parted, going their separate ways.
Irelia pressed on her temple with her fingertips, abating her racing thoughts, and channelling her focus to the task at hand. She knelt down on the ground, placing one palm firmly on the soil. She could feel the heartbeat of the world as she forged an esoteric connection with the earth beneath her. Irelia uttered something in the old language. A short prayer. Golden aether bled from her palm and seeped into the soil, metastasizing. Miraculously, Irelia ushered new life into the broken tree as it rapidly grew anew, blooming into a more glorious state than before its initial ruination.
"It is done," satisfied she whispered, getting back up. She retained a cough, blood had pooled in her mouth and was now dripping from slightly parted lips. Without fuss, she wiped away the traces. Even if she'd only used a small portion of her Divine Sanctuary to revive the tree, it had taken its toll.
Having amended the collateral damage, a product of Sylvia's vexation, Irelia returned to the encampment shared by the Iris Company and Harbingers. The rest of her comrades, and former enemies, were already all gathered. Including him. Though despite his presence, and the churning emotions within, Irelia maintained a mask of indifference, now was not the time to stoke old fires.
"I sheathe my blade, not for you, Demon Lord, but at Sylvia's behest," Irelia said in response to Sertek advising that the two parties form a truce. "Verily, your serpent tongue will not absolve you, Deceiver," Irelia addressed Sertek derogatorily for how she saw him, then adding, "In due time, you will face your reckoning... it is inevitable."
Irelia's narrowed eyes then flicked over to Hassan, staring at him for a few heartbeats before averting her gaze and walking off to inspect the Conestoga.
To say that Angelica's life had been flipped on it's head would be the understatement of the century. Just a few days ago her biggest concern was the color of a dress she was making for a high end client, and now she was sitting on the streets of Troyes with 3 bags stuffed with supplies and "essentials" because a few of her former colleagues and enemies decided to make dragonsreach a personal mosh pit. Angelica had to gather her things and quickly leave, though she was confident that she had covered her tracks during the war, she knew that if someone even slightly recognized her, she'd be dragged through the streets and hanged for the citizens of dragonsreach amusement. A fate that Angelica refused to succumb too, after all, she was a Harbinger, Sertek's chosen, she wouldn't go down so easily.
Angelica decided that wallowing in her own self pity would get her nowhere, and that she had to move. Wanting to leave Troyes and head somewhere with a bit less people, she begun to move northeast, where supposedly an abandon church laid undisturbed. It would work as a perfect hideout, at least temporarily until she decided where'd she go next. It wouldn't take long until she cleared the small town of Troyes and was deep in the woods. It was then that she heard voices while traveling to the abandoned church, they seemed familiar, perhaps fellow harbingers? If they had made it out of the city alive, then it wouldn't be far fetched to say that they were hiding in the woods.
"Or I could slowly be going insane, that could always be an option." Angelica grumbled to herself. Even if it was them, her chances of survival were higher if she stayed alone, the bigger the group, the harder it would be to stay concealed from those who want them dead. However, these were people who would look death in the eyes and laugh, and some of the strongest people around. Not only that, but the harbingers were the closet thing to family that Angelica ever had. Angelica let out a sigh of frustration, "Consequences be damned, it won't hurt to do a little looking around.". Angelica activated her cloak, her skin tingling as she became transparent. She had about a minute before it wore off, so she worked quickly, following the voices to their source.
Angelica almost had a heart attack when she saw the sight before her
Sertek, The Demon lord, the one beyond the stars, alive and well. Angelica had to pinch herself to make sure that she wasn't dreaming, after all he was suppose to be dead, slayed by the Hero Sylvia. Not only that, but members of the iris company were present, including the Hero herself, and they weren't trying to kill him. Angelica could only assume that they were in some sort of temporary truce, if so, something truly horrible must be happening to drive people who wanted each other dead to become allies. Angelica decided that it would be best to actually come forth instead of staring at her fellow harbingers from the shadows.
"Well this is quite the predicament! Iris and Harbinger's together, and not fighting each other to the death, I thought I'd never see the day!" Angelica said while walking towards them. She turned towards Sertek, and bowed, "Lord Sertek, I never thought I'd have the pleasure of seeing you again," then turning to Hassan, "Lord Hassan, It brings me joy to find you in good health.". After the formalities were out of the way, Angelica set her things down on a near by tree, and leaned against it, "So, does someone want to explain what they are doing here?" Angelica asked.
Preston Saytzeff Pacer, Preston of Met Di Plurida Mentions: Sushi MuncherDoctor NopeCelestial SpeckxAlter
Location: Anthem County, Haven. W/ Hershey, Daemon Lord and Hassan.
Although it pained the arachnoid, this act of honour had to be done. He crossed his arms, ready to receive the preliminary information about the patient. The Swordsman, from what Preston remembers/has heard, is the professional type: so this interaction should proceed smoothly.
Then a voice broke out from behind the Swordsman. The silver-tongue of the former Daemon Lord beat out the words. Sertek, or as Preston knows him: Ra'el. The betrothed of his commander, Sylvia. Preston's clawed hands dug into the fabric of his coat, his eight eyes narrowed. Professionalism had stopped him from grumbling, focus unimpeded. He listened attentively to his words: about Hershey's importance, the acts of sleuthing she undertook to reveal Five and Eleven, and the rest. He asked that he will provide anything Preston needed. The genuineness of phrases and eye expressions will have to suffice for now.
"I'll know what I'll need once I begin examining the patient." Professionally spoken but keen listeners can pick out the contempt. He kept pace behind the trio as they walked to the Conestoga. His gait stiffened and prepared.
Preston did hear another familiar voice. Pragmatikos, why is he here? The former quartermaster had raised Preston's suspicions. Under normal circumstances, Preston would appreciate his help, but the corruptive nature of the enemy would cast doubt against late-joiners. As they walked, Preston overhears their words. The comment from the Swordsman about how he was married to his enemy made Preston wince. It certainly made Preston grimace: he had dinner at their place for Pete's sake! In his mind's eye, he held a bundle of emotions—a mesh of negative threads woven tightly. He mustn't let emotions cloud his judgement. To lose a patient due to emotionality would devastate Preston.
In the Conestoga, they locked gaze with Sylvia. Prompting a quiet groan from Preston, he was hoping to avoid this. Knowing Sylvia, Preston presumes she blames herself for Laure's death—as well as the deaths of others. He thinks she might be too conflicted about the whole ordeal. Alas, his judgements will not dismay the commander. He predicts she will either hunker down in her resistance against the numerals or seize up to deal with the trauma. Either choice, the outcome still involves therapy. She imposed a limitation, five minutes and no more. "As you wish." Stoically spoken.
The Swordsman and Ra'el continued their conversing while Preston begged his Lord and Matriarch silently for swift mercy. Finally, the ewe was rested on the table. The hasty diagnosis was about to begin. First, he scoured the Conestoga for two minutes of the five for tools. Then the real procedure can begin.
First: The general examination - on a piece of paper, Preston marked down identifying data about the patient. Name and the like. A physical examination followed. Checking heart rate, temperature, BP. His clawed hands grabbed the little Aries by her jaw and pulled down. A wooden tongue depressor moved her tongue out of the way for him to analyse her mouth. Everything seemed in order.
Second: Preston will determine if Hershey is actually comatose and doesn't have Locked-in syndrome. First, he studied her eyes to see if they were moving or following. There was no movement to Preston's trained eyes. "Alright, Mrs/Miss. Hersa, I'm going to perform a series of reflex tests. If you are capable of awareness, I do this with your consent in mind." The first test involved carefully opening the eyelids then gently moving Hershey's head. The eyes went in the opposite direction to the head, indicating an intact brainstem. Then with a torch (a flashlight, not an actual torch.) He shined a light in both of her eyes. A positive reaction, meaning her third cranial nerve was intact. Next, he unfurled his spear limbs. He poked her skin lightly at various points. To onlookers, the right stump on his back also began to move vainly. Satisfied with the current examination and not wishing to prolong, Preston returned to speak with Sertek and the Swordsman.
"Based on my examination, the following was determined: Physically speaking, she is in good health and peculiarly no characteristic damage that coincides with comatose states. Thus from the hitherto conclusions, she is ailing from a toxin or poison which inhibits consciousness via attacks to her nervous system, OR this is, in fact, a magically induced coma. Which is out of my realm of expertise. I strongly favour the latter explanation, since a blood test will confirm the former. If a toxin is present then my prognosis indicates her condition, from now, will continue to worsen but as I said, I believe this is magic." He looks at the two men in front of him. "If you wish to hear my detailed thoughts then I have written an impromptu patient report." Pointing to the piece of paper, next to the stethoscope on the table adjacent to Hershey.
Eryn Leasath Cissnei Location:"...Where the fuck am I?" Objective:"Hnhnnnng....."
To say that the last few days had taken a toll on him would be an understatement. With the death of the Vice-Commander, he'd experienced his first major failure since he joined the Iris Company. Though it was unlikely that anyone else would consider it a failure of his, a medic could never shake the feeling that they could have done better. Hell, there were TWO medics in the company. They were supposed to be unkillable when he and Preston were together.
Of course, that was two days ago. While his thoughts on the matter would continue to fester in him, they weren't the main issue he was facing. First of all, he had a total of six revolver cartridges remaining. Next, his H2 gauntlets had about a minute of movement left, give or take. His ICU visor dangled uselessly from his belt. His medical supplies were running low. His special lollipops had ran out. Only the regular candy remained, and even that was in small numbers. The damages to some of his H2 tendrils had yet to be repaired. His cloak had burn marks on it.
Combat effectiveness was, to be frank, down the gutter.
He hadn't felt this useless since Verdan. For the first time as an Iris Companion, he felt like dead weight.
He could hardly care about the fact that Sertek and his Harbingers were amongst them. Sure, he had an intense burning hatred for the daemon lord, but the only face he saw there was of Rael. His compromised mind was simply unable to connect his face with the name of Sertek at this time. As the others chattered around him, he could hardly process a word that was said. The simplest way to put it was that he was tired. Everyone's voices faded in and out at irregular intervals, and were often registered as barely more than echoes. Withdrawal symptoms after his usage of the "performance enhancer" in the sewers.
Despite all that, he was still brought to attention whenever Sylvia spoke. Whenever he was in doubt, he could always put himself in the Commander's trusty hands and follow her lead.
"Conestoga Wagon. Red Cartagena. Bleed for me. Abandoned Church. Five Minutes."
Sure, it wasn't the most cohesive sentence, rather a broke string of words collected over some gaps in time, but he got the gist of things. He seemed to be dealing with headaches a lot these past few days, but his current one was pretty rough on him.
All he hoped for now was that he'd be able to eventually get a proper night's sleep and give his mind some much needed respite.
Having lent an ear to the Swordsman, Sertek rubbed his hair back. There were words that he had wished to broker, but ultimately kept to himself. Despite what he had said recently to reinforce his stance, Sertek was wary of Sylvia's distraught. Nights after nights, how she groaned and tossed about the sheets, drenched in cold sweat. On occasions, her Solomon would find itself lodged into the wall before her. Sertek could not even begin to fathom the darkness that Sylvia was plagued with. She was only fourteen when she was baptized in the fires of combat. The dust may have settled, but the scars of the bygone conflict are as clear as the moonlit meadow before them. Laure's demise was ultimately his own fault. There are no shining stars for Sylvia and Sertek. It was here, that Sertek willed it to be the Rael that Sylvia once loved. Hassan's words raised a point that he could not ignore. Of all the whispers of the callous heart, Sylvia was his as he was hers. The Creator's wicked sense of irony. Was his time on Grozny truly was out of spite against the Creator or was there something other than defiance?
"Fates be damned. I will not see her treading the dark path she mustn't. I have decided, Hassan. I ask of you now to lend me your knowledge. Train me in combat. What good is a renowned Daemon Lord if I can't protect my Harbingers? A husband must be able to protect his most dearest. Eleven and Five will be brought to justice. I will not lose anyone else. I will not lose you. I will not lose Sylvia."
Sertek reflected on Irelia's coarse remarks. She spoke some truth. It is inevitable that this shaky coalition would soon come to an end. Until then, he had to be ready. By training with Hassan, he will be able to protect Sylvia, even if she may say otherwise. He must prove himself worthy to lead the Harbingers and be there for Sylvia. This was a chance for him to action what he could not do before. No matter how arduous the road may be, he will prove himself via his actions. The past will not hold him back, he resolved.
Sertek was caught off-guard by the foreign lady, of whom had presumed their nonchalant induction to be none other than another Harbinger. Sertek gave Hassan an inquiring look, before turning towards her again. As much as he dislike the idea of having to abide by the formalities of his past self, Sertek had little choice but to speak for himself.
"Forgive me, but my memories are in scattered. By definition and figure of speech. May I inquire of your name, miss...?" he simply replied.
When Preston finally concluded his general examination for Hershey, Sertek tuned in to what the doctor had to say.
"Thank you, Preston. I would like to hear more of your details once we have arrive at the church. Go ahead and mount up." Sertek nodded with a grateful expression.
"I'm sure Hassan will catch you up with the details en-route. Let us catch the wind, lest troubles come our way." Sertek said to white-haired Astrian. He had little else to say with his limited memory under pressing time. Aside from his wariness of incoming strangers, Sertek adherence to Hassan's acknowledgement was more than enough.
Sylvia eyed Irelia as the latter went forward. A part of her wanted to belay Irelia's keen hands, lest blood be spilled. But it seems that she did not need to. A conflicting feeling crept over her. Knowing her old self, she would not hesitate to draw the blade for Irelia. Yet here she was, indecisively staying her hand with hopes that the Daemon Lord would remain unharmed. She wanted to believe that Sertek was nothing more than the Creator's pawn like she was. All those times that they had spent together seem to pass by much slower than the fleeting days upon the Valley. Has she truly been corrupted by Sertek's words? Even when her crimson eyes were fixed on their destination, her head was filled with Sertek's face. She knew better than to wallow in sadness, yet here she was, trying to blame herself for Laure's death. Parts of her wanted to pin all that pain on Sertek. A target, like many other times she had done before during the War. Vengeance was always her attempt at coping with the pain. Was she truly worthy of the title of the Angel of Verdan? She was not a hero. She knew this. Perhaps it was time to relinquish the illusion that she was the icon of hope for Grozny. What hurt her the most was having to live with the thoughts of Laure's demise. The latter deserved a proper burial upon the sea of grass, not in the sewers. What did Laure meant to say with her last smile?
In time, perhaps Sylvia would come to understand Laure's unspoken words. Until then, it was time for the Angel of Verdan to shed her broken wings. So long as they could carry out their mission, Laure's death would not be in vain. Sylvia finally made her decision, as she made her way towards the Conestoga. Picking up on Eryn's fatigued state, Sylvia found herself a detail to attend to. A busy hand should keep her agony at bay.
"On your feet, gunslinger. We'll find you a warm pew to cozy up to soon enough. Come." she said to Eryn, shouldering the man, as she helped him up into the wagon.
She eyed Sertek briefly, having reviewed their headcounts. The latter shook their head slightly, as a powerful surge of memories passed him by in a flash. The way Sylvia shouldered Eryn was reminiscent of the Havenite long march to Mount Hornet. The last wintry days of the Aquila Campaign. Their eyes interlocked, and the two were back on those snowy peaks on Saarema. It was as if they never left that island in the first place.
"Last one in." Sylvia called out, breaking Sertek from his trance.
Sertek nodded, as he activated the grozite ignition port. Cranking the levers swiftly, Sertek took a breather before releasing the clutch gradually - propelling the Conestoga forward. Sylvia covered the ramp, as she mounted the turret port and kept her eyes on their surrounding. The Conestoga cruised by, hitting a few bumps on the dirt path, with a couple of abrupt stops. Sertek shed a sweat as he finally cleared the gear. The Conestoga brushed its wheels along, humming gently in the night under the cover of darkness as its presence was masked by the howling wind. The wintry songs of woe carried the Coalition of Iris Companions and Harbingers towards the doors of the dark church. The building stood tall before them, left to its own devices a long time ago. While the stained glasses have yet to give in to the mossy invaders, the hole in the roof was evident of a stray artillery round. Could this be the landmark of their arduous journey?
The snow descended upon the weary travelers, beckoning them to seek refuge. It was there, the unlikely band of heroes and villains cast their gaze upon a mysterious figure, of whom was lurking about alone. Sylvia quickly dismounted the wagon, prompting Sertek to do the same. The lancer steadied her hands, channeling her aetherium subtly beneath her tranquil façade. Perhaps the stranger was simply seeking refuge as she and the band of the Conestoga was. Or perhaps the man was already there waiting for them. Either way, Sylvia deemed it best to stay vigilant. Who was she to judge, having picked up Senna while Sertek allowed the presence of another Harbinger aboard. Sylvia deemed it best to let Fate takes its course. She knew better than to simply deny one of their destiny.
"We are roamers of principles and honor, a band of displaced warriors and scholars, with no intentions of harming a fellow traveler. We seek only shelter from the snow, if the Prophet would have us in Her house. What say you, to share the pews by Aerilia's grace?" Sylvia raised her voice towards the mysterious man before them.
Sertek eyed the man, as he slowly unveiled the wagon's Axian tarp, nonverbally gesturing that they have arrived. Depending on the stranger's words, things may escalate and the band may need to be on their feet. This was the beginning of their journey, to break the bonds that shackled their lives - to bleed one another. In Sertek's eyes, this was the beginning of something new. A chance for the Companions and Harbingers to come together and defy the Starline Fate that have long ordained their destinies. Sylvia's gloved hand was firm. She gazed on, as she drew a sharp breath. The two souls became one at that moment, albeit with different initiatives.
"We can never go back." Sylvia and Sertek muttered beneath their breaths.
Perhaps the Aerilian sanctuary may shed a vision or wisdom for these fugitives to reflect upon before dawn comes. The night may prove to be long, especially when old enemies share a tattered roof in destitution.
LOCATION:Abandoned Church, Anthem IRC & HAR PRIMARY OBJECTIVE:Rest and recuperate for the night. SECONDARY OBJECTIVE(S):Explore the abandoned church for supplies. EPISODE SPECIAL CONDITIONS:
- All Imperial forces are hostile and on high alert.
- Iris Company is disavowed. Iris Badges are obsolete and will alert authorities.
- Mercenaries and Bounty Hunters have been augmented to the Imperial manhunt.
- Degrakes may be persuaded to leak intelligence - for a price.
The words that came from Sertek's mouth were nothing short of ironic for the swordsman. His former Lord and one who allowed him to better train himself, who was the master himself in combat in the distant past, was now asking him for his knowledge and ability. The Harbingers eyes widened somewhat, almost as if he was hearing words in a language he never heard before- well, perhaps not that dramatic, but it still earned an amusing reaction from him, a reaction that still made him take a few moments to think of a proper answer. He already knew what he wanted to do, but the request was so ridiculous given it was coming from him that it sent his thoughts jumbling for a split second.
"...Very well." He eventually spoke with conviction, nodding once as a hand rested atop one of his blades. "I cannot say I expected to ever teach any sort of skill to one who is older than cities that mark the horizon, but I shall do my best. We shall train where none can interrupt us; yet I shall let you know that given current circumstances, I will not hold back in my training." The Swordsman spoke with a small smile on his face, one that spoke of hell to come.
Even though a year had passed, Hassan still believed Sertek's body to be somewhat capable of physical prowess. Even if parts of his mind faded, his body remained. Once, Hassan read (something amazing in of itself, some teased him about it) that even if amnesia surrounded someone's mind, old habits and skills could often come to light under the same circumstances. Sertek was capable of using two blades much like himself, after all. Perhaps he could bring those memories to light with enough intensity?
His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of yet another figure. A Harbinger as well; her sudden appearance caused him to grip his blades, a small shine reflected by the light of the room coming as he pulled them out by the slightest bit in surprise. Yet her face soon came to his mind; Angelica Mori, the 'Siren.' By all means, she was someone to be wary of: Her name was not given to her for no reason. Like an angelical Siren, her advances and words would lure any men or women into a trap before bringing them to the depths of their demise. It was a cowardly act, yet one that had proven valuable in their campaign. Yet, even so, he knew better than to believe her words right away.
"Angelica Mori, 'The Siren.' She was one of us," Placing his blades back into a resting position onto him once more, Hassan looked to the side, more concentrated on Hershey and Preston. "...I'll fill you in on our members and their details later, Sertek. As for you, Angelica...I'll explain it now, any questions you can ask later."
It took the entirety of Preston's explanation of Hershey's state, and perhaps a little more, for Hassan to explain the current details to her professionally and logically. Often, he shot Preston a glance as he said something interesting, clearly paying attention as he explained things to her. Of Sertek and his current state of mind, of his...Relationship with the Iris Company and their leader, of the mysterious figures they found on the sewer, and of course, of Hershey's state and the alliance they had with the Iris Company and their current members.
Yet as he finished that explanation, he still focused more on Preston. He laughed under his breath in a tired manner as it was made obvious this was an ailment of the magical kind, something that likely nobody here had any experience on. Hassan let out a tired, stressed breath of air, as he realized that Hershey wasn't waking up anytime soon. He just hoped there was still hope for her. After all, even if he said it before, he was glad she came by and managed to reunite most of the Harbingers, even if things ultimately turned for the worst for both parties here present.
"I see," He eventually said, nodding once. "Thank you, sir." And despite their opposing factions, that was genuine.
Eventually, it was time to go. Hassan took it upon himself to sit down somewhere at the center of the wagon in one of the many seats available to them, two swords hanging to his side as with crossed arms, he finally allowed himself to take a short nap. It was nothing noteworthy, yet his position and the stiffness of his body could make someone believe he was still awake. Yet at any mention of his name or the Harbingers needing something, be it his orders or something more annoyingly mundane along the way, his eyes would quickly shoot themselves open. It was somewhat bizarre, but it seemed to work to recharge his energies, mental or otherwise. And for once, perhaps only in those few short moments of rest, Hassan didn't have any nightmares as he slept.
Their arrival at the Church was met with yet again more people to meet, something that didn't surprise him anymore. Truth be told, he wouldn't be surprised if it was yet another member of the Iris or Harbingers, yet his face, covered in bandages like he was burned alive, almost gave him a different presence from either. He didn't recognize him, either, nor did Sylvia or Sertek.
He considered confronting the man, yet found himself no reason to. Unless it was proven necessary, this man so far seemed to be simply someone passing by, and besides- information and secrets could perhaps be found here, as well as a proper place to rest without having to wake up every few moments, even if such deep sleep invited dreams of the past.
With crossed arms, Hassan walked forward, once more finding himself in the general gaze of the Swordmaiden, Irelia. His eyes glanced at her as he caught visage of her, and at that moment, he realized something somewhat humorous. His eyes were amber and golden much like her general appearance and outfit, while her own were a deep shade of red, almost crimson like it was of the same kind that appeared at the edges of his hair.
"Still living on, as I told you to, hm..." He spoke, yet it was more akin to an audible mumble on his part than anything directly acknowledging Irelia. War broke people, yet Irelia, even if fractured, now felt whole. He felt something akin to a warrior's pride to her, before shaking his head, and his gaze moving to another direction, almost as if he didn't realize he said those things out loud- or perhaps he simply didn't have anything to say, unless she chose to answer.
During the first day, Bisila wasn't in the mood to joke. No snarky comment about their situation, no quip about hos she was now absolutely sure Sertek landed on his head, nothing. Her usually amused blue eyes had been switching between looking at Sertek-Ra'el, Hershey and the Arachnida over at the Iris side. He was the reason she had to stay off duty to heal, the reason why she had a long scar across her back, the reason why she absolutely loathed any eight legged creature that could classify itself as a spider.
She wanted some tea so badly, maybe that would calm the storm that was her mind. She found it a bit unsettling. These mind-storms were becoming more and more frequent, having begun since Hershey gave the news of Sertek's return. It was quite weird how crazy things were, even crazier than the things she usually got into. First she was on death row, getting rescued and being told Sertek lived only for him to walk right in but with no memory of what had happened. Just walking from one rosebush into another. She was used to chaos but of this type? Not exactly. Part of her wanted to laugh at the irony of the situation, another wanted to scream. These past few days, Bisila was still in possesion of her slippery tongue and her sense of humor, mostly making the Iris the targets of her snark, although she mostly kept to herself. The arrivals of Angelica and someone she kind of remembered were met with a smile as she occupied herself with tossing the badge up and down. The badge she had gotten during her 'pick-up' as a present from the bartender, who she thought probably debated giving it to her. The Owls had her back, it's what that meant. And honestly, now it was a great time for them to help them out. It could be helpful. That and the box of tea. Honestly she preffered the tea the most.
Bisila sat over at the back of the Conestoga, occasionally glaring Preston from time to time as she bothered the others. THe Harbingers were lucky enough to not be her targets as much since she occasionally woke Hassan up for some stupid question, asked Sertek whether or not he landed on his head and told Galious to remove his armour. One comment in particular said:
"I prefer you when you were a cutie anyways. I'd take the squeaky voice over the metal one any day"
But most of them were targeted at the Iris, thinly veiled insults here and there and the occasional joke. If they were going to be gloomy, she was going to have fun.
Bisila raised a brow at the church, her smile becoming a grin. She'd hidden in one of those before and had painted silly faces all over the statues one time. Good times back then. The White Wolf put her hands on her pocket and called out to the man Sylvia was talking to
"Don't worry about us robbing your holy water or anything as only a good chunk of us aren't well-behaved! By that I mean most of us so yes, you definately should be worried and have atleast nailed everything of value down. Even the holy water."
It might ruin their chances of finding a place to stay but she was all in for screwing with the Iris.
Eliam sat in contempt; a worry fell over him as the night drew closer. He knew the folly of his work and worried most about whether the church would accept the product of his mission. Finishing the last of his writing, he closed the notepad and deposited it back into his jacket. The patriarch looked upon the ruined church; a place of an opposing faith. A house of worship to Arelia. He'd only discover that now as he peered past the broken stone and to the shattered glass. Ornate depictions of events he himself was unfamiliar with. The moon reflected its wonderful light upon the stained glass, it is a shame that they will be shattered further once the church arrives. Necessary destruction to implant the faith Eliam believes more in. And yet, he felt a tinge of sorrow.
With little to do except hunker down for the following night, laid his back against the spiky grass and looked up at the cloudy sky. Despite his surrogate arms no longer having any purpose, he kept them attached. The feeling of having arms even if not genuine was a welcome one. The stars were cloaked behind great masses of clouds. The patriarch spoke prayers that reached none except the All-Maker. While sermons and prayers could be done in a mass; being able to speak even without a reply from the All-Maker is something to be cherished by those who rever him the most. Snow descended on him, perhaps a message from the All-Maker. Snow had a special meaning in His pilgrimage; both a blockade but one of new horizons. It marked the end of a passage and the start of another. What could it mean for him?
As he relaxed, he could hear the hum of machinery close by. The patriarch sat himself up, feeling the wetness of his back as he did. He looked at the source of this hum, looking upon a vehicle of common appearance. He couldn't help but notice the turret being manned and its rather comical size. The woman yelled out an introduction if one could even call it that. They were travelers, weary at best, violent at worst. She was, however, no doubt a believer in the common faith. Calling the destroyed church one of Arelia's and even positing whether the saint would allow them refuge. Eliam cleared his throat as he began a response. "Passage 11:12 of the All-Maker's Pilgrimage: 'Journeyers sought Him out, seeking forgiveness for what they had done. Warriors and adventurers of different creeds and different lands, they all came to Him.' Passage 14:23 of the All-Maker's Pilgrimage: 'He accepted all who found Him. He cared not for who they were, what they had done, and where they were from. He took no care in if they had any belief in him.' I now understand the relevance of these passages." Eliam stretched his surrogate arms outward with his palms faced up before continuing his reply. "The All-Maker blesses all who find Him, even if unintentional; even if they had no faith in Him. Blessed be Him."
A crude joke was yelled out by another voice, he had no care for it. The patriarch walked forward with caution, the turret was unmanned, possibly a show of good faith. He lowered his hands slowly, ensuring they would not take any hasty actions lest he have to respond in kind. He spoke out again, "I mean no harm! I am a patriarch of the Church of the All-Maker, violence is not in our teachings." Eliam stopped roughly a few meters away from their vehicle, he caught the sight of a few of their passengers most likely due to his unsavory appearance. "I apologize for my... visage. I am sure we all know that our travels can result in danger." The patriarch chuckled, he needed to lighten the mood and keep these weary men and women away from their weapons.
"Now that my introductions are out of the way... May I ask who you all might be?"
────────────────────────────────────── Irelia Sonan
────────────────────────────────────── — The Dawnbringer —
As dusk fell rapidly, darkness engulfed them. Hoary clouds enshrouded the night sky, and specks of white drifted freely from above.
Irelia was silent for the entirety of the drive in the Conestoga - a token of serendipity bequeathed by a patron acquaintance of Markas - which bought the improbable coalition outside the feeble remains of a maimed church. A silhouette of a man obstructed their path and their vehicle came to a halt. Sylvia dismounted the vehicle to confront the strange man, Irelia followed suit, as did several others.
The Swordmaiden narrowed her eyes, her pupils darted in several directions while Sylvia spoke to the swathed man.
Irelia was on guard, vigilant of a potential ambush. The man before them had a most unusual appearance, making it difficult to discern his allegiance, thus the need to exercise caution. Given the circumstances, friends were few and foes were many. Those who stood outside their immediate circle should be seen antagonistically; hence the importance of laying their trust in the right baskets.
Peering her surroundings, Irelia could not detect any puppets lurking in the shadows of the encircling trees adorned in hoarfrost, nor hidden behind the broken brick walls. Nevertheless, she didn't permit herself to relax just yet—she had yet to determine if the zealot would dare pull any tricks.
The sight of the ruined church served as a reminder of the events that unfolded at St. Keed's chapel earlier that day. Such a disastrous occurrence is what gave birth to their current predicament. Had Irelia willed it, Laure's death might've been prevented if she put aside her warrior chivalry and defeated Black Watch expeditiously. Thinking about how the outcome could've differed brought her pain, every time. But what was she supposed to do? She was unknowing of the abomination that attacked her comrades in the sewers, and Black Watch was once their allies, she didn't want to turn against them. She gave them a chance to leave—they refused, their mind was made up, the Iris Company had, for some reason, been branded enemies of the state.
I have yet to ask Sylvia about what provoked Friedhelm and his hounds... Senna lives... but there are others out there, Irelia mused.
A distinct voice then spoke from behind, interrupting Irelia's train of thought. Though it wasn't apparent who the remark was directed at, Irelia knew it was aimed at her.
"Hmph." she crossed her arms, turning her head off to one side.
"Yes, you gave me a chance, and I used it... I was hoping that I'd be able to say the same to you, but so much for that. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I suppose," Irelia responded, her voice laced with disappointment, just loud enough for Hassan to hear.
It's true, the Swordmaiden was still grateful to Hassan, but right now she felt betrayed and foolish. On Mount Hornet, she let the Harbinger live as a punishment, compelling him to bear the burden of his crimes. But it was also to offer him a chance to atone for his sins. How injudicious of her, to think a Harbinger knew any better than to prostrate before evil... No. She had been right. She was justified and did not want to doubt her decision. She felt this man's soul. Beneath the cold, harsh, coarse exterior, she felt something tender, benign and selfless. So why then has he returned to kneel before the tyrant once again? It didn't make sense.
It was surprising to hear an answer but at the same incredibly embarrassing. It seems that after all, Irelia had heard him. Hassan naturally turned to face the swordmaiden, his eyes narrowing at her words. It didn't take a genius to realize what they meant as she spoke; she still thinks he pledges loyalty for Sertek as if he was some manner of god. Perhaps a few days ago, that would have still been true, but as it stands, his heart is conflicted, and even if their bond was genuine once, the thought that he was married to one person he sincerely never wanted to meet again still haunts him. But he still made a promise at the Butcher's Shop- he doesn't intend to break it.
He felt a degree of calm anger towards her for that assumption. It seemed that despite it all, she still thinks Harbingers are subhuman. Taking a deep breath through his nose, Hassan exhaled deeply with a heavy sigh. He supposes he can't blame her, given what happened at Jianki years ago. The world hadn't been kind to her, and even if he did his best to respect the honor of the dead, he was still her enemy.
But at the same time, Sertek was still his friend, his companion. Someone who gave him life, even if it was one that followed after a foolish day. Hassan no longer considered himself just a Harbinger to Sertek after all, he considered himself his companion. Someone who'd follow the Daemon lord wherever, whenever, for as long as it takes. Irelia needed to know that.
"I am not loyal to him as a servant is to their lord, Swordmaiden," He said simply, his eyes looking directly at her as if forcing her to meet his own to see the depths of his soul, his desire, and everything else, once more. To see how true these words were. "That may have been once the case, but within our homeland, I was born in nameless cities in a nameless town that does not exist anymore. If it wasn't for him..."
He remembered it well as he spoke. Sleeping in tight alleyways, robbing people for the coin, and training his small body to be able to survive hits for those who did not care for his age, that desire to become stronger becoming a dream that would ruin him, to be acknowledged, to not live in those nameless streets without the warmth of a mother or a father. Only to be ridiculized and be seen as a nuisance; a little monkey jumping with sticks that people take pity on. He may have survived, but he wasn't respected...So when he met Sertek, it was only natural he fought against him. He assumed he'd be no different, after all.
Yet even so...
Hassan's mind returned to the discussion at hand. His eyes returned to Irelia, having dropped low as he was deep in thought. "If it wasn't for him, I would have led an aimless life. Hate him, despise him as much as you'd like, it'd be hypocritical of me to try and make you do the opposite, yet that man is a brother to me, and beyond all titles and empires, I shall always follow him, even if he's married to one I despise."
Caenis’s muscles tensed as Sylvia patted his shoulder. Close contact was something he did not enjoy, nor really relish at the moment, especially when it was from the person he was meant to kill if needed. He let out a sigh of relief when Sylvia went back to instructing the others on their next course of action; an abandoned church seemed like the best. Any other close landmarks and places were populated and most would likely recognize the faces of the IRC members if spotted. The Harbingers were safe from that, he supposed. Caenis’s eyes then met with Hassan.
Regarding the man next to Hassan with suspicion, Caenis caught the coded message and simply nodded. There was much he needed to know. He could see Hershey was asleep? He couldn’t tell all that much. Watching him walk away from the rest of the group, Caenis found a spot to sit and observe before they were supposed to move out. Familiar faces he saw, and he found himself indifferent to their survival. It worried him a bit. Had he gotten so caught up in his role that he did not care for his comrades anymore? With that worrying thought, Caenis went silent.
More and more familiar faces appeared, both from his time in the Harbingers and undercover in the Iris Company. Taking Angelica’s appearance and Hassan’s explanation of the situation to her, he began to eavesdrop. The situation was… complex for lack of better words, Caenis understood that. This third faction, however, these Five and Eleven, were worrying if they were able to incapacitate Hershey. Lost in his own thoughts Caenis nearly missed the announcement that they were leaving. Gathering his belongings, however meager they were, he boarded the wagon.
Taking a seat in the corner, Caenis took out his small notebook and a pen from his back pocket. Writing down his own thoughts and feelings in poetry was something that calmed him. Absorbed by his writing, Caenis ignored the rest of the others in the wagon and its journey. What would happen next? He did not know. The stopping of the wagon forced him to look up, and cease his writing. Standing, Caenis also saw the mysterious man, but one thing surprised him the most, unfamiliarity. Catching both Sylvia and Sertek in the corner of his eye, he saw the same look, the same feeling wash over them. This wasn’t one of theirs.
Placing his book and pen back into his pocket, Caenis disembarked and looked around. The place was lightly put in ruins. Shrugging his shoulders more to himself, Caenis eyed the mysterious man as both Sylvia and Bisi called out to him. ”Nice one, Bisila…” he thought with an exasperated sigh. The prankster would prank, even in these types of situations.
Stepping forth, the man spoke aloud of his religion and identified himself as a patriarch of the All-Maker. It was a religion not entirely unknown to him. Laia had in the past taught him of the All-Maker’s teachings, and how she did believe in some of the messages that were given. Caenis never officially became a practicing member of the faith, but he still held some values close to his heart as well. “This might be trouble…” he mumbled under his breath.
Galious had made a concerted effort to simply stay out of the way of any Iris Company resulting in a strange quiet form the Astarian of course he’d been One of the first to enter the wagon's pocket dimension. Of course, the white wolf had seen it fit to make light of him During this time. “Hmm perhaps you are correct better to save the charge than waste it“ he’d admit to her not a hint of anger in his voice just blatant unamused seriousness.
eventually, however their band of unlikely companions found themselves at their destination, a church, Galious was never a fan of religion or god or holy places, if you could call Galious anything he was an anti-theist, he certainly didn’t lack a belief in any such entities, in fact, he blamed there tampering for most of his misfortunes or the universe itself regardless he was staunchly against them or at least whatever one had seen it fit to make his, Life miserable, this desire to spite whatever entity it was had been a factor in Galious becoming a harbinger among other more petty things of course. So entering a church Galious wouldn’t be surprised if he were smited where he stood, or by some great ”miracle“ they were suddenly besieged by imperial forces. Reluctantly Galious would be one of the last to leave the wagon, it seemed the place wasn’t so abandoned as there was one person spouting scripture at them clenching his surrogate fist when they continued, preachers were intolerably smug and to Galious had massive unnecessary ego’s the irony being very much lost on him. Though a few seemed to ignore the man's request for an introduction Galious didn’t, walking uncomfortable close to the apparent patriarch of all maker or whatever. He’d stare the man down ominously for a few seconds but they felt long and drawn out. “Sir Meeples.. and if you are indeed what you say you are.... tell your all-maker to cut it or I will make sure that they will burn" Galious would reply coldly towards the man before turning around and walking off ominously...
eventually Galious made his way over to the south transept he‘d finally remove himself from the sentinel powering down the construct for now. The lack of specialized equipment here wasn‘t a hindrance for Galious unlike those worthless, imperial golemancer‘s who couldn’t sculpt resculpt Or repair a golem without some sort of additional tools all Galious needed was some extra metals but it seemed the sentinel wasn’t all too damaged, thusly he could simply spend his time on properly modifying it, Galious would climb the sentinel again, a blue and red glow enveloped it metal pull itself to fill in damage form the fight at the mage collage, of course it meant other parts where weaker as the metal simply shifted places upon the construct next was the more complex part fixing the incompetent internal systems of the sentinel, redirecting power flows and additional output area perhaps even a magical charged loading claw, bushing himself with this the small Astarian was quickly absorbed by his work humming a little tune as he worked, finally a proper distraction form the days annoyances if it would remain so was another story entirely.
The journey in the Conestoga Wagon was probably the most palpably-tense amount of time Ódhran had ever spent in another's company. And yet, for all that volatility, there was a little bit of...'bantering' going on between the two sides, if the battery of insults coming from the Harbinger's side of the vehicle were anything to go by. Indeed, it didn't seem all that long before they actually arrived at their destination, such was the relative quiescence in the wagon as it trundled its way to the church, bar the occasional barbs from Bisila, if he had gleaned her name correctly. Even the islander found occasion for a little musing, given the ease at which Caennis, another Companion whom he not seen since his departure at Killashandra for Iona, and another Harbinger had found their temporary camp. Ódhran hoped to himself, with a little smirk, that Friedhelm and the Black Watch be not so proficient in sifting out their location!
Arriving at the church, Ódhran clambered his way out of the Conestoga, brushing himself off as his feet made contact with hard ground again, yet the mood amongst the mingled group seemed to have been jolted by the appearance of a man at their destination. A man, with arms, it seemed to Ódhran, that were not actually flesh but composed of what seemed to be sand or some other grainy-particulate. What the man was speaking of, and incurring a degree of derision for doing so, was the faith of the All-Maker, something that the islander wasn't exactly unfamiliar with. During his secretarial work on Iona, he often heard chatter amongst the more well-to-do, aristocratic elements of the court talk about the burgeoning faith and how, to them at least, it seemed to fulfil in a way that Aerilianism could not. From what the young man could understand, this particular faith seemed to have quite the urban appeal, for reasons of powerful and wealthy persons deriving a use out of it, though he wondered how it would do in the more rural parts of the Accord, like Aran.
The islander had a chuckle to himself, envisioning his late grandparents running the 'interloper' off the island for such things.
"I'll be looking for a place to sleep in the church, mind me not," Ódhran muttered, as he made his way into the ruined edifice, giving the proselytiser a friendly nod on the way through. The young man realised he was taking something of a risk, given that this man was an unknown quantity, dropped into an already-despondent situation where everyone involved was tired and others, like Sylvia, were grieving whole-heartedly. Still, passing through the entry-way into the church, Ódhran was amazed at how expansive the place was, denuded however, of any trappings that might have given it a more fantastic appearance to Aerilians who would have worshipped here, in times gone by. Maybe it was the feeling of having their worlds turned upside down, perhaps the anxiety that he was wrangling with as regards to the fate of his family, but Ódhran, walking through the middle passage between the rows of aisles on either side, slipped into the first one that faced the altar,.
At that moment, he began to pray.
Fair Aerilia, he began to mentally recite, his eyes closed and his hands clasped together in earnest hoping, if there is something that I alone can do, to ensure the safety of my family and the well-being of my comrades, even if it may cost me my life, let it be done. If I be the last one to lose their life, let it be so. Though he still had grievances, minor though they may be, as to his being unwittingly brought into the Companions scurrying about in their experiments with the goo-like material that so formed a part of that ghoul in the sewers, Ódhran realised, much like his being drafted into the war initially, that he had no choice in the matter. Nor would he wish to see the dolorous visage that Sylvia, Preston and Irelia, amongst others, be displayed any more than it has to be.
"What a terrible thing is battle," he muttered, staring up at the ceiling, where holes allowed for the refulgence of moonlight to pierce through to the church floor, as though to comfort.
────────────────────────────────────── Irelia Sonan
────────────────────────────────────── — The Dawnbringer —
Though her back was turned, the Swordmaiden sensed a sharp chill shoot down her spine as The First Harbinger stared cold daggers at her. Irelia turned her head. The Swordsman's solemn glare was efficacious at tethering the woman's crimson orbs, fixating them on him, and him alone.
The Harbinger spoke, trying to convince Irelia that he was more than just a thrall void of free will, but he quickly lost himself in his own ruminations. On the other hand, Irelia found herself gazing deep into the man's amber eyes, her mind flooding with evocations of their shared past.
Haunting images of a decimated village, consumed by fervent flames that roared and danced beneath the sky blackened by thick masses of smoke, flashed before Irelia. She gulped, her body tensing as she recalled the innocent, helpless screams for salvation from the villagers, begging, praying for some saviour. She and her sisters were all that stood between the Daemon Lord's servants and the civilians of Jianki. But then he arrived. The memory remained vivid—her enervated sisters were cut down, one by one, by a series of blinding sword strikes too fast for a regular mortal eye to see. That blur that darted across the battlefield marked whatever it passed for death—and death did it bring. After eliminating a cadre of swordmaidens from their dispositions, the blur finally stopped in front of Irelia. It was here that the daughter of Kaguya first came face to face with The First Harbinger. The two duelled in an epic clash of spewing sparks and rasping steel, an elegant display of grandiose Jianki Bladework. Though she fought valiantly, Irelia suffered defeat. Only through the Harbinger's clemency did she survive the ordeal, and was encouraged to live on. As fate would have it, the next time they met, Irelia had grown into a much different person, and similarly, she'd become more powerful than before. She had an array of new and improved techniques, and the legendary katana, Amaterasu, at her disposal. And this time, the outcome was different. Under the ever-watchful eye of the sun, Irelia bathed in its light and shone with its heavenly glow. In this ascended state, she exacted justice with her blade, eventually bringing the Harbinger to his knees after a hard-fought battle. But she did not kill her foe. That was her mercy, and her vengeance.
Now, the man transgresses into her life once more, and stands right before her very eyes.
That man lifted his head, returning his eyes so they met Irelia's, then he continued speaking. Irelia tsked when the Harbinger likened the Deamon Lord to a brother. As absurd as it sounded, Irelia could relate to the insurmountable bond forged by kinship. But of all people, why swear an oath to the incarnation of chaos? Did this man truly have no one else to turn to? Was he really that alone, that even now he remains devoted to the embodiment of evil? A small part of Irelia felt some sympathy towards the Harbinger's misfortune. But she dared not allow herself to express her sentiment.
"A man like him... a brother?! Preposterous, evil such that is underserving of intimacy," Irelia said. "Pray tell, how does one justify the senseless slaughter of nations and their people in his name... in name of dominion. The Daemon Lord is a usurper... and this isn't the first time he's sought to conquer all. Have the wars of antiquity taught you nothing?!"
Irelia's clenched fist trembled with pent anger. She could not lose herself. Not here. Not now. She exhaled and slowly unfurled her fingers, doing her best to maintain her composure.
"Harbinger..." she then began, her tone abated. "In the past, I have sensed that you possess a noble soul, stained by the unholy corruption of fallacy. Why... why is that you take a man like the Daemon Lord to be your 'brother'?" Irelia expressed her frustration pertaining to Hassan's misguidance, her face turning to one of sadness as she struggled to fathom Hassan's choice. Irelia looked over her shoulder towards Sertek. "As we speak, the Deceiver is tame and weak. But who knows for how long he will remain this way... what will you do, if he returns to become the monster he once was?" she asked.