Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by ASTA
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<...you sent me to Rodoria to test me?>

<Yes! I had to see if you were able to peacefully intermingle with the assorted peoples of the world’s assorted lands! Aside from that whole ‘lohk situation’, I’d say you’ve performed most admirably my young and fierce ally! You’re picking up the native tongue relatively quickly, you haven’t eaten anyone important yet, and you haven’t garnered the immediate attention of anything that could kill you with but a hateful gaze! You even made a few friends, too!>

Boa’Noktus had magically transported the both of them to a secluded clearing within one of Malkor’Kurz’s many ancestor forests. Such forests were held in hallowed regard by the land’s northernmost cultures due to their perceived status as the ultimate resting place of del’korm dead. Here, the souls of the deceased were believed to assist La’Khan in defending the Reach from foreign invaders by taking up residence within the material composition of such woodlands, infusing them with the ability to dynamically perceive their surroundings and react to threats in an active and aggressive fashion.

Aside from finding their current location eerily peaceful, Claw’s del’tes hostess had also apparently elected to bring him to this particular forest because of its affinity for upholding secrecy in all its myriad forms. Widely known as the Whispering Wood, little sunlight penetrated the thick, weighty branches and overlapping leaves of its tremendous oak trees, while sound seemed to somehow remain localized near its origin point.

<And now that you’ve passed my little assessment Ajanok, I think you’ll make a very fine addition to the little plan that I have in mind!>

It wasn’t fear but a mild feeling of apprehension that coursed through Claw’s veins upon hearing Boa’Noktus utter the word ‘addition’. Frankly, he didn’t trust her at all; the thought of being some component in whatever plan or scheme that she had in mine unnerved him greatly. Why was she so interested in him of all people anyway? As far as he could figure, Boa’Noktus was nothing short of a physical goddess, one who was gifted with unnatural bodily strength and the capacity to ferry herself to far-flung locales within a single blink of an eye. To Claw, it made no sense why someone who could do so much would have any interest in someone as mundane as he.

And using the Whispering Wood as a secret meeting place? Claw was convinced that was a lie or at the very least a gross act of insanity on her part. Knowing her, she could’ve just waved her claws above her head in some cockamamie way and conjured fourth a mystical field of otherworldly magics that prevented any interlopers from prying into their conversation.

In fact, why even exchange spoken words at all? Why hadn’t she just injected them directly into his mind just as she had done back when he still resided upon Rodoria’s soil?

<Because none of that would be as immersive, Ajanok,> Boa’Noktus answered aloud nonchalantly, her shimmering eyes fixed upon her del’korm guest. She floated aimlessly in the air, claws lazily laced behind her braided and bejeweled head, her body extended in such a fashion as if it rested upon an elongated sofa. She looked incredibly comfortable.

<There are many things that I could do with magic, but you remove yourself from many of the pleasures and sensations that the world has to offer when you overindulge in the utilization of sorcery.>

Ajanok blinked. Boa’Noktus feet were on the ground now, the del’tes standing comfortably to his right, her hands neatly folded behind the small her back, tail idling sedately behind her.

<Walk with me.>

Claw, still mentally reeling from all that had transpired within the last hour or so, did as he was instructed, and accompanied the del’tes in silence as she navigated a worn path that led deeper into the Whispering Wood.

<Ajanok, I took interest in you because you have a particular knack for acquiring more allies than you do enemies. You also seem to do well with new experiences. You’re not easily offended, you tend to maintain your composure when under stress, and you’re eager to learn new things. Most del’korm don’t have what you have, and therefore wouldn’t last three moons in Rodoria because they would be unable to properly get along with your average Rodorian.>

Boa’Noktus plucked a small flower from the ground mid-stride, its former life guaranteed by a single plain ray of sunlight that pierced downward from the forest ceiling and on to a patch of vegetative growth that once played host to the small plant. She turned it to and fro in her grip for a few moments, seemingly taking in all of the contours and angles of its whole, before letting it fall slowly to the ground.

<Because you’re so adept at handling foreigners, and because you are still scarcely known throughout much of the world beyond our shores, you are the perfect candidate to function as my eyes, ears, and my instrument of action. Through you, it is my hope to begin the process of ensuring a future for my people...and by extension yours as well.>

Claw stopped dead in his tracks. <You talk like there’s something out there that means to do us harm, Boa’Noktus.>

<Not one thing, Ajanok,> Boa’Noktus clarified. She spun to face Claw directly, an unbecoming look of seriousness and urgency etched across her face. <There are many, many things that exist that could do us real harm if left unchecked. Perhaps I should elaborate further?>

Boa’Noktus and Claw engaged in conversation for several hours, the del’korm assailing her with a barrage of questions and concerns and the del’tes adeptly countering his inquisitive assault with answers, counterpoints, and an effective helping of motherly reassurance. They spoke of things that Claw was certain were reserved for those who were far above mortal kind, things that made him consider rejecting the del’tes’ proposal outright and firmly requesting that she find someone else to champion her cause.

And yet and still, he found himself slowly being swayed to her side. While she was stringent in reiterating that the risk of death was great should Claw elect to take up her cause, any fear of his passing was sufficiently nullified by his own potent adoration for adventure and power, and Boa’Noktus had ensured that he would enjoy vast quantities of both if he decided to align himself with her.

Claw had also asked her how she was able to go to a location without going through the effort of physically making her way towards that location. According to her, traveling in such a manner was made possible by something that she referred to as a “Grace”, a sort of self-sustaining magical ‘talent’ of virtually immeasurable potential and power that was affixed to her very soul. “Rifting” Boa’Noktus had called it—a power she allegedly manifested during the Age of Woe and honed to nigh-perfection some time after La’Khan’s victory over the dri goddess Ori.

While she declined to disclose the foundational workings of these “Graces” to Claw, she did gift him with an extremely compressed and straightforward explanation of how hers functioned. As far as Claw could surmise from her somewhat confusing yet strangely direct explanation of how Rift worked, simply having a comparatively vague notion of where she desired to go, and an overwhelming desire to reach that destination, was sufficient to send her there immediately.

Claw was already somewhat familiar with this exceptional sorcerous craft. He knew that it was canonically known as “teleportation” by the various peoples who lay beyond Malkor’Kurz’s shores, that very few people practiced it, and even fewer still could proclaim mastery of it. Claw had even gleaned a theoretical understanding of how it functioned from a paltry collection of novel passages conceived by a paltry subset of eccentric yet brilliant southern del’korm scholars who had been tucked away within the Roaring Vale for ages.

The people of the Vale did not part with their prized knowledge freely, however. Taking it by force was out of the question at the time (their numbers were too great and their aptitude for destructive magic was far too refined), so Claw had instead opted to trade for it: their information in exchange for his authorization of their entire group’s incorporation into the Gelid Union. He was hesitant to accept their condition at first—partially on account of his deep uncertainty at how La’Khan would react to one of his Echoers granting two-hundred mentally disturbed del’korm permission to siphon magical power directly from his soul—but also at the potential consequences of permitting such a large congregation of unpredictable mages to easily utilize virtually unlimited quantities of magical reserves whenever they needed it.

Luckily for Claw, LaeKhan did not seem to mind the newcomers much at all, and the Vale dwellers as a whole did not cause too much damage with their brand-new gift.

After securing what he desired, Claw enthusiastically committed the next two decades of his mortal life to the relentless pursuit and voracious consumption of any and all knowledge pertaining to the vaunted art of teleportation. It was his hope that learning such a craft—and being one of the few entities on Malkor’Kurz capable of reliably utilizing it—would place him a cut above the rest, earning him glory, prestige, and his pick of any female that he fancied. It became a compulsion before long, compelling the young del’korm to commit immoral acts that he had once considered himself incapable of performing prior to committing himself to this lifelong goal.

But nothing came of his efforts. Try as Claw might, he never did manage to develop the ability to do what Boa’Noktus could do. Even moving a few loose pebbles several inches away from his person proved to be an impossibility. It wasn’t long before he considered his dream to be wholly unattainable.

But Boa’Noktus’ sudden debut into his life had changed everything. Now, many of the former goals that he failed to meet were now within his immediate grasp.

With her, Claw’s life could change forever for the better.

With her, Claw could be something more.

<So do we have an accord?> Boa’Noktus asked, her clawed hands tucked behind the small of her back and peering down at the shorter Claw. She wore a maniacal toothy grin upon her visage, her tail erratically swishing back and fourth in giddy anticipation for the del’korm’s answer.

Claw pondered her question intensely. She had reassured him that declining her offer would not provoke her godlike wrath, and that she would merely find someone else who satisfied the behavioral and intellectual requirements that her grand vision demanded. He would be returned to where she first found him roughly one year ago, and that he would have no recollection of having met her or anyone else from Rodoria.

He could put all of this behind him today if he responded with a ‘no’. He could return home, catch up with his sister, and perhaps even smooth things over with his estranged mother. He could go back to his old life, back to the Cerise Sons, and reestablish his station as their strongest and most prized Echoer.

But she had also warned him of the peril that was sure to follow him should he decided to get involved with her. Death, both for him and for anyone else that was close to him, was a very real possibility. His connection to the Gelid Union would also be forfeited, but it would be replaced with a direct link to Boa’Noktus’ own vastly powerful soul, robbing him of his ability to Echo, but substituting it with a sizable spread of new abilities granted to him by his new del’tes master.

<I accept.>

Boa’Noktus shouted with great mirthfulness, eyes blazing with excitement and magical power. She sprung to her full height, whipped her claws from behind her back and up high above her head with an elaborate flourish, and let loose a rapturous laugh that ripped through the interior layout of the Whispering Wood. Claw could only watch wide-eyed as two great spheres of cackling light winked into existence, each one engulfing both of Boa'Noktus' hands.

<Fantastic, Ajanok!> she exclaimed. The spheres around her hands grew larger and louder, their visual and audible report exponentially growing in intensity with each passing second. <Congratulations are in order, for you my young friend have just secured the honor of being Boa’Noktus’ first ever champion! Her first ever favored! Oh, this is going to be so much fun!>

---------


Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by Legion X51
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Angora's Nightmare written by @Dark Jack



Angora found herself standing on the precipice of a cliff, the jagged rock painful on her naked feet, with an alien landscape before her. The expanse below made no sense, with landscapes seemingly transitioning randomly between all kinds of nonsensical terrain, from frozen, ice-covered wasteland directly to rocky desert, to black depths of briny water and oceans of lazily churning lava, between which could be found lands of everything from broken glass to relatively normal naked rock, which mercifully seemed to form strangely organic pathways past many of the extreme types of terrain. Above the sky was a colossal mess of green, red and black... not clouds, necessarily, but as if this was the nature of the sky itself. These unnatural colours seemed to randomly shift and distort, only to occasionally extend downward in huge, horrifyingly destructive tornadoes that tore the land they passed asunder. Torrents fell from the sky in places, not of rain but of fire, and multicoloured lightning seemed to be constantly spreading its fingers one place or another, frequently crossing the divide between sky and ground to strike with the force to shatter rock.

Things were moving everywhere down there, countless creatures lurking and prowling the hellish landscape, and while some appeared somewhat normal – different creatures of Reniam scuttling about, all if which appeared to be nude – the vast majority were horrid monstrosities of all shapes and sizes. They moved, encountered each other and either immediately started fighting, running from or chasing each other. Even from this distance and past the thunder that only seemed to vary in intensity, but never truly pause, she could hear faint screams of fear and pain, and the roars and shrieks of nightmarish abominations.

Though she could see these things it was not what she was looking at, however. Her gaze fixated upon a spot far, far away, where what seemed to be a small mountain stood with what seemed like a majestic temple-like white structure at its peak, pristine and entirely out of place in the horrid landscape. She could see the place clearly, even from what seemed like a hundred miles away; make out every crack in the mountain, and the unnatural smoothness of the stone that made up the temple. She could count the steps that lead up the mountainside to the building, and make out individual flakes of ash that slowly fell upon it like snow.
Looking upon the temple filled her with fathomless sadness and regret.
The sky above this place, in contrast to everywhere else, was uniform black and entirely devoid of the chaotic, destructive forces that ran rampant everywhere else. Below, however, was an even greater chaos than could be found closer to her. A huge mass of monstrosities, an almost incomprehensible number of them, was clumped together at the base of the mountain in an unparalleled show of murder and violence. Countless were killed every second, only for their bodies to turn to black smoke, and yet countless more flowing to the place from the surrounding lands to join in the slaughter.
Angora felt a grim, seething hatred, anger and bitterness well up inside of her. The slender hands at her side clenched into fists.
Her vision focused yet again, this time on a humanoid-looking figure entirely covered red plate armour, fighting what could best be described as a shapeless black mass of rot, cloth and bones. She looked specifically at the black, rotten one, and felt the hatred grow.

Then, for a heartbeat, she was weightless; she could no longer feel her body, and her vision seemed to stretch and distort in a way that she struggled to relate to anything she had ever experienced before. Weight came back to her as she once again had a body, and suddenly she found that she was somewhere else entirely than she had been an instant ago. Same general composition of her surroundings, but different topology. The ground felt searing hot upon the soles of her feet and the air was blistering. Her eyes were still upon the mountain, however, only now from a different angle, seemingly the opposite side of the mountain. Looking to either side of the foot of the mountain she could still see the outskirts of the horde of creatures murdering each other, but this side of the mountain was, in stark contrast to the other, almost perfectly still and deserted. Almost.
A single figure occupied the area below the mountain on this side. Sitting hunched over on the ground was a tiny being, seemingly humanoid, huddled in a dirty grey hooded robe that seemed much too big for the creature wearing it. The long sleeves hang off its arms, concealing its hands, and the hood fell to hide its face. It could not be more than three feet tall at most, even smaller than a penin. It looked as if it was sleeping.
She looked at it, at the empty area around it and at the battle being fought just on the other side of the mountain, and felt uncomfortable, yet reassured. The sight of this diminutive shape disturbed her deeply.

She was weightless again, her vision warped, and she was back where she had been before, looking down at the battle once again. At the armoured man fighting the rotten black mass. The anger returned, even stronger than before. Then the ground below the battle seemed to give way, and what appeared to be an unbelievably gargantuan serpent made of stone burst forth, its size so immense and the force of its emergence so great that it sent boulders and creatures alike scattering high into the air, being thrown for miles unless they dissolved into black smoke before then.
Her eyes focused past the serpent ascending into the sky, and she watched the black bone-creature darting swiftly up the stairs toward the pristine temple at its peak. Rage gripped her, rapidly blossoming within with a scorching intensity. She just barely got to see the bone-creature reach the top of the stairs before she suddenly shifted, abruptly finding herself no longer far away, but very close; right next to the bone-creature, in fact.
She reached out a hand, feeble, deathly pale and marred with black veins, and jabbed a finger at the creature. She felt something inside her clench every so slightly, and the creature instantly disintegrated into nothing but dust. It felt effortless, as if obliterating this creature was as easy for her as to brush aside a strand of hair.
She paused, only to look up a moment later and see the serpent above her, plummeting toward her from the sky. It was so incredibly immense that its head alone was larger than the mountain she was standing on, with jet-black eyes and a mouth that could swallow entire townships, filled with sharp, jagged tooth-like rocks.
Looking at the serpent with annoyance, her rage somewhat abated, she raised her hand once more and wagged a finger admonishingly at the serpent. She clenched something inside her once more, and the entirety of its colossal head seemed to spontaneously detonate, shattering into chunks of rock, black flesh and blood.

She looked down upon the broken landscape, at all the monstrous creatures assembled before her, and felt nothing but disgust. Then a slow, smouldering anger. Resentment, deep and heartfelt. And past it all, a crushing, all-encompassing sorrow.
“I thought I made myself clear. No one enters the oratory,” she said, her voice not her own, but a booming male voice, strong and authoritative. She waved her hand, clenching once more – still in a way that caused her infinitely tiny strain – and watched the monstrosities below simultaneously dissolve into a mass of quickly dispersing black smoke.
She felt grim, regretful, as if a deep depression was setting in. “No one but me.”





Angora awoke from her nightmare with an ear-piercing scream at the top of her voice. The vision of the dying serpent was burned into her memory, and the voice... by the gods on high, the voice rang still in her head! It was though something had spoken to her very soul, to the core fibre of her being. Her heart pounded in her chest, her breaths were short and rapid, her head felt like a red hot nail was being driven through her skull, whilst her eyes stung from sweat dripping into them, its salty taste on her lips, and an overwhelming wave of nausea began to envelop every fibre of her being. As quickly as she could, Angora untangled herself from the bedsheets, soaked as they were with cold sweat, and tried to stand up, but her body refused to respond, adrenaline overriding any attempt for conscious thought or action. She crumpled into a heap on the floor, cursing loudly and repetitively, whilst frantically searching for something that could aid her in her time of need - a tin bathtub! Over by the window, near the table and chair... yes, the table and chair from last night. Angora scrabbled on her bare hands and knees across the room's wooden floor and threw herself toward the tin vessel, just as the nausea reached her throat.

Gripping the tub's side tightly with her fists, Angora retched, and then vomited, the wine from the night before staining her emesis a shade of red that, if one were to glance at it hurriedly, one might think were blood. The acrid stench burned her nostrils, whilst its foul taste engulfed her tongue, and her throat burned from the acid's exposure. Angora barely had time to breathe before a fresh wave of biliousness overwhelmed her once more, and she retched again, tears now streaming from her eyes as she vomited again. She broke down into convulsions of coughing, her body wracked with involuntary shakes and tremors from the adrenaline coursing through her veins, her heart still pounding in her chest. After what seemed like an eternity, filled with hacking, choking and spitting what was left of the foul-tasting bile from her mouth, Angora was able to catch what remained of her breath. She sank back onto her haunches whilst she focused entirely on composing herself. She wiped at her eyes with her forearms, ignoring the sharp stinging of sweat, and looked over at the table. A half-full bottle of red stood on it - evidently a survivor of her drinking spree before she'd fallen asleep - and slowly, unsteadily, Angora rose to her feet, and staggered over to the table and its chair nearby. Taking the bottle in one hand, Angora steadied herself with the other as she took a long drink, washing away the awful taste of vomit on her breath and in her mouth, and calming her nerves somewhat.

What in the name... of all of the gods... is happening? What was that... vision?

No answer was forthcoming from within herself. The voice had faded from her head, and the pain had subsided into a dull throb in her temples, keeping rhythm with her gradually-slowing heartbeat. Angora became acutely aware of her own nakedness - particularly if someone were to come in at this moment - and got to her feet once again, dragging the duvet off of the bed to wrap around herself whilst she finished off the bottle of wine in the chair...
Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Dark Jack
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Remdal estate, Zerul City

Approximately six seconds after Angora's scream had been unleashed into the stillness of night, just about long enough for her to scramble for and get most of the way to the tub she had picked as the receptacle of her distress, a door was slammed open forcefully to one of the nearby rooms. It was opened hard and fast enough that the sound traveled well even through the dense construction of the Remdal estate and a slight tremor could be felt even in Angora's room. Just several seconds after that – long enough for Angora to be preoccupied by her own business – rapid, naked footfalls could be faintly heard just outside her door.
The door handle was swiftly, almost violently yanked downward, and the door was immediately swung inward with great urgency... only to stop in place when it was about halfway open, held in place, allowing the sound of Angora's ails to fill the air. If she were to look over, all she would be able to see through the halfway open door was half a pale hand, the tip of a silver-colored sword and maybe the edge of a very pale, fairly muscular shoulder. Then the door slowly and, if it was even possible for a door to express such a thing, awkwardly closed most of the way again, until only a crack about an inch wide remained.

“Angora?” Jaelnec's voice called out from the other side of the door, a hint of panicked uncertainty and urgency in his voice. The door trembled slightly, betraying that he was still holding its handle, ready to throw it open if he detected the need to do so.
More footfalls approached outside, more audible now that the door was partway open, though Angora was still mid-vomiting. These feet also sounded naked.
“You!” the voice of another young male exclaimed, which Angora might or might not, given their relatively brief acquaintance with one another, recognize as the voice of Thomas Remdal. “What in the planes did you do?”
“Me? I heard the scream and came running! I'm not –”
“You're naked and armed outside a girl's bedroom!”
“I thought she was in danger! I wasn't going to... wait, what in Stupor are you wearing?”
“Never mind that! The girl...”
“Yes!” The door opened another half an inch as Jaelnec seemingly refocused his attention on what he had been doing. “Angora? What happened?”
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Jaelnec


“Angora?” Jaelnec's voice called out from the other side of the door, a hint of panicked uncertainty and urgency in his voice. The door trembled slightly, betraying that he was still holding its handle, ready to throw it open if he detected the need to do so.
More footfalls approached outside, more audible now that the door was partway open, though Angora was still mid-vomiting. These feet also sounded naked.
“You!” the voice of another young male exclaimed, which Angora might or might not, given their relatively brief acquaintance with one another, recognize as the voice of Thomas Remdal. “What in the planes did you do?”
“Me? I heard the scream and came running! I'm not –”
“You're naked and armed outside a girl's bedroom!”
“I thought she was in danger! I wasn't going to... wait, what in Stupor are you wearing?”
“Never mind that! The girl...”
“Yes!” The door opened another half an inch as Jaelnec seemingly refocused his attention on what he had been doing. “Angora? What happened?”





“Like a knight to the damsel’s rescue…” Angora murmured under her breath as she climbed unsteadily out of the chair, the duvet still wrapped about her body. The adrenaline in her system had been almost spent, but still her movements were slow, deliberate, meticulous - in an attempt to remain calm after the ordeal she had just been through. It was a brief moment before Angora realised that, for at least the sake of allaying Jaelnec’s immediate concern, she should probably reply.

“Yes, it’s me. I, euh... I don’t know what happened.” She walked over to the door, and poked her head into the gap- Oh my me, that was unexpected… “Do you… want to throw a robe on, Jaelnec?”

Fortunately for Jaelnec Angora decided to speak up as she approached the door, allowing him a moment to realize that she was coming and cover the most private part of his anatomy just before she looked out. The irony was not lost on him that he was covering up his privates with a sword in his hand, practically replacing the visual of one with the other, but in the moment he was far from entertained.
Jaelnec looked back at her with eyes wide and face flushed with embarrassment.
Behind Jaelnec, Angora would see Thomas in what appeared to be a white knee-length cotton nightgown, complete with little frills along the neckline and at the hem of its sleeves. In his right hand Thomas carried his obscenely big runesword, its crystal handle filled with blue light as his magical energy coursed through it.

“Uh…” Jaelnec started, at a loss for words in the moment. “I… thought it sounded urgent…” He faltered, starting to slowly inch his way around - careful to keep facing the doorway - in an effort to navigate his way back to his room.

Angora’s own cheeks began to burn red as she hastily averted her gaze. “Well, uh, I mean, that depends on the definition of urgent. I’m not in danger, at least… I think - I hope. I don’t think I’m on the verge of imminent death, so we should be able to wait for you to get something on.” Angora blinked several times, a slight smile onto her face as she watched Jaelnec awkwardly stumble back towards his own room out of the corner of her eye. She shifted her attention to the other man… ah, what was his name… Thomas, that was it! Thomas Remdal. She waved sheepishly at him, making sure to keep one hand on the duvet preserving her modesty.

“Oh, uh, hello there… Sorry to, uh, awaken you, I, um… I had a nightmare. Well, I don’t know if it was a nightmare or a… vision, of sorts I suppose? I don’t know how else to describe it.”

Her head was still rather scatterbrained after the vision, whilst in her memory, she heard the voice’s haunting echoes still reverberating in her head. Angora backed away from the door, allowing the duvet to drop to the floor once she was out of sight, and she hastily grabbed a white robe from atop the dresser and donned it, wrapping the tie around her waist tightly, before heading over back to the door and opening it fully. Angora’s eyes fell onto the massive rune-emblazoned sword that Thomas was wielding, and she gave a reflexive nod in appreciation of it. It reminded her of the Black Sword in its manufacture somewhat - but she was also not entirely sure how he was wielding such a massive weapon with only one hand...

“That’s, uh, quite the weapon you have there, sir.”

The second Angora disappeared from the crack in the door, rapid footfalls betrayed the urgency with which Jaelnec fled the scene, returning to his room in a full sprint now that he had established that no one was in immediate danger.

“Uhm, thanks,” the sixteen-year-old Thomas responded awkwardly, slinging the huge sword up to rest on his shoulder with the blunt edge down in an overtly casual way. Unlike Jaelnec he watched Angora eagerly and unabashedly, and he made no effort to conceal himself. It seemed that the awkwardness was actually for the sword rather than their state of dress.
“It’s a pretty standard runesword, though. Kind of like cheating. I -”

“You’re being pretty loud for this time of night, you know?” called a voice from down the hallway, announcing Olan’s approach. The older nightwalker came walking towards them calmly, remarkably fully dressed aside from his robe. Aside from a little bit of bedhead, Olan looked as though he had not been sleeping at all.
He smiled softly at the two of them there, a humorous glint in his eye, before his expression turned serious and concerned. “Did I hear you mention a vision?”

Olan. Thank all the gods that he was here. Angora gave a sigh of relief as she watched him amble his way down from wherever he had made his own accommodation in the estate. If anyone would be able to explain what she had seen, it was him, surely? Perhaps he could determine whether it was just a nightmare, or whether it actually meant something more.

“I don’t know whether it was a vision or a nightmare, Olan. I was sleeping, and then I was transported to this… hellish landscape, it didn’t make any sense, there was no logic, no rhyme or reason... it looked like everything was all jumbled up in one place. I was… I was on a cliff. The sky above was all kinds of colours, green, red, black - and then I looked down into a huge valley, and saw these, these things, things I’ve never seen before and, gods willing, never in my waking life. But I wasn’t looking at those, not really - it was like my gaze was fixed on some… massive, uh… I think it was white, almost marble-like temple structure. It was on… It was on a mountain. The sky was black as night above it, and a huge battle of… gods only knows what… was swirling and coruscating below it, like a… like a sea frothing in some raging storm...”

Angora continued to describe the vision to Olan, trying her hardest to explain what she had seen, or witnessed perhaps is a better word, as best as she could, though the content of the vision was at times too confusing for her to paint a clear picture, particularly when she - or whatever she was witnessing - seemed to teleport from place to place. Having not experienced the dubious pleasure of teleportation for herself, Angora wasn’t really sure how to describe it, only that things just melted away before her eyes, and were swiftly replaced by a new vision. She stopped to draw breath before describing the serpentine incident. The horror of that vision was still fresh in her mind, and it proved difficult to vocalise how it looked, but she tried.

“There was a… serpent. A massive snake-thing, made of rock and bone and flesh, and whatever - whoever - I was watching, just obliterated it. It just… fucking exploded. Excuse my language.” She glanced at Thomas. “And… and then, I heard a voice.” Angora fell silent once again, visibly struggling to bring herself to speak.

I thought I made myself clear.” The voice was not Angora’s. Her heart skipped a beat, and she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to steady herself against a wall. A terrible feeling of revulsion and overwhelming surge of fear enveloped her. It was the voice from the dream. She pressed on, regardless, hoping that it was just her, that nobody else could hear it. “Nobody enters the oratory. Nobody but me.

She opened her eyes. It was not just her.

Both Olan and Thomas listened attentively as Angora described her experience, simply curiously at first but soon with gradually growing concern. Jaelnec also returned mid-description, now wearing his pants, at least, though his torso was still bare, and stared in confusion for a moment until realization dawned on him that she was retelling a nightmare.
By the time Angora recounted the words she had heard, in the voice they had been originally spoken, no less, every eye among the three widened in shock. Olan swallowed, seeming a little queasy, while Thomas turned pale as a corpse.

“Well, until that last bit I was going to say that it was probably just a really bad dream, you know?” Olan chuckled, though for once his laughter was strained and somewhat mirthless. “That’s a neat trick, changing your voice… though for some reason I feel like I know that voice…”
“Uh…” Thomas was still staring at her, his eyes wide with fear and wonder. “What -, no, you just said you don’t know, didn’t you…” He looked at Olan and Jalenec. “What in the planes is going on here?”
Jaelnec just shrugged, being genuinely clueless as well, but Olan saw fit to offer a little of what they knew. “All we know is that she’s got something inside her that’s not supposed to be there. Not alive or aware, but… something.”
“Yeah?” Thomas remarked, sounding more frantic for each passing second. “Well, I’d be pretty damned concerned! What she just described sounds an awful lot like how people describe Hell, that giant serpent can pretty much only be Akronos, who is a demon lord said to be unstoppable and indestructible! And this ‘oratory’...”
He shook his head balefully. “The only ‘oratory’ I know of in Hell is the Oratory of Fate, which is where the Oracle is supposed to live.”
Both Jaelnec and Olan swallowed, reflexively taking a step backwards as the realization of what Thomas was saying hit them.
“Yeah,” the human nodded, “that’s what I’m saying. Reina’s tits, girl, I think you were inside Kreshtaat.”

“Kreshtaat?” Angora also took a step back. “Wait… how would that even be possible unless…” She glanced first at Jaelnec, and then at Olan, and then back into her room, where the Black Sword was glowing once again, bathing Angora’s bedroom in an eerie shade of purple. She took a deep breath. “The thing in the sword- in me. You don’t think it’s… connected to him somehow?”

All three of the male participants of the conversation performed simultaneous shrugs. “I don’t know…” Olan muttered, looking at Angora intently. “But I don’t see any other explanation. I don’t know how or why, but it seems there is some sort of connection between the two.”
“Kreshtaat!” Jaelnec muttered bitterly, punching the air in powerless anger at the entire situation. Once again the irony of using that particular swear at this time was not lost on him. “Why can’t demons and evil gods just leave my friends alone?! Why does everything have to be so damn complicated? Argh…”
“Either way there’s nothing we can do about it right now,” Olan sighed, prompting a still somewhat perturbed Thomas to nod in agreement. “And whatever this is, I don’t think it’s immediately dangerous, you know? Now that you’re not attacking people, I mean. And I don’t think it’s intentional.”
“Shit,” Jaelnec grumbled, still grim but no longer as angry as he had been. “I guess you’re right. Well…” He looked around at the dark hallway to either side, taking in the silence for a moment before turning back to the others. “It’s still night. We should try to get some rest. Are you going to be alright by yourself, Angora?”

Angora went to respond, but hesitated for a moment. She wasn’t actually sure as to the answer to that question herself - would she be okay? She was hardly relishing the chance to go back to sleep, that was for sure - after all, what if she was subjected to another of Kreshtaat’s sojourns in the hells - but she also didn’t want to impose herself on anyone, robbing them of any further sleep. “I, um… I’m not sure. To be honest, my nerves are still a little shot from witnessing Kreshtaat go on his little rampage… would any of you mind if I stayed up with one of you? I hate to impose myself on one of you like this, but if it happens again, I’d rather have someone with me than have to go through it alone again…”

Thomas’ eyes instantly lit up, a wide smile spreading over his face, his eyes darting up and down Angora’s form. “I can -”
“Oh no, you don’t,” Jaelnec growled, shooting the boy an angry glare. “I’ll stay with her. I won’t allow anything to happen.”
“If I may, I don’t think either of you are really suited for keeping a distressed young woman comfortable and chaste company through the night,” Olan pointed out, a different, humorous glint in his eye. “Ideally we’d ask another woman, but last I saw she was looking pretty deep in her tankard, you know? You can stay with me, Angora… or I can stay with you, whichever you prefer. I barely sleep anyway. And if you can’t sleep, I have lots of stories to keep us entertained.”

Angora rolled her eyes in disgust, but resisted the urge to walk over and slap Thomas for his lechery. Instead, she focused her attention on Olan, and nodded to his suggestion. “You’re too kind, Olan, but thank you. I’m sure those stories of yours will help put this out of my mind.” For now, at least. And if… whatever it is… tries to take control of me again, at least Olan can talk to me, no matter what language he needs to speak in…
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Dark Jack The Jack of Darkness

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Zerul City

Morning came to the companions in Zerul City, for some sooner than they would have liked and others much too slowly, and with plenty experienced throughout the night that left most of them with minds abuzz trying to figure out what to do with these new discoveries.

Angora spent her night with Olan after her nightmare, who happily enthused her with wild stories and theories about the world for as long as it took. Though most of his anecdotes were outlandish and his theories hard to believe, there was a certain sense and rationality to his words that Angora might have noticed, and nothing he said ever actually contradicted what she already knew. Though she might sensibly be unable to believe that any of the things Olan described had been experienced by him personally, especially things that did not seem to have occurred in his lifespan, she would be unable to shake the feeling that the stories themselves were true, just for someone else. Like a true explorer extraordinaire Olan seemed to have collected and memorized numerous stories from others, either people or books, and either because of his confused state of mind or just for entertainment value inserted himself into those stories. He would tell her of far-off lands, strange peoples and cultures, of celebrations and historical figures, and always do so enthusiastically and with a notable focus on the positive, the beautiful, fantastical or amusing. Every now and then his expression would darken for a second as he fell silent, his gaze growing distant, only to immediately spring back and start a new incredible tale, lively and smiling as ever.
He would continue this all night, if need be, and would only stop his performance and retire if Angora managed to fall asleep. He seemed extremely dedicated to distracting her from her troubles, quite unbothered by his own lack of sleep and perfectly chaste all night.
One thing Angora might notice, however, was how much more frequent one of Olan's habits seemed to have become: whenever he was not using his hands to gesture wildly in the air before himself or somehow mimic the things he described, they almost always seemed to find their way to his hips, thumbs turned inward and fingers outstretched as if to grasp something there, only to fumble for a moment before either clutching the hips themselves or moving to cross over his chest.

When morning came and the companions started to stir, Jaelnec did so to his own grim discoveries. By the time the young nightwalker was dressed and out of his room, people might have noticed that he seemed to behave a little unusually, tending to either keep his arms crossed over his chest or hold his left arm in for him unusual ways. Someone perceptive and insightful might have realized that he was trying to keep his left arm raised, his left hand away from the hilt of his sword, though he made no move to explain this newfound reluctance to even get near Roct.
After a breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs and fried potatoes at the hands of Angora, it was not long until Jaelnec and Olan found themselves drawn back to the streets in search for their missing comrades. Jaelnec wanted nothing more than to find Aemoten and be relieved of the burden of leadership he felt had been placed upon him once again, longing to discard the responsibilities their knowledge brought with it and leave it in the hands of the semi-immortal man. Olan, meanwhile, just wanted to keep his promise to Thaler: “I promise. I'll never abandon you.”

The two of them ended up wandering the city for a couple of hours, asking around the city, concentrating on the southern part – since that was the direction Aemoten and Thaler would have entered through – in search for their friends. Much to Jaelnec's surprise it actually proved challenging to find anyone who knew anything useful at all. It was to be expected that few would notice Aemoten, who merely looked a bit like a foreigner, and maybe only a few more Thaler, since daywalkers – white-haired youths in particular – were rare, but he had been sure that Etakar would have been noticed by absolutely everyone.
As it turned out though, most people in the city proper were so used to domesticated or caged beasts of one kind or another, be those vulgors, belagons, yths and even the rare lohk or wyvern, that few of them paid much attention to something like a dekkun unless it was doing something in particular to attract attention to itself. Etakar being as well-behaved as it was made him and his riders exceedingly difficult to track. At one point Jaelnec remarked to Olan how the people here probably would not even bat an eye at Murchad, and that their biggest concern with the wolf would probably be that he was not wearing a leash.

After a while of wandering like this, hoping against hope to find someone who more clearly remembered Etakar and his riders and could offer more useful directions, it was ultimately Jaelnec who spotted something familiar... only, it was not what he was looking for. While wandering down one of the less populated streets of the city the squire recognized a face among the relatively thin crowd. He was not entirely sure how he knew the guy, just that it had been at least several months ago, when Freagon had still been alive. Jaelnec remembered mostly because the man was unusually tall, that his demeanor had been almost disturbingly similar to Freagon's, if less aggressive, and that he, too, was a knight. When Jaelnec had last seen him it had been in... Etlon? He thought so, though he did not remember where in Etlon. This guy had also been just one of several knights, others of which had been more impressive.
Jaelnec stared at him for a moment, momentarily distracted from his search, as he tried to remember this person's name. Something with an f-sound, he thought... Falcon? No, that was one of the other knights. And it was a title, not a name...
“Viper,” he said out loud, lowering his gaze to the ground, prompting Olan to stop and look at his younger companion curiously. “He is the Viper.”
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