Hidden 3 mos ago Post by XianaEvermor
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Archer's gaze narrowed at the retreating creature, and his arm cocked back as if he were preparing to throw the card. A faint glimmer ran through the array on the top of his hand. After a moment he seemed to reconsider, and with a flick, the card disappeared. The corners of his lips twisted into a frown as he gazed off at the departing creature in quiet contemplation. Such a visceral reaction. Could mean that it had experienced some kind of trauma from someone whose name or aspect carried similar weight. It vastly narrowed his list of suspects. He sighed and turned back towards the group, rolling his eyes as he caught Zolya's expression. Yue just watched with a haunted look.

"Don't get too attached, it's very likely I'll get called upon to put it down," he muttered. "She's a special case," he quipped vaguely, addressing Zolya. "I do more than just hide her, though admittedly it's been increasingly difficult to keep a lid on that crazy signature of hers. No solution is perfect, but thankfully it's not up to me to choose anymore," he sighed, with a small air of relief.

"I agree with Raudd, actually."

"No!! Someone needs to tell me what the fuck is going on right. NOW!" Yue punctuated her statement with a stomp. The thud resonated through the wall, and the ripple of force shook dust off the barrier's surface nearly clear around the settlement. Archer narrowed a hard look at her.

"It's not safe to speak about this in the open. We've said too much already, and if necessary I will move you," Archer replied in that tone of voice he only used when telling someone that no: It was, in fact, NOT OK to take the final pastry unless they wanted to lose a limb, because he was saving it for her. Yue deflated, swallowing the lump in her throat. Oh. It's that kind of serious.

Yue took the talisman numbly without further complaint. The ride back to Stoneworks was quiet. Nobody spoke, and though her head was full of thoughts and questions, Yue just rested her head against Archer's back and closed her eyes against the nagging feeling that she was forgetting something. Archer was always so soft with her. He always seemed to be exactly where she needed him, and she felt instantly guilty for shutting him out to wallow in her own depression, in spite of the cheerful indifference with which he always insisted that he was fine.

"Oh stop," quipped Archer softly as they trotted towards the Stoneworks, lagging a bit behind the others. "I can feel that guilt eating you up from the inside and there's no need for that. Listen... your whole world is about to get flipped topsy-turvy. Some stuff is gonna come out and you might feel a lot of things, you might even feel betrayed and I'm sorry. Just...," he sighed, searching for words as they passed through the barrier. "I chose this. Us. I'm here to shield you from all the stuff you can't see... so you can keep doing the wonderful things you do for the people who need you. I'll keep doing that even if you hate me for it," he trailed off.

The rest of the ride to the manor was done in silence, and Yue spent the long minutes processing his words as they caught up with the others and got settled. She couldn't block out the anxiety she felt, like she was arriving to an intervention and everyone was about to whip out heartfelt letters and teary eyes. Listen... Final Odyssey isn't an addiction... Yue snapped back to the present as Archer began talking.

"Listen, before I start I want to emphasize that the knowledge we're about to impart on you is dangerous. There are reasons we don't share it with the uninitiated, and just knowing of its existence is enough to put you in peril."

Wait...

"Many will seek you out claiming to have a gift in one hand, but hold-"

Wait! I've heard this before!

"-A curse behind their back," Yue blurted out. "The nature of Aether is shaped by the thoughts and desires of those that wield it; your actions and feelings color it for those that follow. Only you know the path that is true and right, and asyouwalkthelinebetweentwoworldsasoneofthe- ARE YOU QUOTING FINAL ODYSSEY'S 'THE PERILS OF AETHER' QUESTLINE TO ME?!"

"Wh-what?!" Archer flustered uncharacteristically.

"Unbelievable," quipped Yue as she threw her hands up in the air.

"Figures that bastard would steal one of my best speeches," he muttered, regaining his composure. "Maybe Zolya is better equipped for this after all."
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by TheRockening
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Temujin rose to his feet. He turned towards the woman, facing her with that unmoving, snarling visage. She must be it. The murmur. Static flickered over his vision. “You,” He called out, with a voice as synthetic as his body. He did not know her name. But her face, and everything beneath it…the arch of her back, the kick of her legs, projected far and high across the Northbridge skyline. “This is no place for a hooker,” he uttered, approaching her with his head high and a pointing finger. “Get out of here, before I-”

The shadow above stole his attention in an instant. Temujin swerved and held himself in front of her, his arms raised and spread, his gaze lifting higher, and higher, and higher. It was big… And far, far too bright.

Black hands snatched Umbri and lifted her off her feet. Fire enveloped the alley behind them as Temujin leapt into the sky, his arms supported her back and legs, her body tucked close against his to better shield her. The ninja sprinted away, fast as he could, his back singed with the graze of fire. But only a graze. His feet drummed against the earth. Her hair and jacket fluttered with the cold night wind. The world swerved and slid and jumped and fell before Umbri, at a pace that her mind could scarcely keep up with.

Temujin’s own mind raced a different track from his body. He couldn’t kill this one. Not alone. Not with his fellow Northbridge Rogues, with their small arms and street-level abilities. Not with his acquaintances at Shieldtown, Stoneworks… all too far away. Unlike the end of this rooftop. “Don’t panic,” Temujin warned her, as he scrambled to the edge, held her closer, and jumped - right beneath the snap of vermillion jaws.

"What are YOU DOINGAAAAAAAA!!!"

They fell - but not straight down. They were sliding, scraping down across an angled roof at at least sixty miles per hour.

Umbri was rightfully panicking. In fact, the screams tearing out from her throat were a bit more than panicked. She grabbed for anything she could hold (one of his horns) and whipped her head around to bury it over his shoulders, hiding away from the rapidly approaching crash. Not such a good idea. Now she could see the monster rising, flames licking around its head, before they rocketed from its feather-like gills shooting the snake down towards them. Faster than they were sliding, barely touching the roof. Flying. Umbri's scream shut off with a whimper. A frantic poke poke poke jabbed Temujin in the back of the shoulder.

"?!" Temujin whipped his head around. He scrambled to his feet and dashed. Even at top speed, he couldn't outrun the beast, the distance between them waned and waxed as he leapt from the angled rooftop, hopped across a set of smoke stacks, and slid beneath a fallen statue. The bolts on Temujin's shoulders loosened, and from a secret compartment within, he cast three pellets that scattered into smoke before the roiling, fire-winged monster.

Grey fog blanketed the area around them. Temujin bent down, coaxing Umbri into a broken exhaust vent. A high-pitched trill echoed behind the fog, less the roar of a beast, and more like a trailing, eerily human giggle. Wind rushed above them, casting aside part of the fog and replacing it with a coiling, looming shadow.

“HIDE!” Temujin barked as he sprinted away, from one roof to another, each one higher than the rest, with one blade ignited to draw the beast’s eye. The serpent’s shadow slithered behind the fog, flying across the skies in pursuit, its open jaws seeming to grin at the thrill of the hunt. There, near the highest point of Northbridge, far above the green haze of industry, he saw his opportunity. He fired his grappler, and the wire looped and hooked around the leg of a water tower. His form zipped through the sky, catching the monster’s many-eyed gaze. It coiled around and around the water tower in pursuit. Temujin sprinted, across and up the hull, outrunning a jet of flame that blasted the frame of the tower into slag. The structure grated, and creaked, and bent beneath the weight of the storage tank. The cyber ninja reached the top of the tank and glared down at the monster, whose mouth was glowing with hellish light. He vaulted backwards, with his arms to the side, his feet straight, and his back arched.

Alarms blared in his head. His vision was a fog of flashing red. Despite his best efforts, he was enveloped in flames, flames so bright and hellish hot that lit up the sky like sunrise past midnight.

<DANGER. DANGER. DANGER_>
<SYSTEMS OVERHEATING_>

Temujin flipped as he descended. Time slowed. White smoke swelled from his charred black muscles, seeping from every seam, every segment. The edges of his armour were frayed with orange cracks. “Nrgh…!” His body felt no pain, but his mind knew fear and death in abundance. The water tower stood - barely - between him and the beast. He bent his knees, concentrating all the power in his muscles behind them, and kicked. What little stability remained in the tower crumbled. The water tank collapsed and bent like a tin as it fell upon the shrieking, wide-eyed snake. The beast thrashed and whipped, in futile defiance against 500 tons of steel and water as it plummeted further, and further, and further, out of Northbridge’s skyline.

Temujin held on to the tower’s melted frame with a hand and a foot, his gaze trained towards the green fog below. The snake had faded out of sight. There was a great boom, and the rush of water, then… silence. A moment for his mind to catch a breath, to reorient. It wasn’t dead. Not even close. But at least he bought them time. The cyber ninja dashed, and leapt, and landed, back onto the rooftop where he had left Umbri. He bent down and looked into the vent.

“Hey. Hooker. Let’s go-”

Empty.

He lingered there a moment, his red-filled vision spammed with statics and warnings about his structural integrity. Empty. Unbelievable. Smoke hissed from his mask’s nostrils.

And then, a scream. Pure in its blood-curdling terror.

“MotherFUCKER!” Temujin yelled as he bolted right back towards danger, patting away the smoke to reveal the cables beneath his torn flesh.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by chaotix14
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chaotix14 The seething anger

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"We will see." Zolya responded to what she accepted as challenge of sorts. It wasn't responsible of the sins of it's creator after all, and killing it just because of what it is... Well, Merllwyn wouldn't have been here either if they'd let their bias guide that hand. If it could be rehabilitated and adapted to society it would make a valuable ally, if not she would at least like to see where the rabbit hole led instead of just dealing with the results.

"Merllwyn." "Yes, I heard. We're short one mount, guess I'll have a casual jog back." The wolf skulled man then turned to one of the stags with a great attempt to smile with his fleshless face and patted one on it's back. "Be careful with your passengers now. I'll give you a good brushing once you're back to the temple." With that he ran off like a ghost on the wind, searching for a decent enough spot to leap over the wall.

The others soon followed suit as they made their way off the rooftop and rode back to the Stoneworks in mostly silence with Archer lagging behind a bit seemingly to sort out some feelings. That complicated relationship was gonna get even more complex in a couple minutes after all.

With the trio of mages settled into chairs and couch of his living room Raudd went off to grab a pot of coffee and a couple mugs. The others might not need it, but he craved the idea of some hot caffeinated beverage right about now. In the kitchen he came across a reminder about a little promise from earlier in the day in the form of biscuit tin. Part of the content of which promptly ended up on a serving plate which he hauled in just in time to hear Yue finish Archers magnificent speech.

"Pfffff. She got you good. I mean who uses a speech from a game?" He said as he set the plate of white chocolate coated lemon shortbread cookies on the coffee table. "They're not exactly a dinner replacement, but I figured I still owe you a couple of these." After which he filled himself a mug of coffee and went round to the others whether they wanted some too.

"I'm not going to deny his warning, though it's more of a situation of the first bit of knowledge is dangerous. And given that you've been able to see for a good while, that's a station long passed. Any more knowledge will only help you from here on out to protect yourself and potentially others. As the power we wield is much more predisposed to be abused, even by those who mean well, than the average deviant's super-powers." Zolya followed by grabbing one of the cookies and biting of it's 'head?'.

This prompted Raudd to speak up. "Before we get into the explanation, let's make some things clear. First, don't let your thoughts roam around, like I've seen you do this morning. If you have questions, things that mill through your mind, or anything like that, air them vocally. There are three sitting here specifically to give you answers, advise, and hopefully quite a bit of peace of mind. Secondly I'm a deviant with superpowers, and while I'm in the same organisation as my sister here and got the same theoretical basis, if you need an outsiders perspective on all... This" He says while waving his arms at Archer and Zolya. "... You can ask me. Same when these two start throwing technical terms around, I know a fair bit despite being the anomaly here... Time to rip the band-aid off sis." He finished looking at his sister.

Who got caught mid shoving the rest of the cookie into her face. Which was followed by a somewhat hasty chew and swallow with Raudd taking a sip of his coffee to try and maintain a straight face, had to stay professional here... Or at least not make a joke out of it, this was important. "Ehrm, yes. In the most blunt of terms the power the three of us use is magic, wielding the mana that is prevalent in our own bodies and the environment around us. The crimson you see while you are using your powers is something we call 'haze', it's a kind of waste product from the process of manipulating the mana into doing our bidding, which over time decays into normal usable mana once more." She explains while using one of her rings to purposefully create a couple of her own sky blue wisps of haze filled with gibberish runes.
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by XianaEvermor
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[The Den]



The soft glow of the topographical holo-map in the center of the darkened Command room flickered blue against Wolf's skin. She lay reclined in one of the chairs next to a terminal underneath what used to be a window. The openings sealed with bulkheads and covered with screens and monitors to prevent any light escaping to the outside. Wolf lay still with one eye closed, her cyber-eye open and occasionally flicking this way and that. A Nuero-Optic cable was spooled out of the base of her neck and into the console.

She was asleep, or part of her was at least: the organic part. Her neural net was alive and awake, operating the drones with support from The Den's considerable array of servers and Virtual Intelligence agents. Scans, topographical readings, information information information... though that part of her brain had been partitioned so it could work autonomously. It was like living with an alternate personality that thought in Radar pings and Firing Solutions, fuel, ammunition levels, and threat assessment.

The Den was always on vigil. The Den never slept.

Hunter-Killer, or HK was on watch, soaring lazily far above the settlement in a wide pattern like a wraith in the dark. Its insulated thrusters made nary a sound, or at least not one that would register on the ground from this height. The occasional stray bit of light from the ground glinted off the payload of Maverick anti-tank missiles nestled against HK's belly.

A seismic ping caught HK's attention, and the nose-mounted targeting pod swiveled to find the source: apparently a group of people standing on the Den / ShieldTown barrier wall... suspiciously. One of the figures flew away after being spoken to... the reaction was played back and analyzed in a separate window while HK observed. The fleeing entity was identified as [ShieldTown-Guest02], and was logged as helping during the unscheduled Hunt event. Judging by her reaction HK logged the well-dressed male as [Suspicious-HotGuy01], and flagged him as Threatening as evidenced by the fact he was poised to attack as [ShieldTown-Guest02] was fleeing.

[Suspicious-HotGuy01] and a trio of others HK didn't have the angle to identify shepherded a woman off the barrier wall and...

[GIMBAL LIMIT]

HK lost the scene and banked sharply, reorienting to restore surveillance but the group was gone. The camera flicked back and forth, scanning the surrounding area before HK rewound the video.

[Processing] . . .

[Identifying. Gait analysis] . . .

[Insufficient Data.]
[Facial recognition scan. Processing] . . .

[Match Found. Subject identified - ShieldTown-SpecialGuest-Aegis01. Status: UNCONSCIOUS. ACTIVE.]
[Analysis: SpecialGuest Abducted.]
[Running PATH_TO_VICTORY.SIM] . . .

[Wake Host.] . . . |


Wolf jolted awake, flinching as the Neuro-Optic cable disconnected from the terminal and swiftly spooled into the back of her neck, snagging a strand of hair as it went. HK had posted a list of objectives and waypoints in her HUD. She skimmed the summary on the way to the armory, briefly poking her head into the infirmary where that majority of The Den's other residents and ShieldTown's physician lay sprawled out in various states of exhaustion. It had been a rough day. It wasn't over yet.

She swung herself down to the wall lithely from the repulsor sled, adjusting her tactical harness and shouldering her silenced submachine gun as she approached HK's waypoint cautiously. The sim played back in her HUD, and she chewed her lower lip in thought.

"Trace to origin," she muttered, deciding that uncovering what happened might give her a clue to where they went with Aegis' guest. He would not be pleased if someone absconded with her in the middle of the night while Wolf was on watch.

[Processing] . . .
[Waypoint Updated] - |


Wolf slid down the wall to street level, following HK's rooftop path simulation from the ground and darting quietly through the intersections. The path led her towards the center of town where Alex's house was, and she recognized the three story building looming over its shorter neighbors as she ducked into a dark alley nearby. She crouched to the corner, peeking silently and looking through the holographic sight towards the house. Broken glass on the ground glinted under a street lamp, and the remains of a demolished night stand lay crumpled underneath the broken window.

She was about to step out and investigate closer when a lithe figure tore away from the darkness of an adjacent intersection and ran silently straight up the wall, hooking fingers on the window frame and pulling themselves up slowly to peek inside. Wolf held her breath, leaning out from cover to train her weapon on the intruder. The figure turned suddenly towards her as though alerted by a noise. Wolf flinched as a pair of gleaming, slitted amber eyes locked with her own, her muscles locking up involuntarily for a fraction of a second before she squeezed the trigger twice.

The figure became a blur, launching across the street and out of sight as the rhythmic SLAP of supersonic rounds flattening against the building's reinforced side echoed into the night. Wolf threw herself around the corner, bracing against the wall to protect her back and swiftly checking first the alley behind her, and then the surrounding rooftops.

"Identify," she whispered, quieting her breathing as the black furred, wolf cyber-ears of her namesake perked up, flicking this way and that to zero in on any sounds of movement.

[Processing] . . .
[Enhancing Image] . . .
[Running Low Light Filter]
[Subject Identity - ShieldTown-SpecialGuest-Aegis01 - 96% match.] - |


Wolf exhaled, relaxing against the wall and letting her heart pound out of her chest for a bit. Good thing she didn't land any hits. Alex would be much less furious about her shooting up the side of his house than he would be if she riddled his guest with bullets thinking she was a creeper. Wolf allowed her weapon to fall to her side on its sling as she approached the front door, and rapped her reinforced steel knuckles on it. The light under the door suggested Dean was still awake, and she was rewarded after a couple impatient minutes of waiting when he answered the door, sipping a freshly made cup of tea.

"Hey uh, your guest- *snrk*," she snorted, the corners of her mouth coiling into an amused smile at the state of his dress: warm flannel pajamas, signature beanie and oversized fuzzy slippers. "Cute slippers," she grinned.

"Anyway, your guest is out and about," she explained, tilting her head back towards the shattered glass and ruined nightstand behind her. "I think she was trying to get back in? But... I maybe uh... kinda-sorta spooked her?" she admitted sheepishly. "I spotted her with some suspicious looking folk and came to investigate; caught her trying to climb back into that broken window. You know, you should tell your guests to use the front door like civilized folk," she chided, clucking her tongue and rocking back and forth on her feet awkwardly, hoping he wouldn't bring up the gunfire.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by XianaEvermor
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[The Stoneworks - Interior]



Yue accepted the coffee with a nod of thanks, eyeing the "unicorn" cookies for a long time before a rumble from her stomach prompted her to snatch two off the plate. They were both gone in the next instant with no regards to taste, flavor, texture, or ingredients as she chewed ravenously. She exhaled heavily, reaching for a third at a more relaxed pace while she listened to Zolya speak. Her gaze flicked down to Zolya's rings involuntarily, she froze for a solid moment as she raised an eyebrow, before she took a long sip of too-hot coffee without flinching. She squinted, her eyes flicking back and forth between Zolya and Archer.

"Let me get this straight," she replied curtly. "I got dragged all the way back out here to ass-nowhere, to be told by my friend of eight years... and two weirdos I met this morning... that what- I'm the protagonist in a badly written young adult urban fantasy fanfiction?"

"Next you're gonna say: 'Our star is unique in that it's saturated with Aether: a semi-cognizant primordial force sustained by the presence of life. Aether is both intangible and invisible to the 'Mundane' and those that can see and manipulate it are known as 'The Exalted,'" she quoted, squinting at Archer.

"That... is more or less what I was going to say, yes. Listen, none of these concepts are incorrect," he sighed as Yue's eyes narrowed at him over the rim of her coffee cup. They squinted at one another for a long time before either of them moved, though Archer did hold up a hand when he sensed Zolya about to fill the silence... probably with a lewd comment.

"Let's play a game," he suggested, pulling the coffee table closer to them without breaking eye contact. Yue raised an eyebrow but didn't decline the challenge. He produced his deck of tarot cards from the pouch on his belt and shuffled them expertly. "The game is Memory. Find the matching cards. You may use your super-advanced perception in order to observe me and prevent me from cheating."

"Any other rules?"

"You may choose the pairs at any time as soon as you see them, once the cards are on the table I'm not allowed to touch them," he explained, pausing his shuffle to lay his hand on the table. "I must deal the cards as quickly as I am able, and I'm not allowed to look at them. I may shuffle the deck at any time. If you misidentify a pair, all collected cards are re-shuffled into the deck. The game continues until you collect all the pairs, give up, or figure out how I'm manipulating the deck."

"Fine," agreed Yue curtly, setting her coffee down. Archer smirked.

"When she first came to the templar, I played this game with her a lot in order to help her learn how to control her powers," he explained to Zolya. "Those moments you noticed, where it seems like she's off in her own little world? She is: she's experiencing seconds as minutes and can hyper-analyze the smallest detail. Facial expressions, minute involuntary movements, a single droplet of rain falling in a storm. She can come up with complex plans seemingly instantaneously and process information at an incredibly rapid pace. In spite of all this, I've never lost."

"He cheats," she muttered.

"That was never in question. I told you ahead of time I was manipulating the deck, the question is how?" he smirked. Yue set her cup down and leaned forward. Her gaze widened, the [Crimson] pulsed through her eyes, and her pupils stretched, becoming slitted. The temperature and weight of the air seemed to increase as Archer began to rapidly deal cards while looking directly at Yue.

"The drawback to her ability is the advantage it gives: she can no longer process my speech because it's happening too slow," he explained. Often the cards never reached the table, as Yue snatched them out of the air, and sometimes out of Archer's fingers. Occasionally several cards would vanish off the table into her hand all at once.

"Her affinity is Fortification, which would normally classify her as an Adept... or someone that generally uses magic to enhance their personal physical attributes," he grinned at Raudd, dealing a card which Yue snatched up in flight along with another card that had nearly reached the table. Yue flinched and slid her hand across the table towards him, and he scooped up the cards in a fluid motion, shuffled, and began dealing again. Yue squinted at Archer, and they held eye contact for a long moment before her focus shifted back to the cards.

"That would technically be an incorrect classification though. Part of the reason she's able to use her abilities to the extent she can, through pure intuition is that she experiences resonance through items, it's how she can match the cards before looking at them," he said, as Yue picked a card out of the air, and then off the top of his deck between deals. "We call this 'Spathí Tragoúdi'... Sword Song."

Yue picked up a card from the table, and then slid her hand back to Archer with a huff. He scooped them up, and Yue's hand darted into the stack during the shuffle as she reclaimed several pairs. Archer smiled as he continued.

"The part she hasn't been able to figure out is, that the cards are blank. If I do nothing, the image on the face is a reflection of the enchantment on the card... but as long as I deal the card in my Territory it can be whatever I choose. For the purpose of this game, my Territory is the array I placed on the table when I touched it, which is under the effect of the Suppression Seal that hides my Signature."

Archer paused to do a mid-deal shuffle, and Yue pulled a card near the bottom of the pile fast enough for it to catch fire from the friction. She pressed a finger to the top of the deck as the last card fell, pausing the game. He grinned, watching her eyes flick from the card, to the table, to the deck, to him as the card burned.

"Oop. She's formulating a hypothesis," he explained, as Yue's laser-like gaze bored into him. "While she's like this she's experiencing a phenomenon called Hyperthymesia. She can perfectly recall events in vivid detail while under the influence of this spell. Right now, I imagine she's re-watching the entire game, or pieces of it at least. When she's satisfied she'll either announce her theory, or continue the game," he explained as they stared at one another unblinking for a long time.

"The suppression seal isn't perfect. Every time I manipulate a card, a pulse of mana could be caught before the Seal disguises it... assuming she's paying close enough attention, I've never disguised that, though I could... because if she comes to the conclusion that magic is real on her own, then technically I never violated my station," he smirked.
Hidden 3 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by fate0013
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fate0013 The Mad

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There hadn’t been a whole lot of talking last night. Though Dean wasn’t going to hold that against Alex if half the chatter he had heard was the truth. Big guy had been exhausted and still insisted on doing his last check around town before calling it a night. More stubborn then a rock that guy. Dean had ended up taking care of the rest, got the doc over to check Silver Fang before they shacked her up in the guest room. Alex had insisted on writing the woman a few notes for when she woke up before turning in himself.

While the two supers slept, The resident earth mage didn’t really get much. Now, he was a lax person by nature. Heck Dean wouldn’t have been insulted if anyone called him lazy. But that shouldn’t be taken as a lack of vigilance. Most days at least. Everything about yesterday felt off, yet he couldn’t place it. There was a nagging that was starting g to make him a tad jumpy. Golem seemed to be feeling it too, the spirit stalked around occasionally like a restless tiger.

A hunch could be a very dangerous thing in the awoken world. It was even more dangerous to ignore any omens when they show up. This was one of those rare moments he wished he hadn’t restrained his abilities as strictly as he had those years ago.
With everything else going on though there really wasn’t a drive to try and seek out help from anyone who could help alleviate his worries. Seers and diviners gave Dean a headache on a good day anyways.

He had cut himself off from his energy drinks about an hour ago, letting his fresh cup of tea steep a bit to take in the warm aroma.

Dean’s moment of peace was cut short however by the sudden sound of gunfire. It was quickly followed by a knock at the front door. “Bloody hell who could that be at this fucking hour?”

It was Wolf. Because of course it was Wolf. The damn cyber mercenary was a headache and a half every time she showed up. He gave a halfhearted grunt at her comment on his slippers. Laugh all you want, they’re comfy.

Gingerly sipping at the still hot tea, Dean took in everything Wolf relayed back to him. Opting to remain silent until she was done. Silver Fang had left in a rather sudden rush not that long ago. But he had been confident that whatever her reasons she would make her way back. What made him pause mid sip though was Wolf’s remark about her trying to climb her way back through the broken window. And there was a problem with that statement.
”Hold on a sec.”

Now Dean’s spellcraft tended to border the lines of hedge magic given his general lack of advanced training. That that didn’t mean he wasn’t clever. Such as being able to tag individuals that came through his and Alex’s door and tell when and where they are throughout Shieldtown with his network of wards and Sigils.

Dean was going to make a call to a particular duo of Nordic friends for having not left so much as a message that they were taking the resident wayward Templar, much less come grab her stuff before leaving.

Wolf’s story didn’t add up.

That’s not good. Dean instantly looked more awake then he had been when he had opened the door. ”Shit. Stranger Protocol’s. Do not engage and keep tabs best you can. We got an imposter.” The tea was dumped on the ground, Dean cursed under his breath and held a hand up to apologize to Wolf.

”Whoever it is it’s better we don’t spook her anymore then we did and see if we can’t catch them.” Just then the muffled sound of heavy slamming could be heard from inside the house. Dean grimaced, Alex woke up. And if he was working his sandbag it probably wasn’t any of this going on. When it rains it pours.

”I . . . Gotta go check on that.” Slipping back inside He closed the door gently behind him before pinching bridge if his nose and sighing heavily.



“Pathetic.”

Those words echoed everywhere. Cutting at his skin and into the bone. No walls he made could stop them. Could never really stop sound anyway.

“All that strength and power, what do you have to show for it? You floundered and stumbled like an idiot yesterday.”

Shut up. He wanted to scream and yell. Deon out the voice with any noise he could. The words never left his throat. His heart felt like it was going to hammer right out of his chest.

“Even now after all these years your still a useless little punk.”

Alex couldn’t do anything but curl up and cover his ears. He felt small again. Helpless.

A hand grabbed his hair and forced him to look up.

He saw the broken and bloody face of his dead father. “YOU ARE NOTHING YOU FUCKING WASTE!!”

Alex woke up bolt upright, gasping and shuddering for breath. Face wet from tears the moment he opened his eyes. Not again. Always with that fucking dream. Always that same broken face glaring at him.

He fell back onto his bed, the frame made for his considerable weight still creaking in protest. Whiling his eyes, a glance to his nightstand greeted him with the current time. The soft glow from the alarm clock indicating that it was too damn early. Too bad. He didn’t need a full eight hours and he sure as hell didn’t feel tired anymore.

Minutes later, Alex had made his way into the basement. His tools, costume and equipment lay scattered around that would constitute as a “lair” for his alter ego. Massive, home made training weights dominated one corner of the room where an equally bulky brute rated sandbag hung.

He didn’t waste so much as a second before slamming the bag bare knuckled. It wasn’t like it would hurt anyway. The blow could have been mistaken for a shotgun going off from the sound alone.

”I’m not pathetic.“ His voice was rough and uneven. The bag was punched harder.

What the hell was his performance yesterday? He was better then that. He had to be.

Another punch that would have killed a regular person. ” I’m not weak.“ I can’t afford to be. Not again. Not ever.

He began to punch faster. Alex wished his knuckles would start bleeding. Just the sting of pain. None came. Just the rhythmic sound of his fists. ”I’m! Not! Useless!!” I can’t be. What am I if I can’t be if use to one person?

Images of the hydra fight flooded his mind. Silver Fang should have never even been touched on his watch. Sloppy, he had to be better. He had to.

”DAMNIT!!!!“ Tears blurred his vision again. A yell tore from his throat as he slammed the bag with such force that it nearly flew into the ceiling. Blue light flickered around his body in glitching patterns in his outburst.

He had to be hard on himself. Dropping to his knees in a slump, Alex breathed heavily. He hated having this much power. There was too much to shoulder. Too much expected of him. But he had to endure. It’s all he could do. For everyone he wasn’t able to save, for every person who got hurt because of him.
He’d cry if he didn’t feel so numb right now.

If he kept going as he was, this life might crush him. If he left, could he forgive himself for what could happen to everyone he wasn’t protecting? He was stuck. Stuck here, in his head, with these powers still feeling powerless at the end of the day.
Aegis? What a joke. He was more a cracked shield then anything.

Standing in the doorway, Dean didn’t have the words to pull Alex out of whatever was gripping him. He didn’t even have the strength needed to help his best friend off the floor. He opted to do one thing he knew that could help the big guy feel better.


Minutes later, the house was filled with the scent of cooking bacon. Real bacon. Not something made from a Ridgeback or some other underground beast. Alex sat in his chair sipping his tea. Dean having refused to let him cook this time.

Said mage added cheese to an omelette that could feed three.
The two men didn’t really need to talk during mornings like this. Their company was enough for the two. They’d talk about it when bellies were full and everything settled.

Golem sat invisible on the dining table, staring off in the direction of the Stoneworks.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by XianaEvermor
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[ShieldTown - Interior]



"S-Stranger?!" Wolf stammered. She flinched, inhaling a sharp breath as the tea stopped on its journey to the ground... no, it was just moving slowly as HK's processes jumped into overdrive.

HK rewound the video from the eye feed, grabbing the overhead view from the drone in a separate window.

[Appropriating additional resources]
[Checking for additional surveillance] . . .

[Query Drone_Bay]
[Units on Operational Standby]
[Albatross_02][Lockdown_Protocol_Suite]
[Manta_01][Interceptor]

[Time to launch] [02:46]

[Analyzing Video Feeds] . . .

[Run GAIT_WATCH.EXE]
[Run Facial Recognition]
[Considering new parameters. Processing] . . .

[Subject Identity - ShieldTown-SpecialGuest-Aegis01 - 96% VISUAL match]
[Gait Mismatch - Advise further study]
[Run PATH_TO_VICTORY.SIM] . . .


[Thermal Warning]
[Rerouting Albatross_01]
[Retasking Drones: Stranger Protocol Initiated.]

[Objectives Updated. Waypoints Updated]
[Returning Host Processes] . . . |


The teacup smashed against the ground, splashing Wolf's boots, and she slowly raised a hand to the stinging heat behind her right eye, too stunned to say anything as Dean closed the door. Her face had become flushed, and beads of sweat began forming on the right side of her brow. HK apparently took the insinuation that they'd made a mistake personally. Wolf took a breath to collect herself, watching the view from the Albatross overhead in a sub-window as it winged over into a new flight pattern and began scanning the settlement.

The [Launching Albatross_02] countdown timer was disconcerting. She guessed HK wanted the additional viewpoint but... the "Lockdown Suite" had some serious hardware on it too. Hopefully it wouldn't be coming to that. Wolf started towards the first waypoint when something new caught her attention. She inhaled... was... was Dean making Bacon?!


[Elsewhere...]



Stupid!

ID admonished herself as she huddled in the darkness under an awning several blocks away from the tall central house. It didn't happen very often, but she'd had a strange dream which jolted her out of her sleep. She never could get back to bed if she woke up in the middle of the night either, so she decided to get some air and walk around the settlement instead. Some sort of seismic disturbance caught her attention, though whoever caused it was long gone by the time she found the origin point.

What HAD been left behind was a faint trail of [Crimson] that had been... admittedly very expertly scrubbed. Whoever disguised that signature was a pro, she almost didn't catch it, which had piqued her curiosity even further. Getting caught trying to peek in the window wasn't ideal, and whoever was on the other side of that weapon had some serious mental fortitude to fire so accurately under the [Deadly Dragon's Gaze]. ID mentally flagged the wolf-eared soldier as a high risk engagement.

Thankfully, she never wandered the town unmasked during daylight, so there was basically no risk of being recognized even though she was in casual dress...

There was a waft of [Suspicion] and [Alarm] coming from the tall house, but as long as she didn't draw attention to herself she should be able to make it back to the hostel without further incident. ID pushed herself off the wall once she was sure it was clear, and walked down the street casually. She exhaled a sigh, planning a circuitous route back to the Hostel just in case.

Got a little greedy on that one... technically she was off duty, so... that definitely wouldn't be making its way into her next report.
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Zolya kept her mouth shut for the most part as Yue flew into her counter-rant, and even as Archer confirmed for the second time that A he needed to diversify and completely get rid of the speeches, and B had a serious problem he needed to fix the moment Yue's situation settled down. Someone was trying to fly real close to the sun with nearly disclosing information about magic to the public, close enough to the line that she wouldn't be surprised if this had lead to more than a couple hedge mages filling in the blanks and awakening.

However the moment she tried to speak up about it Archer held up a hand as to tell her to stay silent. She glanced at Raudd who just shook his head in response and non-verbally told her to just sit tight and watch where Archer was gonna pull the conversation. There were enough other ways to get through this phase, even if Archer was going to continue fucking things up by having repeated his entire speech so many times that it had been written into a game practically word for word. Or was this just the standard speech Olympia used on all it's new initiates?

He suggested a game of cards, playing a very stacked version of memory. He then explained how he had used this game as a way to teach her how to control her powers. After which he explained in a veiled way that her diving into her own world is quite a high difficulty power speeding up her mental processes and even improving them.

When the game began it wasn't just Yue that shifted into a different gear Raudd's eyes were stuck fixated on those of Archer, but his mind was very clearly somewhere else. What the others couldn't see was that Raudd was following the battle on the coffee table intently sensing a strange little ripple every time Yue grabbed a card out of Archer's hands, Archer put a card on the table, or even sometimes just a card on the table would spontaneously form one of these ripples. They did not feel like the normal chaos that he was used to from anything 'mundane', superpowered, or magic, far too... Clean.

With the assurance that Yue wouldn't be able to parse her speech anymore she spoke up to Archer. "You really need to give whomever put that speech into the game a kick to the head. I assume you know how bad this is, teenagers with wild fantasies and protagonist syndrome all around the world are probably awakening through this. Oh, and diversify a bit more in your explanation, something not 1750's and less speechy. I wouldn't be convinced by someone practically reading off a script." She quiped before listening to the rest of his explanation.

He talked about her being a not quite Fortification class mage, her having intuitively learned most of what she can do by resonating with items. With Olympia having taken to calling it 'Spathí Tragoúdi' or sword song, did they pull that out of their asses or had they seen that before? That said it was quite an interesting thing, from what she's displayed thus far and the explanation right now in terms of classification that type of magic seemed to be some combination innately mixing Enchantment and Fortification magic, but there was something else mixed in she was sure. If her theory was true then her works could be of great benefit to Yue, her enchantments and Yue's resonance would likely amplify each other creating a harmonious synergy if she were to make them specifically for her.

As her mind faded into the rabbit hole that was enchantment magic for a bit only listening with half her attention, the other side of the siblings ears perked up as Archer explained the trickery he was employing. Obviously it was magic bullshit at work that much was clear from the start, but it explained what he was sensing and now that he knew what was happening it was clear as day to him what he was doing.

That being said this was perhaps the first time he could so cleanly identify a 'pulse' of magic, normally things are way more like... He glanced over to Yue where he could see her entire body firing on overdrive from the choppy seas he sensed over there... More like that. He guessed that the action of changing the face of a card that 'already had a face' didn't cause much of a disturbance beyond the magic.

Soon the game came to a standstill as Archer explained that Yue was using her powers to drive her mental processing even further to figure out what was happening. Archer also used the moment to explain that this was his veiled attempt to have her learn about magic in a way that wouldn't break the rules that bound him. It was around the same time that Raudd came to a conclusion.

He slammed his hand onto the table covering one of the card in it's entirety with his palm. His eyes intently focused on the back of his hand as the smell of something charring could faintly be smelled wafting from under his hand. "Look this is the sight of two braincells colliding with one another, this is a rare and beautiful moment to be able to share with others." "Could you not I'm trying something." She had absolutely no idea what her brother was up to, but this wasn't the normal type of let me just try something, this was a degree of concentration she normally only saw in her brother when he was carving.

After a few long seconds passed in silence Archer and Yue locked in her detective move and Raudd firmly pressing his hand to the table, he swooped the card from under his hand showing one side having taken some charring, however the down turned side came up Blank. With a big smile he announced "I have ripped the enchantment off this card."

It took a little moment before it dawned to Zolya what was making her brother this excited about that... "Anti-magic." It wasn't that his body just resisted mana, no it ripped up any magic that interacted with his power. WAIT... Where did the mana from the magic go? It didn't create any haze, that would have been spotted far earlier when they were still figuring out why magic didn't like him. Was it destroyed, released back into the environment, did he somehow store it? "Eh, you're a little more sensitive to these things, did you catch what happened to the mana?"
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Umbri waited two beats after the shadow of the monster passed over her head, following the Rogue. Then she pulled herself out of the vent.

Like HELL was she sticking around, waiting for the return of a robot programmed by a psychopath. He’d drawn the thresher’s attention from her, now wasn’t the time to hide, it was time to go home. Jahannam would eat her alive once the ‘big guy’ realised she wasn’t coming, and she feared being devoured by that gang more than the monster.

She hobbled her way across the roof to the fire escape ladder. The view down stretched and warped in front of her unstable feet. Shit… she couldn’t make it down the ladder. Not with two of her limbs compromised. Her hand clenched over the dislocated arm, scrunching the jacket. Slowly her eyes trailed to it. Her palm shifted to a few positions until she settled on one. Her breath sped up, whistling through her nostrils. “Mmf,” she cringed, her voice slipping out and protesting what was about to happen. “Mmmghh…” She made her move. A crack split the air.

“Eyaaaaaghhhhhhhhh!!!!”

Thud. Umbri’s heels crunched back down to earth. She let go of the ladder, which she had slid down with two working arms (though the elbow of one still throbbed like a bitch) and went back to limping as fast as she could down the street. She could still hear the thresher’s shrieks, distant as they were. She couldn’t see it, but when she looked up, the smog lit up with distant flashes of fire and laser green. The robot was battling it alone. Don’t look.

She turned her third corner when the uneasy groan of metal pulled at her. Like an old ship, wailing before it keeled. Umbri slowed to a stop, watching the skies uneasily. Something was preventing her from pressing forward. Back. Back. Go back. A rumbling grew closer. A beam struck the ground twenty feet from her. The writhing body of the snake cut through the smog, tumbling with a water tower cleaving its path down the skyline.

The boom of impact almost toppled her. The water tank smashed over the building on the right, sending a spray of shrapnel, but found its resting place through the condemned apartments on her left. The ones she leaned against. Water sloshed over the streets and lapped at her ankles. Suddenly, it was quiet. Dead? She almost looked.

FWWWWWWOOOOOOOSHHHH. Fire blasted against the walls. They melted away, curling, an orange glow spreading like magma from metal so hot it turned white. Umbri pulled her hand away as pieces dripped off and the heat sapped all moisture from her face. It is not dead it is NOT dead not dead NOT DEAD! The stream of fire cut off with a hiss.

Umbri flattened herself to the wall, slowly, slowly inching herself towards a corner to slip behind as the monster’s head poked through. Its neck extended up above her, putting Umbri in the perfect blindspot she was not going to take for granted. She almost fell over as she reached the corner, but caught herself and lowered in a controlled manner to the ground then pulled her legs in after her. She was an injured flea hopping around in the middle of a fight between David and Goliath, and she had almost survived it. She had to be careful now... Something brushed her leg. A long tail explored beside it, stretching out, feeling, and wielding a nasty, dripping stinger.

Umbri instinctively jerked her foot away.

Mistake.

It reared up like a second head and shot out, whipped around her left leg before she knew it and YANKED her. Her scream echoed into the night.

Umbri’s face hit the pavement. She kicked against the tail with her good foot, stamping her heel into it. The powerful tail surged upwards, throwing her onto her stomach. She tried crawling away but it wrapped around her, dragging her by both legs through the flooded street. Its stinger glinted above her thrashing body.

Agony burst from the nape of her neck. Her vision flashed white. The world lurched. What… There was nothing she could do as the tail coiled around her body and took her.
Hidden 3 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by fate0013
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Dean was happy that Alex seemed to be doing better. It had been another dream about his father. Which was a mess he was not equipped to help unpack. Oh and to top it off Alex’s powers hadn’t been working right yesterday! Put that all together along with the big guys dispositions and sense of self worth? Not healthy in the slightest.

He let the lug get through half his stack of bacon and second omelette before setting down some coffee. ”Cant say I know why was up with your powers yesterday, but you really gotta stop making it out like your useless dude.”

Alex tried to speak up through a mouthful of food. But the serious look he got from his friend made him swallow and keep quiet. For the moment at least.

Dean sighed and ran a hand down his face. ” I know I can’t do a thing about the stupid voices that can get in the back of your mind. But your better then whatever you have going on in that thick skull of yours.” he poked the brutes forehead for extra enthuses. Alex seemed laser focused on him now. Maybe this was helping just a bit.

”You Alexander Dalton, are one of the strongest guys I know. Figuratively and literally. And your too damn stubborn to let any of this junk hold you do-AGH?!”
Dean didn’t get to finish his sentence before being bear hugged by the larger man. Which was a good sign at least. Unfortunately Dean felt like all his bones were creaking like an old ship from the power hug. ” Buddy. Dude. Air please.” he wheezed out between breaths.

”Oh shit sorry! He let go of Dean and sat back down. A sheepish half smile on his face.

Dean brushed himself off and took in a breath of precious air. ”I’ll take that as you feeling at least somewhat better?”

Alex gave a vigorous nod . . . Through shoving food into his face again. Well, at least the man had his priorities.

” Right then. Business.” Dean set his hands on the table and did his best to try and loom over his friend. Who was still a bit taller then him even while siting. ”Your guest broke out of her window and got picked up by Nordic’s. Word is she’s probably at the Stonework’s by now since they were supposed to be housing Silver Fang for her stay here anyway. They did forget to come by and get her armor and stuff though.”

There was a flash of worry that crossed Alex’s face, quickly followed by realization, then embarrassment as he slapped his forehead. He finished his bite and groaned ”Zolya is gonna tease me about this somehow I know it.”

Dean just shrugged. ”Probably. That’s what friends are for my dude. Moving on, we got some activity in the town that warranted Wolf coming by. We’re keeping it low profile for now, so none of you and your armored self going out at this hour ya hear?”

There was probably a second of protest before Alex relented, slumping into his chair. ”Its a potential Stranger anyways. Kinda need subtlety for that.”

”And I am the proverbial ball in a China shop. I get it. Alex all but pouted as he finished off the last of his bacon. Grumbling incoherently to himself.

”Im gonna be going out to help spread the word, also see if anyones up to help get the guest room window replaced. Could use the fresh air anyways.” When Alex looked like he was gonna speak up on that Dean held up a hand. ”I’ll be fine. And you have to go over my memos I got in the office on who’s showing up for the meeting tonight. Gotta get a head start since your the one who called it and will have to run it.”

Now that got an actual groan out of Alex. ”I swear if Devil Mask tries pulling some shit about the rivalry we Don’t have I’m gonna punch his stupid edge lord face.”

That got a bark of laughter from Dean while he went to get changed. ”So what happens every time you two see each other?” he let out another laugh as he dodged a slow moving telekinetic fist not meant to actually hit him.

All dressed and kitted out in his charms and trinkets, Dean left the house with Golem on his shoulder again. The mage and spirit traveled a block away before getting to work.

With the comms in his ear it wasn’t hard to coordinate with Wolf to find the Imposter. Dean wasn’t really in the mood to take this slow however and tapped into his link with Golem. Leaving most of the complex spellcraft to the spirit, the two plunged into the earth as if they had stepped into deep water. Leaving no trace on the ground at all. Subterranean travel was usually a complex process for an earth mage, most didn’t have the primal spirit of Earth as a partner though.

Dean popped out of the ground onto his feet not far behind from his target, Golem staying in the earth just in case. The earth mage made his way up to the woman, Just to be safe, he took a look into the Astral sea. What he saw for that split second made him stall for a moment. Shit. Whoever this was wasn’t Solver Fang, but she sure as hell was Awoken. Better make a quick call. He tapped at his Comms as quick as he could. ”Wolf, no listening in. Keep eyes up though.”

He spoke up when he was only a few feet away. ”Hiya stranger! I’d say you look familiar, but I know for a fact you are a different person. Guess you have a look a like.” Dean stopped maybe ten feet from Silver Fang’s doppelgänger, his next words were more hushed so only she could hear. ”Just so you know, This town is my [Sanctum] and I can [See] you.” He thumbed the mana Reservoir charms he had in one pocket and Archers card in the other. Wasn’t to big a chance he would need it but he was cautious by principal. Being prepared was all Hedge mages really had most of the time anyway.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by XianaEvermor
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ID paused as something entered her sphere of influence, and her face settled stoically as she collected herself. Being caught out in the open without her mask and gear wasn't ideal, particularly not by a magician that could move so swiftly underground. She sucked in a deep breath as the signature approached, and then continued to inhale slowly through her nostrils as the presence popped up behind her. ID had stopped moving a long moment before he arrived, her eyes flitting back and forth as though scrolling through text while she waited.

She suppressed a flinch at feeling his [Eyes] on her back, and let him approach. Even if he couldn't fully perceive Astralforms, it was impossible for Dual Natured beings to hide theirs. Hers hugged her skin like a tight fitting aura in Dean's vision, glowing like the soft light of a yellow star, and writhing and moving like a flame burning in slow motion. She waited until he felt his [Eyes] close, and then pulled in her sphere of influence.

Did it get warmer? Probably just nerves.

ID turned around when he addressed her, keeping a relaxed pose, though she could not hide the stern way in which her gaze flicked over him, his pockets, and then to the ground beneath his feet.

Did she get taller?

She did her best to suppress the [Deadly Dragon's Gaze], but meeting her eyes directly was still like being slapped with a hammer. She held his eyes, tilting her head a little as she processed his words.

"Statistically probable," she replied, using a circular breathing technique to speak while continuing to fill her lungs with air. "Everyone has a genetic look alike."

It was the Magician that owned the wards and seals scattered around town, no doubt by his introduction. She'd always been very careful not to disturb them when passing through in the past: no need to spook the local Hedge. However, given his array of enchanted charms, and the spirit he had lurking under his feet... she doubted the man was an ordinary Hedge Mage. Even more reason to tread lightly, so to speak. Hedge Mages lacked advanced training, but that did not mean they weren't dangerous. It was probably his house she tried to peek into.

Stuuuuupiiiiiiid...

"Since you were so kind... I recognize your [Sanctum]. I [See] you, and you are standing in my [Domain]," she answered calmly.
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[Stoneworks - Interior]

[A Chaotix14 / XianaEvermor collaboration]



Yue's eyes snapped to the table as Raudd captured one of the cards beneath his hand, watching the ripple of displaced air spread slowly from his palm, lifting the edges of the adjacent cards. For a while, nothing... and then a sound. Her eyes widened as she focused on Raudd's hand, resisting the urge to save the card from the agonizing torture it was experiencing, seeing as there technically was no rule preventing outside interference, and Archer hadn't moved to stop the man... just watched her with that irksome grin.

Flecks of silver manifested at the corners of her eyes, and her irises began to burn amber as she focused intently on Raudd's hand. Wisps of smoke and angry mottled red curled up from under his palm, and Yue's expression turned vaguely horrified as... something... wailed at her in agony. Despite the time dilation, it hit her like a drawn out cry, and she couldn't suppress the shudder as ripples of white pulsed through markings in the table she hadn't noticed before.


"It's... screaming," she muttered in a haunted tone as Raudd held up the blank card victoriously. His smile was quickly wiped off his face by this announcement as he fumbled with the card trying to figure out how to deal with it. Zolya noticing this swiped the card out of his hand and procured a fountain pen from her cloak.

Yue flinched as Zolya's fingers slammed dramatically against the card. The force rippled through it, shaking the decaying residue of the original markings from the back of the card. As the light faded from the dust it gasped in distraught tones, and then was scattered as Zolya pulled it away. Yue's brow furrowed with concern.

Mending type spells weren't really her forte, in the first-place nature didn't lend itself well to restoring anything dead... Then just make it not dead. Drawing up the nature aspected mana latent in the environment through the pen the black ink flowed across the paper as the runes laden with mana took to the paper.

Yue's eyes followed the pen tip as it slammed into the card backing; it resonated throughout the room like a cannon shot.

"Ah...," she croaked involuntarily, mouth agape.

As time progressed the formation came together nature and rejuvenation runes, among others, tied together by the Web of Wyrd at the center of the card, the runes around having been placed symbolically like the branches of a tree.

The pen tip scraped savagely against the corpse of the card's markings, sending up plumes of desiccated [White] which seemed to dissolve slowly into the residual glow of the room. Yue cringed against audial assault, and squinted her eyes against the brilliant [Green] with which Zolya wrote.

Having finished the formation Zolya imbued the card with mana activating the magic formed onto it's surface. The ink burning away as the paper of the card first yellowed, then formed a grain as bark and a wreath of tiny leaves formed around the edge of the card. "I think that's the best I can do, it's still blank though." She said as she handed the card over to Archer. Though she doubted it would be used for this game, much easier to detect the cheating when the one unique card switches faces.

Zolya's [Light] slithered, and the processed cardstock protested as it was mulched, consumed, repurposed, and hardened into bark. The groaning and snapping of rapid growth grated against her time dilated senses as the leaves sprouted. Her eyes followed the card as Zolya handed it to Archer, who held an expression of endless amusement. Yue exhaled, and her eyes returned to normal as the world slipped back into Realtime.

"I don't... want to play anymore," she croaked, with an expression of pale horror. "I'm gonna...," she trailed off as she curled up in her seat, cradling her knees against her chest. Yue held her cup of coffee against her lips as though it were the last warmth in this cold, cold world and stared out into space past everyone with a furrowed brow.

"Well would you look at that! You've disturbed our little Fang so much that she's lost interest in a game," quipped Archer, with the biggest smile. "That's one hell of an accomplishment you should be proud of, Raudd."
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A black and red shape emerged from the shadows, with blades that crossed and glowed a radiant 'X'. The shape descended behind Umbri, and his claws un-crossed in a wide arc. Deep cuts were carved into the beast's tail, open and glowing a white-orange heat. The screech that came rattled their surroundings, yet it was white noise to Temujin, whose pitch black gaze honed in on Umbri. He skidded on a knee as he landed, grabbed her by the arms, and yanked her, out and away from the coils loosened by pain.

The ninja tossed her over his shoulder and bolted, his steps loud and splashing across the drowned streets. He turned one corner, then another, and raced down a desolate boulevard, the serpent still hot on his tail.

"I'm gonna throw up," Umbri slurred down his back, followed by a gulp.

"Don't you dare!" Temujin hissed, his hand clutching behind Umbri's knees to steady her. Riko's Workshop always charged extra for deep cleaning. He couldn't afford it.

The air was hot, and the shadows darker. The monster was gaining on them. Temujin had to think fast. His free hand clutched two more smoke pellets, which he hurled towards nearby detritus, and ignited. Smoke blanketed the monster's vision for a precious few seconds… before it sped right through the expanse.

…With its prey nowhere in sight.

The creature slowed to a stop. Its jaws rumbled with a series of clicks and chitters, its five yellow eyes peered through the darkness. What was once a park had become a rust-laden grave, cluttered with scrap and abandoned shipping containers. Beside one of which was… a shimmer. A tear. A distortion in the wind, rippling with the smallest movements. Temujin dropped to a knee, his invisible hand covering Umbri's invisible mouth. "Don't. Move," he commanded, the green rings fading into unseen eye sockets.
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Titans’ Fall, Templar Tower: Laboratory 3, Augmented Weaponry R&D




A man’s voice swore into the relative quiet of the lab. From his hands, sparks flew, and he jolted upright as if stung.
It was a massive room, populated by four large sized work stations, four ‘display’ tables- 1.60 meters by 1.60 meters. Mobile too, there were grooves in the floor with what appeared to be magnetic spheres laid within.

And towards one wall, an airlock that led into and out of the room. Alongside an attached observation area. The laboratory was stark white, with specific paths and stations and tools marked by flashes of accented colors: orange, green, blue, and pink.

Felix stood at the station awash in pink, hyper focused on the project between his hard-light fingertips. It was a strange device, pure black glossy metal, with faintly glowing lines of golden circuitry. His eyes were hidden behind a set of shades, never-mind that said protective eyewear was ALSO made out of a deep orange hardlight. The room was dimly lit SAVE for the station he was working at.
Hush.

Anyways; the emitter in his hands was the product of … Uh. Oh shit. 8 whole hours. Between meandering around and engaging in-
The emitter sparked once, startling that train of thought right out.
Goddamn.
Well, it was a product of hyperfixation. An upgrade! One made in the heat of the moment because panic, and all that good stuff.
His hands moved reflexively, as Sovereign blipped him twice. Right. His guest! Right. Oops. Shit.
The emitter was slipped into a perfectly sized slot on his left hip. The hard-light limb there flickered, before stabilizing. Then it flickered out of existence entirely. And Felix had to grab the work-station in front of him to avoid falling.
The limb returned after a solid two minutes of nothing, with Felix spending that entire time working on the projector base. After some time, the cyber-ware flashed with golden light, and projected. His other leg was humanoid enough; appearing like a ‘retro’ video game character’s limb might. Sixteen— No- twenty four ‘planes’ of light connected to eachother, but displayed no real details beyond blank sheets of orange light.

The new limb was humanoid as well, none of that digitigrade shit. It was infinitely more detailed, and sported what looked like spurs on its heels and toes. Felix nodded as the leg finished stabilizing again, and then slammed his heel into the floor. He gave a delighted smile as his HUD shifted.

< FEMORAL SHIELD DEPLOYED! INTEGRITY: 100% >
< DEFENSIVE FORWARD! >

And from his shin, a massive tower shield of burgundy hardlight lanced into the air in front of him. It glinted like a shattered mirror in the dim-light of the lab. The barrier shifted as Felix clenched his fist on his left.
His HUD beeped again.
< FEMORAL SPUR DEPLOYED! INTEGRITY: 98% >
< OFFENSIVE REAR! >

And like a thought, the shield vanished. On the back of Felix’ ankle, a wickedly sharp curve of hard light formed. It had a squared tip, a bit like a cleaver. It barely reached half a meter in length, just shy of about .48 meters, as a matter of fact.
He flexed, hopping away from his workstation and spinning about in an abruptly violent axe kick. The air hummed, as his blades limb cut through the atmosphere like it hardly even existed. Hm!
Felix twisted a wrist, listening as Sovereign beeped in the corner of his awareness.

< FEMORAL SPUR DISENGAGED! Integrity: 98% >
< INCOMING MESSAGE! DISPLAY? Y/N >
< … … … Playing audio! >
Mister Lanning… You have a guest who has been waiting for a total of 67 minutes for your company.

Oh. Fuck, oops. Dawn was STILL downstairs, and Felix had promised this would be... Quick.
She was definitely going to bitch, if the prior eight-ish hours were any indication.
New memories though! She wasn't ALL bad, just, a bit misguided and assured of her own excellence! ... Like Sai. And Felix liked Sai!
A quick message was fired off, a text that simply read: [Hey, sorry! I got SUPER distracted for… a lot longer than I meant. I’ll be right there! I’ll come get you? … Where are you?]

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a simple message.
Oh, wait. She- Fuckin'- She was just down in the lobby, god, he could just-

[Heyyyy nevermind, just, don't move. Be right there. Sorry.]
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Shieldtown, Beneath Plate 1, 1:52 AM




The streets of Shieldtown were crowded and noisy, even this late at night. The arrival of the hunt was like the beginning of a festival, with workers bustling to and fro as monster carcass after monster carcass was hauled into the settlement and sorted to be butchered - for food, for parts, for science. Others were sent elsewhere, still whole, to be prepped for distribution out to the rest of the undercity.

The night’s laborers were joined (and occasionally obstructed) by revelers celebrating the influx of glorious meat and the first day of what was doubtless the biggest event of the season for those who lived down here. The streets flowed with liquor Máire couldn’t recognize, and food stalls sat just far back enough from the street that the trucks rolling through could get by with only moderate amounts of cursing thrown at the proprietors - and the occasional slab of raw meat, Máire noticed. The atmosphere made the occasional thudding of artillery fire against the unnatural stragglers outside the wall almost sound like fireworks, and Máire half expected to see sparks lighting up the sky whenever she looked up. Instead she kept her eyes in front of her, stood to the side of the celebrations as she called out to those who came close.

“Excuse me, I’m trying to find someone. Excuse me, have you seen a woman, about this tall? Excuse me-”

There wasn’t much else she could think to do at the moment. Both of her guides had been lost to the breeze, making the prospect of finding Bayushi on her own in the disconnected labyrinths of undercity settlements unlikely at best, and the idea the leaders of Shieldtown would deign to speak with her sans her mouse-face voucher were even worse. If nothing else, the locals seemed far more willing to speak with her now that they couldn’t recognize her as a Templar. Her clothes were stained head to foot by the blood and viscera of the creatures Máire had cut through to get here. Her cloak was tattered, her face and hands a bloody, muddy mess. The only ones who would recognize her as a member of the order at this point were those who already knew to look for it.

Several minutes passed by in much the same fashion, and ended with much the same answers. It seemed increasingly as though if Bayushi had ever been here, she had remained uncharacteristically subtle and out of the way. Máire hooked her thumb in her belt, standing contrapposto as she took to watching passersby in silence for a while. Her efforts weren’t entirely without fruit; either out of generosity or pity one of the stall owners had given her a grilled skewer of unidentifiable meat, and Máire ate it idly as she thought. It was heavily peppered, and smelled thick with iron, a bit like liver. That was good, she was feeling a little iron-deficient after the day’s endeavors and didn’t feel up to chewing on nails again.

“Are you a hunter?”

“I guess,” Máire answered, not turning to look at the child who had been watching her from across the street for an hour or so.

“Is the lady you’re lookin’ for also a hunter? Is she your partner?” The boy sat cross-legged on the curb, chin resting in his hand as he looked up at her.

“Something like that,” Máire replied with her teeth on another meat chunk, tearing it free from its skewer.

“You sure she didn’t get swallowed up by one of them?” He pointed at a passing truck, piled high with carcasses of unnatural beasts.

“Probably.”

The boy stared at Máire in silence as she finished off her dinner and took to using the skewer to clean dirt and gore out from under her nails. “Why’re you hangin out covered in blood?”

“It inspires rodential-faced children to pester me with questions.”

The boy snorted a laugh. “Better not let Rat hear you say that.”

“I’m sure he’d let it slide. You know, if you went to bed at a proper hour every night your face would fix itself into something proper and you wouldn’t be as compelled to bother strang-” Máire’s words cut off as what the boy said registered in her skull. “You know Rat?”

“I guess?” The boy gave her an odd look. “Pretty much everyone knows Rat. Why?”

“We’re… friends. Can you help me find him?”

“Why?”

“I’m asking politely.”

“So?”

The boy was trying to weasel something out of her, and was very bad at being coy about it. His face was twisted in the smug shit-eating grin of a child who thinks they can get something from you, leaning back on his hands as though nothing in the world could threaten the power he now wields over your very existence. Máire graciously suppressed an unkind impulse bubbling in her mind.

“I’ll give you a credstick,” she offered, drawing one from her pack and twirling it in her fingers.

“A what?”

“Money.”

His eyes lit up at that. He understood money. He leapt to his feet, arms pinwheeling to keep from losing his balance. Máire made no effort to catch him. “Sure! He shouted enthusiastically, spinning to face her with his hands planting themselves on his hips. “I’ll take you right to ‘em! Just follow me!” Then he spun again, marching off into the crowds. “You can call me Doll by the way!” he shouted over his shoulder. “You?”

“Ma’am.”

“Ha! Alrighty!”

With some apprehension at the idea she was putting the next leg of her mission in the hands of a child, Máire stepped into line behind Doll and out into the street.
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While she did reciprocate with her own [greeting], claiming him to be in her [domain] ruffled him a bit. Golem felt amused for whatever reason.
Now it would go without saying that Dean wasn't the type to show off. It was easier to get to the point and move on most times. Fucking hell her astral self was like looking at directly at the the sun during high noon in the summer. That was an unpleasant experience. At least he didn’t have spots in his vision from that.

“Your domain? Cute. Well, let’s review just how bad the situation is shall we?” Letting out a short whistle, Dean signaled Golem to rise. What came out of the earth was easily ten feet tall and almost just as wide. Pitifully small compared to what Golem could actually manifest as at full size.
Golem’s astral body had the look and presence of a walking mountain that decided to acknowledge your existence.

Dean crushed the effigy and reabsorbed the stored mana within. It was almost better then a caffeine rush as his reserves topped off. Even so, no hostile action was made. His mana signature much more respectable and distinct now compared to the emaciated state he tended to keep it in, constantly pouring his mana into his charms and trinkets. His mana wafted with the scent of caramel while it glowed in soft greens and metallic bronze.
“I’m Dean Locklear. [Steward] of Golem, the current [Primal Spirit of Earth].” While Golem loomed over his body in a protective stance, Dean used his now free hand to toss a piece of gum into his mouth.

He chewed and blew a bubble to the point of it popping before speaking up again. ”So, whatcha doing around these parts?”
By most traditions in the awoken world, there was no reason for Dean to be as casual as he was now with his title and charge. There was generations of protocol and etiquette. And Dean really didn’t give a damn. And Golem seamed to like it that way.

That wasn’t to say that the whole situation wouldn’t give most older mages an aneurysm over the blatant disregard and disrespect. Oh this gum was pear flavored! Bonus~
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[Stoneworks - Interior]

[A Chaotix14 / XianaEvermor Collaboration]



"You know that was never my intention. I hadn't thought about what would be visible from the awakened perspective, especially one time dilated and synergizing with items... And now that I think about it, that was real stupid of me." He looked at the cards on the table then back at Yue. "I'm... Sorry for having you experience that due to my lapse in judgement." he said slowly really thinking about his choice of words and his actions.

"It's... that was a thing... that happened," Yue muttered, sipping at her coffee while trying to parse what exactly she just experienced.

"That being said, it's also quite an accomplishment to make her keep playing a game that is absolutely unwinnable." Zolya piped up towards Archer. Which prompted an almost immediate response from Raudd. "No it's not. Because I know this one..." He said reaching towards the table and bringing down his fist on an empty area far away from the cards, causing them to jump up in the air slightly. "...Is a seven." He finished grabbing one of the cards in the moment they were airborne and revealing it to be in fact, 7 - The Archer. "I could see you switch this one up while she was grabbing for it."

"There's actually four ways to win, and only one of them involves collecting all the cards," grinned Archer. "The other three are: exposing my method of cheating (which has its own set of rules), learning the lesson the game is meant to teach, and outlasting my patience which... we've been at this for nearly eight years now, and its in my nature to be competitive, so..."

"So what you are saying realistically there is only one way to win this game for Yue. Exposing your method of cheating. Her not having learned the lesson after nearly eight years shows that it's too subtle for someone who has no context for what is happening." She said as she traced part of the array on the table with her finger. "Collecting all the cards is practically impossible without figuring out the cheats you use and outlasting your patience isn't going to happen within this lifetime with that attitude of yours."

"Anyways, we're getting a little off topic here." Raudd said to interrupt his sisters rant about the games generally poor ability to do what it's supposed to do. "And I do think it's a bit of a tall ask to just accept that all this magic bullshit is real."

"It's not a band-aid that you can just rip off, Freyja. Fang has been through a lot, and not just today. Undoing the damage caused by a careless diagnosis and irresponsible prescriptions takes time," he huffed, Zolya's response having clearly struck a nerve. "My methods may seem obtuse-"

"Wait...," Yue cut him off, his words seeming to snap her back to reality. "What do you know about my diagnosis?"

"Honey, please. I'm the Director's Executive Assistant, I have access to all of HR's records. We've all been fighting behind the scenes to get you proper care because we all have EYES and can see you getting worse under that hack. Even Arcanist has your back, and he doesn't stick his neck out for anyone but himself. The situation's delicate though," he explained, folding his legs and balancing the leaf-rimmed card by its corner on one finger. "Someone in the upper echelon has been working against specifically you, and until we find out who, we have to play by the rules. Those rules just happen to involve miles of red tape. I can speak candidly about it here because there's no risk of this conversation making it back to them."

"What...?"

"You're NOT sick," Archer stated, bluntly. "You never were; I just couldn’t ever come out and say that to you because I'm under constant scrutiny," Archer huffed. Yue flinched at having her inner voice echoed back to her, and couldn't hold back the stinging behind her eyes.

It too Raudd a little bit of effort when despite what Archer had just claimed, he just pulled off the band-aid. Using the momentary silence that followed from Archer’s statement Raudd spoke up. "Now, I know you're bound by all sorts of rules top-side, but that doesn't mean we can't scheme like the fey from down here." He said with an almost devious smile, this was more his element than the straight magic bullshit. "First things first, make sure you never take any of those crap medications you don't need." He said to Yue making a concerted effort to mellow out his smile.

"I'm betting they won't allow her to skip her medication, so I have a few suggestions of how to deal with that. If you could bring the pills she has to take down here, I'm betting Zafira can make sugar pills that look exactly like the prescription drugs. Otherwise we could employ one of the sylphs hanging around here as a guardian spirit for Yue, they'll be able to cast illusions on some harmless c vitamins to make them look like those prescription drugs to the human eye and those fancy camera's you guys have in the tower." He said nearly rattling off the thoughts as they moved through his head.

"Ehm, it wouldn't be a good idea to stick with the sylph plan for longer than a week though. They are quite reliant on the abundance of nature around them or they will grow weaker by the day and any air pollution is like poison to them." Zolya quickly mentioned to make clear that the sylph idea wasn't a long term solution.

Yue listened uncomfortably, and Archer's gaze flicked between her and the siblings. He sighed, deflating a little,

"Listen, before you go and make too many plans... Fang," he addressed, turning to Yue. "I wouldn't necessarily call them friends... but these people can be trusted. Their views have a tendency to clash with my station, but I don't disagree with them, and they're well-meaning in spite of how heavy handed they're being. You have to want this though, nobody can force you. If you decide you don't want to be here, I will take you away from this place," he stated, flicking his gaze towards the siblings for a moment.

"I... need a minute to think," muttered Yue, as she withdrew into her seat. She cradled her coffee gingerly as her shoulders relaxed. She took a soft breath through her nose, and tuned out the world, letting it stop around her as she sipped from her cup.
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Umbri was really out of it. She was so out of it, it looked like her legs had disappeared. Whatever had stuck her in the neck was gone but the ghost of it remained, and it burned. She still needed to throw up. Purge herself of whatever poison that was making her so ill.

The thresher slithered through the park, its head low and searching. Steam trailed from its mouth as it opened and flicked its tongue through the air. As it came closer, Umbri’s body tensed and she almost cried into the Rogue’s hand in alarm. Her knee shifted, and the air warped around it, revealing the faintest outline of an object there. It can’t see. Her eyes came swiftly into focus, double vision merging onto one track - she was invisible. They were invisible. Her head scrambled to make sense of it. What kind of technology was this? Was it magic? Don’t be stupid, robots can’t do magic.

Even with the assurance that the beast couldn’t see her, it came closer. Yellow eyes narrowed and its long form followed after their glare towards them. How, Umbri sweated, How? She caught the flicker of yellow beneath her as the snake reared up over them and observed… not them. The rippling colours in the puddle beneath them.

It can see our reflection.

Umbri’s stomach plummeted with the realisation. The Rogue hadn’t noticed it yet. He wouldn’t still be trapping her in place if he had. Against his warning, Umbri pulled out the gun.

The air distorted slightly as her arm moved, ever so slowly, raising her arm straight towards the snake’s head. It came nearer, hissing, closer to the puddle, closer to them, until the barrel of her gun was a ruler’s length from its eyes. A fiery glow pierced through the scales of its throat. The ripples in the puddle began to relax into a smooth mirror, and Umbri’s trigger finger twitched -

A loud clang and an animal’s call jerked the thresher’s head. With a shake of its fins, it bared its fangs and dived after it. Its massive length rushed past and sprayed them with water. Umbri stayed very still, gun aimed the way it went, until the hisses and the rattle of its movement had faded away. Her arm collapsed.
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"I'm headed back to the Hostel room that I paid for," she answered calmly. His name reveal and show of force did not change her stance or expression, though she did look up at Golem with a raised eyebrow. "Does he treat all of this settlement's guests this way?" She asked the creature, shaking her head.

She lowered her gaze back to Dean, tilting her head as she examined him... HIM, and though she seemed acutely aware of exactly where Golem was and what it was doing, it was Dean that her gaze pierced.

If this came to blows she was definitely the one at a disadvantage. He was clearly an Earth mage or Geomancer in his element, and she was underground at night time. Though it appeared he had an impressive reservoir of Mana to draw from, it was clear that he lacked advanced training. Once again, that didn't mean he wasn't dangerous, and without specific knowledge of the charms and vows he'd taken under Golem's stewardship, there wasn't any real way to gauge exactly HOW dangerous.

He HAD shown himself to be inattentive, however, which might be something she could take advantage of. Even after being warned that he was standing well within the perimeter of her [Fire/Light] Domain, he either didn't notice or didn't care. Information was the most powerful resource in a mage's duel, and she had reciprocated in kind (as is customary) when warned that she was violating his [Sanctum]. Her warning went disregarded, and even seemed to rumple his humors... Did... did he not know the custom? Or was he just dense?

"Listen, Mr. Locklear, I'm a regular visitor who has, so far, been very careful to be respectful of your [Sanctum] and not disturb any of your wards and charms. I don't generally practice any arts, or disturb the local Manascape while I'm here. I don't want to have this fight. However, I will defend myself if you continue to aggress me without cause," she answered without breaking eye contact.

ID felt her lungs reach capacity, and from Dean's perspective she stopped breathing.
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The chewing stopped. Dean looked at the doppelgänger before him wide eyed. His head sagged to the point where his hair covered his eyes. Shoulders shaking . . . Right before he burst out laughing.

And he continued laughing.

And laughing.

Dean was holding his sides and gasping for breath as he calmed down, wiping a tear from his eye as he tried to regain his composure.
”Aaaah, oh man . . . you other mages can be so damn wound up sometimes.” he paused for a moment and frowned. ”Shoot, I swallowed my gum.”

The earth mage grumbled, acting more the fool then he already was. Being covered in protective charms and wards would do that especially if they were drowned out by the shear presence of having a spirit like Golem around. Dais spirit just looked down at him impassively and shook its head in a way that made some pits of gravel and dirt fall on the geomancer. Dean didn’t seem to really mind and just brushed himself off.

”You think I was threatening to duel you? With where we are now? And who I have that I can call on besides me buddy here?” He knocked a fist on one of Golem’s solid arms the size of a pickup truck. ”Those aren’t me making threats.”

Golem’s astral form then shifted. It’s enormous hand moving unit it’s palm held Shieldtown in its grasp. ”Golem however doesn’t like when I’m threatened. And he isn’t bound to me.” A devious grin began to spread across Deans face. ”Meaning my death wouldn’t stop him from making some very poor decisions.”

It was around that moment that he pulled out the card Archer had given him, holding it up to his face to reveal it to the Mage before him. ”And to top it off, for better or for worse, I have friends in some very high places that like my continued stewardship.” Was Dean running his mouth a bit? Not quiet. He hadn’t shown a single indication of his methods of casting, preferred tactics, or even his actual relationship with Golem.

What he was doing was revealing just enough information without any specific details. Leaving present company having to make guesses. Simply put. He was being annoying. Which he excelled at.

”Your a ‘regular’ that was snooping around my house for some reason and looking in through the third floor. Not that respectful of you. The fact that you look like another one of my guests who’s situation is very delicate does not help your case.”

To be fair a Duel would be a pain. Not that he wouldn’t do well given everything in his favor, he just didn’t like having to exert himself.
Though knowing that Wolf probably had some form of munitions trained on the Stranger gave him some peace of mind. Like he would fight fair if it came down to one. Fighting fair was for the dead and stupid.
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