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“Mind,” Lucienne snapped after Yvain said his piece, “I am not here to provide charity or help. Quite the opposite.”

She absentmindedly waved her hand as she studied the cleric in front of her. He was certainly easy to identify at a glance, with multiple holy icons dangling from his large coat that enveloped him like the wings of a gigantic bat. With graying hair and possibly early wrinkles, she estimated that he was not the youngest in his profession anymore. That was a good thing, should he ever prove troublesome. The dark, wide-brimmed hat completed his impression as the harbinger of ill news. He certainly looked more intimidating than the last of his kind she had seen. That one had been significantly younger, sharply dressed, and entirely too fond of Valencian wine for his own good. His naiveté had been charming, then, but something told her that the good father here would be far less easy to perturb.

“I am Lucienne Desrosiers, of the house Desrosiers of Morsang-sur-Odesse in Valence,” the noblewoman introduced herself, but this time kept her hand firmly to herself. Perhaps it was not customary to offer it to men of the cloth, or perhaps she simply felt no desire to be touched by McNamara – who could say? “Now that introductions are out of the way, let me be very frank, Father: I need to reach this… Temnorapool post haste. What can you do to help me?”

Lucienne audibly struggled with the city’s name, which sounded crude and barbaric to her ears and merely speaking it felt like choking on thorns. It really did seem like Valence was the heart of culture, and that the arts and customs degenerated quickly the further one went away from her home land’s majestic mountain ranges. It almost made one shudder to think what sort of troglodytes must live even further beyond Perafidion and the seas. Would these savages ever be graced by the light of civilization and elevated from their hovels?

Her thin, blond brows furrowed deeply when Yvain turned around and began shouting of all things, apparently communicating with somebody who was yelling from the train’s front section. She could not care less if they were exchanging useful intelligence from both ends of the train at this point.

“Don’t do that,” she hissed at the sellsword, visibly annoyed. He was not her paige, but she would not tolerate such a rude interruption. Once she was satisfied that her reprisal was received and understood, she returned her attention to the Father, hoping against hope that he might have something useful to say.
The shadows grew longer and darker with every passing minute, cast from warped, unsightly trees whose branches sometimes swayed in the eerily howling night air, and sometimes swayed when there was no wind at all. The rush of panic and excitement gradually faded from the train’s passengers, their agitated chattering dying down to a worried and fearful muttering, only to be stoked into new hysterics when the rearmost wagon caught fire. Lucienne eyed them with the mildest of disdains, only somewhat annoyed by their shallow sensibilities. Wealthy or not, these first class passengers did not have the steadfastness of one of noble blood. It was not money that elevated one above the common folk, but a nobility of spirit that could only be gained through a clear bloodline. She felt proud, then, to confirm the legitimacy of her lineage as she faced the unknown without fear but, alas, also without patience. Her right foot tapped rhythmically and nervously at the grassy pebbles beneath her but she remained otherwise perfectly composed.

A new breeze carried a hint of music from the more hind-lying carriages and there, framed by the distant inferno, Lucienne thought she was a violinist playing her cares away amidst grasping shadows, performing for seemingly nobody at all. Musicians, she found, were always eccentric by nature. It made them interesting. Then, after blinking once or twice, she could also make out another shape, decidedly bulkier, approaching from the swirling, inky twilight and soon after could hear his heavy steps crunching earth and stone. Squinting against the flame-pierced dark, she kept looking at the figure as each of his steps revealed more details about his form. A satisfying flash of nostalgia washed over her senses when she recognized his gambeson and nigh-medieval armaments of sword and shield. It almost felt like she was back home. Those were the tools of a real warrior, whose skills were honed by discipline. None of those vulgar firearms that made of any ignorant peasant bumpkin a lethal killer. Lowly times.

Some of the other passengers, upon eying Yvain, knowingly or unknowingly recoiled at the sight of him. Only Lucienne, herself an outcast amidst the other groups, stepped forward to meet him, her chin held high and a lazy hand resting on her rapier’s hilt.

“What news from the rear?” she shot at him, Valencian accent thick. “And when can we depart? I have business in the city.”

Weiland sighed to himself, mainly in response to the not so subtle curse slung his way by the irate musician. He’d not much dealings with them, but they never seemed to pan out very well. The dirge she was was haunting enough, fitting given the circumstances, but he put the thoughts behind him, where the music was as well, and proceeded to continue forward, attempting to find extra hands to assist towards the rear. Of course, the farther forward he got, the more callous and displeased with his presence those that even bothered to respond got. Such was the nobility, he thought with some annoyance, though what did catch him slightly off guard was when one such woman, another foreigner given her accent, though her words were little different than usual annoyance such rich folk experienced at a slight inconvenience.

His own accent was apparent, though it was more natural to those from the eastern reaches of the lands that had any normal contact to warrant having trains linking them to other lands, and while he noted she also seemed to carry a more classical attire, her initial question and tone of voice let him as wary as ever. “Several cars overturned by Light knows what. I’ve been sending any able bodied that’re willing to help back. As for leaving, this contraption might have some trouble with that, considering it looks to be missing some parts…”

Weiland’s gaze was torn forward, having already been looking ahead, and he saw that the same parts that had been creating all sorts of noise and had dragged the cars to carry people were outright missing, or damaged beyond recognition. How they would proceed from here would likely infuriate the rich and nobles, they would have to walk to the nearest settlement, though Light knows where that might be from here.

Lucienne followed his gaze behind herself but could see little through the oppressive gloom, save for the absence of certain expected silhouettes perhaps. The thought that the entire engine might simply be gone did not occur to her.

“I do not suppose we will be in time,” she scoffed his way. “So what happened here? Accident? Sabotage?”

Piercing blue eyes sized him up like an owl does its prey.

Weiland was watching the woman he was discussing the current situation with closely, though with her turned, the lack of facial expressions made it difficult to discern what was going through her head as body language spoke little at the moment. Though the scoffing remark and follow on questions made him shrug briefly. Sabotage or ambush were likely, though something capable of removing the engine and boiler to such an extent was going to be a problem. Her gaze was also something of note, far too focused and intent to be just some rich, jumped up noble.

“Afraid not. Odds are sabotage or ambush of some sort. Though I’ve not heard of bandits equipped well enough to remove those parts of the train that completely, not recently…”

“Completely?” she inquired before turning back and squinting harder at the darkness. “Bon sang,” she gasped under her breath. The warrior was right, the front part of the train was missing, curse her eyes. How were they ever going to reach the city now? It was of the utmost importance, after all, far more so than any of these buffoons could realize. She had to find the Key before it was too late. Before her cravings would consume her. Absolutely had to.

“I am afraid I was mistaken,” she admitted, straightening herself and banishing any hint of worry from her mien. “This train will not be going anywhere. Listen, warrior, I must get to this city as soon as possible. Can you help me or direct me to someone who can?”

Hopefully he understood which city she meant, given that she was loathe to pronounce its to her outlandish sounding name.

The fact the train’s state of being was such a point of concern was of note to Weiland, keeping a steady face as he watched her quickly wipe any concern or fear from her features, which spoke of a great deal of concealing one’s own emotional state. The sudden shift of focus and the speed at which she dictated it needed to happen hinted at some sort of concern as to either what was happening there, or what was going to be there perhaps? Either way, his tone was even as he did what he could to assist.

“If you’re speaking of the train’s destination, short of escorting you on foot, I can’t be of much help. However, a Church Investigator is aiding efforts to save those in the overturned cars to the rear. He’d be of better use in finding the fastest way to get back on schedule.”

“Investigator? I am certain he will be very receptive towards a foreigner like me, if he is like the rest of his ilk,” Lucienne darkly mocked. Yes, nominally she and the royal court were followers of the Light. But every now and again, foul rumors would attract a certain enterprising investigator to confirm their validity in a bid to earn himself a promotion. Such occurrences were, thankfully, rare enough, but it was always a terrible bother to cover up their disappearance. There was no doubt in her mind that not everybody may believe the official story. When would the clerics learn not to meddle in affairs that concern them none? Never did them any good neither.

“But,” she added, “If this man can help me get to the city, I may tolerate his person. Will you be reporting to him? If so, I would like to walk with you. Standing around here will get me nowhere, you understand.” In asking so, she eased her posture ever so slightly, assuming a more feminine and less rigid posture.

“He took little offense to myself, though a strange look for my lack of modern arms and armor did not go unseen.” Weiland had shrugged such things off, having grown used to such strange looks and sideways glances over his archaic equipment. His dealings with the Light had been more honest typically, though he was no zealot or fanatical devotee to its creed and, as such, felt rather neutral about their agents and the like. Her demeanor did shift, however, to something more eased, slight as it was, as she spoke on whether he was reporting to the Investigator and if he would walk with her back there.

“Aye, I can walk you back. I doubt anyone else up here will be willing to even walk back there, let alone assist. I only met him in passing, informing him of goings on at the rear, so reporting is hardly accurate. More working with until danger’s resolved, then figure out the details from there.”

“Very good, I applaud your initiative. We shall, ahem, work with him then until the danger is resolved, yes?” she commended Yvain with a slight smile. “My name is Lucienne Desrosiers, daughter of the Comte Armand Desrosiers of Morsang-sur-Odesse.”

She extended a leather-gloved hand towards him as she introduced herself with no small amount of pride. Likely the names and places she mentioned would mean little to this man as he did not strike her as the type to be versed in Valencian nobility, but perhaps he would have enough manners to kiss her hand, as was his place even in this foreign land. Blue blood knew no borders, after all. Neither bowing nor asking for his name in return, she remained as such and eyed him expectantly.

Much to the surprise of some, Weiland would actually duck his head down to place a brief kiss onto her leather clad hand, the customs of classical nobility were not nearly as foreign between distant nations as one might have expected. It was hardly the first time he had to go about such activities, nobility expected such when he wasn’t pursuing them for laws broken, and it always proved smoother to simply acknowledge their wealth than have to fight them over such things. He hadn’t the slightest clue as to what her standing was within her homeland, though titles like that existed in very few places anymore, so he could narrow it down as further hints revealed themselves to him.

“Weiland Yvain, of Istvaargrad. Let us see things sorted out then.” He would have long since released her hand before turning to move at a steady pace back towards the rear. He would have to ask after what could have possibly ruined the engine and boiler, but for now, one step at a time.

Lucienne smirked when, contrary to her expectations, Yvain actually bent over and showed deference to her. Perhaps Perafidion’s customs weren’t quite as degenerate as she had expected? Or perhaps this man was simply one of the rare exceptions. Only time would tell for sure but, for now, she believed this one to be useful in the future. Especially with church investigators and potential bandits afoot in the night, she may have to rely upon a strong sword arm to protect her. After all, her blood was far too precious to be spilled for such trifles, she only had so much of it. Best keep it for important occasions.

Satisfied with their exchange, she matched his stride and remained at his side, casting the occasional glance towards the whispering, rustling shadows on either side. Who could rightly say what manner of thing did or did not lurk out there, hidden by darkness and black trees? Whatever the truth may be, she was not one to flinch at eerie shadows. In dark corners of the world, there dwelt things far worse than mere phantasms and bogeymen. It is after learning how to commune with such things – and that such things cannot be spoken to – that conventional terrors lose their luster.
Lucienne watched the wine swirl gently back and forth in her glass, staring at and perpetuating the motion with an almost hypnotic fixation. She lay sprawled on the soft, rich purple velvet of the multi-seat cabin of which she was the sole occupant, her nude feet absentmindedly rubbing against the delicate fabric. Her elbow rested on the polished wooden table to her right, whereupon a half-empty bottle of Perafidian wine rested comfortably in a small bucket. The taste, she judged, was nothing like those of her home land and she had almost felt inclined to refuse paying for the bottle entirely – but did so anyway out of pity. After all, not all nations could be held to Valencian standards, which were of course the highest on the continent. What passed for wine here would have to do, especially since, she knew, there was no wine in the entire world that could fully quench her thirst. She lusted after something else, something more vivid and intense that no terrestrial plant could provide.

How long had it been now? The coming week would mark the fourth month after her last taste, and her ordained search for the Key to the Eclipse. But the taste still lingered on her lips, sweet as honey and inflamed like a wound. A taste that twisted her insides into a knot, half from perverse ecstasy, half from mind-wracking guilt. But with every drop she drank, she found that the former only increased while the latter became less. Most likely the queen, who could not go a single day without visiting the gardens, felt no remorse at all anymore. How Lucienne envied such freedom of conscience. It would make many things in life so much easier. But perhaps this too was part of her duties as her ladyship’s knight – to bear her burdens, and to bear her guilt. If she could carry this cross for her, then the queen could remain as innocent as a virgin. What a beautiful thought. To that she raised her glass and put it to her rosy lips.

But no wine ever made it across the glass’s threshold and before she could process what was going on her drink was already hurtling towards the right-hand wall, and her ribs were pressed into the hard edge of the table she’d been leaning on. The rest of the unfixed objects in the cabin followed suit and were violently propelled forward as the train came to an abrupt and unforeseen halt, following a very loud and concerning noise not dissimilar to thunder or an explosion. The glass and bottle smashed against the wall and shattered there like a child’s skull, leaving a large, dark red stain that ran down in thick, fast-running droplets towards the ground where a dusty carpet greedily drank the strong-smelling spillage. Gasping for breath, the pain in her side catching up to her, Lucienne pushed herself away from the table and into an upright position.

“Nom de lumière, c’est quoi ça?“ she grumbled under her breath. Had there been an accident? They were in the middle of nowhere, there was no way they could have run into anything on the tracks – at least nothing that would have provoked a stop in their journey.

“’allo?” she yelled, hoping that somebody would have the decency of explaining to her the nature of this disaster. Her lips pressed together in a visibly furious pucker, she slid on her mercifully unstained, black stockings before slipping into her boots. The pain in her side pulsed in rhythm to her heartbeat and would almost certainly leave an unsightly bruise for a week or two. At least it did not feel as if her rib was broken. Fishing her suitcase – securely closed and locked – from the stinking pool of wine in which it lay and giving it a good shake, she opened the cabin door and stepped out into the corridor where could be heard a commotion of wails and panicked complaining.

Opening cabin doors and asking other passengers what was going on earned her mostly confused looks and professions of ignorance and, before she knew it, she found herself at the other end of the carriage and none the wiser. Spitting out some Valencian obscenity not at all befitting of one of noble birth, she was about to kick the door into the next carriage when it was opened from the other side where an adolescent cabin boy looked at her with a mixture of surprise and shock. Quickly regaining her composure, she retracted her foot and straightened her posture.

“Qu'est-ce que… W-what is the meaning of this?” she managed to produce after fumbling for the right words for a second or two, her tone stern. A heavy Valencian accent laced every syllable.

“Sorry Ma’am, I uh – it sounds like there’s been an accident of some sort. N-not to worry, we won’t be delayed for too long. Ah, are you hurt?”

The young man was clearly unaccustomed to both his duties and the extraordinary situation. Perhaps, she wondered, this was his first ride as an attendant. Lucky him.

“Oui, but it is not very serious. There are people in this wagon who need help more,” she pointed behind herself where other passengers – those who could stand, at least – were beginning to congregate as well.

“Yes, of course. My apologies. C-could I ask Ma’am to disembark, right here?” he motioned towards, and headed for, the door where normally one would exit onto the quay. He opened the door and beckoned Lucienne and the others, before heading back into the train and asking if there are any wounded who need help.

She paid him no further heed and hopped off the last step onto the cold soil outside, where a gentle fog (or was it smoke?) enveloped her in the smell of burnt coal. Casually resting her left hand on the polished, golden basket guard of her rapier Lucienne looked up and down the length of the railway, having slight difficulties seeing through the smoggy twilight of late evening. Near most carriages, small groups of passengers were beginning to assemble outside and she thought she saw that one or possibly more carriages towards the rear end had toppled over. Third class passengers, if she recalled, so the losses were thoroughly acceptable from a statistical standpoint, though of course the pointless loss of life was not something to be cheered at. Towards the other end, however, she had trouble seeing at all – that was, spotting the train engine. Perhaps it was simply the dark giving her trouble, but she wanted to say that there was no front anymore at all to the train. But that would be absurd. Certainly her eyes were playing tricks on her. Certainly.

Turning around, she cast a wary glance at the other passengers who were slowly getting out of her carriage and gathering near her – not too hear, but also not too far. Impatience gnawed at her as she stood and waited for something, anything, to happen.
All right, here's my submission. Honestly not the best writing style on display, some paragraphs in the history section feel like way too sudden cuts, but I've spent enough hours thinking about how I wanna turn it. Guess I need to practice my ability to write concisely more. Either way, I hope the added world building I made is okay by you.

Having trouble getting the Discord link to work, by the way. Dunno if it's just me.
Wew that's a bunch of people already. But uh, well. That line-up of inspirations is like a best-of reel of all the things I love, only missing Berserk in there somewhere. I can't say no to that and I'll be game, if you'll have me.
Yo, in order to reduce the need to skim through Discord, I compiled all currently known facts about Ichor. If you want, you could add this to the OP or link to it @Flagg. This way we have some resources for concepts we worked out over time, and can expand as we discuss more things in the future.

As a side-note, I added some miscellaneous notes to my "character sheet" to provide some information I wasn't able to place anywhere else. Said section may or may not receive additional stuff in the future, should the need arise.

A yearning void gnawed at her insides. The scorched earth beneath her feet was warm, but her blood ran cold as ice through her veins. A haze of black smoke wreathed the burnt-out ruins surrounding her, blown-up husks of metal shacks once haphazardly put together to provide rudimentary shelter. Crooked metal bars jutted out of myriad piles of iron rubble, forcing her to move cautiously to avoid their deadly points. Some of them had bodies impaled on them, mangled beyond recognition. She could not gaze upon them for long, lest the sight of it make her puke into her helmet.

Some fires still burned amidst the smoke and shadows, ignited power generators in collapsed homes and incinerated vehicles in the devastated streets. Under the midday sun, the heat was almost unbearable. She felt every inch of fabric stick to her body like glue, felt thick droplets run down her face and into her eyes. At least, she told herself it was sweat that tasted so salty upon her lips. Long ago, she had been told, a great war had ravaged the entire world so badly that, where once there were forests and meadows, there remained now only dustbowls and wastelands. A war so terrible it reduced continental cities to ashes. A war so brutal it almost rendered the race of men extinct. She could not imagine something so harrowing, but as she looked around she thought that it must have been very similar to this. If such a war had indeed happened, then it seemed that the world had learned nothing from it. Nothing at all.

With every step she took, her hopes of finding signs of survivors dimmed. All she found were signs of struggle, craters left by explosions, holes left by bullets, burns left by laser fire. Her people had been driven from their homeland once before, had been forced to flee to lands unknown at great cost. They had not been willing to run a second time, it seemed, and so died on foreign soil. At least some of them did; she could not help but notice that there were not nearly as many bodies as there should be. Dead men were certainly plentiful, as were the loathsome bodies of their mutant enemies, but not enough to account for the entire village. For some reason, the lack of corpses disquieted her more than finding them might have. Her mind told her to remain optimistic, to expect to pick up their trail outside the village and encounter a handful of survivors. But her trembling heart told her to steel herself for a worse outcome.

When she crested the hill upon which the settlement had been constructed, and where the market hub used to be located, she beheld something that forced her knees, made her ball her fists. Her veins felt cold and hot at the same time, her heart felt like a reactor on overdrive. Erected before her, rising above the remnants of merchant stalls, was a great metal pillar with three prongs at the top. From every prong hung a nude body, strung up by the hands, the shoulders dislodged: an elderly woman, a middle-aged woman and, worst of all, a little girl. Each of them had a pitch-black shard of crystallized Ichor rammed through their chest, just above the breasts, and a sickening, inky growth had formed from the rim of the grisly wound. She knew enough about the wandering hordes to recognize the fiendish idol as a shrine dedicated to a three-faced goddess, worshipped among some of them: Maeve, the goddess of change, death and rebirth. It was not the first time she had to witness such a shrine, having encountered others like it in temporary camps, or in the wilds where the mutants had passed. But it was the first time she had to endure the sight of her own mother shackled to one.

Merrill unstrapped and took off her helmet, carefully placing it on the ash-covered ground beside her. The acrid smell of burnt material choked her throat and she succumbed to a coughing fit as her lungs struggled to find clean oxygen amidst the flames and the anger in the air. As she recovered, her eyes travelled upward once more, beholding the emaciated, despoiled body of the woman who had caused her so much grief. She hadn’t spoken to her mother since their arrival near Jericho’s Reach, although she had always planned to one day make up with her. Surely their feelings could have been reconciled one day. One day… a day that, now, would never come. She grit her teeth and folded her fingers around a random piece of debris on the ground.

She rose to her feet, screamed desperately and threw the piece of junk off into nowhere, where it clattered against a burnt façade. “How much more can you take from me?!” she yelled at the ash and flames. “What else?! Was Harlow not enough? Was Mama not enough? Did you fuckers take Daddy too? Did you?!

Her voice cracked up and she lost herself in uncontrolled sobbing. She was certain that, somewhere, sadistic evil gods were laughing at her plight. Were punishing her for her sin. Whether they be gods of men or beasts, there must be some transcendental entity that was watching her, some kind of intelligence that hated her for what she did. But she did not regret it, nor would she ever. Piss on the gods, if she had to.

After many minutes of agonized crying and screaming, Merrill had recovered enough to climb onto the pillar and cut down the bodies. She could not avoid them plummeting to the earth like sacks of meat, though it was better than to leave them hanging. Later, she straightened their bodies and placed them in as dignified a pose as she could, before arming herself with her rail-gun and obliterating the pillar-like shrine with a single, well-placed shot through the trunk. When she donned the helmet again, her eyes felt sore from the tears and the smoke.

As the evening sun painted the sky a hellish red, she prepared a funeral pyre outside the ruins, atop a smaller hill gazing out across the barren wasteland. All three bodies were placed on it, and she watched them burn long after the flesh was gone, long after the sun had vanished behind the bombed horizon. She watched the embers still when sleep washed over her like a tide.

And in her dreams, she lost them all. Over and over again.

Only blood could heal the poison in her heart now.
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