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My knowledge of 40K is somewhat lacking, however your RPs tend to be fun, and I am willing to learn as I go. Count me intrigued by this concept.

I’m gonna vote for pitch one, just to be contrarian to the prevailing consensus.
Silence reigned across the blood splattered hall; the many occupants waiting on bated breath, their muscles tensed for whatever happened next. The gnome unit closed ranks, a bristling array of weaponry close at hand, their captain menacing Jake’s tender throat beneath his unyielding blade. Up above, watching everything Byures felt his strength draining, the foul poison wreaking havoc within. He sank his powerful claws deeper into the rafter from which he hung, not daring to allow his dying body to fall lest the captain threatening the child twitch his wrist and end the eight-year-old’s short life. Below Caleb, and Rainbow huddled together, back to back while John stood over them shield at the ready should any gnome make another attempt on their lives. His frightened gaze locked on Jake, and the knife that hovered so close, a slight spasm in his face the only sign of movement. Joran strode closer, emboldened by the position of power his underling created for him.

“Did you think betraying our cause would end favorably for you John Nieve?” He mocked circling around until he could look the man in the eye.

“You’re wrong.” John answered quickly, his mind racing for some way to salvage the situation. How much did Joran overhear? Desperation clawed at his heart, and he knew if he uttered one wrong word, or made a single mistake it would not be just Jake’s life in peril. Scer could be meticulous in his retribution and would see every member of his family dead out of spite. “I never betrayed anyone; I am still loyal.”

Joran’s brow rose, and he titled his head ever so slightly to the left an amused air coming over him. “Oh? I hear you have a silver tongue, so please enlighten me on how you haven’t betrayed Scer, and the cause?”

“I saved a kid’s life… Did the mission demand I let children die for no reason?”

Joran shot Caleb and Rainbow a nasty look that sent shivers down the boy’s spine. “Hmph, he clearly is against us, he’s declared as such more than once. His life is forfeit.”

“He’s just some stupid kid, he does not know any better. He has no idea of the implications or context and is merely acting under the oospecies of a childish fantasy.” John cast a baleful glare towards the child, his heart tightening at the confusion and hurt he received in return. Sorry Caleb, the armored man winced internally. It’s for your own good, for everyone’s good he wanted to say, but Jaron stood to near to risk even the subtlest sign.

A harsh laugh escaped Joran. “And yet.”

“And yet?” John’s tone bordered on accusatory. “I was promised my family would be unharmed, let the boys go Joran. Let them leave, they are just kids. If you want to punish me for whatever transgression you might think I deserve so be it.” John threw down his sword and shield raising his hands in traditional surrender.

“Is the pale child yours?” Joran found immense enjoyment in torturing the human. He paced around the surrendered John in slow circles, mocking the desperate plea. “What about that younger one over there, would you claim him too? Maybe the green skinned rablin? The one who would counter Scer’Pi’Kens magic? He your family as well?”

“…No.”

“Which one if any are yours really? Answer me John! Or should I prove your lies.” The gnome stalked over and caught Caleb by his black locks. The boy struggled, but Joran proved stronger, forcing the child to his knees. Rainbow leapt forward yelling something, yet before he could finish Joran’s boot caught his mouth. The rablin sat down hard, spitting blood and several teeth. The gathered gnomes sniggered at the violence, lowering their guard. Only the captain maintained constant vigilance, switching his attention between John and the looming Byures every few seconds. Five to each Byures calculated, shifting his stance.

“He doesn’t resemble you at all.” Joran remarked giving Caleb a none to gentle inspection. “Must be distant.”

“They’re my nephews.” John persisted, gritting his teeth. He needed something, anything to convince the bloodthirsty gnome to let them leave unharmed. He could not hope to save Rainbow, but maybe Joran would spare his nephew and Caleb.

The boy fought against Joran’s control; his teeth set in a snarl. “I’m not your nephew!” He yelled glaring angrily across at the horrified man. “You’re a criminal and a coward and a two-faced lair! I hate you! Let me go gnome!”

Joran threw back his head, roaring his laughter to the skies. Most of his followers joined in, sneering, and wiping away tears of mirth. They were all thoroughly enjoying themselves, and they waited eagerly in anticipation. Joran bore a reputation among them for his cruel hearted violence. No doubt blood would be spilled, and soon. “At least,” Joran struggled to say between guffaws. “Someone here is honest. So, John any more lies to peddle, or can we move on?”

“Caleb, you proud little fool.” John managed a horrified whispered. There could be no recovery from this disaster, the cards were set, and Joran held all the aces.

“What’s that hm?” Joran leaned closer. “Got nothing to say? Fine then, I will tell you what. Before I kill you, I’ll let you choose which one dies, and which survives?” He jerked his head towards Jake, and then rested his blade against Caleb’s throat. “Your choice John.”

His mouth dry John felt his spirit shatter. Raising a shaking hand, he pointed to the younger of the two options. “Let my nephew go, please.”

“Your real nephew?” Joran raised an eyebrow. When he received a nod of affirmation the gnome waved his hand and the captain released Jake, giving the boy a swift kick sending him scurrying from the hall. “Good choice I’d say, this one hates you after all. I’ll go ahead and finish him off for you-gaaah!”

From above like a falling meteor two thousand pounds of towering scale and muscle collapsed atop the gloating Joran crushing the gnome instantly. Freed from his worry over Jake’s fate Byures enacted his final assault. Caleb rolled free of the gory entanglement even as the gnome captain ordered his archers to loose shafts. Ten death heralds sang forth from taunt bow strings, each one finding a target easily across the alligatorman’s thick hide. Roaring in pain the Byrues rose to his full height, arms akimbo resembling an enraged reptilian pincushion.

“BRING HIM DOWN!” The captain roared, leaping aside as Byures charged into their ranks tearing gnomish soldiers apart using only his bare hands. “BRING HIM DOWN!”

“Caleb wait!” John took off after the fleeing duo, catching the boy before he could follow Rainbow through the chamber doors.

The boy struggled and kicked, faring about as well as he had against the gnome. “Release me. Let me go John!” Behind them the sounds of battle and gnomish suffering could be heard, but John ignored the clamor, keeping a firm hold on the squirming youth.

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to hurt you, but you can’t go in there. She’ll kill you.”

The boy stilled, accepting he could not break the man’s grip. “Whose side are you on?” He demanded, hot tears rolling down his cheeks. “I need to help Rainbow, he’s our only chance to stop the gnome.”

“I know, but that’s why I should go, not you.”

“I don’t trust you!” Caleb roared, kicking suddenly. His boot caught John under the chin, where the helmet strap met flesh, the leather band cutting deep. Stunned John fell back loosening his hold for the merest second. Caleb squirmed like a fish, twisting free and bolting for the door at top speed, dodging the man’s desperate recapture attempt. John took a moment to recover and followed, remembering to seize his sword before sprinting through the double doors…
For a creature his size, Byures could move at bewildering speeds. One second, Caleb stood on his feet, menacing the hulking aligatorman at blade’s length, the next Byures grasped the sword by the blade giving the boy a gentle push using his free hand. It did not take much, even holding back his immense strength to a mere percentage of its full potential Byures sent Caleb tumbling back, landing hard on his rump upon the polished marble floor. For the second time in less than forty-eight hours Caleb found himself bested by a reptile. Although the first one he faced undoubtably outmatched him in size and strength and speed he could at least stayed on his feet for more than two seconds during their duel. The sheer difference between himself and Byures however could not be described by anything less than astronomical. The boy felt more embarrassed than hurt, and even the momentary flare of fear that rose in his gut faded when he saw the calm and unaggressive mien upon the Hunter’s face. Byures did not seem interested in harming Caleb further at all, instead he examined the captured sword, spinning the antique to inspect the smith work, and testing its edge on his thumb. The Hunter began to hum, a deep rumbling sound that stopped and started again rhythmically. Like a house cat chirping, except this hypothetical cat weighed over two thousand pounds and spent most of its life submerged beneath murky river waters. He is laughing at me! Caleb realized, his cheeks burning at the thought. He knocked me over easy as you please and is laughing about it.

“Did you think to kill me using this butter knife little one?”

Caleb started in surprise at the blunt yet humor laced question. “…Yes, I mean… I could… No.” He stared down at the marble tiling, tracing small circles on the smooth surface. “I don’t think I could have.”

“I would be very impressed if you did manage it.” Byures held the cutlass up to the light, the hilt dwarfed inside his hand. Even the blade seemed more a curved dagger than a proper sword when he wielded it. “This weapon has not been sharpened… Maybe ever. It is a decorative piece, fashioned of cheap steel.” Taking hilt and blade tip in either hand he squeezed them together. The metal might as well have been made of paper for all the resistance it gave. Caleb winced as the sword snapped under the unbearable pressure as one might break a dry twig. Byures tossed the two ruined halves away, snorting and laughing in his strange, almost alien way.

“Hey that wasn’t mine!” Caleb protested, struggling back to his feet. “I needed to return it, I was only borrowing them.”

“Consider yourself fortunate boy.” Byures said, suddenly serious a dangerous light shining in his eyes. “That blade would surely have failed you, and if you intend to fight and survive here today, you’ll need proper steel. Not some toy you pulled off a wall.”

Resting his hands on his hips Caled sized the ginormous aligatorman up and down, considering his options. When they separated last Caleb considered Byures a friend, and a trusted one at that. After all he guided them faithfully to the human portion of Thorn City, and helped Edward, and attempted to teach him magic. Now however, the Hunter’s expressed wish to slay the City Council meant they were enemies, or at the very least advisories. The swift reversal of their relationship paired by the understanding that Jake, Rainbow, Edward, and himself would be trivial annoyances for the hostile giant should he intend to finish his mission left a bitter taste in Caleb’s mouth. Still, it was the knightly thing to stand up for right and good, and he could not back down now. “That’s the problem isn’t it?” He expressed, releasing a heavy sigh. “You’re working for the evil gnome guy and trying to forward a hostile takeover of the city, meaning I have to fight you, or at least I’ve got to try.” Bravely Caleb squared his shoulders, standing like mouse before a lion his small chin stuck out, and his slight stomach sucked in. Though worry knitted his brow he declared in the manliest voice he possessed. “I cannot let you murder councilmembers or attempt to take over the city. So please… Don’t…?”

For his part Byures did not laugh, no matter how much he might have liked too. Instead he maintained his serious composure, drawing forth his weapon, a massive poleaxe that stood half his height, and yet still towered over Caleb. Resting the weapon spike down upon the ground Byures leaned against the polearm, considering the small warrior barring his path. “You do not know of what you speak.” He began gently. “I do not serve any gnome, nor do I wish to take over anything, especially not Thorn. I do not know who or what you mean by these things. I have but one purpose here, which you already know. I swear upon all that is holy, from this day forth I do not serve anyone or anything. Not anymore. Once I followed the commands of the Smuggler Chief. A good Crocarkil, a fair leader, and a great friend. But now he sleeps forever more beneath the swamps, and his head adorns the third district’s fort walls, stuck atop a pike. The army was ordered by the council to strike every criminal organization, hideout and member, and slaughter them all, even the non-violent ones… All my friends, and colleagues rest in shallow graves dead, I am the last one left of the Smugglers. But I am the Hunter, and the blood of my companions cries out for revenge. No one, not even you brave little knight will stop me from achieving that goal, so that I might reap vengeance upon those who gave the order.”

Confusion marred the pixie face as Caleb’s bold and righteous stance faltered. “I don’t understand… I just do not want you killing the council. They are the good guys…. Right?”

“Not in my eyes young one.”

“You would think that, not that it matters.” A third voice joined their conversation. Striding across the open space came John Nieve Junior, flanked by an equally well-equipped gnome. John appeared different in Caleb’s opinion, his pupils dilated, his flesh drawn tight over bone and muscle, and his veins bulging an unsightly green. Clutched lightly in one hand rested his longsword, the razor point hovering a hairsbreadth above the ground, a large center grip shield adorning his left. He even donned armor in preparation, a coat of glimmering maille and boiled leather strapped across his vitals, and a skullcap secured atop his head. Finally, he wore a leather belt strapped around his waist, covered in bottles, vials, and other such items including a large leather pouch. Caleb even recognized a few of the items amongst the lot, spotting a few small purple flasks in the collection, containing the pain reducer and energizer, and a couple makeshift flashbangs John deployed against his previous reptilian foes.

“What do you mean?” Byrues asked, unsettled by the armored duo’s approach. The human foe would be different than all the others he could tell at once. He smelled heavily of a dozen different potions, each one more potent then the last, and likely driving the man’s heart rate up to dangerous levels. Only a very desperate person would induce themselves to so many magical enhancers at once, but this man seemed able to handle the strain, for now at least. Despite the numerous side effects altering his mental and physical wellbeing before their very eyes. His partner less so, but still he looked dangerous all the same armed and armored to the teeth.

“The council is dead in full, for their betrayal of the city. Even as we speak, steps are being taken to ensure no such traitorous actions can ever be taken again.” John declared, as if he spoke before a large assemblage and not an empty hall. Of course, Darmae still lived, but if he could get the alligatorman to turn around and go back the way he came without a fight he would seize the opportunity. John knew beyond the large doors behind him leading into the council chambers proper, the woman sat upon her throne of bodies, listening to every word. The air pulsed at that moment, and John felt more than saw Scer beginning to creep through the walls, his black magic polluting the wood all around them. Slowly the horrific scar spread even further, each passing second securing the gnome’s victory ever tighter. Soon Darmae would enact the final spell, and gift him control of Thorn forever. John tried to keep his eyes locked on Byures, resisting his urge to skim his eyes upwards towards the rafters, where half a dozen gnomes crouched, hidden in the lofty shadows, their loaded crossbows aiming poison bolts at the imposing Hunter.

“You have no purpose here.” John continued raising his sword towards the mighty Byures. “I urge you depart back to your forests and remain there. I am told you spilt enough blood to satisfy your need for vengeance. Now nearly a hundred families are fatherless at your hand, and yet you desire more? Well trust me when I say, the council are slain. Your fallen are avenged three times over.”

Mulling this new revelation over Byures hefted his poleaxe, resting the weapon across his broad shoulders. Of the five people present in plain sight, everyone except John and Joran looked exceedingly confused, and the Hunter even appeared annoyed. “Is this,” he inquired, turning his long head to stare at Caleb. “Perhaps a part of the gnome takeover you spoke of?”

“I… I do not know. John, what’s going on, I thought we’d come here to save the city. Is that what you’re doing, or did you help defeat the council?” Caleb walked closer to the armored man, fighting to hold back the hurt and uncertainty he felt. Would everyone he knew in this place turn out to be a bloodthirsty criminal or part of some grand conspiracy? It made him long for the rustic simplicity of Eagletown, where a fellow could be trusted to be nothing more than what he claimed. A part of Caleb began to despise the city, for all its beauty and wonder it remained mired in wickedness, down to its very core.

John frowned at this, worrying at his lower lip until it bled. “We’re saving this city from itself, for the good of everyone.” He claimed, though he only half believed it. Joran was much more confident in answering however, puffing out his chest and smiling wickedly.

“The city shall be cured of its weakness, and the rot shall be cut out, root and stem.”

“Wait!” Rainbow exclaimed. He had been silent up to this point, watching the unfolding events from the sidelines, but now he drew attention to the far wall where dark veins were spiderwebbing their away across the living wall. “The counter spell must be cast! See how the cancer spreads, and once it reaches the heart who knows what destructive power he might possess.”

“Counter spell!” Joran the gnome spluttered, his vicious mien collapsing in shock. “No such thing exists, what’s done is done unless Darmae is slain. Even then, another spellcaster of equal power could be found, even if it would take far longer.”

A hush fell over the assembled, and John ground his teeth at the stupidity of his companion, even as Byures’ brow rose.

“So, the murderous witch still lives…” The Hunter mused, his fingers tightening around the wooden shaft of his poleaxe. “I have a reckoning with her, and any of her other ‘leadership’ that still breath. No doubt you would be willing to lie about them as well, for whatever reason.”

“Ah hell, BOLTS LOOSE!” Joran shouted, whipping free his sword. The six assassins took aim, the majority angling their shots to hit the largest target, though two among them chose smaller victims, deciding to end the potential threat this so-called ‘counter spell’ presented to their master’s plans.

Later John would never be able to explain how he reacted so fast. Perhaps it was just the potions enhancing his speed and instincts, maybe it was something else. Abandoning sword and caution and vows John closed the gap and wrenched Calob closer covering the child under his shield as the first bolt thudded home, quivering where the child’s back might have been unprotected a mere moment before. Even as five more shots buzzed down amongst the beset and unsuspecting heroes…

I'll express my interest sir! Got any limits on sign ups?

@Dio How many interested players do you have currently, and what bending slots are available?

“Ma’am, sir we’ve got a problem.”

The arched headquarters of Thorne City’s Great Hall was once a thing of immense beauty. Gilded chambers carved from the insides of an enormous ironwood tree and bolstered by white marble walls. Generations of hard labor, sweat, and history was displayed here, and every nook and cranny of the structure contained rich antiquity. Statutes depicting famed council members, honored heroes both remembered and forgotten stood in rigid vigilance, while artistic works bedecked the walls with stories from long ago. Stained glass windows built cast a brilliant rainbow hue upon the polished floors, making the small horde of grim-faced gnomes look slightly less intimidating then they should have been. Still, one could not ignore the green uniformed guardsmen and mushroom constructs lying dead at their feet, or the bloodied weapons clutched in the hands of the conquerors.

All this beauty and violence was lost on Jaron Hosth as he strode purposely through the Central Chambers themselves coming to a halt before a terrible scar in the tree’s heart. It was almost too horrific even for him, a black souled gnome who had known nothing but violence and cruelty all his life. Jaron licked his lips and turned his attention to Darmae, trying to ignore the spreading pestilence that fought the ancient tree for control.

“A potential threat approaches, I have received word from our outlying scouts that he is on his way here to slay the council in their entirety, apparently he’s already made short work of a number military loyalists and opposition troops, with little regard to whom they serve. They call him the Hunter, and I fear there is little we can do to stop him, not with so many of our followers deployed contest any Council Loyalists.”

“This was expected.” Darmae waved the concern away. She was relaxing on an improvised throne, her feet propped upon Mason’s back, a confident smile resting on her scarlet lips. “Setting the gangs and City Watch against one another was bound to unleash a few mighty warriors. If this Hunter is intent on slaughter the council, he will find his work already completed.”

“Most of the council.” Jaron reminded her. “You still breathe and were a member of the council before the coup d’état, and I assume you wish to remain that way. I suggest you vacate the premises until the Hunter has satisfied himself staring at their corpses and departed. I would rather not lose half my remaining troops fighting an enemy when the conflict might be avoided altogether.”

“NO!” A voice, emanating from nowhere, and yet everywhere at the same time interrupted their debate. Both Darmae and Jaron jumped, the latter whipping out his sword at the shocking reverberations. “I need you here, your magic is required!”

Darmae settled back down on her morbid throne, glowering at the growing black scar tearing its way through the tree. “Scer’Pi’Kenes, you rotten git. You near scared me half to death. Still, he’s right I cannot leave, so you will just half to sacrifice a few of your gnomes. Or throw one of our other assets at him if your precious troops are too costly. Either way you will have to keep him out or convince him it is not in his best interests to assault this Chamber, if that means killing him so be it.”

“Send John Nieve.” Scer’s voice exploded from the ether, causing both gnome and woman to flinch. “He may prove capable of such a task.”

“Very well then. You know this John Nieve and where to find him?” Joran inclined his head that he did and Darmae clapped her hands. “Excellent, then you have your man to stop the Hunter. I wish him luck, for, if this beast is as formidable as you describe this John will surely need it. Dismissed.”

The black hearted enforcer bowed. Turning on his heel, he marched from the high chambers, Darmae’s cackling laughter echoing in his ears.

~*~*~*~*~*~

To say the atmosphere in the house was tense would have been an egregious understatement. If Caleb still had his sword, he probably could have cut the tension in the air. His generous host Sara, who had only ever been a nice around him was less than pleased having to accommodate John’s assigned guards-witch, and she made as much perfectly clear with a few rather passive aggressive comments about the company her eldest son kept. Though, Caleb noted, she never outright ordered this new houseguest to leave. Instead Sara busied herself working on a map of some kind, while Mary and Roger whispered in the corner. Hazel for her part seemed perfectly willing to ignore the frosty receival and Sara’s more barbed comments, wandering hither and wither as if she owned the place, always keeping one eye on Kayden.

“Hey, um, Kayden? Could I have a word, over there?” Caleb touched the girl on the shoulder, wanting to lead her out of earshot of the others. The girl gave him a questioning look but followed him into the parlor, letting him guide her onto the azure couch. Witch Hazel kept her distance but wandered into the living space after them, admiring the twin swords hanging over the mantle.

“I’m not certain how to say this.” Caleb began, rubbing the back of his head as he searched for the proper terminology to use. “When I questioned Jake before he got a little offended that I would even bring it up. But it has gotten to the point where I have to ask…”

Kayden’s lips tightened into a thin line, and she shifted a little further away from Caleb, as if she did not trust whatever he was about to say next.

“I haven’t been here for very long, and I don’t mean to pry where I shouldn’t, but I could not help noticing your father has a rather tense relationship with all the other adults here. His brother, and sister, and mother all seem rather short with him. And he uses code words, and is friends with… Strange folk? I mean, I heard him talking to Sara yesterday. He said you didn’t know anything about it, but I don’t think that’s possible. After everything I’ve seen. I was hoping you might help me understand what’s going on between them.”

She crossed her arms, glowering at him. “No, you don’t.”

“What?”

“You don’t know what’s going on, and you were right before; you shouldn’t pry, its rude.” She sat up a little straighter, suspicion flashing in her eyes. “You have shown kindness to my family Caleb and saved my dad yesterday. He told me all about that, and you have my deepest thanks for it. But that does not mean you should know everything about him, and you definitely shouldn’t be asking from me. My dad is an honest man, and… And would never do anything wrong. Just because Grandma doesn’t like his friends doesn’t mean anything.”

“Yeah that’s more or less what Jake said.”

She nodded shortly. “Yes, and he was right.”

Caleb raised a finger, a counterpoint already prepared. “Except, when Sara was talking to him, she declared she did not want any of his criminal coin. And when those lizards attacked, they were demanding a blood vengeance because John’s friend was a burglar.”

“Not his friend, he told me. It was just some unfortunate person that happened across his path. He wasn’t going to let those dirty lizards kill him, even if he didn’t know him.”

“Ah, that part is a little fuzzy.” Caleb gently touched the bruised part of his face. “But I distinctly recall John calling that random unfortunate his friend.”

This caused Kayden’s brow to furrow, and she turned away her confidence on the issue suddenly clouded by doubt. He told her last night that the man he had saved was someone he barely knew. Why would he lie about that? “It’s a common term,” she explained slowly. “He calls everyone friend, its just how he is.”

“You weren’t there,” Caleb continued, convinced he was winning the discussion, whatever that meant. “It wasn’t some casual term; it was actually quite powerful. He was standing up for his man and would not back down even when he was surrounded and threatened with death. Plus, the man called him boss, I heard that too. Random strangers don’t use ‘boss’ as a casual term in this city, do they?”

The girl leapt to her feet slapping Caleb full across the face. The boy gave a startled yelp, his vision swimming as his bruises flared up once again, fresh bloodspots appearing beneath his bandaging. “Why do you hate my father!” She screamed, arms akimbo. Hazel looked startled by this sudden umbrage and rushed over.

Reeling from the sudden blow Caleb hissed in pain, fighting to keep from passing out. He had not realized how sensitive the injury was, or that Kayden might strike him in the first place. “I don’t hate him! I admire him and just wanted to understand what was going on.”

“What do you want me to say?” Kayden continued, choking back tears. “Oh yeah, my daddy’s a criminal gangster who helps run one of the most dangerous syndicates in the city. Well he’s not, you understand? HE’S NOT! HE’S NOT! HE’S NOT!”

Caleb pulled back from the raging girl, startled by the venom she was spouting. “Alright, sorry I won’t bring it up again.”

Snorting Kayden spun around stomping from the room. Hazel stalled on her constant watch, long enough to give Caleb a piercing look. “Word of advice while you’re in Thorn kid.” She grabbed him under the jaw, gently turning his head to get a better view of his wound. “Keep your opinions to yourself, you’ll last longer.” She fished around inside a leather pouch tied to her belt producing a small purple vial which she pushed into his hand. Giving the child a farewell glare, she swept from the room after her young charge, leaving Caleb alone with his thoughts.
Together they formed a somber ring around the table, rablin, man, woman, child, and reanimated standing close and rubbing shoulders in the spacious parlor. Even Flower was present, perched upon the back of a large azure sofa. She watched the proceedings through half closed eyes, her wing secured inside a miniature handmade sling, stitched specifically for the task it seemed. She completed the room’s look quite nicely Caleb thought. The decor was no doubt purchased and laid out to suit the late John’s personal tastes. A clear oceanic and sailing theme could be seen throughout the design. Crossed cutlasses hung over the mantle, the walls were painted a beautiful aquatic blue, and the drapes resembled the pure white sales of the ships who dared the mighty brine. Bright carpets from foreign lands were laid upon oakwood floors and several paintings of ships and sea were set high on the walls. Dominating the entire space was a large portrait, depicting the likeness of a younger Sara, and whom Caleb could only assume was John Senior and his children. John the younger and Mary could not have been more than ten and five, and Sara held a baby Marrathew in her arms. They looked so happy, their smiles permanently captured through the artist’s skill, it was clear the masterwork painting had been a prized possession for many years. All said the living space seemed a good location to give John and Herrown’s spirits the closure they deserved.

Still, he was unaccustomed to being surrounded by such finery and Caleb took care where he laid his feet. The gilded carpets looked like they cost more than the average villager in his home of Eagletown made in a year, and surely it was not for walking upon. He skirted the outside edge, as Roger showed him to his place between himself and Jake.

Sara looked to each one of them, wiping away unshed tears with the back of her hand as she held her candle close to her heart. “I will begin.”

Squeezing her candle’s wick between two fingers she murmured an incantation, whispering the name of her lost beloved. A small blue flame blossomed from her fingertips, bright but cool to the touch. Drawing her hand away Sara dipped her head and let her loss and worry of two years slip away, accepting that her husband would never return. Head still bowed she made her wish, uttered so quietly Caleb could not make out what personal wish she desired. Her part done Sara extended her candle to Marrathew, who made his wish and passed it to his sister Mary who in turned helped her daughter Skyla with hers. Around the ring the blue flame went, passed from candle to candle until only Caleb and Roger remained. Accepting the flame from Jake, Caleb held the melting wax close, uncertain what to do or say. The others had all been either whispered their wishes or made very personal requests leaving the boy scared he would say anything wrong. He did not know Captain John; his own involvement having been more or less happenstance two years past the good man’s death. Even this ritual was unfamiliar, the few funerals Caleb had participated in at Eagletown were completely different from this.

Realizing he was holding up the service Caleb bowed his head, whispering a hurried phrase he had heard Elder Eagle say once when they buried an unknown sailor washed upon the tide. “I wish you satisfaction in the journey you leave behind and happiness in the great voyage yet to come. May you find fair winds and following seas Captain John. Farewell.” Giving the ensemble a quick glance to ensure he said nothing untoward he passed the flickering sapphire light to Roger.

Roger’s own wish was soon given, and a small address spoken. His was the most flowery and well delivered of the lot, and Caleb suspected he had practiced during the long midnight hours. The circle complete Sara gave a nod and as one they dipped the candles joining the flames. Wishes, promises, goodbyes, and eulogy all mingled and burning bright upon the largest wishing candle. Then, once again, the process repeated, except this time with Mary starting by uttering the lighting charm. At Herrown’s name the candle glowed a dull scarlet and Skyla broke down completely. Mary tried to console her daughter to little avail, eventually settling the grieving girl upon the couch and taking up both lit candles herself.

Beside Caleb, the younger boy was doing his best to keep a brave face throughout. When the red flame reached him, Jake raised his candle until it shone in his brown eyes, his breath catching until an expression of peace came over him. “Daddy…” His said, so softly Caleb almost missed it. “I wish to grow up and make you proud. I will not let you, or ma, or anyone down. And maybe I will see you again someday.” He clutched the final vestige of his father close, as if trying to recall some distant embrace they once shared. He held the tiny flame near to his small face Caleb feared it might go out, or singe his tunic but Jake seemed unfazed by the fire, and the light burned on. At long last he extended his hand, allowing Caleb to continue the ceremony.

Caleb could say nothing as the fire danced on his candle wick. Even his simple prayer from before felt false and heavy on his tongue compared to what he had just heard. Shoulders slumping, he passed the light on without a word, hoping the others did not think him disrespectful. As the Nieves continued the wishing ceremony Caleb leaned towards to the younger boy. “Do you think you will? See your father again one day I mean?”

Jake nodded, as if such a thing was a certainty. “Of course, I will. I do not remember what he looks like anymore, its been so long, and I was only six when he left. But I know he will recognize me. Their spirits will watch over us forever, until we join them one day with all our ancestors.”

“That sounds nice…” Caleb said as they all leaned forward to light the last mourning candle. The twin fixtures twinkled, one a pure turquoise and the other blood red. Family and friends stood in somber silence, tears dropping unabashedly from several eyes until at last John broke the stillness that hung over them like a shroud. He broke away, gesturing for Rainbow to accompany him a small distance from the mourners gathered around the table.

“You must be Rainbow.” He crouched down to be on level with the small Rablin. Purple and brown eyes locked, both sizing each other up until John offered a hand, which engulfed Rainbow’s own. They shook once and the man rose back to his full height. “I’m glad you found your way here without serious injury. The city is dangerous right now.”

Rainbow shivered, hugging himself tight as John’s simple words brought back a flood of unpleasant memories. “Noticed that myself. No offense, but the place is crawling with lunatics.”

John’s lips quirked upwards despite himself. “Aye, true enough. Anyway, I just wanted to comment on your choice of companions. You’ve got quite a loyal friend in Caleb. He was absolutely determined to find you and would not give up. Frankly…” He lowered his voice so only the rablin heard. “I still owe him a blood debt for saving my life, and he was wounded in the process. Not something repaid easily in my experience. You will not come across kids like that too often. Sticking their necks out for someone they just met. Keep him safe for me, so maybe one day I could reimburse him.”

“I’ll do my best.” Rainbow vowed. He could almost see a part of the elder Captain John in this younger man, and not just from appearance either. The same confident and charismatic air hung around John, emanating from the way he spoke, to his more subtle body language. “Caleb keeps throwing himself into danger for others, which makes it difficult, but he’s been tough enough to survive this far.”

“Then I imagine we’ll all end up owing him quite a substantial debt. One I am happy to shoulder.”

The group broke up soon after with John departing first, leaving Kayden with them to return to his own obligations. Marrathew needing to return to his own business begged forgiveness a short time later following in his elder brother’s wake, leaving the house notably less occupied, despite only two people having left. A polite, but somewhat awkward hung over the family and guests for the rest of the morning, Sara being polite but distracted, and Roger looking none to pleased. They kept casting glances towards smaller ears and attempted on more than one occasion to gather away from their younger charges. Sensing the adults wished to converse without them eavesdropping Caleb suggested he and the other children take their simple luncheon outside to dine with Edward, while Rainbow, Sara, Roger, and Mary talked. Bearing trays of sandwiches, peeled Arrocmor fruit, and wooden beakers of green milk the four youths joined their equine companion on the long grass chatting among themselves, even while their elder counterparts conversed indoors…
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