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It was like being pulled out of the deepest sleep. Onatha's head moved slowly from side to side. She was confused. She didn't remember going to sleep, in fact the last thing she remembered was being pushed and falling. Her eyes, green and pupil-less opened wide and Ona gasped. Her body stiffened. Panic set in.

For his own part, the repeatedly battered and stunned Emperor who had still lacked enough time to even fully recover from Conqvist's imprisonment, let alone the ensuing escape, raid or aftermath that followed was once more met with a surge of magic doal power as he was dragged along like driftwood in the current no matter what his flesh demanded. Led forward by the unknown force, his stinging eyes slowly regained some of their sight from the assault that the pillar had assailed them with, unshielded as they had been for his grasped hands. The backs of his hands crackled as if imbued with lightning, the whole of his flesh and spirit tingling with the potency of the ancient marks that both empowered and shackled him. So cool and damp by comparison was the stone rim beneath his palms and fingers, gritty, solid, wholly naked and apparent to his touch-so unlike the tempting, dangerous light that now, for all that he had seen of power, of his father's crimes, of his own potential future as the tragic flame of retribution, now left him near to frightened to grasp it for fear of its seductive allure that burned what lied beneath.

Yet ephemeral was this, too, for the long-lost frightened, tender maiden so little known to him began to shift her head, her brow crease and lift up in fright and the pain of waking to a seemingly cold and hostile world. And indeed, the urging was not without some merit; responsibility, at minimum of that which he had incurred himself, not that which was thrust upon him, beckoned, at the least for which compassion if for naught else; and for it, the young man knelt forward, downward, as he slipped a hand gently into the sarcophagus-like structure as would a mother into her babe's crib, his mildly calloused hand soft upon the woman's cheek.

"It is alright," his whispered came on gently smiling lips down into the waking tomb. "Worry not; you are safe. Give yourself time and know that I will be right here."

As he brushed his hand down to entwine his hand in the Al-Mayrin's own, he lifted his head up from the slab of stone to cast his understanding yet firm glance to its defender. "You are only half-right, as all ever are when I play a role. I am friend to this woman, as dearly so was Lucius to me," he continued on as a twinge wrenched his brow upward seemingly despite his own conscious urges, his face marionette to his true emotions. "So much so that when last I saw him, I consigned myself to imprisonment and torture to ensure his freedom. I am Emperor of Sarife Algol Uriel, son of Anoush Aryanpur I... and once-Duchess Adelaide Delacroix," he said grimly, the fine features of each clearly present in his half-breed face to any familiar with that of either household, far too pale and north and western to be of pure Sarifen blood. "The last living Delacroix, or so I am told. Yet be that truth or false that I am last, it matters not; we are not only not your enemy, we are your friend," he said, squeezing the maiden's hand tightly, his raw expression pleading for her to understand as his other hand lifted upward, hand open in clear gesture for the Bozorgan to stay. "And I have come for my friend."

Where am I? Where am I? Onatha laid there scared and filled with panic. She could feel the stone under her, the chill that seemed to be in every part of her body. How long did I sleep? There was light and people. She couldn't see them at the moment from her position, not without turning her head to look around but fear kept her still. Who are they? Where am I? The questions were screaming in her mind as her heart began to race. She remembered the last time she felt this way. It did not give her comfort.

Her eyes caught movement. Ona moved her head and watched as Uriel appeared, his hand reaching out and touching her cheek. Was this a figment of her imagination? Dry lips parted and for a moment nothing came out. Fear filled her eyes as Uriel moved his hand and turned to speak to someone else. His hand found hers and Ona forced her hand to move, her fingers wrapping tightly into his. She would not let him go. He was her life line. He was speaking to someone and her mind struggled to understand what he was saying. Her breath was erratic through her nose and as Uriel squeezed her hand, stating he had come for her, Ona forced her body to move.

Slowly, carefully she began to sit up. Her body was stiff and rebelled as the motion. It wanted to lay back out on the stone, to rest but Ona's will and fear over ruled the protest. She saw others as she sat up but they didn't matter. She saw that she lay in a tomb of sorts. That did little to comfort her.

Ona freed her hand from Uriel's and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly. Her body trembled. "I do not know where I am. I do not know how I got here." She whispered it into his neck. She had not shared such intimate contact with him before but in this moment she needed assurance that he was real.

The young man lay stunned in the maiden's grasp for a moment as she pulled him away from his determined gaze towards the armored champion. He held still as the fearful, desperate words brushed across his skin and clicked into place in his mind a moment later. With a gentle smile, he gathered her into him with a clumsy, unfamiliar embrace from one to whom touch had become near alien; yet the presence, the welcoming reassurance, was there, was real-was real. Tenderly, yet somewhat louder so as others might hear, he responded as he stroked her back, "You were enshrined in a tomb sanctified by the order of a Saint, a knightly order. As to how..." he said with a trailing glance to the Grandmistress, "... I do not know. Yet that can wait. Calm, wake, and then we can all hear the explanations. You are safe now."

He paused a moment more, then asked, "Need you anything? Food, water-a blanket?" he said as he wrapped more of himself around her even as his own flesh recoiled at the chill, delicately enshrouding the maiden cold as the decades of deathly sleep to wake only in such bitter frost.

"Enshrined?" Ona lifted her head to look around. Tomb? Am I dead then?" She shivered and then buried herself against Uriel once more. She was cold but more now she was trying to understand what was happening. How had she ended up in a tomb of all places?

"I am so happy to see you." It was whispered, just loud enough for Uriel to hear. She had her eyes closed and for a moment pretended she didn't just wake up in a strange tomb.

Once more she lifted her head. "Who is with you? Where are Lucius and the others?"

Algol-Uriel paused-or froze, rather, as he held her in place. He released a long, slow sigh.

"... Lucius-and the others-are gone. I was thrown a hundred years into the future and you were held here in stasis. We had to break the wards to wake you," he said bitterly, pressing her into him slightly in preparation for the levy that he knew was about to break.

Onatha heard the words but did not immediately understand them. "Gone? What do you mean gone? I was just-" She struggled a little as Uriel's hold on her tightened. She knew it was to brace her but somehow it meant that what he was saying was real and that frightened her. "Wards? Stasis?"

Ona began shaking her head. Tears started to fall from her eyes. "No. It isn't right. They can't be gone. I - you-" She collapsed against him and cried. Her shoulders shook and she held onto him once more. Her mind was reeling. Years had past. She somehow slept here, as she had in the library when Lucius found her. She was out of a time that she knew and cast, somehow into the future. She was like a leaf on a river just cast and carried as time saw fit.

Her fellow displaced comrade held her firmly through the storm, his own pains clearly far from passed by his expression. Yet crack before it he did not; an unyielding, stubborn stone that snagged the leaf and held it fast against the current, caught on it until it flipped over atop the patch of rough earth to at last find rest even amidst the flow. Hand upon her back, he inhaled deeply slowly, even if raggedly, and with a swallow he rested his head upon hers.

"You are here," he whispered upon her brow. "We are safe and free enough, for this moment; for now, trust that that is enough."

Onatha cried and let Uriel hold her. She needed the feeling of a person, there with her. In other circumstance she might be embarrassed or even reluctant to allow such a thing but there was no place for that right now. She cried until there were no more tears and the shaking of her shoulders slowed. Slowly she lifted her head to look at Uriel. "Where is here? How did I get in a tomb?" The last I remember I was going to -" She looked away for a moment as if trying to recall exactly how it had happened. "Lucius and you, the portal..."

Her memories felt jumbled now and she was clearly struggling. Ona shifted her body a little and even released a soft groan as her body protested every movement. "I would like to get out of this. I am not yet dead." There was a bit of uncertainty in the speaking of the last statement.

Uriel responded with a raw, tender smile and nodded. The man lifted his arms down into the stone case and beneath her legs as his other went to secure her back. With a huff, he heaved upwards and the leaf fluttered upon the rock now as much literal as figurative; yet his still-weak legs seemed to lack the strength to carry her further, or perhaps it was his intent to do as he did next. In either case, he sat down next to the platform, Onatha in his lap and wrapped himself around her, his face over her shoulder.

"... I was thrown a hundred years or thereabouts into the future," he said, voice uneven. "You and Lucius were not. You were warded to sleep here until... now," he said as he stroked her collar with his fingertips. "This is the remnants of a castle in Valania, in a hidden crypt." He smiled softly, his distant and forward gaze drawing back in to cast its attention to the woman beside him with a tender smile that neither stoically endured the pain they both felt yet neither ran or capitulated to it; it accepted it, or at least was beginning to. "And no; you are very much alive."

Ona didn't protest as Uriel lifted her out of the stone tomb. Under other circumstances she might have. Right now she didn't have it in her. He sat and Ona instinctively folded into him. They had not known each other long but they had a growing connection and now Uriel was all she had that was familiar. The shock of the situation when Lucius found her had been great. The realization that her tribe, her family were long dead and she had somehow lived, disconnected from time had been hard to come to terms with. She hadn't really come to a place of acceptance with it when she found herself with the others, with the portal. Now it had repeated itself. How and why were the foremost questions on her mind as she laid her head against Uriel. He too was thrown through time.

She lifted her head to look around, eyes stopping on each of the figures in the room. "Who put up the wards? How did you find me?"These were safe questions. Her eyes were still moving over the others in the room. Ona didn't know any of them and some, like the warrior, frightened her.

"I know little of the former; perhaps she can answer that," the young royal said with an uncertain glance to the Grandmistress, clearly still wary of further hostility. Even so, he continued to hold her as a parent might their child or a friend another, lacking some of the degree of Ona's awkward bashfulness-yet, too, noticeably lacking the same personal desperation, an almost impersonal compassion instead what enshrouded her through the blanket that was his arms. "As to the latter..." he sighed hesitantly. "... by accident. We happened to take shelter here and the floor broke out from under us. We landed in here and found you and so breached the wards to get you out."

Ona looked to Uriel for a moment. Her lips parted as if she were about to say something but she stopped herself and instead turned her attention to the woman. Everything about her showed she was ready for a battle and this made Ona very nervous. "Do you know who put me here? With the wards? I do not remember anything..."

Through the sound of metallic clanks that somehow resembled iron buckets clattering together, an unpleasant groan that resembled distressful pain fluttered across several generous paces where the Melitan Grand Mistress had collided into carved stone. The poor illumination offered through the burning ram and the corridor torches only proved effective enough to outline her slow moving form as she dazedly crept on fours towards the trio surrounding the tomb platform. Amidst the inexplicable, jaw-dropping events that illustrated an unmistakable display of supernatural activity from the divines, the Leader of the Order of St. Melitas tenderly nursed her head in an attempt to recover whatever senses still remained. Her initial instincts involved drawing upon the various shorter weapons lined along her belt, however, the inspiration soon passed as attentions soon fixated upon the two reunited companions.

Nothing could have further illustrated the manner, in which her brows creased amidst the quiet moment shared between both members. As time passed, her expressions only turned from rage to utter bewilderment and then to tears as her winces remained fixated upon the awakened Seer.

"Sarifen swine ... offering friendship after slaughtering so many innocents ... dubious piety ... uttered in the Divines' names ... miracles ... unfolded through the marks of our father and mother above ... and ..." the woman paused as she groaned before cowering in pain amidst attempts to fervently sooth her throbbing head. "...your return to our realm, Seer Onatha. The world ... aghhh ... has truly gone mad ..."

Another groan escaped her lips as she slowly unsheathed a dagger along her belt before laboriously pressing the tip upon the floors in an attempt to pry herself forwards. Through a sad, smile, the Grand Master's glance aimed upwards, "Our Lord and Lady above, Yadin-Hamon and Athirat, together; I suppose this would mark the beginnings of my repenting for the servitudes that will follow ..."

Her head turned to directly gaze upon the awoken Al-Mayrin amidst the glowering light that cast against her dirtied, Gothic Plated Armors. "Seer Onatha," she began, "All is not as it seems. In the bestowement of Revered Mother Thérèse, ... and as your spiritual protector graced through our father and mother, I swear it on my sins, we are in grave danger. The Sarifens have already breached the Sanctity of this Castle and my Sisters and the Baron Ce'dareaux's Men-at-Arms have given their lives to ..." her eyes winced in pain as tears began to shed down her cheeks. Shortly before seemingly swallowing a lump in her throat, the Grand Mistress' uneven tone took upon a more vengeful manner, " ensure our survival. We are now in the company of strangers who cannot be trusted whilst our condition to defend ourselves eludes our grasp."

Yet again, the woman's motions proved laborious as she venomously glanced towards the other two Vault visitors. After a time, a sigh escaped her lips as her resigned and defeated glances swept across the Vault and the smoldering, worn signets that surrounded the Tomb platform.

"My oath falls under Prince Lucius Delacroix's last commands to ensure that your safe-guarding would fall under the Order of St. Melitas," she defiantly affirmed, "I swore an oath to handle your Safe Keeping. As the Grand Master, it was therefore my responsibility to uphold my oath and to defend all persecuted under the Divines' graces. Those requiring aid and those in need also fall under those circumstances and as a last hope for salvation, I sanctified these Crypts while entrusting my faith and those of my sisters to enshrine ourselves from the Sarifens that have murdered our companions from above." With one hand nursing her forehead and another laboriously raised to where an upheld palm gestured towards the spent signets the Grand Mistress began, "These are not Wards crafted through the inept Inquisition's hands, but blessings bestowed through the Order of St. Melitas to ensure the Divines' salvation over those requiring safe keeping."

Reverting full attention back towards the Seer, the Grand Mistress smiled warmly as she hobbled closer towards the trio holding along the platform. It was upon reaching the out platform perimeter that she curled a wave of matted brunette hair behind one ear whilst propping heavily against the dagger. Her gaze turned towards the silent Bozorgan where suspicious eyes cast upon his cross-legged form.

"If your devotions are true," she fervently affirmed, " are free from judgment, however, if silver-tongued perversions below the waste line dictate your desires, you have only your crimes to answer upon entering the Divines' Kingdom above."

"When I return to the Divines' Kingdom above, there will be much to answer for, Grand Master," the Bozorgan gently began after a time, "...and the truth, has, is, and will be spoken as is demanded of the Divines' for which I swear it in their names." Smiling wryly, the man's eyes slowly cast across each individual before resting upon the Grand Mistress, "As for what is before our eyes, I can only deliver the truth as it has unfolded, not what is untrue. We ..."

In an attempt to speak the Bozorgan's mouth opened, only to shut as his gaze swept to the floors and an expression illustrating uncertainty and troubling thoughts seemingly traversed across his face. Following several moments where he became lost in thought, the Bozorgan's gaze elevated towards the Vaulted ceilings where the man began a series of nods to ascertain newly discovered truths, "Grand Master, I will be forward in that much has changed and there is still much that will not be ..." the Bozorgan paused as his face turned slightly pale upon seemingly understanding the careful delicacies required towards his next word choices, "...pleasant to swallow ... or I believe that in your severe circumstances ... witness."

His eyes narrowed and momentarily trailed again towards the Seer before slowly diverting back towards the Grand Mistress, "It would seem ... that you still believe the Barony is under attack against the Sarifens lead by Prince Bahramesh..."

"Go on ..." the Grand Mistress demanded after the momentary pause.

Through furled eyebrows, the Bozorgan's gaze swept to the floor as uncertainty and distressing expressions once again spread across his face, "What also seems most certain ... is your inability to accept our words for the truth and it is not my place to question your suspicions. If there ..." he paused again as his gaze redirected towards the awoken Seer before returning to the Grand Mistress' glacial stare, "...if your oaths involve the Safe - Keeping of the Seer ... then your devotion will be honored ..."

A moment of silence ensued as the Grand Mistress' glares fixated upon the Bozorgan with enough numbing frigidness to glaciate a lake, however, after a juncture that involved careful pondering, the Warrioress slowly pried herself into a defiant towering stance, "For those whose desires venture beyond their cocks, you have an unfortunate overindulgence of dignity ... however ... after watching my Sisters and those I loved die before my eyes, I fear my capacity as a woman to grant a lady's courtesies have long evaporated." Pausing, the Warrioress smirked as her barbed insults met the Bozorgan with desired intentions that served to gauge his tolerance. It only quickly reverted to a frown as a sad, disarming expression spread across his face.

"Nevertheless," she began again, "Though I am no stranger to deceit or the perversions that dictate a man's desires to satisfy their meat flaps ... I believe that for now ... it is clear your motives stray beyond our demise."

"This matter will remain unresolved unless you accept our words for the truth," the Bozorgan genuinely answered.

"I see no other alternative and ... as Grand Master Eugenia Domenica of the Order of St. Melitas, I demand an explanation to your presence, diplomatic immunity, and permission to speak to your first-in-command where we will discuss the rights afforded to a ceasefire as well as safe conduct to the surface!"

"Granted, Grand Master Eugenia," the Bozorgan firmly answered as he remained seated upon the cold Vault floors. "Though I must caution that nothing can prepare your eyes for what you will find. The man sitting before you is a friend to the Seer and ..." the Bozorgan once again paused as his gaze fell upon the Half-Breed before kneeling into a bow, "he is also the Last Free Emperor of Sarife ..."

"Perhaps my attempts for diplomacy and harboring reservations were mistaken," the Grand Mistress coldly affirmed before offering a hand in the Seer's vicinity, "Seer Onatha, you are under the Protection of the Order of St. Melitas and the Divine's graces. Do you, at all, recall any familiarity amongst these men?"

Onatha listened as the woman and another man talked. Perhaps it was her long sleep, perhaps the passage of time but she wasn't entirely sure that she understood anything that was being said between them. What was clear was the woman was supposed to protect her. She leaned against Uriel. Despite have just woken Ona felt exhausted. The sound of her name, the question put before her caused her to look up at the woman. "Familiarity? Uriel is my friend."

It was as she spoke the words that Ona realized she didn't know Uriel well but they had fought alongside each other, beside Lucius. She trusted him even if she did not have the experience of years to build that trust on. He was protecting her now and he was all she had. "If that is what you mean by familiarity. He and I fought alongside Lucius."

The large green orbs that were her eyes stared at the warrior woman. She had so much she wanted to ask her but given the conversation she didn't feel it was the right time. "I do not know the others but if they are here than Uriel must." She looked to Uriel. "Did I hear him correctly? Emperor?"

Uriel sighed behind her as the weight of the proverbial crown settled down upon his brow, washing away his bewilderment at the Mistress's baseless and perverted accusations. Glancing back and forth between Onatha and her would-be defender, he said, "Yes. You did. The rites of coronation have already recognized me just a day past." The young Emperor lifted up his hands, revealing their tattooed backs, inscribed with hieroglyphic symbols.

"As I said, I was friend to both Ona and Lucius in Lucius's own time. And I am now Emperor or Sarife even though I am an outcast and unwanted bastard because any other candidate is even less suitable or dead. Sarife is little more than a conquered ruin itself now in far worse state than Valania was when Sarife was its enemy. Since your enshrinement, a far more horrid interloper has broken and raped both nations. Journey yonder upstairs and see for yourself; only you have drawn a blade here yet and such shall continue to be the case unless you brandish it again. Ona may travel with you if she is willing and able, if needs be."

Onatha slowly rose, leaving the warmth of Uriel's arms. The chill of the room, the crypt hit her instantly. She took a brief moment to look down at her clothing. It seemed the wards protected that too, the material not appearing old or falling apart. A hand came to her neck, fingering the necklace as she considered the situation. The last time Lucius had found her in the remains of the library. Something had protected, preserved her then. This time she at least had an answer to the who and how. Now she needed to figure out why.

Ona looked around as if trying to take in every detail of their surroundings.She began to stare off, chin lifted as if she was looking at something near the ceiling. In truth she was trying to see beyond. She hadn't dared use her natural ability yet but as they spoke of upstairs, of ruins. Ona looked beyond the stone and to the upper levels. She could see the moss covering the stones and what was left of the building. Her brow furrowed. "I can see it. They speak the truth. Destruction. There is- nothing is as it once was. Surely a great deal of time has passed."

Onatha drew her eyes back down to the warrior woman. "Grand Mistress, again, I do not vouch for the others. I do not know them. Uriel, now Emperor of Sarife is my friend. I will leave it to him to speak to their loyalties. I know that Uriel and I stood at Lucius' side. I do not know why I was initially ripped from my time or why I am here now but clearly there is a new threat to all." Her eyes moved falling to the stone coffin. She shivered "May we retire to someplace that is possibly warmer and smells less like the dead?"

A gasp escaped the Grand Mistresses' lips as her eyes strayed towards the Bozorgan, the Half-Breed, and awoken Seer where immediate alarm had begun to spread across her face. The sound of metallic clattering that announced her dagger's release rang across the Vaulted walls as her fixated gaze slowly darted between Onatha and the Half-Breed. Shortly after fighting back tears and whispy breaths, the woman's gaze glanced to the surface as her expression delivered all the signs of a woman in mourning. For a time, the Warrioress's woeful stares did not leave the ceilings, however, it was after several shudders that the woman slowly retrieved and sheathed her knife before kneeled amongst the Half-Breed and awoken Al-Mayrin.

"Of course we may, Onatha," the Grand Mistress answered kindly with all the graces that involved motherly warmth and a tender, tear-laden smile. "I ..." a pause came again as she her watered gaze swept towards the Bozorgan and the torch laden corridor, "...We should breach the surface and determine what the Divines have prepared for us ... or for the sake of my affairs, my sins ..." A loud sniffle escaped her before she gently wrapped a hand around the Seer's shoulder and removed her black, insignia laden cloak. Upon draping, the cloak around the Seer's shivering form, the Warrioress rose and offering a silent Augurian prayer through closed eyes and gestures that pointed directly ceilings. The fires surrounding the burning ram had only began to subside, however, the sounds resembling pounding rains and thundering lightening echoed from above whilst announcing the storm's renewed fury upon their lodgings within Valania Proper.

Silently, the Bozorgan's eyes quickly darted towards the firmly lit corridors as concerned expressions began to creep across his face, "If you must tend to your bodily needs, now maybe the most convenient opportunity you will ever find before we reach the surface. I am afraid we will soon encounter this storm's most unpleasant, exacting punishments and I am not one to cast any, save perhaps the worst criminals, through the Divines' furies."

"I will hold you to your promises of safe passage, Sarifen," the Grand Mistress commandingly answered with a voice laden with a lesser degree of venom, "Betrayal will undoubtedly offend the Divines and serve as a poor choice of conduct for all parties. You have only your deeds to answer for your reputation and ..." her eyes suddenly watered again as she glanced towards the Seer with a smile "...those that the Divines have chosen to protect ..."

Through a respectable nod, the Bozorgan dramatically swept his arms into a gesture resembling a deep respecting Augurian worshiping stance. Following a moment of prayer, the man turned heel and beckoned the others in accompanying his stead. After inching several steps, his hand seized several pouches along his waistline and wrapped around the khilij scabbard before slowly lowering the finely decorated sheath to the ground while his other arm raised in an effort to offer another important address, "As a matter of honoring your trust and the wills of the Divines, you are free to confiscate my weapons, Grand Mistress. I believe they now belong to the Seer ..."

A large, monstrous shadow detached itself from the gloom some distance away, following the coarse whisper of Kisharan steel sliding back into it's home, and the solid *click* of a weapon being secured into its scabbard. The shadow seemed to shrink to a more human size as Raven's red eye flashed in the darkness and he stepped just barely into the light: enough to let his presence be known to the others. It may not have been obvious to the others, but from where he had been crouched, there was a clear and direct line between him and the Melitan warrioress, and if she thought he couldn't cover such a lengthy gap... well... Raven just leveled an even gaze at them, showing his empty hands now that the situation was reasonably disarmed and everyone was calming down. He had felt the energy pulse of the second tomb being opened through the arcane circle etched into his arm, and had returned to investigate and make sure the newly crowned emperor was safe... not just because he wasn't yet confident that Pontius was enough protection on his own. For a scant moment, his eyes narrowed at the markings on the Half-Breed emperor's hands, and he scratched at the arcane circle on his arm absently.

"There is a small fire at the camp, and some tea brewing," he informed, with all the warmth and cuddliness of a brick wall.

Another gasp escaped the Grand Mistress' lips as her fingers moved to retrieve her bastard sword through an instinctual answer towards the Slayer's arrival. In a manner of time in which the Warrioress' fingers tightened around her sword hilts, the Bozorgan had already halted and offered both an elevated hand and an extended palm towards the Slayer as a non-threatening gesture of faith.

"Grand Master, you need not be afraid," he began upon offering the Ancient Slayer a deep, respectable, and acknowledging nod, "I do not believe you have formerly acquainted yourself within Raven's company. He is one of ours and a member of our own party. On his own, he will bring no harm to our gathering and ..." a worshiping gesture formed as his hands formally pointed towards the Slayer's location, "I believe his preparations for overcoming the storm deserves many prayers of gratitude."

Through furrowed eyebrows, the Grand Mistress opened her mouth to speak, however, after deciding against such a decision, the woman simply offered the Slayer a nod before turning to sheath her bastard sword. Wincing, the woman offered another silent prayer and a string of phrases that resembled blessings before slowly inching towards the Bozorgan's weapons whilst eyeing both men with watchful suspicion. In short order, her efforts had delivered the khilij, munitions pouches, and pistol into the Seer's vicinity before willfully offering the possessions into her grasp.

"Onatha," she warmly addressed, "I believe these are yours?"

She was grateful for the warmth of the cloak. The voice that stated there was a fire at the camp chilled her in a way the cloak would not help. Her eyes turned to look at the shadows, towards the source of the sound. The warrior was already alert. Ona turned to Uriel looking for assurance that all was okay, that these people could be trusted. It was a tense moment then the Grand Mistress put her sword away.

Onatha looked down at the offered items then to the warrior, then to the man she had taken them from and finally, back to the items. She frowned a hand tentatively reaching out to touch one of the pouches. "Mine?" She shook her head and looked to Uriel for help. She had no memory of those things. She was realizing her memory of the days before the portal were fuzzy at best. "I do not recognize them. I do not remember them..."

"Nor would you; they are his own armaments surrendered unto you as a show of goodwill and faith," he exhaled as he stepped forward and gestured with a hand in the direction outwards that his companions had previously mentioned. "These two are indeed with me; the blonde one is the present Bozorgan and the one who dredged me out from drowning in Voltas' bay and explained this situation to me myself-and the one who performed the coronation rite. The other is... a bodyguard, for now," he said with a cursory glance at each of them. "I vouch for both of their loyalties. So, with that, may we return above to that aforementioned fire?"

Raven stood his ground, watching the display of faith. He made no offer to surrender his own weapons. He thought it would be foolish to do so with still so many unknowns, and the two women in the party didn't look strong enough to carry even half the lethal objects on his person. That is to say nothing of his body itself, which was fully capable of defending the Emperor with no weapons. He gave both women a quick sizing up: they were not all together unpleasant to look at, perhaps they would offer to carry him back to the camp, you know... as a sign of good faith since he was so dangerous.

"I'll go ahead and make sure the way is clear," he informed... to which he meant that he would skulk in the shadows and watch them from some unseen place until they got close enough from the camp for him to sprint ahead and arrive before them. With that he slowly stepped back into the darkness and appeared to vanish after a few moments of slow walking... and since his footfalls made nary a sound there was no real way to tell exactly where he was unless they lit up the whole crypt at once, or could see in the dark.

Through a raised eyebrow, the Grand Mistress stared in utmost curiosity as the man expertly returned to the shadows, "The courteous etiquette dictating proper manners may normally involve the term ladies first, however, I've always found the term rather perplexing given the attitudes and aggression men seem to always exhibit. Naturally, I believe we must follow a new custom in that it should be men in front ..."

Another quizzical glance towards the Crypt Corridors spoke of uncertainty, however, the Grand Mistress somehow upheld her towering composure whilst keeping a firm hand upon the bastard sword pommel. Shortly after offering the Half-Breed an acknowledging nod, "As much as it pains me to believe otherwise, Onatha, your ... friend does speak the truth. These weapons are now yours and for your sake, should only be drawn during moments of armed duress."

Onatha's head hurt. It was dull like when one had indulged too much in wine. She was confused and unsure but took the offered weapons. She looked at the warrior. "I-I have no intention of drawing them...are we in that much danger at the moment?"

She looked around at all the others. Her head looked to the shadows. "I feel as if at the moment we are well protected. Or rather, I have no need to fear for my immediate safety." Ona waited for the men, those that knew the way to lead. She closed her eyes and tried to will away the dull, constant thudding. She followed once everyone else began to move. Her legs protested having just gotten used to standing but like her head she willed the discomfort away. She was not a warrior, not a fighter the way the others were. That had never been her role. She felt the weight of the weapons and pouches on her person and longed to place them down, curl up in the cloak and sleep. The thought of sleep brought fear however. Ona shivered though this time it was not from chill. Now she wondered if she would ever be able to sleep peacefully again.

It was all too much. She just wanted the fire and maybe a drink of water. No more thinking, no more trying to figure things out. Just warmth and quiet. Her eyes moved over the others backs and she wondered if such a thing as quiet or peace would ever be possible again.

"We must prepare for the inevitable, Onatha," the Grand Mistress sighed through uneven, sorrowful tones, "...and should the Divines smile upon our plight; your friends will honor their offer towards safe passage and we shall see what the Divines will bring. I only hope the judgment that awaits us is just and merciful for I ... believe I have as much to answer for as do those that are no longer with us." Sighing, an expression of grave concern spread across her face as she gingerly nursed her forehead whilst watching the Seer shiver. Upon seizing a flaming torch off a nearby corridor brazier, her other hand raised to retrieve another before offering one in the Half-Breed's direction, "If your friendship towards Prince Lucius and Onatha is genuine, I trust you will honor your associations to offer safe conduct to the surface."

The Emperor took the burning light plainly. "And beyond," he replied simply to the Grandmistress. He gestured with an arm for them to walk. "Bozorgan, Shadow, if you will, lead, please." With an exhale, he held up the torch nearby to clearly chilled Onatha, basking her in what little warmth it offered.

"As for the immediate moment, no. Unless something about our awakening of you has alerted any of the invaders' sentries among the countryside, you are safe enough for the present moment. Your interests align with ours, nevermind the personal feelings also involved." He spared a moment to cast a brief, pensive glance at the Grandmistress before responding soberly. "As for your sins, I imagine that they will; if the Divines have any plan at all, they saw fit to set to this task my errant self. If I am so integral for some destined scheme for the salvation of this continent, then your own redemption is entirely possible."

"What you say may unfold into the truth," the Warrioress answered whilst keeping one hand firmly along her sword pommel, "...though that is assuming we, most notably I, live long enough to witness the chance for exacting redemption." the woman paused yet again as her unoccupied hand wrapped around the Seer's shoulder in a display of sympathy, "In a man's world, punishment for one misstep is as common it is cruel, however, it is the Divines' judgments that are even crueler in serving justice where it is deserved. If our survival is unchallenged, I believe a later discussion of unpleasant realities is warranted. Until then, you will forgive my skepticism and the instinctive decision to assume the worst and hope for the best ..."

The times had not been kind to the world and it seemed that a century of conflict had brought an apex to armed conflicts that were destined to occur. During the Northward journey, evidence had only seemed to have pointed towards the endless steppes stretching off to the North, West, and South. Many of the townships that once scattered across Valania Proper were nowhere to be found nor were stretches of tree lines or lush forests found during King Lothair's reign. Large scale deforestation had presumably flattened the landscape where the sights of numerous farmsteads growing sorghum and foreign rices could be seen amidst enclosures teaming with foreign grazing species such as horses, yaks, goats, and sheep. The lands around the enormous battle site featured lush grasses native to Valania Proper, yet elsewhere the semi-arid grasslands and harsh shrubs appeared to largely resemble weak and dull conditions found in the foreign lands of the Eastern Steppes.

Shortly after landing before sunrise, the former Baron's Castle, largely a shell of its former glory, sat amidst crumbling, moss covered stones that still featured the remains of elaborate walkways, jagged crenelations, and numerous battlement sites that once housed ballistae, numerous murder holes, and cannon emplacements. The blackened stones still resembled past battle scars that presented hundreds of plate armor clad human remains, shattered weapons, crippled engines of war, and rusted blood stains along numerous routes within the interior whilst illustrating evidence of a struggle that involved a vicious siege and what appeared to be a valiant last stand within the Main Keep. The Bozorgan had simply done his best to maneuver his way around the heavily battered ruins to allow the site to remain undisturbed in honor of House Ce'dareaux's gallant Valanian Knights, his Household Retainers, and their valiant sacrifice.

The signs of war were apparent, however, the once polished, limestone laden Inner Courtyards from the previous grounds spoke of once beautiful fountains lined in gilded gold and silver statues of the Ce'dareaux crests. No one could've disputed the notion that the foliage had won the day to cover over the battered debris to illustrate areas of the interior gardens. It was a fitting and beautiful home for a long passed Baron who had clearly cared as much for Valania as he apparently did for the architecture surrounding his lavish home. The shattered remains of white marble laden statues that once formed artistic interpretation for Yadin-Hamon and Athirat's faces remained along various pedestals surrounding the garden ruins while shattered glasses lay scattered along the cobblestone grounds. Elsewhere, stone workings seemingly smashed by cannonballs lay in various shapes and forms amidst sections that once held the walls for the Garrison Barracks, Armories, Chapels, Bailiff Chambers, Stables, and numerous other wards and structures.

The tattered Ce'dareaux insignias could still be found through faint traces along the paint rusting along the broken and splintered shields of former Ce'dareaux Retainers. The traces of the long forgotten conflicts from century's past could be felt all throughout the Castle's foundations and it did not take long to surmise that House Ce'dareaux's Last Stand resembled the site of a savage massacre. Throughout the short progress across the Interior Castle grounds, the Bozorgan's weary eyes never wavered as he set about escorting the others to suitable shelter. The Cellars seemed the most logical location to settle, however, upon removing the hidden, barricaded entrance they discovered the human remains of what resembled several dozen servants of all varying ages. The siege had likely trapped the surviving non-combatants where they had likely starved or suffocated after the fighting. It was a saddening sight of the barbaric nature that seemingly preceded the Jade Khan's arrival and it was ultimately decided the Cellars were to be avoided with honor in mind to respect the fallen. Whilst the others rested, he had set to work during the First and Second watches to clear the Pantry and Kitchens, where the foundations and numerous second story grounds had largely kept the ceilings and interior intact.

Sometime after dawn, the storm descended upon the Barony with all the rage of a torrential Monsoon that coated the Castle grounds in a thick, unforgiving downpour. By then, the Bozorgan had already safely raveled and moved the Balloon canvas and basket into the Castle's confines, whilst coating his tracks for the sake of secrecy. They were not prepared to encounter or resist any nearby Khanate patrols and as such, the utmost precautions were taken to mask their presence and ensure the preservation of safety. A short while later, the Bozorgan had effectively plucked the basket's, arrow ridden bottom clean where new additions to their arrow and munition reserves quickly reached generous proportions. The following burdens soon pointed towards the desire for rest and warmth, however, given the presence of numerous yurt encampments sighted along their skyward route across the Steppes, lighting a fire seemed completely out of the question as it was neither safe nor sane. As such, the gathering were left to the whims of frigid winds blowing through the barren fireplace openings while a drop in temperatures brought frost plumes secreting through every party member's nostrils. The Bozorgan himself had resorted to issuing triple blankets to each member to stave off the cold, however, even through huddling together, it seemed the biting cold still managed to hammer their faces with near mind numbing effects.

A frost-bitten evening was likely to follow and the fears of falling to the cold were the least of ways, in which the Bozorgan wished to fall. Many obstacles still lingering in the journey ahead, but in their current form, it seemed none of the party were in any shape to move forwards. Sighing, his eyes rose to the ceilings as frustrations, fears, and worries brooded through his long walk across the Kitchen and Pantry grounds. The Second Watch had come to an end and in lue of the others sleeping forms, he surmised that perhaps a Third and Fourth Watch were his to prerogatives to ensuring their safety. Stalking across the grounds, the wooden floors creaked and groaned with every step and amidst exuding frost through paced breaths, the Bozorgan simply kept a hand tightly fixed along the khilij pommel with a weary, yet willful vigilance.

He had just managed to begin another round through the interior grounds and had anticipated evening's approach when his foot stepped through a series of cracked floor boards not far from Algol-Uriel's and Raven's sleeping forms. The following descent came just as quickly as the manner, in which the rotted floor beams collapsed under the Bozorgan's added weight and within mere moments, found himself screaming in incredulous astonishment as he tumbled feet first into a sea of darkness. For a moment, the noise proved enough to waken every party member and perhaps even the dead, though in truth, the ensuing silence proved more worrying than the collapsing floor beams' deafening creaks.

"Sons of Death," Pontius cried as he miraculously scrambled to his knees and fumbled in the dark across musty cobb-webbed floors. Panic had set in as fear of what the darkness' dangers took suit and amidst the need to rise to action, his hands began to flounder about. Within moments, he had somehow managed to illuminate the vicinity through sparks shaved from flint and steel. Instincts born from years of campaigning had stirred him to action as he waved the miniature rock throughout the dark and musty stone caverns that wreaked of rotted human flesh, dust, and the dank odours of what was expected upon entering a Forgotten Crypt.

It was fortunate that the Bozorgan had ignited his own light source for no sooner had he leapt to his feet that he found Emperor Algol-Uriel coughing and groaning at his feet. The first prerogative was to immediately assist the Half-Breed ruler before searching their surrounding vicinity for means to climb to safety. As he brought his companion to his feet, the Bozorgan had simply stared in wonder as his eyes wandered across the ornately carved walls that resembled the Ancient History of the Ce'dareaux ancestry. The faces along the various stone carvings illustrated the Ancient Ce'dareaux Barons of old and their accompanying Tombs. Upon closer examination, he found much of the Crypt remained intact and in ironic fashion, a direct contrast towards the wrecked Castle grounds from above. Where ever death had found its touch, a varying display of history had somehow crept its way into each and every incident with noticeable effect. For what it was worth, no manner of Sarife's past occupation over Valania or the Jade Khan's whole sale dominance over Carcassonne could suppress centuries or millennia's history or culture. The past could not be unwritten nor could stones expertly carved by proud and cultured individuals be completely unturned. It brought a smile to the Bozorgan to know that the past was still very much alive within the broken walls of something that resembled Valania's history.

The moment of observation and appreciation was soon cut short when out of the corner of his eyes, a faint glow caught his immediate attention. "Your eminence," he hissed amidst the man's labored groans and an eye towards the glowing light, "Are you alright?"

Within moments of retrieving a nearby floorboard shard, his efforts quickly yielded a crude, makeshift torch capable of illuminating a much larger area before inching across the stone paved grounds. The steps through the Crypt seemed almost dream like as he moved to investigate the glow light's source. With one hand gripping the crude torch and the other upon the khilij, his eyes narrowed as his steps brought him closer towards the faint green glow. After a dozen cautious steps, his eyes narrowed yet again as his sights trained upon a large square tomb covered in a thick cracked, stone slab.

The sounds of dripping water echoed through the Crypt Grounds as his eyes swept across the other Tombs before resting firmly upon the green beam shooting through the crack in the slab and onto the vaulted ceilings. Gripping the khilij pommel, the Bozorgan retreated several paces as his eyes trained upon the sights of a slumped brunette haired woman clad in Gothic plated armor, wearing the crested insignia of the Order of St. Melitas. A quick glance might have initially marked her amongst the deceased, however, upon closer inspection, her form largely resembled an individual slumped into a deep slumber. All around the perimeter the inscribed signets of the Order of St. Melitas could be seen forming a circle around the Melitan Warrior and the Large Tomb.

Shortly after inching a quarter dozen paces from the perimeter, the Bozorgan cast the torch's illumination along the Melitan Warrior's shining armor and posture as she leaned upon the bastard sword firmly anchored vertically along the ground. Through a swift glance towards the inflection across the Warrior's chest plate, his eyes narrowed, his finger pointed towards the reflection of what lay within the Tomb opening ... cascading green light and what resembled a slumbering young Al-Mayrin woman wearing a Golden Necklace and Whistle.

Algol-Uriel clambered after the Bozorgan, coughing and spluttering as he struggled to regain his breath and clarity of mind from the shock of a rude awakening and still ruder shock to his back and lungs. One hand upon a tomb and another upon his knee, the gasping Emperor followed after the light source, his eyes wincing against the sting of green.

"Alright enough," he grimaced as he followed after with a rub at his half-numbed nose, carrying his blankets still upon his shoulders, sweeping the ground with little mind to whatever filth might lie upon it for the greater consideration of the cold. By the time that Algol-Uriel had caught up to the Bozorgan he stood upright, though his head yet throbbed for exhaustion. Yet upon the sight of the slumbering maiden suspended in that familiar green, his breath was once again stolen away, his heartbeat leaping as if in sudden freefall once more. "You!"

The prince whirled to the Bozorgan, eyes alight in shock and bathed in green. "This is her, the Seeress! What is this?" he asked in a quickened voice, his arm slightly sweeping in gesture to ceremonial coffin and shrine entombing it.

"From what I can discern," he voiced through an incredulously baffling stare and a wave of the crude torch across the cobweb strewn vault, "The Jade Khan's markings are absent here, however ..." a lengthy pause followed suit as the torch lowered towards the Melitan insignias planted around the tomb, "It is perhaps, best we conduct ourselves through cautionary measures in matters concerning wardings of this appearance." Sighing, the Bozorgan delivered an inquisitive glance towards the source of their early descent; a location that had seemingly bathed in darkness admist the seething storm and howling winds brewing from above.

"The light ..." The Bozorgan curiously voiced as his eyes trained upon the glowing green ray, "I ... presume you are of similar acquaintance with Nurlian Al-Mayrin artifacts?" Frowning, the Bozorgan's gaze narrowed as suspicion quickly spread across his face's entirety. Where ever they ventured, fortunes seemed to yield the unexpected and even within the dank, reeking vaults, the air seemed to present an unfamiliar sense of defiance. The wards themselves had presented an entirely new discovery deserving inspection and interest that warranted his immediate attentions.

"Your eminence, " he began again before unsheathing his Khilij and whistling the tip into a sweep arc towards the tomb, "I believe a suitable distance from my rear would best serve your interests while I inspect the perimeter. I suspect there maybe dangerous wards surrounding this particular tomb."

Grimacing, the Bozorgan unholstered and surrendered his loaded pistol towards the Half-Breed Ruler before gathering his long hair. Following several short, concentrated breaths, his arm drew back and drove the khilij into a powerful forward thrust in an attempt to test an experimental probe across the insignia perimeter. The resulting effect delivered a powerful vibration that coursed throughout the Insignias whilst provoking a glowering white emanation through each insignia. Another grimace flashed across his face as winced eyes and strained efforts illustrated the Bozorgan's failed attempts to breach the perimeter. Nodding, his arm quickly withdrew and upon a suspicious glance towards the khilij, found the tip smoldering with steam and reddened with heat.

"It is as I suspected," he announced after flashing the smoldering tip towards the Emperor's vicinity, "There are wards anchoring a strong barrier around the tomb and it is similar in nature to the barrier that imprisoned our kaşifleri brethren; however ..." his voice trailed away as his unoccupied fingers pointed towards the glowing white insignias. "I believe we will not require the Divines' sky forces or a journey across the Dream planes to breach these wards ... if... it is what you command, your eminence ..."

The Emperor lowered his arm from his face that had been shielding his eyes from the light to glance down to the proffered sword point narrowing into a pensive frown at the reddened tip. With a glance once more at the maiden in stasis, hand firmly clasping the pistol, he shot his wary eyes to the Bozorgan. "Explain what you mean. I will not have our only guide in this time fried for a mistaken attempt at magical wards."

Brazen waves of the torch quickly shifted illumination between the green cascading light, the slumbering Melitan warrior, and the white, glowing insignias before the Bozorgan's sword tip gestured towards the surrounding insignias. "The barrier is anchored through wards that are similar, yet completely weaker in form if we were to examine the wards of the Jade Khan to those of the Sarifen Inquisition of Old. Then again, I have never before spotted wards of this particular appearance and ... perhaps a discussion involving matters of Ward strength would best be left for another time. Now, if we are to resolve the matter at hand, our approach follows only a single path forward and if I might advise, it would be most prudent if we are to deliver a force strong enough to ... igniting each and every ward within that perimeter. I believe our efforts would allow for a more suitable outcome if we followed a more practical approach. Come! We must return to the surface where we may have several solutions at hand!"

Algol-Uriel sighed as his actual question went unanswered. Following the Bozorgan closely behind-particularly to the glowing torch for what little it spared them of the cold-he asked as they began to search the grave site for an exit, "Elaborate. What exactly are we going to do?" he asked as his eyes scanned through the darkness, seeking indications of a door or stair. "How do you propose we ignite each and every ward simultanously-especially without ending up like your sword point?"

"The Wards," the Bozorgan began, "...are the sole proprietary forces that anchor all objects and peoples within a set perimeter. I am not well versed in matters concerning their creations, however, I will at least elaborate upon the notion that they are not an uncommon sight within the Jade Khanate's apparent territories while serving the Jade Khan's purposes. We are fortunate the Jade Khan's markings are absent through out this particular Vault and I believe several viable approaches will ... how shall we say ... shatter these wards. We need only a force capable of breaching the perimeter though I believe acquiring such necessary forces would require a continuous means for sapping each ward anchor's strength. Only then, can we hope to triumph and I surmise the most logical approach would involve showering the Ward with ... rocks. Then again, I believe construction of a battering ram or setting explosives around the Wards would prove to be equally effective. I believe a battering ram would constitute a more sensible approach, though not without possibly exposing our hides to the cold or the storm. I also spotted numerous Jade Khanate patrols riding across the roads before reaching the Castle grounds. We may also brave a journey into the realms of munitions, although it may involve emptying most of our munitions. Truthfully, we do not carry an infinite powder reserve, although I believe a matter of this importance may well serve its weighted worths in powder dispensations. Most notably, a direct blast of such greatness would rid ourselves of the Wards and breach the perimeter where we will tempt our fates."

His eyes narrowed again as he pointed towards the slumbering Melitan Warrior. "We must prepare ourselves lest we awaken those that would not share our convictions. The last sisters of the Order of St. Melitas were killed over ninety years ago and I do not believe members of their kind will kindly look upon Sarifens such as ourselves. I would again caution towards acting with prudence, your eminence ..."

Algol-Uriel sighed with a shared glance towards the slumbering warrior. "Half-Sarifen, though your point stands," he said as he stopped to glance around and take the room in full. "The explosives are dire precious with my flames gone along with my demons," he said in bittersweet tone. "And the battering ram is out of the question unless you can craft one from wood from within the castle. So unless you know of something else, rocks seems our only feasible option. Is a ram of stone at all possible, or perhaps a heavy beam from above?"

"We have ample reserves for rope and ..." the Bozorgan paused as his eyes swept across the Vault before swinging the torch over his heads towards the numerous stone carvings, "It seems stone and broken wood is a plentiful commodity here, though a concerted construction effort may perhaps venture into the late evening before we have a suitable battering ram ready. Why don't we return to the surface? I will ensure we will not linger here while the light of day is still in our grasp!"

"Very well," the young man replied in kind with a slight sweep of his arm. "Lead onward, then, vanguard." At that, he approached the base of the chasm directly beneath the hole so far above them, waiting for instruction on how to aid their escape from the dark hole and up to search for manners of magical deconstruction. "How do you propose to get up there?" he asked.

"A simple matter, your eminence," the Bozorgan willfully answered as he waved the crude torch towards the Dark Corridors leading past stretches of Tombs, "It seems the Vault passages will lead to the surface and we only need find the entrance. Follow my lead!"

Over the course of the late afternoon and early evening, the Bozorgan and the Half-Breed's tireless efforts progressed without incident and brought them through the Barony Catacombs before locating a hidden entrance barricaded to near unspeakable efficient. After removing the beams and stone barring their entry, the passage lead into a winding staircase that brought the pair into a forgotten enclosed section that once resembled a bed Chamber. Their ascent to the surface came under a heavy downpour and a flight across debris strewn battlements and smashed chambers littered in human remains brought chills down the Bozorgan's spine, though in truth; the sights of the fallen seemed trivial amidst the desire to escape the biting cold and soaking of garments. Within several moments, they had managed to wake the Ancient Slayer and detail the situation before setting to work lighting the Vault passage and gathering stone of various shapes and sizes. Harvesting rocks had proven the most laborious aspect towards assembling their makeshift battering ram as was scavenging and re-purposing wheels off smashed siege engines found along the battlements. The speed and length of such endeavors had simultaneously arisen obstacles that seemed entirely beyond their grasp, however, with nightfall approaching, the dangers associated towards working through poor illumination and the bitter cold seemed only to invigorate their efforts that involved the Ward occupants' liberation. Sometime after midnight, their labors had begun to bear fruit to bring the Bozorgan's plans to action where a large cedar beam and numerous rocks had been brought and assembled within the Vault.

"In Yadin-Hamon and Athirat's grace, we trust," the Bozorgan uttered in prayer as he gripped the tightly secured rocks and beam before offering the others a satisfying smile. "If you need not empty your bowels, we will breach on three."

"One ..."

"Two ..."


The three men shouted to the top of their lungs as they anchored against the corridor floors and drew back the beam before thrusting the ram into a forward motion towards the Warded perimeter. The ropes creaked and groaned upon usage after nearly a century of dormancy, however, the effects were immediate as the ram quickly accelerated across the platform before slamming with full force against barrier. Upon crashing into the barrier, the resistance proved forceful enough to catapult the contraption back in the opposite direction, however, not without forcing the illuminated signets into a brighter white glow of light.

"Once more!" the Bozorgan shouted as the Ram came to a halt several dozen paces behind their location. A moment later, the trio had re-positioned and sent the Ram into a similar path towards the perimeter and for the second time during the early wee hours, the Ram smashed into the barrier with alarming force that repeatedly sent the wheel platform careening backwards while forcing the illuminated signets into an even brighter white glow of light. The following several attempts proved effective in contributing towards further weakening the barrier as evidenced through the signets' bright, signature glow. Through the course of a quarter hour, their efforts had a considerable effect in weakening the barrier while keeping the ram largely intact. With each passing attempt, the Bozorgan's prods against the barrier served to gauge their progress whilst determining the moment when their efforts would finally breach through the perimeter. It was sometime before reaching the second dozen most attempt that the Ward's signets' glowing aura began to glimmer with blinding effect.

"I believe we maybe nearing a light on the end of this tunnel," he huffed through laborious pants and sweat pouring down both brows, "Once more, brothers?"

Wiping his brow, the Bozorgan's fingers eagerly wrapped around the beam's edges before coordinating his efforts with the others for another run through.

"One ..."

"Two ..."

His brows furrowed in concentration as the beam drew back for another pass amidst the blinding light coursing through each glowing signet.


Upon drawing the beam forwards into a powerful forwards trajectory, a brief moment of calm swept through the grounds as the ram slammed with potent effect against the weakened perimeter. The resulting aftermath arrived almost as quickly as the ram burst into flames followed by a powerful force that swept all three men off their feet in the opposite direction. The Bozorgan cried out in alarm as he tumbled, arse first over the Ancient Slayer's face whilst shielding his eyes from each signets' blinding lights. As one, the signets illuminated the entire Vault in blinding white light before expanding in every conceivable direction. Upon crawling towards his feet, the Bozorgan's hands seized each companion by their collars before forcefully dragging each man back to escape the expanding light's reaches. Just before tripping over a stone that once again sent him flying arse first over the Slayer's face and forcing the wind to be knocked from under his breath, the light suddenly dissipated mere inches from their location before shrouding the Vault in darkness against the faint glow of the green cascading light. Through a sigh of relief, the Bozorgan quickly scrambled to his feet before slapping each companion through the face in an attempt to allow each to regain their senses. Shortly after pulling each man to his feet, the Bozorgan's eyes darted between the burning ram and the lighted corridors as wonder began to take suit.

"Slayer ... your eminence ... look over there," he cried as he pointed towards the poorly illuminated Vault! "The barrier ... it is gone!"

Raven blocked the Bozorgan's attempt to 'slap sense' back into him with a raised hand and then pierced the man with his red eye, molten with rage. He sucked in a deep breath, giving the group an 'if we're done...' expression and stomped off back towards their camp to both cool down and check on Jade.

"Bravo," Orionn cheered. He was leaning against an adjacent wall watching the entire ordeal and gave the group a slow clap while wearing a smug grin on his face. "Bravo, Pontius. Only you could solve a puzzle meant to challenge your mind by flogging it... never gets old. Just goes to show that the shape of the hole is irrelevant if you just apply enough force to the peg."

Raven let an enraged grunt out from further down the hallway and a large rock phased through Orionn's body, clattering loudly against the stone floor.

"Rude," Orionn quipped.

"If you had a body..." Raven hissed down the hallway at him, but didn't finish. "If you knew something, then WHY?!" He yelled instead.

"It's a teachable moment," Orionn chuckled while examining his nails. "Shouldn't you check on Jade? She's been left alone in the cold an awfully long time," Orionn quickly said, in response to the sound of ringing steel from down the hallway. There was a tangible moment of silence before Raven slid his weapon back home and continued back to the camp growling. "Now then. Our newest companion may need medical attention," he informed as he moved over to the previously imprisoned Melitan warrior and knelt down beside her.

"I shall note our future conversations without a mind for practical applications," the Bozorgan answered flatly as irritation began to slowly sour over his face. During the ensuing chaos, the tumbles had near completely knocked his breath away and several moments passed as he tended gingerly towards his sore bottom. His eyes darted curiously between the departing slayer's form, burning ram, Half-Breed, and Melitan Warrioress before sporting his neck as his attention quickly turned towards the near translucent Dreamwalker. When the time came to address the Dream Walker, his gaze had already redirected in the opposite direction towards the lighted corridors leading to the surface, "Your presence is not lacking in spirit, however, I did not realized you had left the ramparts. Forgive me, but perhaps I was mistaken to believe you would honor your promise to watch our flanks or the roads for Khanate patrols."

The Vault became the center point whilst the Dream Walker knelt over the Full Plated Warrioress as she leaned against the glimmering bastard sword. There had been a sense of awe as the green light continually cast upon the Vaulted ceilings and for a short time, the Bozorgan found himself in wonder at such a sight laying before his very eyes. The moment had seemed almost surreal given the near perfect manner, in which the barrier's occupants could be sheltered from harm. Not all was as it seemed and if not for their interventions, the mysteries between the nature surrounding the Ward's functions would have very likely escape into annals of time. It was a matter that the Bozorgan would later dwell upon, assuming they hadn't succumbed to the biting cold.

"We should leave the woman in p..."

Before his thoughts reached further conclusions, his attention quickly trained upon the Melitan Warrioress as her dirtied, shoulder length hair rose with her head. A short gasp escaped her lips followed by a frenetic leaping action that brought the bastard sword whistling into an arcing slice towards the near translucent Dream Walker. Upon slicing through his projection without achieving anything more than simply rippling across thin air and temporarily ruining his manifested appearance, the Warrioress quickly raised her sword and glanced confusingly towards her blade's bloodless rims before hurling forward with sword raised. As she closed the distance and plunged towards her next target, the Half-Breed Ruler, a desperate scream escaped her lips with a fury that rivaled none.

On instinct, the Bozorgan drew his khilij and whirled into a forward motion that not only pushed the Half-Breed to safety, but allowed for the means to execute a perfect sideways stance that expertly countered the blow. Sparks flew through the air as steel clattered against steel in a brilliant clash of the swords and without flinching, the Bozorgan's blade cleanly whistled in the air as it slid against the elongated sword before attempting to whip outwards into counter attack that would open directly into the woman's exposed back. The following course of action served as a bizarre flurry of blows as the Melitan Warrioress stopped midway through the swing and slammed an elbow into the Bozorgan's chest, knocking him clear off his feet.

Crying in fury, the Warrioress rushed forward in an emotionally fueled charge; however, even after the Bozorgan flew backwards and planted, back first into the ground, the attempt proved futile as, on pure instinct, the man swiftly rolled sideways just as the Melitan's Sword dashed against the stone in her effort to thoroughly run him through. As the Bozorgan spun to deliver a sideways arc, the Warrioress shouted as she side stepped into an upside down parry that reversed into forward swing. This only served to provoke the Bozorgan as he rolled again before hurling and tumbling into a forward motion that sent him ducking under the woman's vicious swing. His composure never wavered even through the deadly ordeal that would've ended any other individual's life and even after his sword came flashing across the open air and clattering down upon his feet, it was not to become the duel's final deciding moments, .

"Melitan Sister," he shouted as the woman kicked his sword away and lunged in his general vicinity. After she attempted another thrust to run him through, the Bozorgan merely tucked both arms behind his back and at the last minute, side stepped before leaping into a sideways flip. "Stop at once! We come in peace and are not your enemy!"

Screaming in shock as her sword swung into nothing, the woman stumbled before shouting over uneven tones, "Save your lies for the Divines, Sarifen heretic!!"

Shortly after lunging maddeningly towards the Bozorgan, the woman gasped as she noticed the streak of green light glowing above the cracked tomb. Her stiff and guarded composure soon followed with suspicious glances towards the ceiling and vaulted stone works and after a quick backwards whirl towards the Tomb; the woman's glances moved towards the singed signets, cobweb strewn floors, and dank, dripping ceilings whilst leveling her elongated sword into a two handed, guarded stance. Her expression began to take upon a new light as she began to completely size up the surroundings. Sighing, the Bozorgan motioned for the Half-Breed to step back whilst offering a halting hand gesture towards the near translucent Dream Walker.

"Melitan Sister," the Bozorgan began again, this time through a more soft enunciation and motions to back away through raised arms, "We have no reason to fight you!"

"Ze day I believe the words hissed through a Sarifen serpeant's lips is the day I cast aside my faith!" she screamed through fuming pants and tears streaming down her face, "And I will never abandon the Augurian cause as long as I bear Yadin-Hamon and Athirat as my guide! I am witness today under the Divines and though my sisters have returned to their kingdom; as Grand Master of the Order St. Melitas, I will defend the Augurian faith and Prince Lucius' name until my dying breath!"

Amidst the darkly lit Vault, the Bozorgan's lips curled as if to hold back a retort, however, the urge soon dissipated to where he instead offered a worrying glance towards the Dream Walker and the Half-Breed.

"No one will die today, Melitan Sister," he answered before unholstering and removing his remaining pistol and dagger upon the cold stone floors, "I swear it on Yadin-Hamon and Athirat's name."

Offering no answer, the Melitan Warrioress' feet remained planted into the high ground whilst her sword remained fixated upon the same upwards guard position. It was as if her determined composure seemed only to further illustrate her near saintly features as an Augurian Champion, yet the fury in her eyes burned as vehemently as the flames licking against the crude battering ram. After a time, in which none of the men moved, the woman once again stared suspicious towards the cob-web strewn floors and aged Vault interior.

"If you are not here to kill me," she began again under seething enunciation, "Why are you here and how many of your soldiers tread the Baron's surface?"

"We are, but four men and one woman, Melitan Sister and there are no soldiers on the surface save the Jade Khanate's patrols. I will mention again, we come in peace," he announced through raised hands and a kick towards his weapons, "We are not here to fight or harm you and I will again swear it in Yadin-Hamon and Athirat's name. How many more words must we confirm before you understand our promises?"

Through heavy pants, the woman shifted weight as her eyes darted between the cascading green light and the trio holding just outside the defunct signet perimeter, "That is apparently amongst the worst of lies that have ever crossed my ears. Of course, I should expect as much! Your vile kind are the worst the continent have ever laid eyes upon and your soldiers have slaughtered every Delacroix loyalist including each and every last one of my Sisters otherwise you would not be standing here. More lies and treachery in the Emperor's name will not serve your cause while I defend this ground."

"It is more sensible to explain that treachery and lies come hand in hand, however, neither are shared by the Sarifen peoples I know," the Bozorgan corrected as his eyes glanced towards the Half-Breed, "Now on the matters that concern your cause, if we cannot persuade your convictions; perhaps the decrepit Crypts will sway your beliefs. Before our arrival, none have ventured through this part of the Barony throughout over more than half a dozen decades. See for yourself what has become of the Barony, we will not stop you as is our promise."

"If I may," Orionn interrupted. He had only moved a handful of feet from where the Melitan warrioress' sword had passed through them, and made sure to stand a very respectable distance away from her, keeping both of his hands visible and raised non-threateningly.

"I am not corporeal, and can do you no harm. I am also not Sarifen, though I'll admit I've grown quite attached to the robes. Very comfortable. I suspect it has been a great many years since the last thing that you remember, and as much as I would love to watch your victory over Pontius here (you've let your footwork become quite sloppy) before you do so, I should pose just one question: in the Sarifen empire that you remember, how were the Al-Mayin treated?" Orionn asked, massaging the crows feet at the corners of his mouth thoughtfully.

"Your lies will never pass while I still stand, though I suppose if my last moments are spent speaking to pathetic and desperate Sarifen zealots, I wish you to hear that Sarifen matters are not my concern nor are duties that fall under my jurisdiction," the Melitan Warrioress vengefully spat, "I will not have you mock the Order of St. Melitas through trivial matters while your delaying tactics prepare your soldiers for entry. Fight me or suff..." The woman paused and her head turned as white sparks drew from the Dream Walker's corporeal projection before quickly diverting into the cascading green light. As more sparks began to draw away from the Dream Walker, the light stream suddenly split off into two separate surges from the ceiling and coursed into the Faravahars imprinted upon the Half-Breed's hands.

A hum began to slowly fill into the Vault and within several moments, the cracks within the tomb's covered slab began to glow green as more light began to spill out and onto the Half-Breed's Faravahar symbols. Elsewhere, the Bozorgan's eyes widened in bewilderment as an imaginary aura began to force each strand of blonde hair to stand on end. Blinding green light soon bled from the green light streams and expanded outwards and all across the Vault. Gasping, the Melitan Warrioress dropped her sword and strenuously ripped the glowing slab over the tomb in an attempt to remove the young Al-Mayrin whilst fighting through the blinding green light. Such efforts ultimately proved to unfold in vain as the Warrioress stumbled before the green light, which seemed forceful enough to sweep the woman off her feet. Following a moment where more light began to shroud around the Al-Mayrin's slumbering form, her chest suddenly lurched forward as unseen forces seemingly dragged the Half-Breed forward amidst the Melitan Warrioress' cries of defiance.

"Well then, if you don't wish to believe my words then at the very least you shan't deny the will of Yadin-Hamon. That is your faith, is it not?" Orionn asked with a nervous tone while edging back towards their camp. He'd felt that energy not just rip through him, but through the Dream. A power like that may have upset the still sleeping Jade, or worse: the entity living in her Dream. "I um... have to check on something. Good luck, you know... with all this," he said to Pontius, as he gestured to the room in general and then vanished dramatically in a puff of smoke.

Shortly before he reached the edges of the opened Tomb, a large pillar of White Light slammed down from above and beyond the ceilings before crashing into the blinding Green Light that not only filled the Vault with a thundering boom, but sent vibrations coursing through the Crypt Walls and carved Stone Facings. Then, just as quickly as the near Divine, supernatural display had begun, the light quickly dissipated and once again shrouded the Vault in poor illumination. It was then that amidst the corridor's gloomy illuminations that the Al-Mayrin Seer began to stir from slumber ...

A duel was an intricate thing: two opponents facing off in a battle of wills. It is told that a master duelist could strike his opponent down with only the weight of his gaze, without even having to lift a single finger. Jade was clearly not a master, and she was up against an opponent that had proven time, after time, and time again to be just as savage as he was clever. She met his icy blue gaze with hers, daring not even to move and wipe the sweat on her brow. Could she feel paralysis creeping into her bones? Was it her imagination?

Her opponent’s thumb twitched, sending a jolt of electricity down her spine. She must have flinched involuntarily, since she could feel the weight of his intent now crushing down upon her shoulders. His piercing gaze widened, and a hand darted with lightning quickness to his belt. That was the moment she knew it was over, even before she felt his eyes lock onto her weakest point.

β€œCheck,” he intoned gravely, snapping a knight down onto the board. It clacked down with finality, and Jade knew she had only one or two moves left before all was lost. She blustered for a long moment before mustering up the fiercest gaze she could under the circumstances and locked eyes with him once again. Try as she might, however, he was unreadable even after they had sat for what felt like hours in unblinking contest.

β€œWell?” He asked.

β€œI’m thinking,” she replied.

β€œYou’re stalling,” he accused, twisting one corner of his wrinkled lips into a sly grin. That was all it took to smite the weakest link in her armor and send her fierce exterior crumbling. β€œWatch your mouth,” he ordered afterwards, right as she was about to open it to swear.

β€œUgh, AGAIN!” She fumed. The man rolled his eyes and began setting up the board.

β€œYou sure are a glutton for punishment.”

β€œIt’s not like there’s anything else to do around here,” she grumbled with an air of resentment.

β€œYou could always fight with Raven some more,” he suggested.

The pair were sitting on a small, round plateau at the epicenter of some disaster. The ruins of an ancient city surrounded them, destruction radiating outwards to the edge of the city and beyond into the desert. The only untouched building loomed over them in the distance: a magnificent palace with a pillar of light shining into the heavens from the tallest tower. The ornate decorations on the palace marked this as the once great city of Sarife. Above them the shattered sky burned, broken further by an occasional blast of red lightning.

Jade leaned back onto her hands and huffed a lock of near platinum blonde hair out of her striking, pupil-less emerald eyes. She stared up into a flash of crimson lightning while the wizened older man across from her set up the chess board. He was short and wiry, almost to the point of being scrawny, though it was hard to tell through the hooded red and gold robes he wore. The wisdom of ages shown in the wrinkles on his face, and the light glinted off his perfectly smooth, bald head.

β€œSo far fighting hasn’t done anything to help us get out of here… where is your mother, anyway? He’s been gone a long time.”

β€œHe went to go investigate the pillar of light,” he replied.

β€œAgain? Pointless,” she huffed. β€œWe couldn’t get within a stone’s throw of the palace walls even when we were all working together. How does he expect to reach it with that thing running loose in here, let alone without the help of his Dreamwalker?”

β€œWell, he had a theory,” the man answered glibly while continuing to set up the board. After a long, quiet moment Jade slowly lowered her gaze from the sky, and squinted at him when he had nothing further to say.

β€œOrionn…” she lilted. β€œIn this place I can kill you with my thoughts,” she warned. Orionn rolled his eyes.

β€œFine,” he huffed, straightening the pieces on the board with anal precision. β€œIf I have anything, it’s a sense of self-preservation. We theorized that the… entity only wants to keep you from the palace,” he explained. β€œAnd without my assistance, Raven is practically invisible in the Dreamscape.”

β€œPowerless,” she interrupted.

β€œI’m sorry?”

β€œYou mean he’s practically powerless in the Dreamscape without your assistance,” she snipped. Orionn paused for a long time and took an extremely patient breath.

β€œWhile I suppose it’s… true that he can’t affect anything in the Dreamscape without my help, it also means that the Entity will have trouble noticing him as well. When we change something here it leaves traces, something you’re aware of as you used those traces to track us down once before. Not only that, but the mere capability to affect the Dreamscape causes ripples wherever you are. That’s why the Entity is focused on us, and not Raven,” he explained, and then clapped a knight onto the board as his opening move.

β€œAnd you didn’t think to tell me this beforehand because….?” She accused, haphazardly scooting a pawn forward two spaces.

β€œRaven thought you would object, and instructed me to keep you busy during his investigation,” he answered. β€œAnd since he is still possession of the head you so graciously decapitated for him, I’m only able to admonish and not refuse.”

β€œYeah… sorry about that, I wasn’t myself,” she pouted, feeling a slight pang of guilt and allowing him to answer with his second knight.

β€œApology accepted,” he continued, massaging the crow’s feet at the corners of his mouth for a long moment in consideration as he answered with a bishop. β€œOur working theory is that there is some sort of outside interference keeping us here, and it has something to do with Archmagi’s tower in Obsidias collapsing on us during the earthquake. The tower was home to a number of very powerful elemental wards, barriers, and enchantments: theoretically if they fell in precisely the correct order it’s possible (through freak happenstance) they could have created some sort of overlapping array of sorcery that has the side-effect of holding our bodies in stasis,” he explained as she moved another pawn.

β€œReally? That’s your move?” He admonished. Jade glared back at him. β€œAnyway, If that’s the case, it would make sense that we’ve been unable to return to our bodies, since they’re frozen. Our second theory is that the light-pillar may be a doorway or window to… somewhere: hopefully back to the physical world. We may not be able to return to our bodies, but if that window looks back into the physical world, you or I might be able to disrupt the stasis from this side of the Dreamscape. All it would take is for something to nudge the array of spells out of alignment just one tiny bit…” He advanced a pawn to solidify his opening picket line.

Jade stared at him expectantly for a long time while he admired the board. A crack of crimson lightning split the sky momentarily, followed by the low grumble of thunder after an expectant moment. He lifted his eyes to meet her gaze.

β€œWhat…” she prodded.


β€œThis is the part where you explain your plan,” she said. He met her expectant look blankly. β€œNudge it out of alignment one tiny bit… and theeeeeennnnn,” she urged.

β€œOh. I have no idea,” he admitted.

β€œWhat, you’re just going to poke it and see?!” she asked, in a rising pitch.

β€œDo you have a better idea?”

β€œOH MY GOD!!” She screamed.

It was about that time that a tall muscular figure flopped down next to them and took a long, tired breath. He swept a sweaty lock of obsidian hair out of his mismatched eyes and leveled a questioning gaze at the two of them. Raven had returned from his expedition.

β€œWhat’s she going on about?” Asked Raven.

β€œShe doesn’t like your plan,” Orionn answered plainly.

β€œI told you she wouldn’t,” Raven accused. β€œDo you have a better idea?” He asked, rolling his red eye towards Jade.

β€œNo,” she huffed, folding her arms indignantly after clacking a knight on the board. There was a long silence where Raven looked at what they were doing with a growing look of concern.

β€œWh… where the fuck did we get a chess board?”

β€œFrom his β€˜sphincter of holding,’” Jade quipped, and Orionn was unable to hold in a snort.

β€œSee this? This right here: this is why we can’t have nice things,” grumbled Raven.

The ground suddenly began to rumble and shake with a vigor that nearly sent the chess pieces flying in different directions across the room. In simultaneous fashion, a sea of circular ripples had begun to slowly form above the unsuspecting heads of the three figures. At first, the nature, in which the ripples had appeared followed a random pattern, however, as time progressed, the ripples began to form in greater frequency and volume.

"Shexx..." Jade swore. They'd never be able to remember where all the pieces were again. She struggled to keep them all on the board, seeming at first nonplussed by the shaking, and then struggling to catch them all as they tumbled off the board and onto the scorched sandstone. She grew increasingly frustrated, especially since Orionn was making no move to help. "What the hell!"

"Jade," Orionn chimed, reaching across the board to tug on her scarf and get her attention. "Jade, we have a more pressing issue," he informed in an even tone.

Jade leveled a squinted emerald gaze at him, however Orionn didn't meet it: he was gazing up at the disturbance and gathering himself to move. Raven was doing the same, which prompted her to look as well. She suppressed a pang of excitement: nothing ever changed in the Dreamscape... and then a pang of disappointment. She humphed back to the stone, folding her arms. A deep frown creased her face and she reached out with tendrils of force, slamming the board back onto the rock table they had fashioned and forcing the pieces back onto the board.

"Just ignore it," she grunted, sliding the pieces around on the board until she figured it was about where they had left it. "It's never bothered us out here, I don't see any reason for it to start."

"That doesn't look like a disturbance from the Entity to me," said Orionn. He massaged the crows feet at the corners of his mouth thoughtfully as he observed.

Jade let the pieces rattle back off the board and onto ground, leaning back onto her palms and gazing back up at the sky. She focused, opening a psychic umbrella and expanding it out as far as it would reach. Sure enough, she recoiled involuntarily when it touched Ishtar in another part of the Dreamscape doing... something. She pulled her senses back and stood up, wondering if it was aware of what was happening.

As more ripples began to radiate above the trio's heads, the sight of each circular opening dispensing dark clouds could be seen ejecting vapors, small puffs at a time, into their vicinity. What followed proved just as baffling as the occurrences, given how frequently each ripple managed to deposit their contents only to suddenly collapse onto the sandstone floor in synchronous fashion. A moment later, whispy strands of shadows slowly creep through the sandstone floor before needling their way together in an eerie, abnormal trajectory. Within a short passage of time, more shadowy strands had begun to reform into separate fluctuations that resembled bizarre shapes of varying translucent compositions.

The most unanticipated development of all soon occurred as the skies above began to darken as more ripples began to eject dark clouds that threatened to blot the air into blankets of grey fog. Nothing could have prepared the trio for translucent apparitions' rapid assembly into one singular momentous flash and all it required was motion for shadows, fog, and apparition alike to meld together into a pulsating translucent conjuration. The end result resembled an entity rife with frightening grotesque features, jagged teeth, socket-less bone cavities, and an amalgamation of hideous spikes.

A ghastly, ear-splitting screech followed swiftly by a deafening roar soon echoed through the Dreamscape as the translucent, grotesque form of an apparition suddenly charged straight through the trio with such alarming force that it threatened to knock each individual off their feet. All the same, cracks began to form within the sandstone floor as more ripples, dark cloud puffs, and shadowy wisps began to strand their way into existence with a frightening rapidity.

"No!!" Orionn warned as Jade grasped the hilt of her shamshir. She snapped her head first to him, then back to the disturbance before she was thrown to the ground by the unknown force. Orionn unsubstantiated his physical form and slipped into the background of the Dreamscape, allowing the disturbance to pass through him. Raven, however, with no power to affect the Dreamscape impacted the sandstone with a grunt and was dragged along in the creature's wake like a leaf in a stiff breeze.

Jade struggled up to one knee in time to see Raven be whisked away, hand still on the hilt of her blade. The plateau they had been perched on had a steep drop of about twenty feet, likely it was the foundation of what was once some great tower. Raven managed to flip himself onto his belly and hook a dagger into the stone as he slid, though it did little to slow him as he hurtled towards the edge. Jade started to reach out with a tendril of force and save Raven, but she stopped. On the outside, Raven was her mortal enemy, and had tried to kill her several times. With Orionn suddenly nowhere to be found, would it be so wrong to just leave him to his fate? She hesitated for a long, tangible moment.

Over a very short stretch of time, dozens of grotesque apparitions had conjured into existence whilst a strong wind began to whip across their faces. Somewhere in the distance the sight of another young Al-Mayrin could be seen. Her entourage resembled a young dark-haired man and for a moment they both stared back towards Jade before slowly disappearing into the maelstrom of wind and fog alike. This only proved to further complicate matters as several of the grotesque apparitions drifted apart only to reform into their previous contours as shadowy smoke streams. The nature of their sudden dissolution soon became apparent as they quickly wriggled and thrust through the air towards Raven's location and in one powerful gust, slammed against his fingers.

Elsewhere, a strange and sadistic sight came to fruition given how fiercely the winds grew and in unison, the wind gusts and smoke streams redirected with near impossible strength towards Jade's location. Through every passing moment, more and more grotesque apparitions conjured into view before the sandstone floor rumbled once more. Soon, whole apparitions entered onto the plateau in differing shapes, some in beastial form, others in bipedal, near humanistic display. Several dark shades of beastial nature scampered on all four legs across the sandstone floors and enunciated a series of blood curdling, ear splitting shrieks. Their blood-thirsty cries were soon joined in a chorus where the once calm plateau came teeming with dozens if not hundreds of frightening apparitions amidst the chilling winds that threatened to send Jade careening off the edge.

Jade's hesitation was enough to make the decision for her. Raven grunted with displeasure as his hand was struck, forcing him to let go of his knife. What little purchase he had to the earth was forfeit, and he hurtled off the edge of the plateau out of sight. She lashed out, tendrils of force exploded out of her like a thousand tightly coiled snakes, splitting the plateau in twain as she fired it through the ground and knocked Raven into the side of another large ruin to break his fall. Jade came off her feet as the stream slammed into her and flew towards the opposite edge of the plateau. She twisted to get her feet beneath her and managed to plant them on the ground, trying to slow herself to little avail. One foot slid off the edge and she threw herself forward to keep from falling, eventually pulling herself back to her feet.

Clutching the hilt of her blade, her eyes flashed, and ignoring Orionn's warning she pulled her shamshir free of its scabbard. A crystal note shrieked through the din, and the blade of pure light pierced the shadows. Jade stood her ground, energy buzzing about her, bouncing every pebble away from her rhythmically and swirling every mote of dust around her as it resonated through the stone. There was a tangible moment of silence before something in the beyond fixed its gaze upon her. The sky pulsed red with anger, and crimson bolts of lightning spider-webbed across the sky.

"What are you DOING?!" Orionn shouted, suddenly beside her again.

"Do you have a better idea?"

".... No," he grunted, then dissolved into a wisp of energy and vanished over the edge of the plateau that Raven had fallen from.

Jade stood her ground, holding her blade of coherent light between herself and the shades, while tendrils of pure force coiled about her at the ready. Raven pulled himself back up onto the plateau and onto his feet. His cloak shrouded his face and body, though his red eye pierced the shadow with a molten light. He was slightly hunched, though his significant height didn't seem to be affected by his posture, and beneath the cloak he seemed much bulkier. He reached back and unlatched his bastard sword from its scabbard, allowing the hilt to fall partway out and into his hand. The few inches of the blade that were showing sucked the light clean out of the air into manifest darkness. When his blade was unsheathed, a baleful howl floated over them, and something in the wastes rushed towards them with terrible speed.

"Yeah... I don't have a better idea either," Growled Raven.

The shadow manifestations rushed forwards where the plateau quickly became packed with hundreds if not thousands of ghastly entities scrambling over each other to reach the two beleaguered warriors. Where the plateau had once grounded their pursuits, the sandstone floors now teamed with nightmarish conjurations that threatened to unbalance the fabric of the Dreamscape's existence. The sounds and sights of their shrieks resembled a form of undirected, raw hunger with the an aura projecting immense hatred. Through the sandstone fissures, whole blocks and stone chunks began to leap into the sky to form a long pathway leading away from the plateau and stretching as far as the human eye could see.

Further still, the dark and ominous fog darkened as streaks of red lightening leaped across the skies amidst booming thunder. It was after the plateau began to crack apart that whole sections of the sandstone began to collapse, sending their conjuration occupants plummeting down below whilst narrowing the two warriors' freedom of movement or space. As if matters hadn't further deteriorated, dozens of shades quickly melded together to form larger, albeit visible spiked creatures of more physical manifestations. Their dark purple eyes and jagged grins spoke of a primal hunger that could only be satiated through their prey, namely the two warriors within their sights. Through blood curdling bellows, the creatures quickly leaped near impossibly over the pulsating shades before lunging to within mere inches of their kills. Within the same instance, chunks of stones began to layer before each warrior, linking separate escape routes towards the endless skyward pathway.

Jade was nearly knocked into the chasm by the advance of shades when a sandstone tile anchored itself under her foot. First one, then another as she was pushed back. She spared one single moment to look behind her and narrowly avoided getting her throat slashed by one of the shade's claws. She wasn't sure what would happen if they killed her in the Dreamscape, but she was doubly sure that she didn't want to find out.

*It's an incursion! Something is happening outside, the Dreamscape is deteriorating!* Orionn shouted in their minds. Raven and Jade recoiled simultaneously. *Ah, I don't need to shout anymore... There are too many to fight, run!*

"Ishtar is coming!" Jade shouted, giving up another step to the intruders. She had an idea to slow them all down, but she'd risk hitting Raven. 'Just let fly... leave them to their fate... they're your enemies after all,'a tiny voice in the back of her mind whispered, to which she gathered a coil of force into her hands. The voice wasn't wrong, but she suspected it was Ishtar trying to manipulate her into breaking the uneasy truce she'd forged with the pair of Hunters.

"I don't think that's going to improve our situation!" Shouted Raven. He was retreating slowly as well, though more deliberately. While merged with Orionn he was able to use the full scope of his abilities in the Dreamscape. With the cloak masking his movements he yielded a step, and then impossibly fast, pure darkness would leap out and cut down anything within reach and vanish as though he hadn't moved at all. It was clear, however, that this sword technique was meant to dispatch his foes quickly so he could move on, and that extended use was incredibly taxing on his body. Across the plateau Jade clenched her jaw, struggling with her whim to end the feud between the hunters and she.

"GET CLEAR!" she finally shouted, stifling the urge to kill Orionn and Raven. She had spent a long time convincing them that Ishtar was at least their common foe, and didn't want to waste that effort. She cartwheeled back several steps, raising her sword of light over her head. Force coiled around the blade, which flashed brilliantly and screamed in fury, silencing the Dreamscape. She saw Raven's red eye widen, and he immediately turned and fled up the provided pathway with uncanny speed belying his size. Jade pushed every ounce of her power into the blade and cleaved the plateau, releasing all the energy at once in a clap of thunder that rocked the entire Dreamscape. Force lanced out in a wall of light, splitting the Dreamscape in twain, and the aftershock turned the plateau (and much of the ruins in its path) to dust.

Jade let the wave of back-pressure fling her up onto the pathway into a heap: she didn't have the strength to resist anyway. She fought a wave of lightheadedness to climb back to her feet and wiped a dribble of blood from her nose as she began running, hoping that would be enough to stem the tide of creatures or at least give them enough space to escape and come up with a new plan. Fleeing blindly down a pathway of unknown origin didn't particularly seat well with her, or even fleeing in general... It was the only option in front of her for the time being: either flee into the unknown or try the pillar of light, and risk facing Ishtar AS WELL AS whatever was leaking in. At least this way Ishtar was likely to serve the common interest of self-preservation.

The entire Dreamscape suddenly flashed a brilliant white and as a stream of light projected forth, the large outline of a bulbous curved object burst through the nightmare. The projection itself flickered through the world whilst the hordes of ghastly apparitions, conjurations, and hellishly manifested creatures roared as streams of the same brilliant white light jettisoned from their eyes. Moments later, many howled as they exploded into streams of white light whilst others plummeted into depths below. All the same the floating pathway began to collapse or shatter into pulverized dust and a million sharp pieces. The blood curdling shrieks continued as the outline grew smaller and smaller, yet its projection grew clearer in visibility. Several dozen shades dissipated altogether only to be replaced by the sheer numbers of their kind while the dark fog itself began to take on a life. The ominous manner in which it lingered quickly halted as the fog itself evolved into a fast moving current of a blindingly fast cyclone that threatened to suck the two warriors off their feet and down into the depths below.

For a moment, the voluminous object began to descend from its skyward location and as the projection grew in clarity, the segments of the fog and the pulsating shades disappeared, to be replaced by the sight of cracked stone, debris, cobwebs, and the sound of a strange, yet calming sound of hissing steam. Complementing the sounds were the sights of natural flames jettisoning from the large circular object amidst the concerned shouts of a man's voice. In yet another sadistic turn of events, the sights and sounds flickered as the nightmarish world of the Dreamscape returned into sight.

Even as dozens of the nightmarish conjurations began to disappear into violent streams of blinding white light, a sea of the large spiked creatures and shades still managed to roar in delight as they reached within mere inches of both warriors before being knocked away by spinning bits of the fragmenting plateau. The ground itself began to give way and in an instant, jets of violent cyclone winds slammed into Raven and sent the man flying off his feet. He spun a half dozen cycles before ultimately careening straight into Jade with the force of his weight added onto the violent cyclone winds. What followed could only stipulate the beginning of the end as both avenues of escape were cut off, trapping the warriors along a segment of the pathway that had also began to slowly give away. In every direction, endless streams of shadowy wisps threaded and reamed their way towards the trapped warriors with alarming speed and strength whilst the cyclone formed from around. Matters only escalated further after larges bits of the plateau sandstone came hurdling towards the pair with sickening speed. All the while, the sounds of hissing grew louder followed swiftly by projected flashing sights that could only be described as crushed stone laden ruins.

Jade grunted as she had the wind crushed from her lungs by Raven's huge body, and in the tumble, her sword of light was knocked clattering off the edge of the collapsing pathway. As it fell from her hands, the light faded and it became an ordinary sword once again. He seemed to shrink, losing quite a bit of mass, though it was a tangible moment before Jade was able to shove him off her. She rolled onto her side and clutched her stomach, curling into the fetal position. Even though her brain knew that her physical body technically wasn't in the Dreamscape, it didn't diminish the amount of real pain she was feeling.

"You broke it," Raven croaked, pushing himself to his feet as quickly as he could. "If we weren't about to die, I'd be really impressed!"

Jade might have laughed under different circumstances, instead she struggled to suck air in loud gasps. She felt Raven pick her up and press her hard against his chest. For a long moment everything seemed to slow down. His body was hot, and he smelled quite pleasant surprisingly. Jade felt her cheeks flush, feeling like if they just stood in each others embrace everything would be alright. She felt her body relaxing... a solid thud resonated through Raven's chest as a piece of debris bounced off his back, snapping her back to reality and leaving her feeling incredibly awkward.

"Orionn, can you take us to another part of the Dreamscape?" Raven asked, deflecting another spinning rock with his sword.

*Well, I could take myself to another part of the Dreamscape...*

"Useful," Raven grunted with a note of sarcasm. He twisted to avoid another piece of debris as the cyclone closed in on them, dragging Jade along with him. She stumbled a little, pressing firmly back into his chest when he stopped and grasping him around his waist to steady herself. She could feel her cheeks burning. "She's flushed from over-extending herself," he said. Yeah... that's what's happening. "What about Ishtar?"

At the edge of the newly formed abyss sat a towering black shape resembling an enormous dog with red eyes. Its skin seemed to suck the light straight out of the air, and the sky of the Dreamscape had darkened to a deep blood red all the way to the horizon behind it. At its feet, the abyss ceased to spread, and any shade or piece of debris that entered its sphere of influence was raked with crimson lightning until it was no more. Its glowing red eyes observed with cold indifference, and though it did not allow the abyss or any shades to pass, it also did not advance to assist them.

*It does not seem interested in helping us*

"Of course not... Maybe it knows something we don't?" Raven felt Orionn shrug, this wasn't improving his mood.

*There's somewhere else here though,* Orionn said cryptically, brushing aside the twinge of annoyance he felt from Raven. *I may be able to pull us through, but if we end up in someone else's Dreamscape we might never find our way back to our bodies.*

"Do it!" Raven was scooting towards the last few feet of pathway, trying to suck in as much of his girth as possible to save space.

*If you say so.*

Raven felt all the hair on his arms and neck stand on end as Orionn pulsed energy through them, changing their spectral vibration and trying to attune them to the adjacent image. He hated this part, but if everything went right they'd be pulled through to... wherever the other image was. Hearing the conversation, Jade tried not to think that the Dreamscape might be a construct within her mind and that by leaving it they were actually getting farther away from their bodies. Or that if the Dreamscape existed within her mind and they left, then they were leaving the intruding creatures inside her with Ishtar. Jade shuddered involuntarily as Orionn's magic touched her, making her skin crawl.

Flashing light raged across the Dreamscape for the third straight instance, provoking the raging weather torrents hurdling around the pair. Whatever delivered the mind numbing currents clearly had no desire to allow the voluminous projection into the current plane of existence, despite the Dreamwalker's most concerted efforts. On the contrary, it seemed the unseen nightmarish entities desired for their demise or to end their existence through the blinding cold, fierce snows, pouring rains, and blistering heat that poured overhead. The strongest of all proved to be the blistering heat and with every imaginable force competing to deliver a devastating blow against the warriors, the blood-thirsty shrieks indicated the apparitions' desire to feed upon their prey.

Above the crimson streaked skies and frightening shrieks came a constant thunder of hooves and foreign guttural commands followed by the sound of a loud bang and whistling arrows. A moment before a particularly hideous looking creature wrapped its jaws around Jade's right arm, the nightmarish apocalypse partially disappeared to unveil the shapes of battered ruins that resembled Obsidias and the bright red glow of parchments matting the surrounding tower ruins. Several paces to the right, the voluminous object could be seen ejecting hot flames and the sight of a towering man, laced in silks, munitions grade armor, and assorted weapons could be seen ducking and weaving behind the cover of a large, square basket hanging from below.

With each passing flicker between the projecting nightmare landscape and Ruins of Obsidias, the man's outline became the clearest between both sights. His expression spoke of dire distress yet the methods for engagement illustrated immense composure given how artfully he managed to evade the arrows peppering the basket before hurdling black incendiary balls upon the squadrons of horse archers gathered around the premise. Several percussive bangs ignited below,sending rider and horse reeling to the floor. Wasting no time, a carefully timed motion delivered another series of hissing motions that quickly brought the voluminous contraption into a rapid descent. Just before the contraption seemed to crash into the ground, the towering man paused as flaming arrows whistled just mere inches over his head before rising from cover to quickly yank a string from within the voluminous object. An instance later, his instinctual flattening beneath the basket's cover proved enough to dodge yet another vicious volley of flaming arrows before leveling an elongated metal object towards the quarter dozen nearing horsemen that galloped below. The loud bang that erupted out of the man's metal rod ejected many tiny miniature projectiles with such force that the remaining horsemen had neither time nor room to prevent their deaths. Shortly before the large basket crashed to the ground, the towering man leaped over the side and fanned the flames spreading along the basket's edge before seizing a bow and a quiver of arrows from a dying horseman.

During the brief lull that involved a series of guttural orders and the sounds of other surrounding horse warriors' galloped retreats, a voice echoed above both projections, "Kardeşler kÒşifleri!(brethren discoverers)Can you hear me??"

Jade recoiled, letting out a squawk, which drew Raven's attention. He swiftly turned and cut the apparition down, then returned to protecting them from flying debris. On the bank of the abyss, Ishtar watched with narrowed eyes.

"Wait," Jade paused, letting go of Raven. "... Hello?" she asked into the wind experimentally.

"What?" Raven turned a distracted eye towards her, shuffling them towards the last few inches of crumbling pathway. He grunted again when a flying rock struck him in the shoulder and nearly dislodged the sword from his hand.

"I heard something! I HEARD SOMETHING!!" Jade screamed at the wind. "I HEARD SOMETHING!!" she screamed again at the shades. Raven gawped down at her like one does when they've discovered their best mate has been secretly huffing the fumes of horse manure to get high. Another flying rock struck him, and this time it really did dislodge the sword from his hand. The darkness extinguished from the blade in a hiss and clattered into the abyss.

"Woman! Will you reign in the crazy?!"

"Kardeşler kÒş..sons of death," the man bellowed before a deep rumbling shook the ground and knocked him to his knees. Despite the force, his composure remained steadfast. Several suspicious glances to his rear provoked a string of curses and prayers before leaping backwards as a large section of carved stone crushed his previous location.

"In Yadin-Hamon and Athirat's grace, we trust; we are permitted, we are permitted," the towering man panted in accented form as he unsheathed his shining steel tipped Mameluke Sword. The long blue silk embroidered below his munitions armor draped against the floor as the golden fleur de lis patterns shone against the flames cast against the ruins and as he kneeled in prayer, his enunciations fell on a more hymnic resonance.

"In Yadin-Hamon and Athirat's grace, we trust, we are permitted, we are permitted," he chanted, "In Yadin-Hamon and Athirat's grace, we trust, we are permitted, we are permitted; in Yadin-Hamon and Athirat's grace, we trust, we are permitted, we are permitted ..."

As the harmonious prayer chants echoed over the nightmare landscape, the apparitions charging towards the warrior pair slowly began to fade or turn away. Many others began to back away as blinding white light began to spill away from their eyes. The pale crimson fog that loomed overhead began to shift and twist into the abyss whilst the winding vortex broke apart in a violent torrent, only to gather down below and slowly redirect into the direction of the banks of abyss where the watchful Ishtar resided. As if on cue, the transcendental apparitions and ghastly creatures shrieked in a sea of ear-splitting wails and suicidally dove towards their new prey. The source of a much more rewarding and equally appetizing new meal seemed to attract enough attention to seize it by any means necessary and with good reason given the raw elemental prowess the powerful Djinn seemed to command.

"Yadin-Hamon and Athirat in harmony, we are permitted, we are permitted," the man chanted as the sights of the Obsidias Ruins grew in clarity. The rubble, wooden beams, iron scraps, and debris that composed the Ruined Tower's battered foundations scattered as the ground rumbled yet again, this time with an even greater vigor. After another rumble collapsed a pillar holding a section of the stone walls upright, the towering man quickly seized the initiative to rush forward only to be knocked back onto his feet by an unknown force. The guttural shouts echoing from behind proved enough to force him into a fighting stance, however, after a moment of relatively little activity, the man immediately slung the quiver strap over his back and slung the composite bow onto his shoulder before ripping a paper pouch and dumping dark grain parcels and a lead ball into the base of the metal rod. Amidst the flickering torches illuminating the Tower site grounds, his blonde hair draping past his shoulder seemed to sparkle against the bright moonlight whilst casting a bright reflection against shallow pool occupying the grounds before him. The pools reflections spoke otherwise and along the water's edges stood the murky projections of several living figures stooped in a deep slumber.

Glancing to his rear, the towering blonde haired man's arms reached forward only to force an immediate retraction and a string of curses. After another block of stone began to loosen from the ruined tower's foundations, the man leaned forwards and shouted, "Kardeşler kaşifleri!(brethren discoverers) If you can hear me ... I urge you to shatter the wards anchoring your bodies within this cursed tower. Please! You must hurry! I cannot breach the perimeter and more of the Jade Khan's horsemen are enroute!"

*I heard it that time,* chimed Orionn. *I was unaware that Jade commanded horsemen,* he mused thoughtfully. There was a striking silence between them as the cyclone finally died down, and Raven exhaled a breath he wasn't aware that he was holding. He gave Jade a questioning glance, to which she shrugged in reply. He shook his head, deciding to let it go until later. For now he was just glad to have space to breathe, and that the shades suddenly had bigger prey in mind. After a scant moment to catch his breath he took Jade about the waist and leaped from the remains of the pathway towards the palace.

For the time being Ishtar continued to hold her ground, as she watched Jade carefully. She seemed unconcerned with the demons presently, as nothing yet in the swarm had been powerful enough to even step within a hundred meters of her towering form. Anything that stepped foot within her sphere was instantly and relentlessly raked with bolts of crimson lightning until it became energized dust. The storm was so intense that the musical buzz of the electricity splitting the air nearly drowned out the constant roaring thunder.

"Wait, where are we going?" Jade asked, struggling to get free. Once they were on solid ground again Raven dropped her unceremoniously onto her rump.

"Now is our best chance to get to the palace, while the Entity is distracted," he said, giving a pause as he looked back at Ishtar, who made direct eye contact with him. "...ish. Distracted-ish."

"OR, we could end up facing the shades AND Ishtar at the same time," Jade quipped, getting to her feet. Either way there was no time to lose, and they were in no position to fight each other.

*Technically, neither of you are wrong,* observed Orionn. *As the master of this realm, I believe it completely feasible that holding off the advance of the demonic host doesn't actually take any effort, meaning that she could both hold the swarm at bay, and fight us at the palace if she desired. Also a Dreamscape is a physical manifestation of its owners will on the Spirit plane, so without factoring interference from outside, everything that exists here does so because the Entity allows it.*

"Uh huh," Raved acknowledged while pulling Jade along into a fast run.

"So what does all that mean?" Jade huffed, struggling to keep up. For being such a large man, Raven was incredibly athletic. Jade was no slouch herself, as a career cat burglar and fugitive but she was also fighting exhaustion from over-extending her powers.

*We're probably being manipulated,* Orionn stated. *I postulate it takes no effort for Ishtar to hold off the swarm as it is: they are naturally at a disadvantage since they are attempting to tread upon her will. If she desired, she could have held us there with the demonic swarm. Second, something has changed outside, which is what has allowed the swarm to intrude upon her Dreamscape in the first place. I believe it's within our best interest to attempt to knock the barriers imprisoning us out of alignment as was our original plan. I also believe, though Ishtar may not help us... she will most likely not interfere out of mutual self-interest. Of course there is still also the possibility that all this is made up and we're being manipulated.* Raven felt him shrug.

"I don't think She would fake an invasion of demonic shades just to manipulate us. I admit this all seems convenient after being here for such a long time, but this isn't her... style, I guess," Jade huffed as she ran along. "So... (puff) we never got to find out... what did you learn about the light in the palace?"

"Oh, um... it was shiny," Raven answered evenly. Jade stumbled in disbelief, and fell to the earth hard.

"Wait, WHAT!?"

"It was shiny?" Raven answered again, slowing down to a stop.

"Wh... what did you DO during all that time?" Jade screamed, scrambling back to her feet.

"Oh the palace is a hellish labyrinth full of traps and monsters, it took ages to find my way through it, but the light... I don't know what kind of mystical knowledge either of you expected me to punch, kick, or slash out of it... as far as I can tell it's just a light shining out of the floor of a tower. Put my hand in it in everything... made some killer shadow puppets. Based on what I had to fight through get there though, I'm sure it's probably important," Raven said. Jade just stood there in disbelief, as though her whole world had just come crashing down... and well, with the demonic swarm spilling through she wasn't entirely wrong. "On the bright side, getting through a second time will be loads easier since I've already cleared the way."

*The heart,* Orionn chimed as Raven started to run again, Jade trotted to catch up, suppressing the urge to punch him. *Every Dreamscape has an object, location, or entity within it that serves as its anchor to the spirit world. Maintaining a Dreamscape is incredibly taxing, even an Entity such as Ishtar would find that it occupies the majority of her power to do so indefinitely. That's why when Dreamscapes are created, they are bound to something that serves as the anchor. There is a possibility that the palace of Sarife is a place of significance to Ishtar,* Orionn explained. Jade slowed down a little bit.

"Yeah... to Ishtar," she laughed nervously, unconsciously placing a hand over the black cat slave tattoo on her neck. "Anyway, what does all that mean?"

*We use Jade's powers, and my experience with Dreamscapes to blast a hole in the array of wards holding our bodies... through the heart, and then hope Ishtar doesn't intervene at the last second, expel us all from the Dreamscape and use the oportunity to gain control over Jade's body and destroy us while we're recovering from stasis sickness.*

"I... I don't like this plan," Jade said with a note of concern.

"Do you have a better idea?" Quipped Raven.


As waves quickly washed over the slumbering Plate Armored Knight and the other Ancients, the blonde man shook his head before turning towards his companions, "We cannot save the Falcon of Pendragon! His hubris sealed his fate long ago and for this, his companions suffered the same destiny! No matter, it seems we've even greater tasks at hand and I am afraid our time will come to an end if we cannot bring ruin to the Jade Khan's pursuits. He cannot be allowed to continue his current path or what we've witnessed is only the beginning of what is to come!"

The Tower grounds shook once more and unbalanced the munitions carrying, blonde-haired man so suddenly he nearly tripped behind a fallen horseman's remains. Through some form of near impossible awareness, the man's plunge quickly broke into a back roll before a near instinctual response sent him flying in an acrobatic back flip that brought him towards the voluminous contraption. Miraculously, against the startling commotion and mortality, it had somehow remained afloat, yet with each passing moment threatened to ascend out of reach.

The man had only just managed to climb aboard before it could completely floated away and seized a stray rope along the basket's edge. A moment later, he'd knotted two ropes into a long makeshift lead before tugging against another rope dangling directly below the voluminous object. As additional hisses resonated into the night, the wavering flaming tendrils seemed to lick almost naturally against the basket's interior whilst aiding in the contraption's descent. For a moment the sights and sounds formed some semblance of calm amidst the sea of potential conflict.

It was a moment before the basket once against crashed to the debris strewn Tower grounds that the towering man once again leaped onto the stone and swiftly tied the lead around his waist. His gaze soon turned towards the night sky, where thunder clouds loomed several leagues away. Along an opening within a particular cloud patch, twinkling stars could be seen against the clarity of night sky's true and untouched form. For a time, it seemed that perhaps the gazes of the gods could offer a sense of calm towards the conflicts unfolding below and for a time, the sky's appearance bred exactly that, calmness. A sudden earthly rumble sent the Tower's section crumbling to the earth and as suddenly as it had begun, the moment was lost as a section of the clouds slowly coated over the star strewn opening. What came afterwards, spoke of mother nature's touch and against the gloom of the dark sky, the booming thunder and pattering water drops proved enough to announce a storm was inbound.

β€œKaşifleri (discoverers),” the man cried as he barely managed to dodge a stray section of the tower's ruin's collapsing foundations, β€œI know you can hear me! There is very little time and I cannot break the wards without your assistance! Channeling your arcanic gifts together will set the task in motion if you've any hope for escape. IT'S THE ONLY WAY!!!

"I don't think he understands what he's asking me to do," Jade quipped.

"You're probably right," Raven affirmed. As someone who'd been on the receiving end of her 'arcanic gift' on more than one occasion, the thought made him feel a little green.

*Well, he's not wrong,* Orionn answered. The whole party slowed to a brisk walk in contemplation before resuming their dash for the palace.

"I thought the plan was for you and Raven to do... something to poke wards," Jade said carefully.

"Yeah me too," Raven affirmed.

*And if this were my Dreamscape, you would be correct.*

"I feel like this situation deserves a much stronger curse word than.... fiddlesticks," Raven grumbled.

"Yeah," Jade said cautiously, giving Raven an odd glance.

They made the rest of their dash for the palace in relative silence, and in the grand scheme of things even though Sarife was a very large kingdom, with all the buildings knocked down making the trip from the town center to the palace didn't take that long. When they reached the palace walls, the gates were already opened just wide enough for Jade and Raven to slip through. The quad was a grizzly graveyard, full of the corpses of all manner of beasts, and the bridge across the moat was slick with black blood. Jade had to cover her mouth and nose against the smell.

"Subtle," she quipped.

"Well, you know me... all about subtlety," Raven answered evenly.

The halls of the palace, distorted by the dream into a twisting labyrinth was no better. Slain Ghuls lined the hallway, mainly left dead in the shape of hyenas and Jade's shoes squicked sickeningly across the polished marble as Raven lead her through the maze confidently. They passed several hallways that it was clear he'd gone down, evidenced by the sprung traps and monster corpses shoved off to the side. It felt like hours as they traversed the maze before they finally reached the top of the tower where the light shone through. The corpse of a Roc hung halfway through the door with several thick shafted spears hanging out of its breast. The rear half of the beast hung out of a gaping hole in the bricks where it had burst through. Raven stepped over its beak and into the light chamber with no fanfare, pointed to the pillar of light coming out of the floor and spread his arms.

"Ta-dah... shiny," he affirmed, sticking his hand in the light a few times, then finding an undamaged section of the wall and pressing his hands together... he made the shape of a bunny hop across the wall.

"You did all this without your powers?" Jade asked with an air of astonishment.

"Eh," he shrugged. "Mostly Ghuls... a Roc, couple other nasties, I fought many such creatures when I was being inducted into the Black Hand, I'm just glad none of them came back."

*Interesting,* chirped Orionn as he stepped out of Raven's body to observe the light and the surroundings. He waved a hand and many glyphs flashed into existence, scrawled on almost every surface of the tower room.

"I didn't put that there," Raven said, holding his hands up innocently.

"I didn't expect that you did," Orionn informed, moving around the room to read the writing until he came to the hole in the tower. He gazed outside for a moment, watching as the lightning storm in the distance began to escalate. The constant thunder only occasionally interrupted by a loud crack. Ishtar had advanced forward and was now assaulting the abyss directly, driving the demonic host back and retaking some of the Dreamscape that had been lost to the invaders. *Hmm. Seems some of the writing here was damaged by your... altercation,* Orionn accused massaging the crows feet at the corners of his mouth thoughtfully as he often did.

"That wasn't my fault, he started it," Raven said, scratching the back of his neck.

"Regardless, I believe this is indeed the heart. The damage to the scripture here shouldn't compromise the integrity of the window here. Give me a moment," he paused, reaching into the light experimentally as Raven had, only when he removed it, his hand was shimmering with energy. It dripped off his fingertips and slowly floated back into the pillar. He shook his hands vigorously, as one does to dry them after they are washed. "Ok then," he said, sitting down and focusing his blue gaze into the pillar of light with laser-like intensity.

The hair on Jade's arms stood on end as the air in the room seemed to electrify, and the light warped, expanding out until it nearly filled the room. It seemed like they were standing in the ruins of the Archmagi's tower in Obsidias, though any movement sent a ripple through the visage, as though they were peering through water. Orionn was visibly strained, and Jade noticed that the scripture covering the walls pulsed dramatically as he weaved his magic. The image swirled around sickeningly as he searched through the ruins... the encroaching horsemen... the voluminous flying device. The image finally settled on the strange blonde man and the reflecting pool from the adjacent dream.

"Ok now, Jade," Orionn started, never shifting his gaze away from the scene. They seemed to zoom through the reflecting pool, and when the image stabilized Jade wasn't sure what she was looking at. Many jumbled arrays of glowing script wrapping around one another, as though hundreds of arcane circles had perfectly collapsed on top of eachother. Orionn's eyes narrowed as he sifted through the spells, looking for a keystone point they could tug on to make the whole thing come down. "What I want you to do... is VERY GENTLY... nudge this array with one of your force projections," he explained, then reached out and pointed at a location. "Right... here."

"... How gently?" Jade asked, since that part sounded extremely important.

"Imagine you are driving a carriage, and inside the cabin you are transporting a large container of scalding hot soup with no lid, many flimsy glass jugs of boiling tea, and one very nice old lady... gently enough not to spill anything on the old lady," he explained patiently.

Jade took a deep breath and knelt down so she could concentrate. She took the smallest tendril of force she could conjure up in her hands nervously and rolled it up into a ball. She let it buzz gently against her skin for a long moment before she took it to one of her fingertips and slowly reached out towards the target Orionn had requested. She heard Raven and Orionn both suck in a nervous breath, which did nothing to ease her nerves. 'It's okay, I got this,' she assured herself. In the Dreamscape, her power was like a scalpel: she could conjure enough force to turn the entire kingdom to dust, or sever the wings off the smallest fly. It was surgical, and she had unlimited control. She pressed the orb of force against the image as gently as she could, and when it touched the men both sucked air nervously through their teeth.

"Stop being such babies," she hissed, and pressed gently against the orb of force until *BLIP* it went through, sending dramatic ripples through the image.

In the Dreamscape her powers may have been a scalpel wielded by an expert surgeon, however in the physical world her powers more resembled a giant awkwardly throwing a trade ship heavily laden with cargo. Back in Obsidias, something was happening. Force buzzed through the foundation of the tower ruins, sending loose rocks skittering across the ground. A massive tension built up in the air, like someone stretching an infinitely long rubber band to its limit. There was a sudden clap, like thunder with no sound as something slammed massively into the array of wards. Something cracked, but they held.

"Good, good," Orionn exhaled a breath he didn't know he was holding. "Again.... but just a little bit more, like... two percent," he instructed. Once again Jade conjured up the smallest tendril of force she could muster, rolled it into a ball, and pressed it against the image. She took a deep breath, and pushed it through just a little bit harder. Once again, a massive tension built up in the Obsidias tower, violently unsettling the dust from every crack and crevice. The impact sent every loose rock in the room skittering towards the walls, and once again something cracked.

"Okay okay," Orionn breathed. "The wards are more resilient than I thought they'd be," he said, massaging his crows feet, deep in thought. After a long moment he produced a gold coin from the inside pocket of his robe and, *ting!* he flipped it. The coin landed gently in his outstretched palm, and he slapped it to the top of his opposite hand. Orionn observed the result carefully for another long minute. "Why don't you two take a swing at it together?" He asked. Raven raised an eyebrow at him.

"Are you sure?" Raven and Jade both asked simultaneously.

"Sure, what's the worst that could happen?" Orionn answered after expelling a dramatic sigh.

As if an ancillary act of the divine directly spilled into world, a small, albeit impossibly swift wind expanded in all directions across the Obsidias ruins perimeter housing the Ancients only to blunt upon reaching the wards. In short, none of the forces expelled from the golden haired woman seemed to penetrate the seemingly invisible barrier that theoretically prevented exit or entry into the Warded premises even as the winds blew across the illuminated scriptures and parcels that matted around the unconscious Ancients. Whoever had established the Wards had clearly understood the principles towards encasing whole sections of grounds and individuals for centuries and it seemed no intervention of Divine interference that had kept the Ancients asleep in such an effective time span.

The string of muttered curses that escaped the towering man's lips progressed through guttural tongues as he looked to the sky before diving for cover under the safety of a nearby fallen pillar. Moments later the loud crackle of clattering sticks echoed across the grounds followed by a sea of darkness that slowly blotted out the Moon. For a while it seemed to rain nothing, but arrows as relentless streams of darkness constantly kept light from entering the vicinity amidst the merciless peppering across the Tower grounds. With each passing moment, each tremor against the earth fell with such precision that newly arrived arrows began to split each other apart from within the same exact locations. Vengeance would be the price exacted for the slain Horsemen and in lue of the meticulous nature of each precise volley, such a retribution only further illustrated the reinforcing Horse Archers' ranged prowess.

During some point into the carnage, it quickly became difficult to discern between grounds and projectile whilst the volume of arrows soon began to blot out even the night sky itself. Nothing would halt the endless sea of projectiles until one party capitulated and it seemed the distant Horse Archers held the best chances for victory. Oddly enough, the man's resilience had brought some form of ingenuity despite enduring the morbid projectile storm and in short order he had somehow managed to erect a makeshift, barricade fence after having managed several suicidal dashes for arrow retrievals. Through some sheer grace from the Divines, not a single arrow managed to wound him and any that managed to stray towards him either clattered harmlessly off his pillar or otherwise, clattered harmlessly against his multi-layered barricade.

How he had managed to calmly withstand the endless volleys spoke of nerves and patience that few could rival. Father time was seemingly less forgiving towards unstable foundations or short-lived flash of brilliance and yet, the Wards somehow withstood centuries of punishment to anchor numerous Ancient inhabitants to an eternal sleep. It seemed as if nothing could penetrate or overpower their strengths. Perhaps it was fate; perhaps the Divines had another plan for the Ancients of Old and that time was just in allowing the crumbling splendor of a long lost era to dissolve with dignity. The ruins of Obsidias spoke as much and the gradual manner in which the laborious workmanship of the Age of Discovery had fallen from grace seemed haunting in itself. As with anything, all things eventually came to their end and as evidenced through the crumbling ruins and the sea of darkness, the towering man felt that perhaps it was his time.

Or perhaps ... as Prophecy speculated, he would give the Jade Horsemen pain worth several hundred years as was deserving of their deplorable existence. The signs all pointed towards the Discoverers' awakening and where there came Ancient winds came the notion that there arrived a force the world had not seen in nearly a hundred years ... hope

As such, the blistering volleys offered one fatal flaw that the man would exploit to the fullest extent. His out-stretched arm lowered to the ground where a short breaths drew his concentration towards the ground. The deep methodical exhales that followed illustrated his seeming connection and harmony to the world's liveliness. Even as arrows clattered all around his barriers, it seemed almost as if nothing disrupted the manner, in which he could discern the rhythms of life and movement throughout the Tower ruins. Following a moment where his eyes lulled into deep concentration, the man's trance-like demeanor abruptly brought him to action between the short lulls separating each volley. Within a relatively short time period and numerous stray arrow gatherings, his arrow hand-fulls were assembled into something that resembled a crude make-shift shield.

The sound of booming thunder began to echo in the distance, however, with each passing crackle, the sounds seemingly grew louder and louder until the blonde man's worrying, skyward glances seemed all the more reason to fear the storm's approach. There were simply no other options and his time had simply bled dry against the storms and horse archer hordes. With the fates stacked against him, the man followed the only sensible course of action by desperately hurling himself across the arrow lake. Any other individual would have already perished, however, the spectacularly timed, split-second leap between the moments before the arrows struck the ground and the next volley had already sent the man catapulting halfway across the littered grounds and towards his destination. The momentum only continued as he broke the fall into a diving roll over miraculously untouched ground before another leap sent him flying into another upwards trajectory that quickly morphed into a break neck sprint.

Upon clambering onto the basket, the maddening motion happened almost like a whirlwind given the man's ability to simultaneously snatch an idle satchel and yank a dangling rope above the voluminous contraption whilst sustaining constant movement. Shortly before hurling over the basket's edge, the man managed to floor several meters between himself and the basket itself before the next arrow volley had even blotted the Moon. Forward momentum brought the man skywards alongside the ascending contraption whilst exploiting the ruins to his advantage through non-stop strides against the tower walls. Moments later, arrows began to rain upon his previous locations, yet the man had already ascended to the safety of a rampart above the rising Contraption.

His journey continued across the serrated rampart edges as a series of front flips, sideways hurls, and scampering steps propelled him through the heights as lightening began to arc against the night sky. Just before the voluminous contraption surged past the tallest tower heights, a series of lightening bolts collided against the grounds with such vigor that the force seemingly forced several rampart sections to collapse upon dozens of unsuspecting mounted Horse Archers. Whilst escaping prying eyes and the storm's opening prelude, the man continually raced across the tower heights amidst the chaos unfolding below. Shouts and neighs immediately erupted throughout the hordes as both men and horses were crushed before they could unleash another volley. After confusion momentarily rippled across their ranks, numerous unaffected Horsemen reared their mounts in an effort to alert their comrades towards the Volumous object. Soon, the entire horde regrouped and unleashed volley after volley upon the ascending basket as it floated with strained impunity across the lightening streaked night sky.

Unbeknownst to all, the blonde haired man's oblivious presence continued to escape their attention as he hurled and danced his way across the ruined Tower's jagged ramparts. With every step, the man's movements became an amalgamation of constant twirls as he began to lace the unsuspecting Horse Archers with the miniature contents of his sash. The thunder, wind, and lightening only served to mask his intentions despite encountering exposing sky borne flashes that outlined his dancing figure into a majestic silhouette against the night sky. His exact motives soon took on a life of its own after whistling chirps began to escape his lips. At first, only the sounds of the horde's guttural shouts, their volleys, the sheer force of crackling noises could be heard, however, as time passed, the racket became gradually drowned by a cacophony of harmonious chirps, trills, and warbles followed swiftly by numerous fluttering vibrations.

What followed could only be described as a bizarre fusion between strange phenomena and mother nature as the surrounding landscape soon flooded with the legions of bird flocks. In an enormous tidal wave involving avian activity, bird species of every aerial ornithurae native to the island descended upon the hapless Horsemen with all the fury of several thousand famished entities pecking towards a common enemy. Amidst the cries of pain, anger, and confusion unfolding through the entire horde, the dancing man continually twirled and whistled across the grounds whilst attracting a small escort of birds that had peeled away from the carnage from below.

Meanwhile, inside the Dreamscape, Raven took Orionn's outstretched hand so that the old man could activate his powers, then stretched out his right arm. The arcane circle he'd poached from one of the Obsidias tower mages sizzled to life on his skin; the twitch of his lip was the only sign that he was in discomfort, but the room quickly filled with the smell of burning flesh. Jade conjured up another ball of force, they silently counted down from three, and then she slammed the projection through violently. At the same time Raven loosed a bolt of arcane lightning into the veil. The tension in the Obsidias ruins was crushing, and force cascaded off the walls, resonating through every rock in the tower. And just when one thought the whole thing might collapse, there was a tangible moment of stillness.

Just before leaping over the edge, his arms whirled to action and in one swift motion, seized a large pole tucked below his belt before hurling it in mid-air towards the oblivious Ancients slumbering from below. Moments later, several dozen bolts of lightening descended upon the pole just as it slammed against the Wards' theoretical invisible barrier with earth shattering effect. What followed proved in itself, an act from the Divines as the force of several hundred million joules of electricity ignited against the barrier with such ferocity that the unfolding cataclysm not only sent miniature bolts of jagged light streams and charred stone hurdling in every direction, but jump started a chain reaction of explosions that ignited every single illuminated scripture and parcel into a random sequence of violent, incendiary explosions.

A bright flash. For a moment the night was as bright as a clear sunny day, and a deep pulse thrummed through the earth. The tower ruins evaporated, suddenly replaced by a pillar of black smoke which crackled with arcane lightning and climbed all the way up into the clouds. Miles upon miles away, a loud *CRUMP*rattled every loose rock and window, followed after a long moment by showers of debris and lightning continued to arc both up into the clouds, and to any nearby metallic objects for a long time.The blonde man had only just managed to land a near perfectly executed inbound roll onto his arrow strewn basket when he heard an ear-splitting boom from below followed swiftly by the chorus of several dozen or more appalling screams. His curiosity propelled his gaze over the basket's edge in time to witness as a large circular shock wave from the Ancients sent nearby men, avians, and horses all collapsing as one. Just before they reached the ground, white and eerie looking shades immediately escaped their corpses in a sight that proved a memory for the ages. On the contrary, this all paled in comparison to the unmistakable movement that unfolded across the now lightening charred tower grounds and upon closer inspection, the blonde man watched with wonder as the Ancients began to stir to life ...

The rubble began to shift, and a large muscular figure pushed himself to his feet. Dust cascaded off his cloak and he groaned dramatically as he stood. Raven made a long show of stretching stiff muscles, and loudly cracking every joint in his body. Afterwards he just stood still for a long while in the settling dust and smoke as though he was having trouble waking.

"What's the worst that can happen," he quipped in a mocking tone. Raven heaved a sigh and began to make his way stiffly towards the edge of the crater. Behind him something else began to move: a female body rose from the rubble with zombie-like vigor. She slumped forward once she hit her feet and let the dust slide down her back and off her tattered scarf. Raven stopped cold, a chill running up his spine, and he slowly reached back and grasped the hilt of his bastard sword. His red eye flashed molten with power for a split second, but nothing happened. His whole body shook and he clenched his jaw against a wave of pain that lanced every nerve in his body. This is what happened when he overspent his gift: he'd have to get some solid rest for several days before he could use it again. Behind him the woman opened her eyes. They shone molten red through the dust, giving her an imposing silhouette. The air became charged with energy, and a few cracks of crimson sparked off her skin; tendrils of darkness began to rise from her shoulders like steam.

"Fiddlesticks," Raven grunted. He slowly reached down to his belt and grasped the long obsidian knife that hung there. There was a tangible pause before he swiveled on his feet and whipped the knife with deadly accuracy across the distance between him and the woman. The air became alight with energy, and a crimson bolt of lightning arced out and deflected the dagger, which spun off and clattered dramatically into the rubble. Raven was immediately behind it, hidden by the flash just long enough to get the drop on her. His blade flashed in the darkness, and the Kisharan steel rang out for an instant before he plunged it clear to the hilt into the woman's chest. She let loose such a shriek of madness and rage no human could produce; crimson bolts of lightning and tendrils of force flailed against the ruins for a long moment before she finally became still and slumped against Raven. He gently eased the blade out of her body and laid her on the ground, where he also collapsed, having used the last of his strength. For a long moment they were both still, though Raven breathed heavily. He'd finally done it... he'd finally slain the devil and could retire in peace, or so he thought. The woman stirred, and the wound in her chest glowed with a crimson light and laboriously began to stitch itself back together, leaving a fresh bleeding scar. Her chest heaved, and she violently hacked up blood, rolling onto her side. This time when she opened her eyes they were a vivid emerald with no pupils.

"What... did you... stab me?" she croaked.

"Yes," Raven answered, as-a-matter-of-factly. "You were not yourself. It seems it was not your fate to go peacefully today," Raven grunted. "Orionn says something about it reacting to the grievous wound by fulfilling its own wish of survival and retreating," he explained. "No, that is what you said... basically." Raven shakily pulled himself to his feet and sheathed his sword. Jade struggled to get up for a few moments, but was unable to move.

"You aren't going to finish the job?"

"I haven't decided yet," Raven grunted, and held out his hand. The obsidian ceremonial dagger flew to it from the rubble, and he jammed it into its scabbard. He bent over and scooped Jade up off the ground; that's when the tall man from the intruding vision caught his attention. He speared the man with his red eye. "You," he commanded. "She requires medical attention."

Below the storm laden clouds, the voluminous contraption's descent progressed with such rapidity that for a moment it seemed as if an unknown force had reeled it into the perfect trajectory. Soon, that theory quickly became nonsense as the moon light unveiled the notion that the second, central rope had served as the controlling source of the contraptions consistent descent. Already aware of the unfolding events, the blonde man had already instinctively notched several arrows to his bow in preparation for an escalation of events. Yet despite the uncertainty for violence, he remained complicit to avoid interference throughout the unfolding ordeal lest he disturb the balance from which he would incur the Divines' wrath. Upon reaching an unoccupied landing location, the man remained motionless as birds fluttered all around his form; yet despite the irritable commotion formed from the flapping flocks' circular patterned formations, his gaze remained transfixed upon the muscular man's carefully executed motions.

"Masaaβ€˜ al-khayr unto you," he greeted through short laborious pants.

Sighing, the blonde man glanced towards the thundering skies and briefly closed his eyes before exhaling with the release of a weary man. His head shook in disdain whilst glancing towards the carnage and the sights of broken bodies, retreating horsemen, evaporating shades, and ruins.

"I did not believe him before," the blonde man firmly voiced, "But it is now, as the Prophet predicted. You are the Kaşifleri"

For a time, a certain bitterness flashed through his eyes only to revert back towards the previous weary gaze. Strong and youthful in complexion, his gaze spoke a different tale ... one of sorrow and disappointment. His healed battle wounds only served to further illustrate the perils the man had faced and amidst the moonlight illuminations, various scars could be spotted stretching across his arms, several that spoke of ghastly wounds that should have killed any other individual. As lightening struck all around the ruins, the man's unflinching nature set himself apart from the surrounding wreckage. Kneeling before the muscular man, the blonde man's eyes closed yet again as he a half laugh, half cry of joy escaped his lips. Tears began to stream down his face as he bowed before the two Warriors. After a time, his tears were quickly wiped away as he rose to his feet and nodded before redirecting his gaze towards his voluminous contraption.

"I will not question your convictions ... but if you truly wish to preserve her gift of life, what your companion requires is a physician and unfortunately there are none within miles of this cursed island. I fear that even if we reached the mainland she may not survive the journey. The Jade Khan will ensure of it and what lays before your eyes is, but a taste of how he treats his enem..."

In mid-sentence, the blonde man stumbled as a loud and violent rumble nearly swept him off balance. Cursing yet again, his eyes frantically darted back and forth before aimlessly glancing in various directions. Thunder continually boomed in the distance while lightening continually discharged, yet with each passing moment, the bolts strangely seemed to strike further and further away from the trio; serving only to baffle the man. A moment later another series of violent rumbles threatened to send the trio flying off their feet, however, unbalancing seemed the least of their concerns as the frenzied sounds of animals were spotted fleeing in their directions. Though strange at first, the source soon became apparent as a dark, slow moving silhouette cast a growing shadow from the distant east. Complementing the sight came the sound of an ominous whistle that only grew louder by each passing moment until it formed the unmistakable sound of slow moving wave that served to deliver the harsh unforgiving crash of the ocean's touch.

"I'm the what?" Raven grunted. "... Whatever, let's just go," he muttered grumpily.

"Oh father's ire," he muttered through widened eyes, "It's already begun."

Just moments before the tidal wave slammed against the earth, the blonde man executed a split second decision that secured a rope between himself and the muscled man. The crash came soon after and in an instant, the trio's quick dwellings on dry land quickly morphed in a nightmarish predicament that sent them into a whirling drench-induced drift in league with uprooted tree trunks, animals, sea waters, and earth alike. Through some near impossible fortunes, the blonde man's bizarre trajectory had somehow blown him away from the other unfortunate objects and within arms reach of the large, arrow-strewn basket. Wasting no time, the man quickly hauled himself skywards and shortly after climbing aboard, set to work hauling the soaked Ancients to safety before launching the Voluminous Contraption into a rapid ascent. As the tendrils licked just above their heads, the blonde man's gaze glanced over the edge as the sight of numerous tidal waves began to flood the surrounding vicinity into an underwater grave. Shortly before the Tower ruins completely sank beneath the waves, the water slowly retreated away from a large pile of debris to unveil the sight of several open topped rooms featuring countless wards and the slumbering forms of other ancients, one of whom resembled a handsome man wearing blonde hair draped down over his plate armored back.

As waves quickly washed over the slumbering Plate Armored Knight and the other Ancients, the blonde man shook his head before turning towards his companions, "We cannot save the Falcon of Pendragon! His hubris sealed his fate long ago and for this, his companions suffered the same destiny! No matter, it seems we've even greater tasks at hand and I am afraid our time will come to an end if we cannot bring ruin to the Jade Khan's pursuits. He cannot be allowed to continue his current path or what we've witnessed is only the beginning of what is to come!"

Raven clutched Jade a little tighter as the man knelt, lowering his right hand to the hilt of his bastard sword. He actually grasped the hilt when the man ran towards him with the rope, for as much good it would do, as he scarcely had the strength to swing it. When the waves came crashing down on them he held onto Jade as tightly as he could with one arm to keep from losing her, and to the rope with his other, allowing himself to be pulled up into the basket of the flying contraption. Raven laid her down in the basket and flopped into a seated position so he could cough up sea water from his lungs and wring his hair out grumpily.

"Are you alright?" He asked.

"It's no Batavian... but it'll do, I guess," Jade croaked. She eyed the two men sleepily, struggling to stay awake so she could find out what was happening, and then finally slipped into unconsciousness. Raven sighed and nearly fell asleep himself, though when he was nearly out cold his eyes darted open again as though he'd heard a loud noise.

"Ugh," he sighed. "I don't care," he grunted, sat up, and drew the obsidian dagger from its sheath. He rummaged around in one of the pouches on his belt for a long while in silence before pulling out a long piece of thin silk that had miraculously survived and remained clean and dry. He sighed wistfully at it and then began to cut it up into thin strips.

"It all sounds very interesting," he groaned sarcastically. "But I. Don't. Care," Raven hissed, and propped Jade up so he could dress her wounds. "You know what," he grunted, stood up, and thrust a curious, vaguely head-shaped sack warded with arcane script into the blonde man's hands with an annoyed squint. "He wants to talk to you. Don't open it unless you want to give him your body. Keep him occupied for a while, I have..." he seemed to struggle with the words for a long moment. "... a piffle... to attend to," he announced, and then sat back down to dress Jade's wounds.

"Oh of course you would not care, KÒşif(discoverer)," the man answered as he fervently gazed towards the sinking island and the rising tsunami waves that continually to glided over the surrounding vicinity, "Though I suppose I would not expect a lesser answer from a misinformed slayer such as yourself."

Grimacing, the man glanced upwards and fiddled through the ropes to gradually propel the basket out of the storm's reach before carefully wedging the script warded sack between numerous fastened jars and barrels. His weary eyes darted towards the pounding waves before drifting away and towards the ocean's endless horizons where he quickly became lost in thought. After successfully wringing sea water from his hair and clothes, the man seemingly managed to irritatingly wriggle several flapping fish from his pant line only to spear their heads through a swift thrust of his khilij sword.

Following a moment where he managed to roast the fish upon the voluminous contraption's flaming tendrils, his fingers quickly twisted around a circular motion to prepare the meal for the new companions. Upon roasting the meals to a tender preparation, his throat cleared before voicing, "While you were asleep, the world has changed in such horrible and frightening ways that the truth would certainly terrify any man. We also need not mention the long and perilous journey through the clouds and in this current moment, I do not believe an informative conversation would bode well while your wits are distorted from centuries of dream. I will at least grant the courtesy for warming the belly with food and drink before we are to address your ... other pressing concerns."

Turning, the man sighed and continually roasted the fish while occasionally dashing salts and peppers over the tender portions until the flesh gradually fried into a mixture of white and golden brown. Just before handing the slayer one of the finely prepared fishes, his arm outstretched towards a corner packed in provisions, "You will find that I do not carry anything beyond simple provisions, however, if required, there is a blanket behind the jar to your left flank while the jar itself carries strong liquors that will aid in averting infection within your companion's wounds."

"You misunderstand me," said Raven, as he swallowed a twinge of anger. Getting into a fight right now didn't serve anyone. "I was conversing with my companion," he explained, pointing at the arcane scripted sack he'd left with the blonde man. "And although I'm grateful for the assistance that you've provided thus far I must say that my main priority is to return to Sarife and speak with the Emperor. If this Jade Khan is as bad as you say, I'll arrange for a Quad to... take care of him. In the meantime, however, Orionn is the scholar of the group, and is very interested in the things you have to say. I, on the other hand, am busy," he finished, accepting the fish without thanks.

Raven ate the fish gracelessly with one hand while he rummaged through the offered provisions to find the aforementioned liquor, and then returned to disinfecting and dressing Jade's wounds while she slept. The sack, however, seemed to insistently vibrate with arcane energy, at least until the man wandered close enough for it to give him a tiny jolt. It was like the world shifted for a moment, and suddenly there was another person in the basket: a short, scrawny, wizened, bald old man in red and black robes. He was leaning against the side of the basket patiently holding his hands together inside his sleeves.

The elderly sage-like man's startling appearance nearly caught the blonde man off guard, however, his hands never instinctively reached towards the weapons along his waistline. Quite simply, his actions instead seemed to anticipate the newcomer's arrival and as if on cue, the blonde man near impossibly flattened against the basket's edge mere seconds before the robed elder occupied his previous location. Through a raised eyebrow, a smirk lit across his face and after gripping a nearby rope securing both the basket and contraption alike, his head swept forward in a curt and respectable bow.

"Greetings," he nodded. "You'll have to forgive Raven, he's notoriously grumpy after long naps. Allow me to introduce us: I am Orionn, the grumpy one is Raven, and the unconscious one is Jade. I understand you're the one responsible for freeing us, Thank you," he said, giving a small bow. "Now, I have hundreds of questions, but they can all wait. I only have one pressing concern that absolutely must be answered right away: How long, exactly, were we trapped in stasis?"

Silence ensued as the man seized the moment to rework the Contraption's strings during a sudden shift in the winds' forceful gusts and over the course of several long drawn moments, the contraption seemed to lift higher and higher into the sky until the ocean's surface became a mere glimmer from below. Sometime afterwards, the basket held steady as it glided seamlessly through the dark, twinkling starred skies. His near clouded gaze immediately cast down below towards the pounding waves where he managed a tight gripped upon the basket's edge before becoming lost in thought. For a time, the tears that welled in his eyes spoke of an untold pain and grief endured from reopened scars and emotional wounds acquired through unpleasant past memories. Those soon passed as several swallows and emotional exhales brought balance towards the man's composure.

"At earliest convenience and when it is permitted, Orionn," the man began again, "There is much knowledge where you maywish to swallow many grains of salt before accepting the bitter truths."

A disturbed sigh escaped his lips before his eyes wandered away from the horizon and directly towards the robed elder's wizened gazed, "Of course, if you are indeed curious, you mustunderstand that in answer to your question ... you and your companions have been asleep ... for over eleven hundred years."

"Hmm, it's worse than I thought then," Orionn mused.

"Doesn't change anything," Raven answered glibly, seemingly unphased as he tightened the last bandage carefully around Jade's torso and began putting her clothes back on. "I must still speak to whomever is the current emperor of Sarife then. It's protocol. Afterwards we can discuss attending to your Jade Khan as I said," Raven explained, and then settled down against the back of the basket, arms folded, eyes closed.

"You're missing the fact that there's a distinct possibility that our order may no longer exist, let alone empires rise and fall: Sarife as we know it may be long past," said Orionn with unusual calmness.

"And while we're grateful, you are placing a lot of trust in the word of a man we've known only a handful of minutes."

"So far I see no reason for him to deceive us, Raven," Orionn admonished, shaking an accusatory finger at him.

"As my mentor would say: 'Trust, but verify.' Even if the empire of Sarife has completely disintegrated, I must see it with my own eyes. Until such a time as it can be proven that the Black Hand no longer exists, it is our duty to follow the protocols set forth by our order. Otherwise we are just... uninformed slayers," he hissed, spearing the blonde man with his red eye.

"How long to Sarife then," Orionn asked with a sigh.

Sighing, the blonde man's silence and winced expression spoke of his feelings regarding Sarifen Empire's condition. His hands tirelessly continued to work the voluminous contraption's strings against the chilling wind drafts coursing against the gathered individuals' faces. There was much in his eyes that spoke of more than just pain and grief, but the gaze of a near broken man that had seen too much for a dozen life times. It wasn't long before his hands set into motion to retrieve and light a bong stuffed with hashish and within another moment, the basket's vicinity became engulfed with the smoke and odors of an irresistible hashish. Following a deep drag, the man's attempts to dull his grief quickly morphed into satisfied, albeit irritable coughs, "Your duty and unwavering faith to the Imperial throne in Ktesiphon and the Order of the Black Hand is ... without equal, Raven. Perhaps within certain deductions, it is equally wise to question the motives of an unproven stranger such as I, though I swear on my life that nothing, but the truth has ever escaped my lips. To the matters concerning Sarife, for what it is worth, it is possible and in another branch of fate, entirely plausible, however, we are not returning to Ktesiphon ... that is ... because there is nothing left of Yadin-Hamon's Oasis or the Great Imperial Empire."

Nodding, the man offered the smoking pipe towards the Black Hand slayer's reach, "There is much, as I had formerly mentioned, that you will notfind easy to swallow. Rest, gather your wits, and attend to your own for there is a long journey to Voltas and much yet to be told. I promise answers to every matter demanding inquiry ... once our flight hovers over Voltas' skies."

"Well," began Raven, holding up a hand in refusal to the hashish. "You'll have one chance to convince me, and if I'm not satisfied... at the very least you'll have the rest of your life to develop the power to fly," he grunted. "Leave us to rest then," he commanded imperiously.

"He's an acquired taste," Orionn sighed as he rolled his eyes.

A thin smirk briefly spread across the blonde warrior's face before he shrugged and glared towards a location along the sea swept horizon. His fingers continually gripped the basket's edge as another tsunami tidal wave reared near impossibly in another direction across the raging waters from below. A moment after twirling the pipe for another drag, the blonde warrior took a moment to calmly release a puffed smoke stream into breeze before answering, "If fortunes are favorable, I pray there is a world left to fly across ..."

The descent's aftermath could only be described as a series of sounds involving whistles and large strange fog-horns along a starry night sky that spread across the horizon. Just before plunging face first into the sea, the sights of various floating vessels could be seen carrying tall smoke stacks, enormous revolving circular wheels, and moving chained figures along the iron rimmed decks. Most notably, other similarly assembled vessels of varying sizes appeared along the horizon padding slowly across the rough waters. Elsewhere, it seemed the smell of suffocating coal and nauseating odors wafted through the bay amidst the sights of bizarre, yet elaborate wooden structures housing iron roofing, bright iron furnaces, and circular smoke stacks that reached into the sky. The buildings were certainly strange new additions along Voltas' clifflines as was the decrepit appearance in which the Bay's murky waters had come to have appeared. Perhaps most obvious of all stood the outer cliff lines where radiant miniature flames could be seen bobbing up and down along pathways that jutted towards the various circular openings wedged into the cliff lines themselves. Upon closer inspection, the unmistakable sound of metal clanks and the sights of chains could be observed amidst the rows and rows of disheveled figures moving in and out of the paths leading towards the smoke stack structures.

Nothing, of course, compared to the loud bells of varying nature rung out across the bay whilst the obnoxious blast of strange horns erupted from the left where the sights of other smoke-stack borne vessels could be spotted casting lines for departure. Further still were the sights of the distant, circular tower along one particular cliff or its circular light source housed below the roof. Shortly before the spot light began to slowly sweep towards Algol-Uriel's location, the sounds of loud hisses could be heard resonating above the moving clouds while the Bay's pounding surf remained vigorous at high tide. Within moments of skimming along the Bay's pounding surf, the voluminous contraption's snaking tendrils came alight whilst bathing the surrounding vicinity with a glowing illuminating hue. In a simple sequence of carefully controlled dips, the blonde man had somehow managed to work the contraption's strings to bring the contraption into a near impossible float above the water's surface. By the time the basket had begun to hover slightly above the water's edge, the waves had already began to lick against the underside with all the ferocity of the Bay's high tidal activity.

"Algol-Uriel!" the blonde man shouted above the din of the pounding surf and crashing waves. As the Pyrourger began to plummet into the depths, the blonde man had already wrapped a basket attached rope and dove. A short while later, two figures broke the surface where upon the man had begun to haul the coughing and sputtering companion towards the basket's edge. His efforts to haul the man aboard almost threatened to careen the contraption into the waters, yet through some sheer strokes of good fortunes, the blonde man managed to thrust the newcomer aboard. Just after the Pyrourger joining the group, a large wave unexpectedly swept onto the basket and drenched the gathering in filthy sea water. Somehow, it seemed as if the blonde man had anticipated the occurrence to have remained below the water's edge and seemingly avoided the wave's effects upon the others before clambering onto the basket himself.

"Come now, Pyrourger," he bellowed as his hands lightly slapped against the Pyrouger's cheeks, "We cannot stay here or I am afraid we will be in grave danger. On your feet!"

The half-breed prince spluttered and clung as desperately as his feeble strength allowed to the side of the basket. The salt stung at his eyes like they were his own fires, blurred still by the water that he had been unprepared to be suddenly dropped into and far too weak and too weighed down to traverse at the tide's worst hour. Dim were the words that fell upon his ears-yet the single clear words of 'pyrourger' and 'on your feet' would suffice, as the need to move, to get out of the water, to gasp and breath and claw his way forward still whispered so mercilessly throughout his flesh and mind. Though his foot slipped, he clambered once more and slowly, groaning out the paltry hollow shell of a scream of effort, Uriel pushed and pulled at the slippery basket floor and mechanical devices for support until he laid upright against it, grasping and panting heavily against the side of it all.

Clinging to the rope, Uriel blinked and glanced around as his vision returned-or at least enough of it-to take in his surroundings. He swallowed and apprehension took his face, staving off despair for but a moment.

"Where... others...?" he croaked.

"Be silent!" the blonde man hissed as he dove to the floor and yanked the contraption's strings into a spindling ascent towards the cliffs.

The tension could not be described as nothing short of an absolutely eerie terror given how quickly the the cliff tower's, cascading spot light swept towards their exact location. Through the ascent was met with silence as the man's finger lifted towards his mouth as the cascading light swept mere inches from the contraption's vicinity before ultimately sweeping through the waters and away. Moments after the contraption hugged the cliff line edges, a sigh of relief escaped the blonde man's lips as he rose to his knees. His fingers once again wrapped around the strings before bringing the contraption skywards.

The strange horns heard from before blasted again whilst the sound the galloping neighs and boisterous hoots illustrated a presence that involved large horsemen hordes. Soon, the contraption began to ascend above the cliffs where the source could only be found from thousands of mounted yellow skinned warriors clad in scaled armors directed their powerful steeds past the endless lines of chained slaves that marched back and forth. Their decorated horse hair banners laden with strange symbols, composite bows, saddle strapped arrow-pouches, elongated curved blades, and fur capped helmets draped in flaps spoke of the authority that came with their presence.

No more were the Walls of Rydar-Octavion or the Walls of the Agrarian Circle nor were the Citadel Krak des Seine-et-Montrésor of the Melitan Sisterhood or the Citadel Chareil-Besançon that guarded the Voltisian Bay and the most politically dangerous criminals in Valania Proper. All that remained of the great Citadels came in the form of the foundation outlines of seemingly large land tracts or in the case of the walls, long pathways that teamed with patrolling, fur capped horsemen, chained slaves, moving carts, and oil lamps that hung below long tracts of ropes stretching across the entire cityscape. All the towering walls encasing Voltas were long gone and in their place stood roads leading around tracts of land housing tall buildings that funneled tall smoke stacks and sky touching iron towers that wheeled crushed rocks from the ground and towards red leaden iron furnaces along the River Rouen's water front.

Much of the familiar architecture occupying Voltas decrepit condition was not to be found whilst strange rows of large multi-tiered buildings featuring hip and gable rooftops and brick laden walls lined the streets. The air smelled of a foul stench as the smoke stacks attached to the large multi-tiered buildings continually spouted dark thick clouds of smoke whilst the sights of large circular wheels churned endlessly along the River Rouen and Île du Royaume. As far as the eye could see, lines of chained slaves could be seen marching through the lands and towards the billowing smoke from the scattered encampments composed of large yurts, grazing animals, and pastures teaming with horse herds. Many such locations existed through the grasslands resembling Valania Proper whilst many of the familiar farmsteads became ridden with the combinations of yurt encampments and buildings of strange and foreign architecture alike. The surrounding landscapes had largely remained the same, yet the bleak and rather rugged ruins of Gothic Architectural beauty spoke of glorious times that had long past.

Spaced along the cliff lines, a large tract of land featuring the marks of foundation outlines could be seen where a once magnificent architectural masterpiece once stood. The sights of a tall, mult-tiered Great Yurt seemingly occupied the space alongside patches of tall grasses where horses of differing steeds grazed. Through a darkened glare, the blonde man's arms once again worked the strings until he had managed to propel the contraption a distance away from the moving forms of torch-carrying horsemen that patrolled across the cliff line paths. Shortly after they had ascended through a location shrouded in clouds, his fingers pointing towards a particular location in the distance away from many of the encampments littering the surrounding countryside.

"Algol-Uriel, when you've gathered your wits, there is much you must see before your own eyes ... as the Last Prince of Valania and Sarife," the blonde man grimly answered as he stared off into the distance, "You will not believe me unless I take you to where they are buried ..."

A journey through the skies proved as much of a marathon as it was a modest hour's long journey across the countryside where the sights of Voltas and Valania Proper could only be described as a sight so foreign, grim, and frightful that it was a wonder that any traces of civilization could exist within the confines of such heinous forms of barbaric cruelty. The roads lined for miles of crosses where crucified skeletons hung along each side whilst elsewhere, the common unsightly displays of skeletons and bones could be seen impaled upon long poles jutting into the earth. The forms of decrepit, abandoned towns where the pathways became littered with bones, debris, arrow heads, wooden stakes mounted with skulls, and the signs of great fires were also a common sight.

Shortly before touching down upon a tract of land surrounded by the aftermath of what appeared to have been an enormous battle of herculean proportions, the blonde man sighed and shook his head. His eyes remained firm upon the sights of numerous metal and wooden bits jutting from the ground as well as the miles of land where speckles of bones that resembled where tens of thousands of soldiers and horses alike had fallen. Leaping over the basket's edge, the blonde man seized a long, dirty wooden pole sunken into the ground before dusting away the dirt contents to reveal the banner of the House of Delacroix. Sighing again, the man's head shook once again as he offered the banner towards the Armor-Wearing Half-Prince and pointed towards a patch of ground surrounded in the form of thousands of broken spears, rusted swords, shattered shields riddled with arrows, and plated armor wearing skeletons sunken into the ground.

"That is where he fell," the blonde man hoarsely uttered, "The Last Heir to the Valanian Throne."

Uriel clambered and fell unceremoniously to the ground behind the blonde man, only the cushioning of the grass preventing the force from beating the air from his lungs. He crawled to his knees, then stood by the crutch of the enormous basket's support, struggling to hold onto what minute bits of scorched fish flesh he had managed to stomach on their brief skyward journey between all of the visions of depravity and horror.

At last it had began to dawn on him, the compassion that his teacher had spoken of, and not in some idealized, abstract manner; the homes razed spoke of his own, outcast first from the court and then from his dead mother's house when there were no longer coins to pay. Of his banishment. The blades of grass rusted in blood struck too similar to the whips and manacles, chains and blades-to thousands of gnawing teeth belonging to shadows with red eyes. The rape and thrill of domination whispered back to plainly to his enslavement and torture-and the guilt of learning of what his mother had done in his name, of just how high the cost of his arrogance was. Of the massacres, of the thousands of souls put to the blade, they were as his own dread, of the loss of his mother even as he resented her, as the loss of his teacher, as his fear for the loss of Lucius; each human here had witnessed their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, lovers, friends and enemies alike slain.

And for it all, a truth slowly dawned on him, ate him from within in a way that not even his guilt had, that even the demons could not touch. Heaven itself harrowed his heart as he realized that, for all both its and his flaws, only for one reason alone could he feel such sorrow for this lands, these nations, these people.

He loved them.

He loved them and for that and for what they suffered, no matter the right or wrong or sense or necessity or futility of it, their suffering consumed him from within.

Heavy and weary beyond the burdens of guilt and steel, Uriel trudged after the unnamed man towards the buried mound of broken armaments consumed and weathered by the passing of days. The scrape of steel and rip of fabric and leather grated upon him mind like the screams of her child to a mother as his mysterious rescuer wrenched away at the decaying heap with the decrepit banner.

And then he spoke.

Uriel furrowed his brow and looked at the man in confusion as he drew close, standing only two paces behind.

"... Lucius Delacroix is back in that bay," he said, hurt enunciating the word. "Why did we abandon them?"

"I was told by the Prophet to expect as much," the towering blonde man answered as he glanced across the battered landscape. The wind blew long hair strands across his face as he glanced off into surrounding vicinity and knelt to place a hand along the soil. The flowers and grass that had bloomed into the vicinity seemed more beautiful than in any other part of the surrounding countryside, held ever more bright through the illuminating moon light. His eyes winced and with each passing moment, his exhales grew increasingly labored. The sounds of battle and screams of helplessness, pain, suffering, and desperation filled his ear, almost as if the sights of the past unfolded through his mind. A short while later, his hand withdrew and the man glanced towards the other two companions before resting firmly upon the Half-Breed Prince.

"Prince Lucius ..." the man trailed off before exhaling in swallowed anger, "...died... over a hundred years ago."

Uriel stared blankly at the man for a moment before his expression shifted to that of one who realized that they were speaking with a madman. "... we were just there. Lucius was thrown through that portal only a few moments before me. That is not possible," he said with a glance to the ancient carnage.

"I understand your reservations, and as I have mentioned to our other companions, you may wish to swallow many grains of salt before you accept the bitter truths," the blonde man calmly uttered amidst the blowing winds, "Now what you believe to be impossible became possible the moment the Prophet gave his life to ensure that fate would elude the Jade Khan and the Lord Sovereign's treacherous stratagems to conquer the world. It would seem that he followed a branch exactly as he predicted and channeled his arcane strength to maintain the portal's strength to allow all parties to escape ... although not without unforeseen consequences. In the end, I fear that fate has followed exactly as he predicted and the worst is yet to come. I will be frank, in that the burdens you carry are more worrisome than at any point in the history of this world given that Rothion ultimately ... brought you a hundred years into the future."

Uriel stared without credence at the man until he spoke of prophets and then by precise name-Rothion. And slowly dread creeped into his visage as an explanation for the questions of why the foreign hordes of archer conquerors were already in Valania months or even years ahead of time. Of how such destruction could already be present in Voltas, the city half-disassembled. How this very battlefield could be so decayed, years' worth and with the Delacroix flag that had not been waved in battle for years before his twentieth. It made no sense, was physically impossible to have happened so fast-save that he had indeed appeared on the other side of that portal further than a few minutes past. The prince slowly lifted up a hand outstretched yet his knees failed. Kneeling at the graves, the realization creeped in like like the cold, sapping away all warmth and life for the terrible truth.

Lucius was dead.

His teacher was dead.

His brothers and sisters were dead. His father was dead. Ona was likely dead.

And all his struggles, his growth, his pain, his choice, his sacrifice. All of it had been in vain.

The dead of history stared up at him from beneath the ground like the cruelest mirror, the reflection on the pool of death hung sorry and crucified by the scale of failure and loss. There remained no ties between him and anything; even his demons were gone, passed like the wind. Lucius had died alone and with their home's doom upon his shoulders. And what was worst of all was that this was by his choice.

Slowly, Uriel brought up trembling hands to his chest as he began to wheeze and his eyes blurred with ocean waves that burned with Hell's most wicked fires. In agony he clutched at the steel shell that encased his breast as he keeled over and struggled to breathe through the spear that had just lanced through his chest, a great spike of pitted iron that nailed him to fate's merciless judgement. And finally, as with the returning tide came the howling wind of the terrible storm, a surging cry that even as it choked on itself in his swollen throat split the sky like thunder for his scream, and wisps of flame erupted around him in agony and rage. Only the suffocating need to breathe ended his ghastly shriek to leave his lamenting requiem to linger on in the air like the spirits of the dead, lulled forth by the dozens of funeral candles surrounding the pyre that was the flayed remains of a broken heart.

"You have a duty, Algol-Uriel," the blonde man uttered as glanced towards their companions, most particularly towards the weary slayer, "By law, it is decreed that all Sarifen loyalties must fall to the last free heir of Sarife. By blood, you are the last free Sarifen Aryanpour and the heir to the Great Imperial Empire. The KÒşifleriare here to witness as is the last leader of the Ancient Black Hand! As the Bozorgan of Valdemar, I ... Pontius of Valdemar bear witness! From the Propontis Sea to the Gates of Nikomedia, I swear my undying loyalty to Algol-Uriel; the Last Emperor of Sarife."

"Surely you jest," said Raven, who had been watching everything with all the warmth of a stack of forgotten bricks. "When I asked you to take me to see the Emperor of Sarife, this isn't what I meant. You can't just fish any sad dreg out of the ocean and proclaim him as Emperor," he hissed. He didn't bother getting to his feet, and instead turned his attention to Jade, who was still unconscious within the contraption's basket. He took a deep breath and began to check her wounds.

"You must admit, this is all a little suspect," Orionn chimed. "And if we have, indeed, been sleeping for the past thousand or so years there's no way for us to tell if you're being truthful or not."

"Produce just one shred of evidence to support your claim," Raven growled, clearly not amused. "Just one, or I shall fling you both from the nearest cliff and find my own way back to Sarife."

"So grumpy," Orionn chided, rolling his eyes and stuffing his hands into his sleeves imperiously.

"I'll not have any snide remarks from you," Raven glared. "Back in the bottle, wraith," he commanded. Orionn sighed, mocking Raven's words silently while his back was turned and then vanishing dramatically in a puff of smoke.

"There are many reasons for doubt, however, I need not explain the Jade Khan's vast Hordes nor the crucified innocents and remains lining the roads. Have you noticed the Khan's Steam-Powered Factories smelting large quantities of steels in mere hours and assorted manufacturing capabilities? How too, can you explain the Steam ships moving across the waters without oars or the presence of mere machinery composed from lumps of finely crafted metals performing works only the Divines could explain? No technologies or arrangements of wheels of this sophistication could have reached this level of progress during any moment of our times."

Scowling, the Bozorgan drew his Kilij and pointed it directly upwards and towards the skies as the clouds began to gather from afar. In a mere flash, several streaks of red lightening flashed across the skies and around the Half-Breed Heir whilst the Bozorgan's sword began to pulsate with all the ferocity of what the Divines could only explain. The streaks only multiplied in numbers as a circle began to form around the Half-Breed before the a singular bolt flared across the center and imprinted the Sign of Judgment upon the man's hands. Impaling the kilij upon the ground, the Bozorgan knelt before the Half-Breed Prince and muttered soft chants as a thunderous boom echoed across the skies. The lightening circle formed around the Prince streaked in every different direction, whilst bolts began to form around the Bozorgan's glowing sword as well as the Obsidian Dagger within the Black Hand Slayer's Possession.

"You can only believe the evidence through your own eyes and it is only possible through accepting the true heir as Emperor, the channeling of a Dreamwalker, Poacher, and a Pyrourger's abilities, and a direct witness to all that has happened," the Bozorgan cried through the booming thunder, streaks of lightening, and blinding flashes of light as his eyes directed towards the Black Hand Slayer and the crackling magenta bolts that began to violently lick against his skin, "Algol-Uriel is your Emperor as is decreed from Ktesiphon's remains and the Propontis Sea to the Gates of Nikomedia. You cannot deny the validity of the House of Aryanpour or the Gift granted from Yadin-Hamon himself. Algol-Uriel is the Last Free Emperor of Sarife!!!"

"Oh," said Raven after a long pause. "Poo." Orionn was never going to let him hear the end of this: the disembodied cackling coming from the arcane warded sack in the basket only served to confirm his fear. "One shred of evidence indeed," he muttered, at a loss for further words. He seemed to consider himself for a long moment before he rousted himself to his feet, approached the men and knelt before Uriel at a respectable distance.

"Your highness..." he began, keeping his head low and his eyes to the ground. "I must confess these are strange times, but the Bozorgan is correct: I cannot deny the validity of your claim to the throne. Were there anyone else in power with his blessing, Yadin-Hamon would not have marked you, and as such I am your servant and at your disposal. Normally it would be protocol for me to inform you of the concerns I have regarding my most recent mission, but that is a conversation for when you've had a chance to settle."

The newly crowned prince remained at his knees even if his posture otherwise shifted throughout the ceremony and discourse. Yet for all the spectacle of lightning and power that had accompanied the recognition of his newfound office, when the young man turned his head back unto his countrymen, it was a defeated gaze that met them, relinquished of all save the last scrap of faith or hope.

"... i-i-it is all go-ne. A-ll of it," he said in a broken voice. "You both saw Valania's condition, all those people being-you saw it. And you tell me that Sarife is no more," he said with a dark, hurt glance to the Bozorgan. "Everyone that I ever knew is gone-and in vain. Both kingdoms are a ruin without armies to stay them-and even the demons that once plagued me with such fires as to raze them are gone. For what would I endure extending my hand out again?!"

The Bozorgan's calm expression never wavered as the Half-Breed spoke yet his eyes never wavered from the pulsating lightening bolts forming a circle around the new Emperor's location. The red bolts all rapidly whipped, danced, and frolicked as if they resembled lives of their own whilst scarring the grounds from which they radiated. Without warning, a large jagged pink bolt immediately sprung from the circle and streamed up into the skies before vigorously lancing out towards Voltas and the distant horizons.

A gaping gasp escaped the Bozorgan as his eyes lit with the shock that only a mentally weary man could feel upon discovering a new evident truth to dispel another. Soon, it became evident that the reality of a previously accepted fear quickly became erased as he winced through approving nods and a blissful sigh. Upon horizontally layering his khilij into a direction perpendicular the large streaking bolt's direction, his head dipped into a low bow upon the cool debris strewn grasses.

"Your half sister, Princess Farah," the Bozorgan answered through an exasperated, albeit triumphant voice, "Her lightening still radiates across the world and its pulsating strength seems to emanate stronger than ever!"

Sighing again, the Bozorgan winced and blissfully smiled as he gazed up towards the streaking pink bolt and nodded in acknowledgement, "Yes, your eminence, the marks of the House of Aryanpour are unmistakable! She is very much still alive after living over a century and it proves that she is likely near the Jade Khan. I was told by the Prophet that we would be correct in surmising that we will likely find her within the Grand Yurt in Sarai Al-Kyliabaatar if we were to follow her streak across the Levantean Sea. Ifyou wish to find her, we will surely have nothing to lose, however, I implore you that there is much you and our KÒşifleri (discoverer) brethren should know before you decide on your next journey!"

"Stop sniveling," Raven barked, suddenly on his feet, standing at his full height and piercing Algol-Uriel with his red eye. "You're not the only one who's lost everything. We're out of our time: everyone we knew or loved is a thousand years dead. The Black Hand was put into place to keep things like this from happening. I'd have preferred to burn the kingdom to the ground myself than to let a hollow husk of a world such as this come to be." Raven took a breath and relaxed his gaze. "If the Bozorgan is correct and you still have living siblings, reclaiming them should be your initial focus. You're not alone anymore... I'm the most experienced slayer of the Black Hand, Orionn is a master tracker and if there are any secrets or knowledge this world has to offer, he will find it. The woman laying in the flying machine is responsible for the deaths of seven of our finest assassins, including Orionn and the other two members of my Quad. The Bozorgan has also proven himself to be very capable. So pull yourself together and stop sniveling: your sister needs you, and we have people to kill."

Raven turned and strode purposefully back to the basket of the flying device and knelt down beside the unconscious blonde woman and began to check and re-dress her wounds. Orionn, who had appeared again during the lightning storm watched thoughtfully. When Raven passed he looked for a moment like he might say something, and then thought better of it. Instead he slipped his hands into his voluminous sleeves, and his icy blue eyes narrowed like he was taking note of something... or staring into the sun, one could never tell with him.

Sighing, the Bozorgan rose and stared coldly towards the Slayer before kneeling several paces outside the lightening strewn circle, "While it is true that your interpretations for preparations hold their weights in legitimacy, Please do not insult his eminence," he firmly demanded through a pointed finger, "We will only further divide ourselves and play into the Jade Khan's winning hands. It is exactly the manner, in which he destroys his enemies; dividing and conquering is how he always destroys his enemies and ... it is..." trailing off, the Bozorgan's eyes watered as he sullenly glanced towards the ground, " is ... how he took the life of your other half-sister Ryanna."

Shortly after wiping away the tears and sniffles, the Bozorgan glanced off towards the streaking, jagged pink bolt as it pulsating with vigor into the horizons, "Your eminence, I will not lie to you ... we have all lost many friends and loved ones and ... what has been done cannot be written again."

"Sometime before the Prophet passed, he informed me that you would return to bring our peoples to the freedoms that they deserved. I have lived long enough to see the folly of those that were entrusted to protect Great Sarife. You are the Prince born of the Demon-Star and the savior that was destined to bring a new Age to the World and lead our peoples to where they may choose their own destinies, no matter how much suffering the world has endured. I surmise that not all of us will survive the coming storms; however, it is not in our place to surrender and allow a century's worth's suffering, lies, deceit, or dishonor to escape retribution. The Jade Khan has only earned himself judgment and we will ensure that you succeed. We cannot surrender now. You cannot surrender! Otherwise, he wins and all that we have endured will have only served his bidding. You have a great responsibility ahead and your half-sister, Farahneeds you! There is a chance to save her and I surmise we do not need an army to free her. Seize this opportunity, your eminence ... and we will give our lives to your cause..."

The wisps of flame that had sprouted at the assassin's words abated just as the pain, outrage and indignation that were ready to burst in tears of spite and agony ebbed away as their guide spoke words of repudiation and salvation cut the tension in the air more finely than any of their blades could. And slowly, a look of sorrow and resignation washed over him as he turned to face the ground and bodies before him, eyes closing with... something more.

"... the forbidden mark of calamity, ruin and revolution," he said softly, his croaking voice somehow reaching clearly between them all-deeper now, rather than the shrill shriek of before. Whole. "You know more than I, it seems," came the words round the young man's back. "... much of me wishes to lie down here and never stir again. Yet..." his hand wandered and ran the length of sundered arms and banners, gingerly feeling their history written in their torn and rusted forms. "... they continued on. For this."

And slowly, the prince of ruin pressed from the ground on shaky arms and legs, clamoring at the air until, barely balanced, he stood, his held upturned to gaze into the sky.

"... I must save them," at last the admission came with a depth that spoke of absolute conviction in the statement beneath its hoarseness. "... aall of them. I must continue the same choice as before, that they all fought and bled and died for. Not glory and vengeance. Not false peace brokered through blood-money and appeasement. The risk of all for the chance of saving all-the single, precise path that alone holds true."

The lord slowly turned to gaze to the Borzorgan, then to Raven, then back again, his harrowed face now unyielding in its gaze for the truth of a heart and soul being laid bare and naked to the world's coldest winds, come what may. "I am Algol-Uriel Delacroix-Aryanpur, Prince of Demons and Ruin and Prince of Valania and Emperor of Sarife. I am the truth that at last brings judgement or final salvation. Upon this heart I swear," he lifted his hand to his chest, a fist upon his breast, "This heart and the life tethered to it in this world I will give unto these as well. The world will have its answer. Be I the fires of Hell or God's redeeming light, I will see this through to its final end and by all of every grave and all of every sacrifice and all of God's Hells and Heavens, I, we, shall save them all."

Without waiting for a word, the newly-crowned Emperor took a shaky step in the direction of the balloon, his gaze determinedly locked upon it. Even as he stumbled and fell to his knees, he clutched at a rotted spear haft and grit his teeth, looking up to the vessel. "Help me," he said as he crawled forward and began struggling to his feet again.

An powerful wind gust blew across the Bozorgan's face as he offered an arm towards the Half-Breed Emperor amidst the lightening circle's fading currents. The distant clouds thundered to the west whilst lightening and powerful, albeit raging rain torrents hammered across the distant horizons to the West. Even as the Bozorgan brought Algol-Uriel to his feet, his gaze seemed transfixed towards what seemed to be another approaching storm. The worrying gasp that escape him briefly spoke of past experiences that had all the marks of torment and gloom. Just before ushering towards the Spacious Balloon, it soon became apparent that something seemed to greatly trouble him more fervently than at any point, during interactions between the KÒşifleri or the Half-Breed Emperor.

Through repeated glances towards the Pink bolt streaking across the skies, the Bozorgan pointed towards Voltas and the distant horizons of the East. "Your eminence, I admire your courage and though you have suffered through many long suns, I cannot advise enough that time is short at hand. Now, it is, of course, wise to assume that caution is the most plausible course of deciding these matters. Nevertheless, crossing the Levantean Sea is, perhaps, the fastest route if we are to enter Sarai Al-Kyliabaatar, although, perhaps, also the most dangerous. The Jade Emperor wines and dines within the comforts of the Grand Yurt and though it will be very difficult to find your sister ..." his gaze reverted towards the Red-Eyed Slayer before continuing, "...I predict that finding a suitable path inside will not be impossible."

Upon acquiring a wooden smoking pipe and jar of hashish, his hands fumbled about as he stuffed more hashish upon the wooden circular bowl before lighting the cannabis and offering towards the Half-Breed. Nodding, the Bozorgan seized a black vase and shortly after taking a large swig of Makgeolli, found his gaze staring off towards the streaking Pink bolt before resting upon the Blue Eyed Arcanist. For a moment, his eyes seemed to indicate his mind becoming lost to thought, however, his eyes soon widened as his gaze doubled back towards the blue eyed arcanist before forcefully ejecting the contents upon the Red-Eyed slayer.

"... Was that necessary?" Raven grumbled. His hands were occupied delicately re-dressing Jade's wounds or he may have lunged across the balloon's basket. Instead he just simmered. Orionn cocked an eyebrow at the display.

Wiping his mouth clean, Pontius nearly sputtered the remaining alcohol milk before swallowing forcefully and stalking his way towards the Blue-Eyed Arcanist. Gaping, the Bozorgan's expression reverted into the look of a man that had been thoroughly pummeled along his skull.

"My deepest apologies KÒşif!" he muttered towards the Black Hand Slayer before pointing incredulously towards the Arcanist. His steps inched ever closer in the man's direction whilst keeping a hand fixed upon the sheathed khilij pommel, "You ..."

"I was told by the Prophet that there was a slim chance that fate would allow us to find an Ancient Magi from the First Apocalypse," Pontius voiced through visible recognition flashing through his eyes, "I was also told that if a certain branch of fate were to intertwine us in that man's company that we would ..."

Glancing towards the sky, the Bozorgan frowned and through a forceful exhale, uttered, "...that we would find answers to help Emperor Algol-Uriel destroy the Jade Khan without touching the Quill of Thoth! I am certain that you're aware of its existence. You are the Master of the Quill, are you not?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Orionn admonished, holding a hand up in protest. "The First Apocalypse was ages ago, nobody lives that long," he answered evasively. Raven paused as he was applying pressure to Jade's wound and turned his blue eye towards Orionn suspiciously. After a long moment he returned to his task. "Besides, I'm no Magi, I just dabble in dream magic."

"Don't be so modest," Raven said, without looking up. "You're an extremely talented Arcanist," he said, in an uncharacteristically pleasant tone. "And a scholar second to none: I was just a zealot of an obscure religion before you found the records that unearthed the ritual which unlocked my true potential."

"You flatter me, but anyone with the patience to dig through hundreds of musty tomes could have done that," answered Orionn as he narrowed his eyes at Raven's back.

"Where exactly did you find those musty tomes again? You vanished from the palace for nearly a month and you weren't in the Grand Library, I checked it every day," Raven asked, a bit of a smile cracking one corner of his mouth. Orionn held back a scowl and considered his words carefully... he knew he was being manipulated, and as long as Raven was still in possession of his head, there wasn't much he could do about it.

"I... know of a place where lost knowledge sometimes.... accumulates," he answered carefully. "It's... probable that we may find something to help us with this Jade Khan business there," he said, his eyes darting back to Raven for a moment, who decided to say nothing further while he finished re-dressing the blonde woman's wound. "Such knowledge is not without it's price, Bozorgan... It may cost more than just time to get what you seek," Orionn answered cryptically as he turned his gaze back to Pontius, observing him carefully as though he may have missed something about the man before.

Through narrowed eyes, the Bozorgan's glances darted between the Blue-Eyed Magi, the Red Eyed Slayer, Emperor Algol-Uriel, and the vicious storm approaching over the Western Horizons. "I believe you KÒşif. The Prophet spoke of such a location and he had warned of its nature. It was said that we must assist Emperor Algol-Uriel to recover information within that location across the Dream Realm, however... I fear you would be forced re-enter the very realm that confined you and your companions towards eleven hundred years' slumber."

Grimacing, the Bozorgan's gaze glanced towards the West where thunder had begun to echo on the horizon, "Initially, I would not ask any man ..." his eyes darted towards the unconscious Al-Mayrin before continuing, "...or woman to endure what you've suffered through over the course of your millennia's slumbers. Nevertheless, the Prophet mentioned that there are no records to recall the First Apocalypse nor any alive to recall the existence of the First Apocalypse, Orionn. You are the Ancient of Old and you know more than you are willing to share regarding the Quill of Thoth. The Prophet has never lied and ..." his eyes trailed off towards the Half-Breed Emperor, "Before his passing, he informed me of one chance ... one ... chance to deliver what is necessary for Emperor Algol-Uriel to bring justice for what the Jade Khan has brought to Sarife and the entire world. If we miss this opportunity, it will be lost forever."

Following a moment where the Bozorgan paced furiously across the battlefields, his hands fumbled about as he retrieved several pouches and began to examine their ball-bearing contents. His efforts proved enough to fully note all his remaining munitions and the opportunity to speak again, "Perhaps your Ancient wisdom could deliver Emperor Algol-Uriel onto a path that would grant him enough wisdom to stop the Jade Khan. It is said that the Quill's owner records every facet of time, however, it is not our place to meddle in artifacts that we do not fully understand or control. What we can control is the means to seek the place of knowledge you speak of and you mentioned a price so I must assume that it may cost more than our lives and ask a similar manner of inquiry as our potent KÒşif. How did you acquire the Tomes and how far did you journey to acquire the volume of such contents?"

"Answer truthfully," Raven commanded, as he was pulling Jade's tunic back over her. He let out a heavy breath and slid to a seat against the wall of the basket, closing his eyes. "Or as truthfully as you can at least." It was Orionn's turn to sigh, since he could not refuse Raven.

"Fine. Such an artifact does exist, and I do know where it is, however it's not safe to speak of it aloud. Its name echoes through realms, and not just misguided mortals seek its powers. Indeed, using the artifact, you can unearth any knowledge from any point in history. The price for that knowledge... " Orionn shuddered. "Let's just say I'm lucky to be clever enough to find a loophole of sorts. I used it to anchor a Dreamscape in the spirit world, and gave it the tools it needed to 'safely' record knowledge for the foreseeable future. So yes, there is a Library that exists within a dream where you can find the knowledge that you seek, and getting in to find that knowledge is not the hard part," Orionn explained.

"The Library is... its size can't be measured: if you climbed to the tallest point and looked in every direction, it would stretch on as far as you could see, and it's always growing as the Artifact acquires more knowledge. Finding what you seek in the library could take days... weeks... years even, and then you have to find your way back out again. Entering the Library to seek lost knowledge may very well be what causes your 'one chance' to slip through your hands. Not to mention... our bodies will not come with us, everyone will be extremely vulnerable here... and if someone finds us and we don't have bodies to return to, or even if our bodies are moved we may end up trapped in the Dream forever."

"Then with all of us incapacitated there will be nobody left to oppose the Jade Khan," Raven finished for him without opening his eyes. "I happen to agree with Orionn, it's too dangerous but... it's not up to me, is it?" Raven asked glibly, raising one eyelid to gaze at Algol-Uriel for a long moment.

"Sons of death ... a terrible price, indeed," the Bozorgan grimly remarked as reality began to root itself, "An endless labyrinth ... archiving time's greatest achievements where wanderers may not only lose their bodies, but their very souls. Remarkable ..."

The winds began to blow more fiercely across the littered battlefields where broken banners Delacroix, Valanian, and Sarifen fluttered in eerie an ominous fashion. No sooner had the grasses also begin to ripple than the Bozorgan's face become clouded in thought. A moment later, the storm clouds slowly began to inch over the horizon where the booming thunder quickly elicited a dreadful grimace. Unsurprisingly, a worrying sigh escaped his lips as he glanced questioningly towards the Half-Breed Emperor. The man had suffered through unspeakable horrors, however, his fortitude had proven to catapult his physique over seemingly indescribable odds that would have shattered even the bravest warriors. Whatever they would endure depended entirely upon his following commands.

"I will be frank, I believe a reward demanding a price of such sacrifice yields no prizes of worth ... however ... I also believe that we did not endure our struggles to allow a snarling jackal a path towards the world's greatest treasure vault nor the means to claim sole ruler ship over a sinking water hole we once called a world."

"Orionn," he firmly addressed, "I will not question how you managed to ... anchor the Quill within the Dreamscape, however, I must truthfully confess that we cannot refuse to fathom the reality that ... the consequences for such actions will simply remain confined to wandering endlessly through the Dream world archives. I believe that it seems a time will come when we will be forced to enter the Library and discover new horrors we may not know."

Another boom across the Western Horizon once again caught his attention and as the winds began to blow ever more fiercely, the Bozorgan step into the Basket and began to prepare the contraption for launch. As his hands began to work the strings and prepare the hissing flames, Pontius stole one last glance across the ruined battlefields and bowed his head in respect. "Yadin-Hamon and Athirat be with you, warriors," he remarked, "Perhaps one day, we shall meet again ... zafer alanlarΔ±nda."

"Your eminence," he addressed, "Under any other alternative path, I would advise against seeking the Library's entry, however, it appears we are running out of choice-able opportunities. There is a very likely possibility that we may lose our souls after entering the Library's archives, however, we may also have one chance and perhaps one chance only to seek preparations to free the world from the Jade Khan's shackles. I would also imagine that we could not possibly ignore the manner of wretched confines the Jade Khan has placed upon your sister Farah. I believe reuniting the Aryanpour family is as much a matter of national duty as it is an opportunity to deliver a shred of common human decency within this wretched Age. Your authority is paramount and should you wish it, we will follow your decrees to the World's end! What is your decree??"

The Emperor had remained silent at the others' ramblings and discussions throughout as he slowly made his own trek toward the balloon. His expressions had shifted only slightly over the course of the dialogue, passing back and forth between a scowl and anxiety as he brushed a hand in rejection of the offering bowl and entered the balloon.

Seeming to almost casually disregard the Bozorgan, the youth used the basket as his crutch to sit within its corner at the edge of the machinery, arm looped over its side in the nook of a rope, his legs sprawled out in the very image of a lion that professed its dominion by merely laying down that left no room for argument. Yet for all the beast's unyielding flames, beneath the pseudo-tyranny was visible a far more profound humility, a sense of looking-a clarity beneath the fire.

"Enough chatter," the king of beasts said as he turned his gaze from the distance to the Bozorgan, gilded brown eyes glittering green amidst the black like a mass of demonic or celestial shattered glass. A burning dark lay beneath the surface of his voice as though the demon's fire had returned to him, delicately balanced with the tenderness and gentleness of the fragile heart set upon by the cold and dark storm's ice to leave it finely if yet tensely hung betwixt-adamant and merciless, yet kind and gentle; the nigh-impossible mastery of both paths as he had said, visibly rough as it yet was. "And set this ship sailing. We are none of us in any state to search some spirit library nor concoct stratagems for war or rescue raids. That will wait until the woman and I are able to move and the rest of you sound and composed. For now, we rest while the sailing makes sufficient progress for us as we head towards whatever location will best position and prepare us to rescue my sister. We will address this Library between now and then when opportunity provides."

Algol-Uriel then cast a brief glanced out towards the frigid night storm as he was done, his interest and heart seemingly fixated. Then the fires abated, swept away by the washing wave of a small, peaceful smile. He returned his attention now wholly to their guide and asked with a plain, simple humility and heart written clear upon his face, "And a blanket and no more hashish, please, Bozorgan. While I do feel at home and at peace in this dark and cold, I wish to stay warm enough to replenish as I sleep. Food, water, air, sleep-simple things. Rest, please."

"Wise," chimed Orionn with a small note of surprise. He looked over at Raven, as if for an affirmation, but the slayer had succumbed to exhaustion next to Jade, who had slumped into his chest. For a moment Orionn looked like he might say more. Instead he slipped his hands into voluminous sleeves sagely and leaned against the side of the basket.

"Perhaps that time must wait until after we have retired," the Bozorgan answered as he unraveled several large blankets for his companions and worked the Balloon's strings to deliver the basket into the wind swept skies, "I surmise we will seek shelter within the ruins that once constituted a former township under the Baron Gideon Ce'dareaux's Northern Castle and I believe it would be prudent to enter the fortifications before the storm reaches the Eastern shores of the CΓ΄te d'Γ©meraude. First and second watch are my responsibility where I shall summon your attention as is fitting our predicaments. I will also see that your needs are met although I cannot promise miracles. It would be prudent to empty your bowels before we reach the air as the journey will require an hour's flight or more ..."

(Collaboration between SkullsandSlippers GourmetItalia, Nevis with an honorable mention to Fern Stone and Peik)

Ona didn’t have time to really think things through. Just a moment ago Uriel was asking Lucius to take her to look around and now there was fighting again.

Fighting. More fighting.

There had been no time for responses. Lucius had set about giving orders. The leader in this little rag tag gang. He ordered her to take cover and she had. Ona had pressed herself back and away from the main group. She watched as Uriel attacked, felt the elemental magic in the air.

Then everything was gone. Ona closed her eyes and clenched her head. The itch, the feeling at the back of her head grew stronger. Stronger and almost overpowering.

Ona forced her eyes open as watched as a man, hair blonde as straw laid down the woman she had seen in her sight. The seer.

Lucius seemed to know the man, the man that made Ona's head buzz. The man called Lucius brother. All Ona could focus on was the feeling in her mind and the seer.

The two placed arms upon the other's shoulders before tightly embracing in a maniacally fraternal hug. It was after a time that the two peeled away and after the grins and stares had finally settled, Lucius quickly broke the silence, "How ... how did you know ... and where in Augurian's hell have you been these last many years?"

"After Emperor Anoush ravaged our Kingdom, I have been beside Catherine as we endured the storm that has continually crippled not just Valania, but Sarife and all of Carcassonne."

"And after all the horrors the Kingdom endured, our sister still lives," Lucius exasperatedly remarked as his eyes glanced towards the unconscious brunette?!

"Catherine is but a victim of the corruption that threatens to tear Valania and Carcassonne further down a path of utter ruin."

"A victim?!" Lucius remarked upon acknowledging her fatigued condition, "Have you seen what that bastard Conqvist has done?! Does Voltas' decay mean nothing to you?! She has been directly involved in the Lord Sovereign's maddening rise to his throne and the longer we allow this to transpire, the longer he will remain unchallenged! You also haven't answered my question in how you know so much of what has happened."

"Undoubtedly, you've many questions and I thought you would say as much. Obviously I cannot change what has happened ... only what is to come. Our dear Catherine commands the gift of clear sight throughout any location in the world and she is near second to none."

Pausing, the blonde Delacroix Duke gently inched backwards until he came within paces of the unconscious Catherine's form. With a heavy sigh, his eyes squinted as he lifted the woman upon his shoulder and repositioned along the Chamber pool's water line. His pupils tilted backwards as he sank into the water until his chin touched the water. The candles lining the chamber flickered as a wind swept across the walls with alarming speeds until lines formed together around the entire pool that pulsated into hues, shapes, and colors until the coherent images began to form along the water's edges.

"Come closer, all of you," the blonde man soothingly voiced, "A specific message awaits each and every one of you, Daelynn L'Fevre, Lord Bahram, Onatha, and the remaining last members of the Delacroix family ... Algol Uriel Delacroix-Aryanpur, and ... Lucius Delacroix. Alongside our sister Catherine Delacroix, whatever I, Rothion Delacroix, tell you ... must not escape your lips."

"What ... what is this, Rothion?" the Prince shouted as he shielded his eyes from the winds sweeping across the room, "If this is part of Conqvist's vile and twisted schemes to rid his last foes of the throne, I demand to know what in the farking hell are ..."

"You trying to tell us?!" Rothion finished in a trance like voice? The winds began to whirl even greater as the images along the water line began to further radiate, "Heed my words and you will find what is to come may prove different than what you envisioned. I command the gift of Prophecy, dear brother and cousin and I have the foresight to tell you what may determine the future of what is to shape Carcassonne for centuries to come ..."

Ona gripped her head tighter. So much noise in her mind. She didn't understand what was going on. It was all jumbled and clouded. She leaned a hand on a nearby wall an drew comfort from the cold stone. She tried to focus on the blonde man. Who was he and why did he make her head feel like this?

The events that had conspired were difficult to keep up with; the magical elements involved made it hard for Dae to understand exactly what was going on. Still, she was intelligent enough to get the gist of it. Narrowing her eyes against the wind she stepped forward, closer to Rothion. It wasn't a cautionless action, however, her hand gripped around the pistol she carried. She did trust Lucius' judgement on the blond man to an extent. He was probably Rothion Delacroix as he said. But Daedhel did not like the wind that swept across them and the very look of the pool of water.

"Then tell us your message."

"Your resolve is welcoming, Daelynn L'Fevre," Rothion answered, "There is not much time so take heart in channelling your resolve knowing what future awaits us all. In time, you will know what it is I speak of and the potential directions with which you may decide to affect the outcome of our beloved Carcassonne and the world."

In short order, the blonde Premonist redirected his gaze towards the blonde Seer as she gripped her head and with a soft and comforting voice, stated, "Onatha of the Kanal Al-Mayrin! Earlier, you felt a strange sensation through your mind, but could not fathom what it was. It will be difficult to explain the pervasive connections between Seers and Premonists such as I, however, in short, your strange sensation stemmed from my attempts to channel and look into your future in the hopes of penetrating your future as well as those of your companions. The subtle sensation of laughter and tickling seems to happen each time a Premonist such as myself attempts to prod into the vicinity of a Seer's sphere of elemental projections although, I will be the first to say that it has been over three hundred or more years since a Premonist and Seer could ... for lack of a better term ... feel each other."

"I do apologize for what maybe a violation of you and your companions' privacy, however, I am certain you will understand my line of reasoning once I unveil certain truths that will largely affect you and your companions."

The waters along the large pool formed together around Seer and Premonist into a conjuration of crystal clear objects and individuals until a large and life-like scene began to unfold above the water's edge. The sights of sun rising and setting could be seen progressing over a lush land inhabited by men, women, and children that bore startling characteristics to Ona's features. The crystal clear scene above the pool exploded into a mist and realigned into a miniature scene of men wearing long hair riding on horseback through the country in unison and through the country, carrying ropes and weapons across their sashes. The sight of the galloping Al-Mayrin Horsemen exploded into a mist and realigned into a moving view of the land from above where the sight of days and nights quickly illuminated and darkened the lush green landscape many times over. Over the course of several moments, dots began to form across the land, and the land began to shift and evolve as the days and nights passed seamlessly as time progressed. The sight of the evolving landscape slowly collapsed into sights of huts and thousands of men and women kneeling before several elderly individuals dressed in ancient ceremonial dress customary of the Al-Mayrin peoples.

"Mature and ancient are the Al-Mayrin, Onatha," Rothion loudly voiced as he addressed the blonde seer through the low howling winds. The sights of the kneeling Al-Mayrin, collapsed into the pool to reform into a closer view of the Elderly Mayrin leaders and upon closer inspection, the leaders all raised their palms to the skies whilst chanting in strange tongues. As thousands of voices of Al-Mayrin could be heard, "Your peoples existed and spread across Carcassonne and Altaea long before the world's bedrock civilizations reached their infancy and from their existence came the elemental gifts that seem to have blessed your peoples. Before the hatred and malice that pits brothers and sisters against one another, before families were torn apart by struggles both petty and frivolous; Unity, Deeply Rooted Friendships, Musical Harmony, Prosperity, and most of all Love existed between the Kanal, the Nurlia, and all the other Al Mayrin tribes that spread across the continents."

The sights of sky reaching Al Mayrin leaders and the harmonious men and women quickly collapsed into the scenes of angry Al-Mayrin rushing towards one another into battles of butchery and death whilst other crystal clear conjurations resembled women and children screaming as they escaped from burning village homes and fracturing grounds only be flattened beneath a sky that rained of endless fiery brimstone and death. The look of terror, confusion, and grief all filled their expressions as many were brought to their deaths due to cataclysmic forces of incendiary nature, famines, and war. Slowly the scene of suffering Al-Mayrin collapsed into the water where another conjuration took form. From the water's edge, the pool reformed into ancient ruins covered in vines and dense foliage where a dirtied man covered in grime, soot, and debris crept out from under a set of fallen pillars and statues. An Al-Mayrin man with purple eyes formed out of the water's edge, staring directly into Ona's in a manner that would pierce and disrupt any individual's gaze.

"You know this man, Onatha," Rothion continued, as he pointed towards the steely eyed, Al-Mayrin man with pupil-less Purple eyes, "The Nurlian warlord, Kylia, whom murdered the Nurlian and Kanal that would have stopped him, butchered your entire family, and sought to seize you as his bride after bringing both the Nurlian and Kanal tribes to heel under his dominion. He still lives and now wields great power under powers even greater than those you know to exist."

A smile slowly crept upon the lips of Kylia as various scenes of outright murder, battle, screams for mercy, and destruction of villages formed around him. Thousands of lightly armored men carrying recurved composite bows and on horseback gathered behind him as their mounts reared in excitement. In the sky, flaming arrows flashed out of nowhere and fell upon conjurations of frantic Al-Mayrin villagers, innocent Sarifen commoners of varying ages, and disorganized Sarifen soldiers. The conjurations collapsed once again and reformed into various scenes of chained men and women of Valanian, Sarifen, Ivalian, and Al-Mayrin kin working and enduring unspeakable hardships whilst hordes of the lightly armored archers on horseback roamed the lands taking and killing anything they pleased. The conjuration collapsed once again into the sights of Kylia and the men on horseback as they mercilessly beat and forced themselves upon screaming innocent women.

"This dark future will await Carcassonne if Kylia is allowed to do his bidding and he is very near to arriving to our continent," Rothion voiced as the conjurations slowly faded back into the waters. "His presence will end many lives and should he continually gain power, stopping him will be nigh near impossible."

Ona watched, horror apparent on her face. The pool showed scenes that made the bile rise in her throat and tears prick at her eyes. "How?" The word was raspy as she spoke. She could not fathom how Kylia was still alive. She wasn't supposed to be here and neither was he.

"How can he be - how is this possible?" Again Kylia and his men would butcher anything in his way. He would rule all he could and it wasn't right. It hadn't been right when it was her people and it was not right now. "He should be long dead. We - no...this cannot be."

Onatha turned her face away and hid her tears. Anger mixed there leaving a knot in her stomach. "We must stop him. He cannot do this...

Uriel, for his part, watched and listened to the scene, tensed like a coil with all of the nervousness of a rabbit or a doe staring down a predator. He knew his name-the whole of it. He knew of the demons and had said them aloud, and...

... they did naught. The others gave absolutely no reaction to it, caught up with the rest-Lucius with the apparent familiar reunion, his brother and sister both profound magi, Ona the apparent revelation of her people's continued existance and a threat from...

The already cold, wracking sweat down the young man's back turned to sheer ice as he stared into the water at the sight, staring into the violet seeing windows of a conqueror's soul. Fierce, hateful, ambitious, arrogant, hungry... and filled, made, of that strange, piercing, strikingly 'off' color. So much like his own that bled emerald the deeper he reached into the depths of magic. Violet's opposite... he, Algol, named for... of all things...

A tense clench took his fists, tightening as the possible ramifications ran through his mind. How the others might react yet to learning of the demons bound to him, of Conqvist's shackled leash around his very life-that the seeress was his tortured kin and of what part he might play, being so the inverse and yet similar to the man now no longer staring up at him from the water's image. He lifted his gaze to Rothion and studied him, analyzing, wondering, thinking for all that his unknowing, exhausted mind could. Then he moved to Lucius. Then each of the others in turn, perceiving them as wholly as he could.

... finally coming to Ona, the divining maiden of the same race as the violet-eyed prophecized monster. Confusion, grief and fear reverberating in her form as tears overflowing from her gentle eyes and trembles wracking her demure frame. A now people-less magi, hunted by others who had taken away what family and home she had once had. Only gentler, as women were kin to be-caring, easily empathic, unlike his own arrogant, splintered self-fractured between the rage, pride and ambition from his father's court, his mother's whoring, the violence of the streets and the other half-the gentle caring of his mother, the integrity of his mentor, this growing, nagging conscious that had pulled close, cut and shredded on its broken-glass edge his half-broken heart and self lost in the emptiness between the two. For whatever reason that he did not understand, he heeded the wordless voice echoing in him and stepped forward.

Three soft sets of steps echoed through the chamber, ending with Algol putting a hand to Ona's shoulder, pressing it with a gentle, reassuring firmness entirely unlike aught any of them had ever seen of him. He looked to her to catch her gaze for a moment, if she would look in kind, then to Rothion and the rest. His eyes danced with subtle, barely perceptible wisps of green like dancing, licking fire or floating spirits-yet, in that bristled, willful gaze, somehow impossible to miss-all while flames of void-black and emerald flickered up from his other, clenched hand, the shadows on the wall behind him... swaying, lashing out in a manner that could not be from the water. Not from the fire. Not with the sporadic appearance of clawed hands, biting maws, faint echoes of eruptions of fire and lightning and violence in the faint absences of light.

"Let him come," he stated, voice loud, beholden to the full weight of all of the care and animosity both that this damned night and scene had taken hold of by their chains and dredged up from the depths. "I am the one born under and named for the sign of ruin. If he attacks what little I have left..." The flames flared, the shadows darkening. Even as his breath turned ragged, as though the shadows were tearing at him, his eyes stared even brighter.

"... Hell itself will cower at what I do to him."

The winds whirled even fiercer upon Uriel's reassuring gestures and in a flash, the ruinous scenes of bloodshed and malicious anarchy violently collapsed into another cloud of Mist. Flickering ensued amongst the candles as the pool surge with activity and bubbles as the sight of a Sarifen aristocrat and a Valanian girl formed upon the water's edge. The two figures lay nude as they lay upon cool grasses within a lush, hanging Garden overlooking the vast and intricately crated capital city of Ktesiphon. Staring out over the starry sky, the two stared into each others' eyes and held each others' hands in passionate affection.

"I have a favor to ask of you," the aristocrat announced as he drew her in for a kiss, "And it is the price of receiving my love."

"Your excellence," the girl lovingly answered, "Anything for you ..."

The man pulled away from her embrace and retrieved an ornate knife bearing gleaming jewels, sapphires, and the Delacroix crest. His eyes shone of fury and satisfaction as he placed the weapon into the girl's palm. The confusion that engulfed the girl's face provoked the man's fury as he seized her jaw and glared into her eyes and a moment passed as she glanced upon the crested knife before the man forcefully enclosed her fingers around the hilt.

"Prove to me that you aren't the whore that stepped into this chamber and defiled everything that has embodied mighty Sarife," the man vehemently commanded, "By the month's end, you will thrust this into King Lothair's heart and deliver Valania into the Imperial Sarifen Empire's rightful rule ... under my rule"

In an instant, the sight collapsed back into the water's edge and reformed into the sights of a throne room where a finely robed man wearing a jeweled crown crawled desperately away from the steps leading away from his throne. His robes appeared soaked in blood and the apparent wounds along his body unveiled several dozen, grisly stab wounds. Nearby, the contorted corpses of slain Garde de Roi retainers, respected Valanian nobility, and masked Sarifen cutthroats lay all around the blood stained chamber. The robed man coughed and sputtered as he glanced around towards his trusted comrades and retainers before crawling towards the writhing form of a crowned woman.

"Help ... m-m-m-me ... Lothair..." the woman chortled as she contorted and coughed as she writhed from over a dozen of stab wounds.

"No!" he cried as he attempted to squirm his way towards the crowned woman's side.

Before crawling halfway, the man paused as he noticed a figure creep from under a hidden location. His eyes widened as the figure came into full view carrying a jewel encrusted, Delacroix engraved knife. Stepping out from the shadows, the same girl from the hanging garden maneuvered shakily, but steadily through the corpses with a determined look of resolution.

"Duchess Adelaide," the crowned man gasped, "Thank ... goodness you're ... here. You must bring help and alert the Garde de R..."

"I am ... sorry, Lothair," the Duchess unevenly answered as she made her way towards the writhing woman, "However, my heart commands my fate for the good of this realm."

Without delay, the woman seized the crowned woman's hair provoking a ghastly scream before the girl gripped the embroidered knife and slashed it across the woman's throat. Words could not escape King Lothair's lips as he watched his wife squirm and choke upon her blood. As tears and cries of sorrow began to stream down his eyes, the girl slowly made her way towards the King carrying the dripping knife. Every step proved laborious and the closer the girl seemed to move, the greater the stream of tears flowed down her eyes.

"Adelaide," the King sadly addressed, "Why?"

"Please don't make this any harder than it must, Lothair," the girl tearfully answered as she shakily raised the hilt, "I have no choice in this matter!"

"Choice? What ... choice?" he wearily gasped, "Why are you here and ... what would ... possess you to commit such high treas..."

Before the King could finish, the girl gripped the hilt and rammed the blade through his heart, provoking a squelching sound and a gasp of shock and terror. Within moments, King Lothair's eyes had begun to fade as the Duchess began to weep.

"It is for my son," she whispered as the breath escaped the King's lips. A short time afterwards, the Duchess released the hilt as footsteps could be heard entering the chamber. A scream echoed through the chamber as a man wrapped in fine silks, breeches, and the mark of a Duke came into view. His gaze swept towards the grisly sight of corpses strew across the floor before glancing towards the murdered King and Queen of Valania. Within moments the Duke had dropped to his knees as full realization ignited his facial expressions and he wasted no time in drawing his sword. Through the water's edge, additional footsteps were heard and orders barked as sight of a young boy and a full company of Garde de Roi lead by a towering officer came into view. Gaping upon the grisly sight of the corpses, the young Prince raised his sword as the Garde de Roi assembled into a battle line across the Chamber.

"Help me," the Ducchess hysterically cried as she scrambled towards the new arrivals, "Help me, I beg you, Prince Lucius! He murdered the King and Queen! He murdered everyone!"

"Make your way out of the Palais, Ducchess and seek safety in within Ecuyer D'Aubigne's Manor," the young Lucius calmly remarked before turning back towards the confounded Duke, "Arrest him and send him into the Dungeons to rot."

"This is absurd," the Duke bellowed as the King's retainers forcefully threw him in chains, "I am the King's brother, damnit, and I swear in Yadin-Hamon and Athirat's name of your deplorable acts! Unchain me at once!!

All at once the sights began to fade and the winds began to calm as the scene of the Duchess racing away whilst the Duke became dragged away collapsed into a mist and through the pool. Gaping, Lucius' wide-eyed stare hinged between outright horror and disbelief as he glanced back and forth between the pool, Rothion's location, and Uriel.

"We cannot escape the deeds our parents committed nor the circumstances, in which we came into this word," Rothion loudly voiced, "Inevitably we were brought into this world through means escaping our grasp."

Faintly, at first, as several moments passed, a whimpered chorus echoed in throughout the room. High-pitched, forced like a rasp on wood. As Lucius looked to him, Uriel's eyes stained in red, wet as the method of revelation before them, tears beginning to spill over uncontrollably. He laughed-shallow, high-noted laughs with a twisted, agonized smile bleeding out dread, shame, guilt and rage as much as his face did water and his voice became laced with the threatening hint of madness.

"... I really am the son of a whore," he giggled, bringing his hand up to grasp at his forehead, filthy hair jutting out messily about while his fevered gaze pierced the water with that intensity that could raze a soul. "... everything related to me, everything I touch... betrayal, agony and massacre, just as the star implies..."

A spell of maniacal laughter took hold of him, shaking throughout him and staining the air as though lacing it with poison as tears streamed down his face to splatter on the floor like rain. "'Your little angel'?! Your 'precious little angel'?! Mother, you traitorous slut, you ruined the world for me?! Mother, I am the Devil!"

The pool once again stirred, only this time, the sight unveiled the Duchess kneeling before a man surrounded by Sarifen aristocrats. Upon command the girl stepped into the light, unveiling the bulge around her womb and the black veins covering her arms and legs. Mere moments later, she begged vigorously as the man dangled a flask carrying swirling liquids above her head as she begged and pleaded for her life.

"The Battle of Vercelli cost me the lives of some of my finest Sipahis and ... despite crushing Valania's last armies, the dead have forced some families to live on without fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins, or sons. Give me one reason for why I should spare your life."

"Father is this really necessary?" a younger voice began. Gasps amongst the great Sarifen Houses followed suit, invoking the man's rage and utter embarrassment as the Imperial Sarifen Prince, Bahramesh pushed his way through the crowd of Aristocrats, followed closely by the young veiled Princess, "Grandpa-pa always said that we should show mercy on those who have performed great deeds to our peoples and that it is the Sarifen way of honor."

Bellowing in rage, the man back-handed the young Princess, splitting blood in front of the Heads of the Sarife's Great Houses. In his fit of fury, his hands slipped, to the Duchesses horror, and the flask came plummeting down to the floor. The shattering that followed resembled the single catalyst that drove the girl into a panic and through the tent's streaks of sunlight, dark streaks quickly began to spread across her body. The great Heads of Sarife's Houses whispered in fascination and curiosity whilst the Imperial Prince defiantly glared towards his father as blood began to dribble down his lips. In defiance, the boy firmly placed a comforting hand along the Duchess' quivering form.

"The antidote for the poison," the Head of House Surenya whispered, "She's doomed to a slow death."

"Perhaps it is for the best," the Bozorgan of Baktria answered, "The Emperor's illegitimate children are already a threat to Prince Bahramesh's status as an heir."

As the Duchess twitched upon the floor, her eyes widened upon feeling a small hand press upon her womb. A short giggle formed under the veil of Princess as she happily stepped adjacent her brother and pressed both hands across the girl's bulging form. Within several instants, the black streaks completely disappeared to be replaced by pale, yet astonishingly healthy skin. Whispers once again filled the gathering of the great houses as Duchess Adelaide rose to find sweat drenching her otherwise unaffected body. Cursing vehemently, Emperor Anoush seized a large goblet and drained its alcoholic contents in a mere gulp before storming out of the tent to the sounds of trumpets, horns, and cries of victory in the Emperor's name.

"There," the Princess jubilant voice squeeked, removing both hands from the Duchess' womb, "Now we will have a baby brother!"

"You should not have done that, Farah," the Imperial Prince whispered, "Now all the Great Houses will know of your secret!"

"Agghhh," the Valanian lady gasped as she held her womb, "I can feel him close at hand."

"Then follow me to the Surgeon's tents," Prince Bahramesh answered as he brought the girl to her feet, "They will see that you will be treated as a member of our great family!"

Collapsing yet again, the images collapsed into the sight of men and women of varying ages chanting as they held parcels of heavily inscribed papers above their heads. The dimly lit room, braziers, riveted stone pillars, and shrines doting the chamber largely inscribed a temple where the Oracle Lysia housed the members of the Sarifen Inquisition. Clearing his nose away, Rothion continued, "You are also here to discover an answer to what our forceful captor Lord Sovereign, Richter von Conqvist did to you to ensure your loyalty as a powerful pawn. You will find no simple solution, yet one does exist to confine the powerful and unstoppable demonic entities infesting your body. Without your entities, it is doubtful that you may unleash anything greater than short pillars of fire."

Through a heavily furrowed brow, Lucius immediately turned and stared aghast upon the armored Uriel Delacroix. The Prince glanced back and forth between the various chamber occupants and for a moment, Lord Bahram and Lucius both shared a mutual look of understanding and disturbance.

"Demons?!" Lucius inquired incredulously as he cowered under the winds whipping above his head whilst directing suspicious and timid glances towards the armored Uriel, "You're mad! How can you unveil that which doesn't exist?!"

"There is much, dear brother," Rothion remarked, "Much about this world that can be explained and explored at a further time, but it is much different in ways we will never comprehend. I don't anticipate that we may uncover the surface within a dozen lifetimes and it is wasteful to believe otherwise. You saw the Ivalian shades appear after the Chateau massacre and I can assure you that it is, but a small appetizer to several main courses."

The winds suddenly shifted again and blew against the walls where ghastly shrieks filled the room. Shadows of jagged teeth, sharpened horns, and mis-shaped jaws appeared and evaporated as the scriptures along the walls pulsated so heavily that the inscribed text began to glow in an unusual dark grey hue. A shudder escaped Catherine's lips and in her unconscious form, the effects of the winds marked a clear presence in the room that had not previously existed. All at once the candles flickered and swayed towards the inscribed scriptures along the walls before several smoke trails quickly seeped from the Uriel's armor into the wall's various scriptures.

"These scriptures act as wards to keep the demons at bay and Catherine is as much of a victim of the Lord Sovereign's meddling as is our cousin Uriel. I fear I've not the time to explain these matters, however, I believe it's best that you take care in understanding my explanations for even now, the Lord Sovereign is on his way back to the Palais."

"Listen to me," Lord Bahram flatly began as he leveled and cocked his rifled musket. "I don't have time for this meddling with the arcane. What I know is that if we do not remove your sister from this world, we are all dead men so I advise you use your fortune telling sorcery and tell us how to kill your master or we will find another way."

"I have looked through the branches of the future, past, and present, Lord Bahram, and it does not bode well if we attempt to accomplish too much in so short a time. I want to assure you that this is not a delaying tactic and that my words are genuine. It is to my understanding that you wish to return to your business and recover your steeds so that you maybe rid of prolonging your stay within this cursed city. I will at least promise your fulfillment of your desires."

"Rothy, if there isn't any time," Lucius interjected as he glanced suspiciously towards the Armored Magi, "At least explain what the future bodes for our cousin's so called Demons!"

"Our cousin will die if he is allowed to leave this room," Rothion calmly answered as he cast a worrying glance in Uriel's direction, "His plate armor acted as a Ward against the demons caged within his body and it has now been rendered completely inert. The only reason he is still alive is due to the scriptures holding Catherine's demons at bay. If you wish to know how this is possible without a lengthy discussion, I can assure you that these inscribed parcels act as a ward and permanent prison to put the demons to sleep. Before you inquire any further, I must stress that we must offer Uriel the assistance he requires to keep his demons at bay. The future and well being of this entire continent as well as significant parts of this world depend on his survival and he deserves our support after having suffered so heavily at the hands of malevolent and powerful men."

"Rothy," the Prince addressed, "I cannot see the future and you ask of me a sacrifice, in which the Inquisition declares heresy! I cannot even fathom what demons are capable of if they are allowed to roam free."

"And that is why it is imperative that your cousin, Uriel Delacroix, must either remain within this Chamber," Rothion answered, "There is no other way he can acquire a solution to restraining his demonic entities unless a member of your party sacrifices their life to offer a permanent ward to his armor."

Cursing, the Prince offered a worrying glance between his Al-Mayrin companion and his sister, whose appearance took upon a pale, quivering form before his eyes once again rested upon the armored magi. Their history together was irreversible and they had endured many encounters, in which they should not have survived. Rothion's impending words had a ring of finality that he had rarely sensed and following his brothers instructions had pointed towards possibly abandoning their fellow comrade if one of the party did not sacrifice themselves to offer the man a permanent ward against the demonic entities. It was a decision that posed a significant weight upon the Prince and his silence served to further emphasize the heartfelt discomfort that was lingering.

"If I am to sacrifice my own life," Lucius loudly inquired as he shielded his eyes from the whirling Chamber winds, "If my actions ensure that that bastard Conqvist does not enslave our cousin and the freedoms of Valania and her peoples, what future can we hope to expect?"

"We shall soon see it together, dear brother," the Premonist answered.

Once again the conjuration collapsed into a sea of Mist before reforming into flames and pulsating shades that twisted, writhed, and shifted around the embers' shadows that vigorously cast along the water's edge. The shapes of grisly jaws and jagged teeth formed from the shades where upon the sight of a screaming older man resembling Uriel's features stood upon a cliff as a channelled stream of thick molten fire rained upon a field occupied by hundreds of thousands of men on horseback, carrying recurved composite bows, light armor, and strange facial characteristics. The fire stream continually fell down across upon the battlefield, channelled by the older Uriel and renting the grasses and men aflame where ever the fire fell.

"Your elemental projections will grow exponentially, Uriel," Rothion calmly voiced as the incinerating fire pillar streaked across the battlefield in a vengeful wrath that involved the older man screaming at the top of his lungs. A gleaming crown could be seen on his head and a soot-smothered, plate armor covered his chest as he decimated whole companies of mounted archers, steeds, and steel into columns of smoldering, charbroiled debris.

"Proper restraint, however, must take precedence in ensuring that justice and proper counter-measures are exacted upon those deserving eradication and not upon innocents," the blonde prophet warned. Immediately, the sights collapsed to a new conjuration featuring a much older, but relatively youthful Onatha as she carried a young toddler in her arms. Her eyes featured a look of frantic desperation as she and many Al-Mayrin, Ivalians, and Valanians alike scrambled towards various ships preparing to sail away. Overlooking the dockyards stood the older crowned man carrying Uriel's features. His eyes bore a look of sadness as he glanced towards Ona before turning back towards the cliffs overlooking the hordes of approaching horsemen and legions of foot soldiers crossing the field of battle. His attention diverted again as he glanced back towards Ona and the fleeing refugees where groups of the mounted horse archers carried strange banners as they rushed towards the dockyards. Their arrows volleyed as one into the fleeing civilians and slew many as they rushed towards the dockyards, which still hailed with the banners of Old and Ancient Valania.

"There is great potential for either exacting terrifying destruction that may rain vengeance upon certain foes at the cost of killing many innocents."

In an instant, a pillar of flames fell upon the horsemen, incinerating both civilians and mounted horse archers alike. The aftermath ignited various districts in the surrounding vicinity, trapping other civilians who could not reach the docks and through the carnage, a screaming Ona was seen reeling from severe burns as her Al-Mayrin compatriots managed to drag her onto an awaiting caravel as it cast lines off for departure. Shaken in disbelief, the older Uriel glanced back towards the battlefield where he once again shouted to the top of his lung as he cast away his armor and seemingly threw everything he had into the advancing hordes of armored horsemen lighting the fields afire. As the flaming pillar tore through the hordes, his attention diverted towards the skies where hundreds of incendiary objects flew across the skies and towards the battered city below of what remained of Voltas. Screaming, the older Uriel threw his weight upon the advancing hordes and managed to incinerate many more before the entire cliff exploded in a sea of raging fires, rock, and dust. Mortally wounded and disembowled, Uriel glanced towards the small fleet of caravels as they sailed away where he witnessed the sight of the burned Al-Mayrin seer glancing back in his direction. The magi shared one last glance towards the shattered crown laying near his feet before succumbing to an eternal sleep.

"Learning restraint and discipline will be near nigh impossible unless you accept what may happen should the future be allowed to run its course," Rothion collectively continued, "All the same … great potential may bring for the opposite, in which certain particular restraints may allow foes to commit acts of brutality." The conjuration collapsed into yet another sight where the apocalyptic future became replaced by the sight of a middle aged man carrying Uriel's characteristics. Wearing rich scholar's robes, vetted in steel scales draping his neck, plated armor, and a long flowing beard. His eyes looked out from a terraced marble balcony within the Palais de Voltas with sadness upon the streets where he watched mounted horsemen flood the streets, spearing or felling fleeing innocent men, children and the elderly whilst women were forcefully seized and mounted against their will. The sounds of fast moving assassins caught the middle aged Uriel's attention.

"In time, your restraint may gain great respect and love of the people to inspire them to take rightful action."

The conjuration collapsed once again and reformed into the sight of a well kept, yet crude looking cemetery bearing the grave stones of various Al-Mayrin, Ivalian, and Valanian names. Men, women, children, and individuals of all ages gathered around a blossoming figure of a middle-aged woman bearing Ona's facial characteristics. Various Al-Mayrin and Valanians alike, gathered around a largely erected, marble laced tomb of gold and silver ornamentation. The inscriptions displayed Uriel's name in fanciful letters and a symbol of the Fleur de lis laced patterns of the Delacroix household. Through a rousing speech, Ona earned the praises of the gathering crowd bringing a chant in Uriel's name that began to gain in fury and rhythm until the chorus of chants evolved into a collective war cry that spanned across the entire city of Voltas. In a heated, galvanized frenzy, men, women, and children gathered as one and poured out of the cemetery, taking to the streets where they were joined by other Voltisian residents. The large crowds began to fall upon the large groups of mounted horsemen and strangely armored soldiers patrolling the streets and advanced as one towards the Palais de Voltas.

"Will you, Uriel Delacroix, wish to be remembered as the Harbringer of Vengeance or Brother Uriel for the restraint and good that would inspire generations of every kind to decide their own destiny?"

Uriel had watched wide-eyed, his tear-streaked and bloodshot gaze transfixed on the premonitory images and words throughout. Emotions flooded and washed over his face plainly and openly as the scenes on the water's surface, unfolding. Horror, shame, guilt conflicted with gratitude for the sight of his mother and what she had done, how his older half-sibling had regarded and treated her and him. He swallowed-hard, painfully moving the lump in his throat, audibly near-choking it down.

The half-breed prince maintained his silence as the discussion unfolded. Rothion spoke and Lucius retorted and questioned. The flames mirrored in his eyes, awash with glimmering light at the play of tragedy filled with the rage of himself cracked and broken and razing the world in an unholy inferno. Lucius was gone, Ona with a child and some connection with him-by the look of it, the fleeing remnants of Valania were his before the apocalyptic scene. His armor broke and shattered to leave a raging, dying fire, much like the play itself-a tragedy of love, loss, rage and a world without peace.

Then it faded, to be replaced with a softer version of him-garbed in scholarly or priestly dress. sagely, so much like his teacher. And yet, still, people were butchered and raped, their lives and livelihoods pillaged by men twisted and perverted so horribly so as to be capable of such atrocities. Rothion spoke of him biding, withholding in restraint and that one day the people would rise up against their oppressors, to 'rightful action'.

Finally, the prophet returned the attention to Uriel himself. In his question was all of his conflict of these recent years, the whole of his schismed self that he had been ensnared in and shown again and again-the disparity of the opposites and the empty void between. He stared at Rothion for a long pause, then slowly moved his head about to take in the face of each and every person within the room. seeing them, looking to see what they saw. In him.

At last, his gaze settled back to Rothion, face still empty and blank. Then he released his long-held breath...

... as a ... different look took in his eyes. Frightened, yet full of determined will. Filled with the swirling vortex of anger, fear and pain and... love, that reflected the entirety of their continent, their world. Yet setting it all aside, still and at motion all at once.

"Neither." His voice was deeper. Raw at the edges for the crying, screaming, inhaled smoke and stone-yet uncompromising, resolute. "They are one in the same-the differing extremes of the same shackle of a fate where we each live for a future and eschew ourselves for others-or cling to force and might in fear and rage, entrapped in the past. In both cases, the self is lost, the truth betrayed as I become either a glorified murderer to one day create my own ruin or a whore who would sell my soul for a false peace. One my mother, one my father."

The prince exhaled and drew in breath again before sending a glance upward past the stone ceiling to the unseen night sky above-then back down to Rothion to speak again.

"... I am not Uriel Delacroix. I am Algol Uriel Delacroix-Aryanpur, Duke of Valania and Prince of Sarife by blood. Yet at heart, in spirit, in soul, I am neither. I am me." He lifted his right hand, palm upturned and open. A small, tender-looking flame rolled to life, hovering above his armored hand. After a moment, the flame began to lace with verdant green like the glimmer characteristic of his eyes, turning it almost sickly...

... yet...

... slowly, it began to soften, the fire fade even as the energy endured. Moments passed and eventually the glow was all that remained-a warm, soft, ambient presence shimmering in his palm. He sent only a passing glance to it before back up to Rothion.

"... I am the prince of demons, the lord born under the Demon star for which I was named. I will neither wreak the agony and massacre that it oft implies nor lose the deeper gift of it and repeat my mother's mistake and let the people chase a false peace, rebel and start the cycle of tyrant and victim, oppressor and resister again and call it revolution. I am the usual order broken; I am the upheavel of the cycle itself."

Algol looked to Lucius then, gaze staring into his friend's heart. "I will find-I will create-another way. The way. I will master these beings inside of me and transcend these shackles-this armor, my birthrights, this war. All of it."

It was as if the world was flipping on them. What they had known to be true, what they had known was real seemed to be wrong or parts missing. Their future, at least according to the visions they were shown seemed frightening. Destruction, war and devastation. A child.

She tried not to focus on that too much but it was hard.

It was her turn to offer comfort, support and strength. Her hand held his arm. Ona moved closer to Uriel. She had learned so much and yet he learned even more. The pain of it all was written on his face, in his posture and it hurt her to see it. All she had been through was nothing it seemed to the pain on his face or the hurt in his voice.

Onatha recognized the feelings behind his words. Uriel, Algol...whoever he was would not be chained down by visions of the future or knowledge of his past. Ona felt a connection to that, a bond in that that she had not seen in anyone else. Emotions were too raw, too much in the front to fully comprehend all of what had been said. There was talk of demons, sacrifice and more but in this moment all Onatha could focus on was that, like her, Uriel was being shown a future that included death, destruction and war. That he was alone and hurt. That his future was as harsh as hers it seemed.

Her hands wrapped around his upper arm in an effort to let him know he was not alone. She wanted to show him that though she barely knew him that she understood parts of what he was feeling. She didn't care about the demons or his past. She only cared about this very moment and how overwhelmed they all were. The future, or at least one possible future had been shown to them.

Ona looked between Lucius and Uriel. She didn't know what to say. It was as if her words were stuck in the dryness of her throat, as if her tears that still filled her eyes took away her ability to speak.

Through gritted teeth, the Prince's expression formed into an appearance of utter confusion, seething rage, and dire concern. His eyes glanced between the companions that had braved hell on earth to accompany his mad quest to remove a necessary evil only to discover that it was his own family that would. The harsh and existing truths had risen the stakes towards levels he could not have fathomed. Even the near death experiences could not prepare him for the hidden authenticity of what had unfolded as well as what was to come. He'd seen his family torn before his eyes, his rightful heirship ripped from his grasp at an age where his youth was thrust into a position of responsibilities where even the wisest and oldest of rulers had failed. The common people that had looked to him for guidance and well-being were betrayed after the Kingdom fell and even since, he had either lived in treacherous exile or found himself running for his life.

The following years had seen those he had loved, respected, or held in high regards taken, manipulated, and murdered while the great Great Sarifen Houses, Sarife's Imperial Emperor Anoush Aryanpour, and the Lord Sovereign Richter von Conqvist ensured their authority rise skywards. How had fate cursed him to such an abyss? How many more innocents would die and suffering affect Carcassonne before misfortune spread into the neighboring realms such as Vectis, Vorst, or Ivalis? Sarife's Imperial Emperor and the Power-mongering aristocrats would see to it that there would be no end to their lust to control the continent.

He had made a promise to himself, to his family's honor, the former Kingdom's reputation, and to the Delacroix ancestral lineage that the Kingdom would be restored through any means necessary and that those responsible for bringing the realm to ruin would eventually die very painful deaths. If fate ensured that the fallen Kingdom of Valania required a martyr to preserve the hell that would await the scheming bastards outside of the Palais, it was a fate he was willing to accept. It was a reality that required fulfillment by any means necessary and it filled his heart with sadness to accept the inevitable.

"Don't you see what is happening, Uriel?" the Prince loudly exclaimed! Through a quick motion, his hand unsheathed the long dagger along his belt before bearing a tight grip around the hilt, "You saw the future and you know what will happen if you leave. There is no escaping the demons and I can't allow you to kill yourself on my behalf. We don't even understand what unknown forces your demons are capable of and only the Inquisition possesses knowledge upon such matters. In either circumstance, no matter what we enact upon, our actions play into Conqvist's favor!"

Onatha's hand gripped Uriel's arm a little harder and moved closer to him. "What demons? The future is not fixed, it can't be...that-all that.."

Her words choked off again. Her jaw trembled as she tried to compose herself. "It can't be fixed. There must be something we can do."

Algol stared back at Lucius-resolute yet touched with alarm at the blade in his hand. "Did you not see? In both visions, Conqvist was no longer ruler. I wore a crown and obviously lead in your stead in the first; Sarife or this outer threat in the latter. In both cases, it is neither Sarife nor Conqvist that are the true threat. It is this other mage with violet eyes. Conqvist is going to lose, regardless-as will everyone. Fire and war or a false peace and a revolution that changes those in power yet not the people and thus continuing this same repetitive cycle of the rise and fall of nations, rulers and subjugation. Both start with your death."

"I do see," he says, gripping Ona's arm back, fingers wrapping around her forelimb. He sent a look down to her-a smile that was filled with empathy, resignation, determination. Reassuring even for the fear, as though somehow knowing that everything would, somehow, be alright as his emerald-swirled eyes stared into hers.

"... there is," he said before looking back up to Lucius. "I can stay. And train. Until I am ready."

Uriel stared down at her. His hand gripped her arm and Ona felt steadier because of it. She turned her eyes to Lucius as well. "What happens now?"

Onatha looked around at everyone in the room. "What happens now? What do we do?" Though she tried to remain calm there was a little desperation in voice.

A simple glance towards the whirling winds and the flickering shadows seemed enough to allow a moment of inflection upon one of the last Royal Delacroix Princes. The ramifications to ramming the knife through his heart had only just begun to surface and in that moment, he became aware that attention had shifted towards his very existence. After a time, the Prince placed an arm around both Seer and Pyrourger before quietly answering, "I am afraid I have no insights into this matter, Ona. Fighting is an option, however, it seems that to do so means to fight another day and in doing so, it would force our hand in leaving my sister to Conqvist's will. Realistically, even if we were to leave, we have no soldiers, no finances, few friends, and neither the weapons nor supplies to survive the week."

Sighing, his redirected towards the blonde Premonist standing along the pond's center, "We do, of course, command the wisdom of a Prophet. As such, I must request your Council, Rothy. There must be another way to escape without leaving behind our friends and family. You must have forseen what was to come and what it is that can we do for Uri... Algol and Cathy there."

β€œYour wisdom is justified, dear brother ... admirable even! Resolve under peril are rare traits and the mark of a leader; nevertheless, it is also your folly.”

Scenes conjured above the water's edge where the sights of the Valanian flag danced in the breeze above cheering crowds of commoners whipped into a frenzy. The Garde du Delacroix stood at attention behind a newly constructed balcony within the Palais de Voltas ornamented in the finest glittering metals and gems of remarkable qualities. Rows of disciplined Valanian soldiers stood at attention as an older Valanian aristocrat bearing rich garments and high gothic armor placed a gleaming crown above Lucius' head. The sights collapsed into another that unveiled multiple visions that ranged from valiant tides of determined Valanian soldiers pouncing upon crumbling ranks of disheveled Sarifen conscripts to the unfolding visions of Sarifen banners falling from numerous Valanian city ramparts and prosperity inching through various Valanian markets and coastal wharf fronts.

Others depicted various Sarifen aristocrats face the execution block whilst scenes of civil unrest spread through populated Sarifen municipalities. Yet again, various scenes unveiled genocides committed against Sarifen commoners as Valanian soldiers pillaged their way across various Sarifen cities and its arid countryside. The unfolding scenes provoked a discomforting groan from Rothion as he seemingly struggled to maintain his posture.

"The branches of fate have been rewritten," Rothion began again, "The realities you witnessed have extinguished to set realities of a new nature. I fear I may have doomed us all and that I made a mistake in hastily unveiling so much of our futures."

The sights reformed into a scene depicting Lucius as he sat along a throne room, glancing towards a map alongside various diplomats of surrounding kingdoms where arguments had begun to break out regarding the various interests between Valania's war efforts and sovereignty. "Should you continue upon your current course, you will find victories and the Kingdom of Valania restored to its rightful place. Prosperity and the status quo shall follow whilst you reconsolidate Valania's rightful place within Altaea ... if only for a short while ..."

The visions collapsed into a lavish bed chamber where a elderly Lucius lay upon a bed accompanied a retinue of Garde du Roi and much older appearing individuals bearing facial hallmarks of Onatha, Uriel, Daelynn, Balthazar, Catherine, and many other aristocrats of importance. Bearing embroidered silken garments of the signature Delacroix Royal Household. The elderly Lucius seemed incredibly pale as the adorned women of the Augurian Military Orders offered lasting rights. The Palais Chamber's windows streaked with lightening where a thunderstorm brewed from afar. As the vision of the elderly Lucius drew his last breath, the thunder and lightening began to rumble in the distance. The Palais began to rock in a violent shudder and soon the Chamber occupants scrambled as distant cannon-fire began to pound the Palais with unrelenting ferocity. As an elderly Balthazar mustered the Garde du Delacroix to action and the Orders of Melitas and Valus reformed to man the walled emplacements, the sights reformed to that of Uriel and Ona surrounded by their immediate generations of families as they glanced off into the distance.

Collapsing yet again, the scene reformed into the locations where the cannons roared without pause. The purple-eyed Al-Mayrin, Kylia barked orders and directing bombardment volleys aboard a large armada assembled along the Voltisian Bay. His expression took upon a furious look of sadistic hatred as his warships smashed through the Voltisian walled defenses with ease. Moments later the sights collapsed again to form into a scene depicting hordes of landing vessels filled with mounted horse archers and lightly armored foot men of yellowed skin were seen pouring through various city streets of Valanian and Sarifen appearance.

As the scenes of massacre, enslavement, and pillaging filled the water's edge, Lucius in the present stepped forward and attempted to shield his companions' eyes. "Cover your eyes and ears!" he gently whispered to his companions.


The sound of an explosion rocked the Chamber and the sounds of scrambling footsteps and shouts of men sounded through the other end of the Seer's Chamber's only entrance. A moroseness overtook Rothion as he glanced towards the Chamber entrance, "There is not much time and it pains me to have thrust such burdens upon your companions given your ordeals, however, our fates have left us with little choice and I fear that I may not have another opportunity to offer warnings before it is too late! The Lord Sovereign and his men are approaching, not more than one hundred meters away and if you do not act now, he will surely redirect fate to an even darker future!!"

"TO HELL WITH YOU!!" Lucius screamed before turning towards his companions. His frantic motions provoked his retrieval of various gunpowder pouches and his steeled weapon still tucked behind his waist. "Lord Bahram, if you carry enough charges, you may wish to location another part of this chamber to blast a new escape route. Dae, if you must, we cannot allow Catherine to suffer under Conqvist's savageries. Uriel, Ona, I would not ask you otherwise, however, we must carry on awhile longer. Can you manage?!"

Onatha didn't have to be told twice. She turned her head, pressing her face into Uriel to hide from the visions. She didn't want to see anymore, hear anymore. She wanted to go someplace quiet and simply rest. Every part of her felt too weary for this. She wouldn't though. Lucius and Uriel were dealing with far too much and they were all she had.

The explosion shocked her and she held tighter to the man in front of her. Lucius' words hit her ears and only then did she look up. Ona nodded slowly. "Of course."

A frowned formed on her face. "Was there not talk that Uriel could not leave this place?" She looked between the two men.

Algol-Uriel looked down to Ona for a moment, brow strained and exhausted with the constant arguing, visions, warnings-now the stress from the nearby din of the soldiers cutting short their time increasing it exponentially. While biting his lower lip he brought his free hand up to his forehead, holding it along with his breath for a moment before releasing, willing himself to clarity.

"Algol Delacroix," Rothion firmly addressed. The sights along the water's edge completely collapse followed swiftly by the whirling winds and the flickering candles. The blonde prophet had already made his way across the pond whilst carrying his unconscious sister. "You already know of three possible solutions towards your predicament, however, there is yet one other solution that may indeed assist in your friends and near immediate family's escape. It is by far the most challenging and perhaps one that merits both the greatest rewards and equally disturbing risks, however, it is a viable solution and perhaps the most promising of elemental applications. We have under a dozen passing moments before Conqvist and his patron masters reach this chamber. You must choose now and once you do, there is no turning back."

"Choose what? What application?" he asked in worn exasperation. Then he heard the volume of the shouting spike and a cursed expression passed through his eyes while his lips moved otherwise. "God da-yes! Whatever it is, yes!" he yelled desperately.

Ona was fearful. Uriel seemed drawn and strained, even further than herself. She held his arm tighter and offered as much of her strength as she could. An offer was made but details not forthcoming. She could feel the desperation in his body, the strain.

Onatha held him tighter lending Uriel whatever strength she could.

In a respectful bow of the head, Rothion smiled curtly and shuddered as blood began to trickle down his nose. His ability to stand seemed strained and increasingly strenuous, yet the aimless look in his eyes indicated an entirely herculean channeling of elemental concentration. "A promising new ripple has taken precedence," he uttered through a laborious effort. His eyes glanced nervously towards the entrance where shouts and barked orders could be heard before resting upon Lucius, whom had succeeded in strapping together a series of gunpowder pouches. "The branches of fate have been severely altered to deliver newly emerging possibilities within the future."

Through a simple nod, the blonde Premonist gently brought his unconscious sister upon a spacious location nearby before placing a reassuring hand along the weary Al-Mayrin Seer's arm, "Onatha, if you hope to save your friends, Algol's success concerns you as well! You must brave through your exhaustion to offer elemental assistance towards Algol's cause. We haven't the time to explain the effects of combined elemental effects beyond the notion that you and Algol must immediately work together to channel your elemental abilities towards the entrance!"

Onatha looked confused as Rothion placed a hand on her arm. "Whatever is needed of me. What is it you would have me do? Do you want me to see where they are coming from? I-"

She felt helpless. Her eyes turned to Uriel - Algol, whichever name he was going by it didn't matter. "Just tell me what you need of me and I will help in whatever way I can."

Uriel stared down to Rohion confusedly, the fatigue obviously hazing and weakening his mind as much as flesh. With a quick glance of his eyes towards Ona, he looked back to the blonde man below him. "I've never done combined magic before-and certainly not with a seer. How?"

Another explosion rocked the chamber, diverting Rothion's attention towards the entrance and ultimately surfacing a worrying expression. "Your combined disciplines have never been seen before in the history that elemental executions have existed. I can only lend and pass on what knowledge I have seen in long extinguished branches of reality and the effects Catherine and I have achieved. Algol, you are an accomplished Pyrourger of promising lethality and you must throw anything and everything towards the wall, in which my brother is futilely placing charges. You cannot hold back or the chance will be lost."

"Onatha," Rothion addressed as voices and barked orders began to echo louder along the Chamber entrance's other end, "You are a Seer and your gifts are of a much more refined and differing quality compared to my sister Catherine. You too must channel everything in your strength upon that wall however, you must do so in one push. You must also bring your abilities a step forward and ultimately focus upon a short and single point of that wall otherwise the chance will be lost!"

"You must both concentrate your abilities at exactly the same moment," he continued as his eyes rested upon his brother as the charges detonated along the wall section without penetrating so much as several meters of stone. Upon acknowledging his failure, Lucius cursed venomously and bellowed in frustration before forcefully slamming his fist along a nearby table littered with books.

"Onatha, Algol-Uriel," Rothion hastily voiced, "You must hurry!"

Algol bit his lower lip and nodded plainly, turning to the wall. He observed it for a moment, along with Lucius's failed blast before turning to Onatha, eyes crackling and hair standing on end across what of his body could be seen, skin turning pale as he began to pull every form of energy that he could into his hands and aura, the air whirling and whipping at them lightly.

"I will make a light that will pulse three times," he said, staring straight into the depths of her eyes as his own seemed to flash and crackle like fire and lightning. "On the third pulse, in the exact center, do it." He then turned towards the wall, gripping her hand tightly with his own and extending his own with his open palm and outstretched fingers parallel to the barrier ahead. The shadows around them began to dance just as much as the air while small bursts of flame and crackling jolts of lightning broke free in tiny lapses around his hand as he reared it in, focused it.

A ring of soft red and white light pulsed upon the wall like a painting, a dot in the center to mark their target. After an instant, it dimmed, a definite rhythm to it.


Ona marked the fact that he stared into her eyes without flinching, not unnerved by the pupil-less orbs. She used the tight grip on her hand to help her focus. She had never done anything like this before and was not sure what was going to happen.

Onatha turned her attention to the wall. She heard Algol's voice begin to count and as she exhaled she closed her mind to the rest of the room. The sound of voices was but a dull roar to her ears. Ona was waiting for the moment, for the third pulse. She didn't think about how little energy she had in her or how much she had pushed her ability already. They needed to get out of here and she would do whatever it took.

"Two..." he said, the air going still and light-chilled, even, as the energy pulled in, hair standing on end as though in the midst of a thunderbolt. Everything stood on edge, at the ready, the anxiousness in the air palpable. A glinting spark of light began to coallesce above the palm of his outstretched hand.

"... THREE!" he screamed, releasing and jaunting forward all of the magic within and about him towards the wall in an explosion of roaring fire, crackling lightning and brilliant light dancing and intertwined with lacing, twisting shadows.

Ona could feel the air around her grow cold. She focused on the spot, waited for it. It felt as if he would never say three and then....

Her eyes focused on the spot and Ona closed her mind to everything else. She stared as if she could see into the dot. Past the dot. Into the space beyond it. Her hand tightened in Algol's. Every bit of energy and focus she had left was directed at the spot.

An enormous collision of wind and incendiary fury melted together into a perplexing display of thrown together forces that could only be described as a clash between the divine and supernatural. The fires pulsating and roaring across the Pyrourger's outstretched hand seemingly disappeared into the wall, as if an invisible void consumed the scorching heat that bathed and fueled the oncoming flames. During the same moment, a thread sized stream of blinding light began to slowly flicker into view from the Al-Mayrin Seer's hand before the sound of thunder filled the entire chamber. Lightening crackled across the room, forcing all three bystanders, Lucius and the other non-elementally gifted to dive for cover as streaks of charged bolts wildly scattered across the Chamber.

In a sudden flash, a ripple began to form along the wall in a circular shape that quickly expanded as a sea of blinding light began to pulsate and project off of both Pyrourger and Seer. Within the same instance, the sound of wails and inhuman howls filled the air whilst the walls danced with shadows shaped in grotesque forms, jagged spikes, and razor sharp teeth. Moments later, the shadows along the ripple covered wall fearfully scattered away given how quickly the ripple had expanded. Before long, the candles along the walls completely dissipated in lue of the ripple's straightening complexion.

From his flattened location along the ground, Lucius gaped in an expression that bordered between absolute horror and utter perplexment at the fiery ring emanating around the pulsating circular hole that had since replaced the wall. Wind jettisoned out of the circle's middle as the sound of the pounding surf followed, unveiling the sights of the golden sun cascading off the Voltisian Bay. Some leagues away stood the Citadel Chareil-Besançon and some distance away, an assortment of familiar vessels bearing Ivalian flags could be seen making good upon an North-Western Trade Wind. The smell of the sea was easily recognizable and the bright dot burning into the clear blue skies.

"What ... what is happening?!" Lucius screamed as the winds and sea water ejected through the circle and upon his face.

"Interesting," Rothion calmy answered as he glanced between the circle and the Chamber Entrance, "A ripple created through the use of Pyromancy and Seeing! One that seemingly allows for ... instantaneous travel between two distant locations!"

Ona stared at the opening, her mind only barely comprehending what she was seeing. She was used to seeing places not in front of her but this was different. This place was there- she could smell the water and feel the wind. She didn't know how they had done it but they had. She poured all her energy into it and she could feel it giving way.

"I can't-" She gripped Algol harder, her body leaning into him. Ona continued to stare at the hole. "Hurry.."

Uriel, for his part, barely saw any of it-yet what he felt was beyond any words that he could think of. Light, heat and darkness coursed through him, the voice of his spirit and spirits within him screaming far louder than his lungs in an exploding riptide outward. The stars danced in both his consciousness and eyes alike, the cacaphony of plasma, energy and darkness giving way to the void of mute and numb blindness, all sound no more comprehended than to a babe as he clawed at the air with his outstretched hand as though his sense of balance had abandoned him as well.

He stumbled heavily forward-leg giving way beneath him and catching himself as he fell. He clung to Ona desperately, now relying on her as much as she him. His chest and belly heaved in desperate breaths as he rasped out feebly in a dry voice, "... go... now..." he wailed against his drowning throat, crawling upright.

Ona moved with Uriel. She needed his support and he was barely standing as well. Her hand still held his tightly. "Everyone needs to go...we can't hold this much longer." Concern overrode exhaustion. She helped Uriel up though she kept her eyes on the opening. "Please go!"

She was not nearly strong enough to pull him up but she tried as best she could. Her arms went around him. Every part of her body protested but she ignored it. Her mind wanted to shut down but she didn't allow it.

β€œI hope to see you on the other side, if there is one.” Lord Bahram calmly voiced. His arm had already leveled to where he had directed a cocked and loaded musket pointed towards the doorway. Instead of taking position, however, the mysterious Sarifen took several quick steps and hurled through the hole and … to the amazement of the others out over the cliffs. A splash was heard soon afterwards followed by the sound of the pounding surf and the cry of seagulls.

Gritting his teeth, the Prince momentarily glanced towards the Chamber exit where he heard the sound of more footsteps and barked orders. Rising, the Prince scrambled towards the circle before a powerful gust of wind and the spray of the sea nearly knocked him off balance. Cursing, he seized the near lifeless form of his sister and bellowed in rage before screaming, "ROTHIONI beg of you!! What can we do?! I will not leave my friends!!”

"You have little choice in this matter for the future of Carcassonne and many innocents rests in your survival. There is great promise for you as the King of a new Kingdom of Valania, however, the Kingdom will crumble following your death." Rothion answered before retrieving several a satchel filled with liquid ensconced vials, tombs, and a wax sealed scroll, "I have one price to ask and it is that you carry this satchel in the hopes that it will bear fruit. In time, you will understand what it is I speak of. You must not allow anyone to know of the satchel's contents existence until you've contacted the Ecuyer D'Aubigne. I am certain you are familiar with the man given your previous associations earlier yesterday. If you are wise, you will heed my words for there is a slim chance that you are able to find another way to ensure the future of this entire continent. You must look beyond Valania, but to Sarife itself. You must look to the people to avert the dark future that will await us."

"A pox be unto thee, Rothion!! Lucius screamed as an explosion sounded from the Chamber entrance, "Valania has suffered enough under the depravities of Emperor Anoush and Sarife's Bastard Houses!! How can you even sit here and determine what fate awaits us??!!"

Sighing, the Blonde Premonist once against glanced towards the Chamber entrance where shouts and the sound of hammer swings and shattered rocks could be heard, "I am sorry, dear brother. An ironic choice of nomenclature for what will await Voltas, however, we are out of time."

In protest, the Prince had only opened his mouth only to find his brother manage a forceful shove that unbalanced him forward and through the pulsating circle. A string of death defying curses were heard before a large splash and the sounds of the pounding surf followed. It was a far cry from what any of the world's schools of logic could even comprehend, however, nothing could quite deliver what happened next. The scriptures along the walls suddenly pulsated a glowing red as the sounds of ghastly screams could be heard across the Chamber.

"My loyalties lie with Lucius and the Kingdom," the lady slayer resolutely announced as she holstered her weapons, "I wish you all the best and someday perhaps we will meet again."

Without speaking further, Dae rushed through the circle and dove head first into the pounding surf that awaited below. The sights of the three figures reuniting and another swimming away could be seen even as another explosion sent shockwaves rippling across the Chamber. Streaks of searing hot lights suddenly began to splinter away from the scriptures along the walls and through the armor encasing Algol-Uriel's chest piece. Once again the inscriptions along scriptures began to flicker from shades of orange to a molten holt hues of a glowing bright red illuminations.

"Algol-Uriel, the past cannot be unwritten and you must know that my sister's demons have been expelled and found a new host. You may find it difficult to move without enduring immense pains even greater than what you are now living through. I am sorry, however, there was no other way to ensure Catherine's departure. We have only minutes before Conqvist and his benefactors gain entry. Your strength may prove more than enough to hold the barrier at bay, however, it seems that only you or Onatha may cross before it collapses. You must choose whom will escape and whom must depart ..."

Ona stared at Rothion for a moment. "Go Uriel. I am not supposed to be here, this isn't my time. That should have been long past. Go and I will stay. They need your help."

Her face was soft as she looked at Uriel. "I feel that would might have been friends had things played out differently." A sad smile moved across her lips. "You have a great deal of tasks ahead of you."

She tried to help him towards the opening. Her sight turned back to Rothion. "It is a cruel thing not to tell us this before you had us open the door..."

It wasn't a question to her of who would stay. She hadn't had to think about it at all. She was out of time here. This wasn't her place. No matter what Rothion showed them that was not her future.

Ona turned her eyes from Rothion. "You should go through before we are out of strength."

"Unfortunately none of our destinies are defined by our sacrifices, but in how we accept our responsibilities," Rothion answered as his eyes wandered across the sights of the bobbing figures down below. The weariness and drowsy appearance spoke of a burden of an entirely different nature, yet his steely eyed glance held the complexion of a man that had accepted his decision with fortitude. "Your kindness is appreciated and noted, Onatha, however, my place is not beyond that crossing. Whether you accept your existence within the present is something you must discover yourself, however, one reality remains and it is that you have a duty to your people."

Onatha shook her head. She had neither time nor energy to deal with him. If Rothion wasn't going through than so be it. She held onto Uriel, helping him up from the ground.

Uriel watched all of them go through hazy, blurred vision with an open-mouthed grimace. The sensations of the world around them were slowly returning to him-yet the ebbing was slow and did little to his fading strength. A weak chortle died in his throat at Lucius dashing through and was too weak to nod to the strange Lord Bahram. The distant pounding surf echoed through, salt stinging at his raw senses. With a groaning exhale, he lifted a foot to step forward.

Yet, then, the walls had pulsed red and the quiet screams that one usually must open their mind's ears to hear shrieked throughout the room with the shrill voices of the damned. Dae said something in their regard, yet it was lost to him through the tingling sensation running up his spine like a current of lightning and shaking him to the core of his bones with dread.

Then his scriptures of light began to dance off of the stone and through the air, the aurora whipping through the air and into the garment of plated metal encasing his chest in a blazing light of orange and red-and with that molten, liquid fire came once again that soul-flaying, spirit-consuming agony of a soul being twisted, bound, scraped and burnt by shadow fangs and forbidden shackles. Too worn, his mouth hung open in twitching, trembling, world-destroying pain void of even a scream.

It passed faster this time-or perhaps the senses of his soul had become too damaged and left him numb. Which or whatever it was, the claws of shadows in his eyes receded, letting the man drenched in all that fear could push from a man and taking a trembling step forward while, ironically, Rothion's voice now penetrated and rung loudly and clear inside of his head.

Demons. Even more; already he had taken into himself more than the mages had suspected a mortal capable of and surviving, let alone retain their sanity. Yet now more were wrapped in a web around his soul by jagged fusion like desperate beasts wound around the inner cord of his spine with wire of barbed and jagged steel. It seared beyond heat, beyond electricity, yet, somehow, he was still there-and able to move, he found as he weakly placed a foot in front of him and pressed forward, shakily taking yet another step.

The two had reached the door just after Rothion revealed his final wretched truth-that only one could pass and that the other must remain behind. He glanced back, tear-streaked eyes plain and unchanging in misery at just this side of madness and despair. After a moment, though, he swallowed and looked to Ona expectingly, saying naught with words, rather with his eyes that bade her say her final thoughts.

Onatha felt calm. She looked at Uriel. She felt at peace with the decision.

"Tell Lucius I said thank you for finding me, for keeping me safe."

She smiled sadly. "Be safe." She lifted his hand to put it to her cheek. "Good bye."

She stepped back and let his hand go.

Algol-'The Demon star- Uriel-'The flame or light of God' smiled tenderly back with a knowing, resigned smile and, for all of his indignant pride, resentment, fear and pain, leaned into the touch for the brief, fleeting eternity that it lasted. Then it was gone and her pulled away, ready. He lifted his heavy lips into a smile.

Then he lifted his hand to the side and swept it across them, force jaunting her off of her feet and into the exit through and beyond, looking to her with a broken, grateful smile.

Chapter 1: Episode 2 – Seeing is Believing Conclusion

As the Seer passed through the shrinking portal, a large gust of wind blew threw through the pulsating opening as the sun's cascading rays glittered across the chamber floors. Nothing short of a large sigh of relief escaped Rothion's mouth given his exposure to the ever flowing branches of fate. His composure said as much as did the weariness that spread across his face and if ever there existed a stoic young man whom had seen too much for several life times, Rothion's composure was second to none. The situation certainly could not have alleviated through the series of shouts, barked military orders, and the cacophony of explosions that resonated within the Chamber's entrance. It served as a crippling dose of dread that the entrance's destruction spelled the Lord Regent's arrival and untold wrath that would seal Uriel - Algol's fate. All the same, the Interior Chamber's condition took on a life of its own as the wards and torches began to flicker followed swiftly by the ever creeping shadows that had slowly begun spread across the walls. Most notably, the Chamber's illuminating glow began to take on a strange reddish-orange of a purple hue, illustrating how evidently fragile the balance of protections had existed to kept the demons at bay.

"Algol - Uriel, your sacrifice may determine the very future of this very continent, for decades, even centuries," the Premonist transiently voiced, "Although ... I fear we have little choice than to follow another branch of fate. It has come to this moment! Lucius has set into motion a series of events that cannot be disrupted and this is where we must say our good byes. I sense this maybe the last moment we see each other for a very long time and perhaps one day, in another life, we may see each other again. I must ask that you take care in your ability to decide upon what is right."

As if on cue, a sad smile spread across the Premonist's lips in a manner befitting a stoic man accepting a mortal fate. The rising smoke only served to further emphasize his point as the ashen wisps had began to waft through the Chamber entrance where the powerful smell of charred gunpowder and clay odors quickly shrouded the room in white and grey plumes alike. Within a moment, the pulsating wards took on a strange magenta hue, provoking Rothion to action. His hands inched towards an in-scripture along the walls and within moments he had ripped the parcel into his hands. The motion had a near immediate effect as a cascade of loud and ghastly screams quickly plunged the entire room into darkness followed by streams of red light that rapidly peeled away from Algol - Uriel's chest. Stepping forth, Rothion wasted little time in leaping across the chamber and by his shoulders, seized the Pyrourger into a locked gripped. The ghastly screams continued to fill the room where upon they were to be joined through the Premonist's own painful screams. As quickly as the screams had begun, silence soon ensued and within moments, the Premonist leaped backwards followed by the sound of a large explosion that rocked the Chamber's interior.

Through labored pants, Rothion's hands rose before a large burst of light pulsated from his fingers and towards the still pulsating, yet shrinking portal. All at once, the opening once again enlarged to a size even greater than it had ever appeared and without hesitation, the Premonist had already seized Algol - Uriel by the waist and thrust him through the portal. The man had only just crossed through the opening when the Chamber entrance burst open and the sounds of footsteps and barking military orders flooded through the Chamber's walls. A moment later, the portal collapsed into nothing as Algol - Uriel began to descend face first into ... darkness ...
Still here and kicking, but just been a bit busy with priorities with living situation, career work, and wrapping the final arc to Episode II's conclusion. Wanted to say thank you to you both for your patience and as part of my promise, there will be an expansion to Altaea following the Episode II conclusions \m/
Well ... @FernStone@Nevis@SkullsandSlippersI hope you've all had a vacation induced July with Summer in full bloom (unless you're visiting the South Hemisphere) we are getting closer to the end of Episode 2 where some huge plot twists are inbound.

@SkullsandSlippers - Spoiler Alert, do not read until you've caught up with all posts!

Furthermore, I'd like to invite you all to try out this new Mozilla Etherpad board:

On the recommendation of @FernStone, it seems to work better with Smart Phones and can utilize different scripts for various purposes. There is an ongoing collab and it would be recommended to visit the new Etherpad for our ongoing collaboration to wrap up Episode 2, hehe

New orders barked through the lead Chevalier towards her assembled Crown Watch retainers and the still remaining men and women held their ground whilst several handfuls of crossbow wielders and recurved composite bowmen unleashed a near crippling volley of arrow and bolts through the corridor, sending the party flattening to the ground or behind cover within the smoldering throne room. Lucius grimaced as he glanced behind his shoulder to hear the sound of approaching Crown Watch reinforcements approaching from further down the unaffected hallways.

It didn't take much to understand that their motly group was about to become victim to a double pincer maneuver and with their numbers, the ensuing aftermath was certainly favorable towards an immediate death. The remaining Crown Watch reassembled as one and merely stood their ground as their crossbow men readjusted their aim whilst the recurved composite bow wielders quickly prepared for a final devastating volley that would end this mortal charade. Lucius and Lord Bahram had only begun to light their stuffed munition bottles when a loud rumbling echoed through the brightly lit corridor.

Light spilled out from the Chamber beyond as the stone quickly parted way before several shaped balls rolled under the unsuspecting Crown Watch soldiers and detonated into plumes of thick yellowed smoke. Amidst the confusion, several soldiers began to cough and sputter whilst others quickly dropped their weapons and reeled to rub their eyes. As time passed, more and more Crown Watch retainers quickly collapsed and within a short time, the yellow cloud quickly engulfed the remaining squadrons.

Within the smoldering throne room, a command to charge could be heard from the commanding Chevaliers of several newly assembled reinforcements. Disciplined ranks of Crown Watch soldiers shouted as their decorated shields pumped forwards in fast moving jagged tides of steel. Lucius merely shouted towards Lord Bahram and the others to break for the Chamber whilst he seized several charged munition balls and prepared to hold the soldiers at bay.

His shouts only partially reached the others when glaring light cascaded off the busts lining the wall behind the Smoldering Throne and into the lead elements of the charging Crown Watch retainers. All at once the soldiers stumbled to a halt as the bright light quickly fell upon the hallway outskirts in a riveting aura of lumescent light. Many simply collapsed as the sheer light completely blinded their vision and sent many to crash into each other into a confusing jumble of bodies, grinding steel, and the sound of crumpling buckets.

Gasping, the Prince quickly made his way through the dissipating clouds of yellowed fumes and fallen Crown Watch bodies to find a large, dimly lit floor that quickly unveilled dank walls of densely packed inscriptions and an assortment of shelves and furnishings. As Dae and Lord Bahram took point, the Prince himself quickly unholstered a loaded pistol and valiantly placed himself in front of his magi companions, Uriel and Ona as the group inched through the Chamber. Upon inching further into the chamber where a mist surrounded a set of glass tables sitting above a large circular pool of water, two figures twisted as the mists parted to unveil a young woman floating unconscious above the pool's middle. The second figure resembled a young man wearing shortly cropped blonde hair, finely woven robes, and a handsome complexion.

"Welcome, brothers and sisters!" the man announced as he waddled through the knee deep pool, "The night has been long and the tides of fate are ever changing within Carcassonne as they are on Altaea. I thought it fair to rid us of the Lord Sovereign's Crown Watch elements as appropriately as was in my abilities. No doubt you wish to see that your efforts weren't in vain and that by removing Catherine you maybe spared possible hardships!"

The blonde man quickly pulled a lever from within the pool and within moments, the Chamber opening closed, prompting Lord Bahram to cock the hammer from his musket.

"You are a man of many talents and equally as many pursuits, Lord Bahram, however, I have reason to believe that staying your hand may serve your tribe as well as recovering the horses the Lord Sovereign Richter von Conqvist stole from you. The loyal men you ordered to pursue your Candari steads are on a fools errand given how they're already on a ship bound for the port city of Normandy."

"Lord Bahram, lower your musket," the Prince requested as he suspiciously glanced towards the unconscious woman, "I may possibly wish to confront this snivelling imp before I decide where to act further."

Smirking, the blonde man shot an arm towards the Man in the Iron Mask, Uriel, before gently placing the unconscious seer upon a nearby glass table and remarked, "We are short on time, Lucius so perhaps it would be best if we should first inform our pyrourger brother how he intends to confront his demonic supernatural shortcomings. Should we act otherwise, he may actually escape a thousand different ways."

As Lord Bahram wrapped his finger around the trigger, Lucius slowly inched forwards whilst lowering his own pistol. His eyes squinted towards the blonde man earning the newcomer's smile and affections. It was after a brief moment that the two shared a look of near mutual understanding, provoking the Prince's owl-enducing expression.

"Mon dieu ... Rothion??!!" Lucius jubilantly exclaimed?!

"Mon frere (my brother)!" the blonde man fondly answered, "It's been far too long and ... I ... have been waiting for this moment for sometime now ..."

In days past, the Garde du Delacroix patrolled the halls with more precision and the Gens des comptes held greater respect while its subordinate vicomte, chΓ’telain, baillis, viguier and countless other overseers ensured that justice and fair decisions over legal and political matters extended over all the fiefdoms that scattered across Valania's many counties. These were the years before King Lothair's brief reign, where Valanians could still proudly look upon their lineage, stand toe to toe before their aggressive Sarifen neighbors, and revere the foundations that had so firmly distinguished their civilization upon Carcassonne.

Eerie emptiness and the lingering dread of the Lord Sovereign's authority filled the interior hallways that regularly filled with the bustling natures that populated Valania's high courts. During the earlier days that encompassed King Lothair's reign, Valanian's aristocrats lined the Palais' many chambers, where near bloodless politics, courtly fashions, secretive lovers, devoutness towards the Augurian faith, and close associates of the Delacroix family dominated the Palais de Voltas to compose the unique and distinct qualities that defined the Kingdom of Valania's characteristics. The flight through the various courtyards and interior residences had left the Prince's emotions in a wide ranging state of sadness and longing. The heavy Crown Watch and newly erected tapestries that marked the stamp of Conqvist's commissions presence did nothing, but stir his brooding silence as they stalked deeper and deeper through the enormous Palais grounds.

Some of the tapestries and ornately crafted, gold gildings that dated back to the Kingdom's founding still existed, yet the mark of Sarifen flourishes, rare Oradnian motifs, intricately woven - damask fabric patterns, brocaded furnishings that lionized the Firuzabad Aryanpour (Glory of Aryanpour), and low hanging desert flora had obviously found their way into the glittering chambers, palm tree lined gardens, state rooms, and various ornately chequered corridors that spread out through the Palais' grounds. No longer did such flurry of distinct Valanian culture line the Palais Voltais' magnificent chambers given how thoroughly Emperor Anoush and the great Sarifen Houses under his authority had buried the fallen Kingdom's better days with a near crippling political purge, Sarifen assimilation efforts, and a relentless occupation that had done nothing more than to inhumanely depopulate or impoverish Valania proper over the course of several short decades.

Throughout the hours that followed, Lucius did his best to carefully maneuver the assembly across the darkly lit Palais grounds whilst he scampered through the various chambers that he once called home. Nothing short of erasing the past could completely suppress the many emotions that had already begun to stir from within. Still, he knew what was at stake and did his best to set a manageable pace given how weary Ona and the others had become, however, even as the assembly managed to comfortably snake and slither their way through the Palais compounds, he could not help, but acknowledge just how powerless he was to stop the tragic events that were unfolding across Valania Proper. Had his father lived through the assassination, perhaps Valania would still have retained its autonomy and the courts would've remained populated with the ancient aristocracy and families that dated back beyond the Kingdom's founding. Given how heavily Sarifen influence had shackled and disseminated the former Kingdom, Lucis could not have fathomed what hardships or treacheries were being committed across Valania's other territories or populated cities, but could only imagine that the suffering was only just as crippling, if not worse.

Had the assembly retained more time or interest, they could have explored the state rooms for information regarding the Lord Sovereign's activities or found a means to discover what lay within the enormous vault that remained under heavy guard, however, given how serious a threat the Seer posed, there seemed little reasons for delay than to reach that accursed individual before they found themselves standing in the afterlife before Yadin-Hamon or Athirat's judgements. Even with Dae's expertise, there was only so much stealth and swift footed stalking could accomplish before they crashed into several or more fully plated Crown Watch patrols that were, to put it lightly, armed to the very teeth. Time was growing thin and with every minute stood a greater possibility of the Seer's awakening.

Lucius had taken utmost precautions to remain within close proximity of Uriel and Ona whilst Lord Bahram and Dae organically supported the front and rear in a unique inter-weaving motion that brought them through the Palais without detection. During several occasions, the assembly separated as they sought to evade the Crown patrols that frequently stalked through the Palais grounds in unorthodox route patterns. Their sopping appearances from the cliffside ascent certainly granted no favors to aid their close encounters with the Crown Watch given how chilly certain parts of the Palais, however, the many torch lit hallways had offered temporary respite from the cold that clung to the assembly's clothes and skin.

During various stops, the group had found blood stains within certain state rooms and meeting chambers being scrubbed by Crown Watchmen. Several other moments, they watched in horror as certain Crown Watchmen dragged bound and chained Nurlian men and women through various guarded openings where distinct screams and cries for mercy echoed through the floor planks followed by the occasional sound of crossbow whines or the distinct sounds of metal impaling flesh. The Palais had been secretly turned into a deplorable execution ground towards any victims that had earned the Lord Sovereign's ire. The Prince did his best to keep their own Seer from lingering too long, but knew that he could not hide all the realities that had lined Conqvist's vile activities within his own residence. They could do nothing for the poor victims that were to meet their end and to commit otherwise risked greater horrors that awaited the days ahead should they lose their golden opportunity. For all that they had endured, their destination was approaching and after reaching the Seer's chambers, only Yadin-Hamon and Athirat could determine how their fates would unfold ...

After what seemed to be an eternity of light footed stalking and terrifying close encounters with the Lord Sovereign's frequent Crown Watch patrols, the assembly managed to weaved their way through a certain throne room chamber. There, they found a distinct set of tight corridors that seemed to melt and twist like a snake through the ground until a certain passage lead down a narrow, cavern that held a hidden opening and the chamber that lay beyond. Ona's sight had already identified the Seer's location and the route leading directly towards it along with the several heavily guarded and manned checkpoints that dotted the narrow cavern passages.

Lucius had been brewing through his options, however, given how emotion he had become and the nature of the Palais' fully garrisoned condition; avoiding the reinforced patrols within the Palais had served as their primary priority until they encountered what appeared to have been their final obstacles. The heavy manned checkpoints proved a yet unsolvable problem alongside the chamber's rather intricate entrance and after finding no other points of entry, it appeared that their options appeared fairly limited. As it stood, their greatest challenge was not entering, but of escaping alive, intact, and in one piece. This left brute force as one of the only viable options if enough explosives could be used to blow open the Chamber entrance. The narrow cavern leaning straight into the chamber itself proved the only means of entering the Seer's chambers leaving for little room for error.

Matters only seemed to heighten after the Prince glanced towards the Chamber walls and witnessed golden rays cascade upon the Throne chamber's arched glass panes lining both sides of the walls. Misfortune quickly ensued as noticeable shuffles echoed from near and afar. Within mere moments, it became clear that the quick rustle of clanking armor, boots, and the shouts of orders in foreign tongues marked the entry of armed guards. All at once, several long columns of full plated Crown Watchmen carrying pikes and crossbows spilled quietly into formation from hidden passages leading into the throne room.

Leading from between the ranks pranced a slender woman of smooth, pearl yellow skin, slinted, albeit dangerous brown eyes, and long, dark-raven hair. Flanking her position stood a small collection of similar looking, yellow skinned men and women wearing Crown Watch armor and recurved composite bows. Her strides had already brought her through the throne room where several horn cries officially served to raise the alarm. Within a blink of an eye, the slender woman unveiled a gleaming sharp knife of foreign origin and hurled it towards Dae's location. With almost catlike grace and daring acrobatics, the Valanian assassin merely twisted backwards to very narrowly avoid the knife's piercing reach as it quickly sailed above her nose and into the cavern stone. Immediately afterwards, the girl cocked the hammer along her pistol and returned fire, felling a slanted eyed Crown Watchman whom repositioning in front of the young woman receive the blow.

A moment later, the group found themselves diving for cover as well aimed crossbow bolts and eagle feathered arrows rained upon their previous position with alarming accuracy. Through gritted teeth, the Prince found himself staring back towards the corridor where several fully reinforced platoons of fully assembled Crown Watch advanced in unison towards their location. Lord Bahram took it upon himself to shoot the support above a chandelier swinging atop the advancing Crown Watchmen. The effects proved somewhat ineffective in impaling the Crown Watch, but served to temporarily halt their advance. The man wasted no time in throwing down several objects to form a several barricade against the crossbow and eagle arrows before firing with precision to remove one of the leading Chevaliers in an attempt to sow confusion in their ranks.

β€œWell, we all knew Conqvist's lieutenants would eventually use their brains,” he exclaimed before lighting a musket stuffed glass bottle and hurling it towards the platoon. A swift explosion followed shortly afterwards and punched a hole into one of the platoons and several nearby windows. The Crown Watch calmly advanced and reassembled into a similar compact formation in a display of almost eerie discipline.

Through fixated observations, Lucius dove forwards and into Lord Bahram's makeshift cover as more crossbow bolts rained towards his previous location, β€œOna, stay under cover and out of harm's reach. Dae, Lord Bahram. If they reach within twelve paces of our location, you are to clear to open a second entry of escape through one of those nearby ...”

Suddenly, the walls exploded as large spherical objects ripped through the throne room. Crown Watchmen and women alike screamed as a relentless barrage tore through the throne and into their ranks like a knife through melted cheese. Whilst the other members of the group flattened to the ground, Lucius instinctively cast aside his Legion training and reflexively curled into a tight ball against the makeshift cover. The explosions so violently ripped through the throne room that within moments the roof immediately came crashing down upon the Crown Watch platoons with alarming rapidity.

In the aftermath, the Palais' distant alarm bells did nothing to dispel the clouds of dust and debris that had begun to clutter what remained of Conqvist's throne room. Miraculously, the Prince and the other retinue emerged relatively unscathed and through the grunts, groans, and for alarm, Lucius took no liberties in stumbling and peeling his way through the throne room wreckage to ensure if the others were unharmed.

Shouts could be heard in the distance, announcing the arrival of more Crown Watch detachments, but in the thicket of the crumbling stone and warning bells; the Prince slowly made his way through the wreckage before peeking out through a newly crafted opening within the throne chamber's remaining wall sections. In the distance, a slow moving row of Ivalian Galleons and Caravels could be seen puffing fresh cannon vapors from their sides. A familiar middle aged woman stood on one such deck, flanked by a small collection of Dorkim Ivalis Kdoshim Aloophim and sailors. Next to the woman kneeled a fuming younger lady in chains and through the distinct clothing and appearance, was unmistakably recognizable as the Chuda Chevalier they'd captured earlier.

Following several humorous gestures, Councillor Gisgo blew a kiss towards the bewildered Prince before issuing strict orders towards the fellow crewmen and women to depart. Within moments of the modest Ivalian flotilla's release of sail the Prince offered a curt nod of respect and smirked just as a southerly wind blew across his left cheek. A moment later, he too turned away without ever looking back. Matters quickly escalated as a musket round whizzed just mere inches from his face and just as suddenly, he found himself engaged in a pitched skirmish between the fast approaching platoon of disciplined Crown Watchmen near the cavernous Chamber entrance.

β€œUriel,” he shouted as his piercing eyes glanced towards the armored magi, β€œIf you've any strength, now is the time to rain hell upon our foes! It's now or never!!!!”
Fine posts from you both, @SkullsandSlippers @Nevis.

@FernStone - Enjoy your travels through England and Europe. I will elaborate on the conversation between myself and Nibbles in that a lovechild between Uriel and Dae would bear a natural elementalist with near impossible sprinting capabilities ;).

Post is arriving very very soon and there will be material for us to eventually reach deep through the Palais!
I know you're all going to start working on your posts and I figured I'd announce that we'll be moving forward on Saturday so any decisions or remarks before the decision on which parts of the Palais our characters should infiltrate can still be finalized today before tomorrow!
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