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Arton listened closely to Eliane's response to Lord Caradoc's question, trying to discern if she was being truthful. Fundamental with a side of mischief. It was a intriguing combination and was one more reason to keep his eye one his fellow Skaelan. He was not sure that he would be able to withstand a series of questions if she began to investigate his background. Hearing each one of them unified in their mission was a relief to hear and he could feel the bonds of the party tighten ever so slightly. The retort by Galahad's father stung like a small splash of boiling water on the skin. It hurt for a split-second but it quickly washed over him. This vitriol from Gal's father had him dumbfounded and his fantasy image of a parental figure insulted.

His hunger that he had at the start of the meal extinguished as the conversation between the two Caradocs began to explode. When Galahad expressed reservations about returning home, Arton had figured that there was some sort of tension or bad blood with his family. Nothing could have prepared him for how deeply the cracks in their relationship went. The Skaellan rose from his seat after Galahad, ready to spring into action the moment the situation completely broke down. The intensity in his face broke upon hearing Artorias's accusation and his son's reaction. Truth or not the claws of doubt visibly sank into his friend's mind.

The venom left by the echoes of war ran deep in people's blood. Arton was beginning to understand. He could feel a drop of that venom seeping into his veins and for a brief moment his lips parted as it nearly took control of him. Instead, the earlier conversation with Cyth echoed in his mind.

"Lord Caradoc, did you turn us away at the gate? No, you graciously invited our humble party for a shared meal thanks to the wise counsel of Lady Caradoc." Arton turned briefly to the woman in question "A meal that was most welcome after a long journey." His voice adapted to a refined cadence, shedding his countryside mannerisms.

"The moment we sat down at the same table under your roof we became your guests. I can't begin to imagine the scandal that executing four honored guests would bring upon you. I'm truly worried that your legitimacy would be called into question for the killing of your one and only legitimate heir." He twisted the threat with fabricated concern.

"I must humbly concede that you are right. We have taken enough of your generous hospitality and can now set forth properly on our quest now that we have the prestigious Lord Caradoc's blessing. What a beautiful moment of reconciliation between father and son to spread amongst the people." He straightened himself out and took a breath.

Arton was about to leave it at that, but he felt the urge for a final act of insolence "Oh, and if you would be so kind as to pass the gravy to my friend before we leave."

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"~He could not take from the forest, what was never meant to leave...~" The instruments faded into the background as her voice carried the final note softly into the aether. Applause erupted from the familiar audience as her lips closed and curled into a warm smile. Her light green eyes scanned the crowd and noticed a new batch of Valheimians amidst her regulars. No doubt that they were fresh from their homeland and wanted to visit the only theatre in Osprey that welcome their kind. Excellent. Her current sources were getting cold and it had been sometime since she heard any juicy information form Valheim.

Ciradyl bowed and curtsied to the crowd as the large, velvet curtain closed and she shifted from one mask to another. She mimicked a sigh "That was a wonderful performance...all of you. I will be in my changing room if anyone should need me." One act ends and the next begins. That was how it was under the brutal and watchful eye of their Valheim oppressors. Ciradyl exchanged smiles and small-talk with the other members of her troupe as she entered her personal room. The cheer in her eyes dropped with her smile as she gazed a mirrored version of herself and sat in the cushioned chair. She cast a few glances around the room and listened carefully for disturbances in the silence before she turned back to the countertop.

Her hand slid underneath and hummed gently with magic and was rewarded with a faint click as a secret compartment slide open. A small envelope fell into her hands. Ciradyl gave it a look over before she sliced the colorful string that bound it. Her fingers flicked it open and eyes darted from line to line. The moment she finished the last word she held it over a lit candle and watched it be consumed by flames before letting it fall to ashes in a small, gold tray. The king of Edren was finally making a move against the blight, going as far to recruit any abled man and woman for his naive hope of finding a magical solution to his problem. Ciradyl scoffed as she sat back in her chair, long nails tapping thoughtfully against her chin. This, perhaps, was an opportunity. There was not a doubt in her minds that one of the parties of adventurers would make their way into Osprey. They could hopefully be convinced to lend a hand here and there in exhcange for some information and protection. Forces were beginning to make their moves and Ciradyl was fully intent on staying ahead of it all.

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There was a strong, subconscious pull on Arton's mind towards the idea of a dinner between family and friends. Despite his friendliness, Arton was a loner for the majority of life. There was people that popped briefly into his life but none who had established a strong connection to. He yearned for camaraderie but the potential loss of it kept him at arms length. The power in the differing views of the two Caradocs did not come across as irreconcilable issues but what he saw as familial banter.

"See? No reason to turn down a hearty, warm meal, right?" Arton exclaimed after Gal's mother.

Arton started off the small feast eating as what would be expected of a common adventurer. After a glare from Artorias, Arton seamlessly transitioned to the proper decorum expected of such a dinner. The last impression he wanted to give Gal's parents was that he was some incompetent barbarian. As trays of various seafood arrived, he listened to Artorias's inquiry and Izayoi's reply. It was equal parts fascinating and terrifying to hear how personal their rivalry and animosity went.

"I have seen how the Blight has ravaged the war-torn outer territories of the kingdom. Arton took a short sip of his drink "Each week was tougher than the last. It was clear that nothing I did was going to stop it. Striking out on this quest, I believe, will save more people that I could on my own." It was wistful, naive thinking to believe that everything would go smoothly and all work out in the end, but he had to believe it "Hopefully, we'll find the answers as to why Valheim invaded just as the Blight dugs its claws in." His answer was not the whole truth of it. Arton wanted his life to mean something in the end, perhaps a bit too willing to sacrifice his life for an end to this calamity.

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Arton's mind was on his former master's words as they journeyed to their companion's home. It had already been some years ago when he set out on his own, to experience the world and understand the struggle of lands foreign to him. There was never an intent to return to his birthplace and the promise made to Cyth was an empty one. There was nothing left for him. No gilded estate of marble. No family arms passed down from generation to the next. No inheritance of any kind. Cyth had imposed it was his responsibility and duty to return. The instability in Skael had risen drastically in the past few months and from Cyth's words it was clear it was soon coming to boiling point.

The wandering swordsman did his best to straighten his back and present himself somewhat properly. His armor lacked the polish and art of the guards around him, but at least he managed to get it clean before they had set out. The more the walked through the estate the more Arton began to understand more of Galahad's upbringing and his own responsibility.

It was impossible to ignore the weight of the air between the two Caradocs, this was unlikely the first time Galahad had butted heads with his father. Arton remained silent, knowing it was not his place to speak out of turn. However, the vitriol in which Artorias spoke of Izayoi had his muscles tense. How little he knew of their history. Arton was surprised in Galahad's bold riposte, bending the decree of the king against his father's wishes. It seemed politics took place even amidst family for those in higher standing.

Arton simply nodded when Galahad had referenced him. He had fully expected this reunion to blow up in smoke when a older woman emerged from behind the commotion. It was not hard to assume her relationship to the two Caradocs. As uncomfortable as it may be, a free meal would be a shame to pass up and his stomach guided his next words "What do you say, Gal?" There was a slight hopeful tone in his voice. Uncomfortable or not, Arton would do anything to share one meal with his parents.

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"I'll be sure to try it." Arton replied, not entirely sure what this flan looked or tasted like. The name itself was not all that appealing to him but he trusted Galahad's word. He courteously held the door for the entirety of their party but a man approached him just Arton was about to enter himself. The expression that appeared on Arton's face made it clear that it was someone he recognized. They exchanged a brief conversation, the words muffled between the noise from the street. The man soon left and Arton turned to the rest of the party inside the cafe "I'll..have to try the coffee some other time. See you at the lodge." He then walked after the elderly man with a brisk pace.

Arton arrived at the lodge just in time to see someone running off in the opposite direction. His ears caught the tail-end of Eliane speaking as he rejoined the party. The brief look of confusion faded as he surmised what must have happened "I can't imagine this is going to be pleasant..." His voice sounded drained and devoid of the usual enthusiasm he had. The conversation with Cyth had taken a greater toll on his mentality than he hoped it would. It seemed Skael was facing an increase in civil unrest combined with nobles disputing a patch of contested land.

Arton shared a sentiment to a certain city in Skael, one which he luckily hadn't travelled through in sometime. He expected their reasons for such feelings were drastically different. What caught his attention more than coffee was the mention of repairing equipment. He wondered if there was a local smithy that would allow him to use their forge. The rest of the group seemed intent on travelling to a cafe and the idea did seem appealing with the coming storm. A warm drink tasted better with the sounds of rainfall he believed. Arton had to agree with Leifur on the timeframe they were to spend here. Every day that they wasted was lives lost to the blight. However, he understood that they were still relative strangers that would soon depend on each other to finish their quest. This was a chance to forge bonds that would carry them through the darkest of nights.

He looked over to the shop that Neve had been drawing attention to. The atmosphere was inviting and it was not as though they were going anywhere immediately "Well I did say that I'd buy somethin' for the capt'n and that place over there seems like a good start to our tour of Midgar." He suggested strongly to the party. The distant crackle of thunder boomed in the skies above them "Come on, I'll go grab us a table on the second floor." Arton enthusiastically waved for them to follow, walking ahead to the building so that he could hold the door open for the party. Arton's eyes scanned all over the street as he made his way over, taking in the vibrant appearance of the city. He felt and looked completely out of place, more so than he had back in Balmung.

The wandering swordsman had spent the better part of five years camping out and fighting fighting blight-beasts in the countryside of Edren and along the border of Osprey. There were rare nights where a generous family let him sleep in a spare room but those were far and few between. His company most days were farmers and local artisans, imparting a bit of their culture on him little by little. The sights, smells, and sounds of the city came nearly to overloading his senses. He hadn't made his mind up yet whether he found the crowded streets oppressive or exciting.

Arton's hands gripped the reigns of his chocobo as the party trudged past the thick fields of tall grass. A unknown anxiety gripped his heart as his bold-blue eyes scanned for signs of movement. His mind felt clouded as he tried to grasp his surroundings. A concerned Galahad trotted up to him and asked him what was bothering him. The only reply Arton could give was of utter silence, eyes darting around confused as his words failed to come out. The concern in Galahad's face grew and then even the dragoon's words faded into a dull ringing. The scene drew the attention of the other members of the party but he could no longer reply or hear them at all. Before he realized it, the convoy had stopped and he found himself surrounded by Izayoi, Galahad, and Neve. Aelphis was missing while Leifur and Eliane appeared to keep watch.

As soon as they stopped, he immediately saw movement in the tall field in the group's blind-spot. The sharp crack of a gunshot echoed through his ears, before he could even gesture a warning. Leifur dropped to the ground that was quickly becoming saturated with his bloods, the life vanished from his eyes already. He felt his chest tighten and his whole body felt a few tons heavier as the rest of the party tried to respond. Several more gunshots cut through the grass from all directions with deadly accuracy, severely wounding Eliane, Galahad, and Izayoi. Figures wearing a familiar uniform emerged from the darkness and quickly set about dispatching his wounded friends. All save for Eliane.

Arton had thought she had gotten hit in the crossfire but she was pulled to her feet by the uniformed men with a sinister glint in her eye and smirk on her lips. One of the figures rushed in from his side and smacked the side of his head with a heavy, wooden buttstock knocking him to the ground. His attacker kicked him over while a number of his associates restrained Neve and dragged her into the grass. No amount of force would let Arton scream out as his heavy body sank into the mud that formed around him. Shakily he turned his head to see if Izayoi and Galahad were still breathing. Their faces had ceased to be theirs but they were well known to him. Father. Mother. His eyes squeezed shut at the insanity. A cold, dry wind stung at his face as he reopened his eyes. Gone were the green fields now replaced with jagged rock formations and sheets of snow. Eliane stood in front of him with her rifle aimed down at him. Her finger clutched the trigger and pulled, igniting a bright flashed before his eyes.

Arton snapped awake drenched in a cold sweat as his staggered breathing attempted to calm him down. What was it about encountering blight-beasts that always seemed to exacerbate the nightmare? He groaned lowly as he wiped the sleep from his eyes and coaxed himself into standing. It was just another night plagued by the same scene over and over. There was no changing it. He had more pressing matters at hand and if he delayed any longer he'd not be able to help pack up. He was curious to see how Neve slept given how intense yesterday was. Arton dressed himself quickly in his full kit and exited prepared to get rolling once more.

The swordsman seemed as bright and energetic as typical as left the Stormseas, maintaining a closer distance to Neve and Goug. He noticed the white mage's aversion to the smells of industry and smiled as he inhaled deeply through his nose. Arton had grew up around a smithy so the smell was almost nostalgic for him. He, unfortunately, underestimated the strength of the scent and found himself coughing soon after "Arhgh...Ah..smells...like home." He tried to play off his blunder, straining to speak the words and avoiding eye contact with Neve. His resistance to such smog had clearly diminished from not having smithed in some time.

He avoided any more shows of bravado as they approached the city of Midgard, a place he had only passed by and never visited. His eyes bounced from sight to sight as they got closer despite the unease he feel about big cities. The city folk had the same air of fear as Balmung, rushing from place to place to take their minds off the current crisis. The only difference between them and the villagers in the rural areas was that here they could hide behind their walls. A couple of passing children stopped on the side of road, gawking at the traveling adventurers. Arton gave them his signature smile and waved to them to which they eagerly waved back before running off. One more reason to add for figuring out the cause behind this whole calamity before it turns into the apocalyse.

His chocobo slowly trodded up close to Neve's with Arton staring up the sky as well " I rather like a good storm. There's a certain beauty to it." He casually remarked looked down at Neve before hopping off his mount and hitching them to the available post. Arton tied a simple, yet sturdy, knot and gave a two-finger salute to Goug "Thanks, Capt'n. I'll make sure to bring you back a couple sweets." Arton's eyes caught hold of Eliane pulling as he turned and he felt a shiver run the course of his spine. The figures were always so vague in his nightmares before. He quickly turned his head away hoping to avoid being calling out for staring.
A potential second character/npc


Ranbu no Izayoi

Arton's armor was catered for fighting blight-beasts so beyond some bruising and superficial cuts, he came out of the battle fairly well. The party had really come together taking them down but more importantly it showed the young swordsman he still had a long way to go. There was something about the way Izayoi fought that resonated with him, more than the techniques themselves. As they broke for camp, Arton was set on figuring it out.

He had worked hard helping to set up camp and had an appetite to match his efforts. Arton ate with a smile and overall seemd to be in a cheerful mood. It was like a victory feast amidst comrades, meager as it might be. Arton approached Izayoi shortly after they had finished eating and the details of the watch had been decided. There was a slight nervousness in his eyes, unsure how to bring up his request "I don't think I've seen anyone move like that before."

"Hm?" Izayoi looked up where she was sitting, her blade on her lap as she tended to it. From the nervous glint in his eyes, she mentally resigned herself to listening to something most likely foolish again for the second time that day.

"In what manner? You have not seen the effects of a Haste spell before?" She poured a small measure of oil onto a cloth and began running it over her sword.

"No, uh, I have seen it a couple times but..." The look in her eyes reminded him of earlier. Izayoi did not seem fond of wasted time and frivolous words. His chances would fare better if he were direct. Arton lowered himself onto his knees and sat on the heels of his feet, hands resting above his knees "I wish for you to train me."

Of all the things Izayoi had been expecting Arton to say, this hadn't been one of them. The last time she'd even considered taking on a student of her own had been years and years ago, long before the war. And that had been cut short when others realized exactly what training entailed to her.

"An odd decision. We do not use similar armament, and from what I have seen, our preferred styles of fighting are practically opposite. Are you certain you have thought this through?"

Arton nodded once "I'm certain! I know if I can learn from you I can grow stronger." His motivation for which he'd leave unsaid for now. It was uncomfortable to speak so plainly, without some twist of truth in his words. He fought the way he did because up until now he had no other option. His stoic face betrayed the steady increasing of his heartbeat.

Izayoi only regarded Arton silently in response, a single brow lifted. Her own misgivings about her training methods aside, there wasn't exactly any reason for her to say no. If they were to continue to travel together for extended periods of time, making Arton stronger would only benefit her own goals. That, and it wasn't as if she'd had anything better to do during periods of downtime.

"Very well. I have no objections to this, though I am obligated to give you a warning: I can only train you as I have been taught. There is a reason why I have never had a student last beyond a month. As I have been told, my methods are 'insane and reckless'. " She lifted her hands from maintaining her katana to deliver the last three words in air quotes before returning to cleaning her weapon.

Arton's went wide as he was hit with a bit of shock, expecting more resistance to his request. The warning did manage to put a brief twist in his stomach but not enough to sway his determination. This training was cleary not for the faint of heart. All Arton had to do was to think of that day and he immediately found his resolve. A day that controls his dreams, steers his choices, and forever altered his fate.

"A month? It seems I have my first goal then." He enthusiastically declared. Everything he had come to understand about Izayoi made it clear that month would be one of the hardest of his life. He was ready to walk through hell if it meant that he could protect those closest to him. That he would not fail them because he was too weak to do anything.

One side of Izayoi's mouth curved up briefly in seeming amusement. The man's eagerness was akin to watching a puppy. It remained to be see whether his enthusiasm remained after even a week of training.

"We will begin when we camp in more secure environs, then. Running you ragged now would be akin to signing your death warrant in the event of another Blightbeast attack tonight. The majority of my techniques are unsuited to the cut and thrust of southron swords, but you will benefit from the conditioning nonetheless. I trust this is acceptable?"

"Of course!" He said with a bright smile "I suppose resting is the practical thing to do tonight. It has been awhile since I've camped without keeping one eye open." His gaze turned idly to the night sky and the stars that had woken from their slumber. Izayoi's training would bring him a step closer to being worthy of his family name. It was only then he could return home.

"Very good." Izayoi nodded curtly, before deciding to give voice to a thought that was still in the back of her mind. "Though why come to me to be trained? Any of our number outside of the mages could have done the same. The gunbladers would likely have swordplay more suited for yourself as well." She removed the rag from her blade, inspecting it briefly before nodding to herself in satisfaction as she returned it to its scabbard.

The question gave Arton pause, and the light expression faded slowly faded form himself "The easy answer would be because it is so different from mine." He stopped for a brief moment before continuing. "Truthfully, I feel there is more to learn than just techniques from you. I guess you might call it a state of mind or...philosophy. I don't know." He shifted off his knees to sit more comfortably.

Philosophy? How quaint. Arton might have fit in well in some samurai circles, as introspective as he seemed to be. Probably better than she had, among some of the more spiritual ones. Her master had never had any use for such thinking, and had never imparted anything resembling such aside from "kill your enemy before it kills you".

"You'll find I have little to offer in that regard." Izayoi stood, hooking her sheathed sword back into her sash. "Derive what answers you will from me, though I have nothing to teach in terms of philosophy outside of aggression and how best to hunt prey. But the hour grows late. Rest. I have the first watch."

That was where Arton had to disagree with his new master. The killer instinct that possesed Izayoi was something he hoped to acquire if not understand. Doubt regarding his methods had planted itself deep in his mind, unable to be dislodged. That may have been why he had been so furious when she exexcuted that man during the castle siege. Clarity on such thoughts would not be gained tonight.

"I'll try to get some sleep before I come relieve you." He stood up as well, fighting back a yawn as his body stretched. "May your eyes remain sharp as your blade." Arton smiled towards Izayoi before he headed off in the direction of one of the tents. He wondered if tomorrow would be as much excitement. Their quest was sure to only get more difficult the closer they got to the answers.
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