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Aboard the VSS Karamzina, Cero Drydocks, T'Sarae

[written by CollectorOfMyst, Scout & Opposition]

After talking to Oren and leaving a note for Tatiana, Viveca returned to her room to meet them. She shut the heavy, metal door behind her, taking a first look at what would be her new home for the coming months. She breathed a sigh of relief… good, they hadn’t gone overboard. Part of her had worried that it was going to be ornately decorated and overbearing, but surprisingly enough, her room was rather modest. However, the Inquisitor had been quietly warned by Mother Indira that this was originally meant to be her room, so truth be told it was bigger than Viveca would have requested. She wasn’t going to complain, by any means. She could tell a few edits were made before her arrival - they’d received her shipment of affairs. A closet was lined with uniform items and an assortment of clothing, mostly sleepwear. Two weapon racks and a few displays adorned different corners of the rooms; one carried several spears of varying lengths and tip-types while the other had several types of curved swords - sabres, falchions, cutlasses, and even an old khopesh that her “father” had sent her once. It was rather impractical as a weapon, being so old and produced from an inferior blacksmithing technique to modern styles, but it was really cool and she appreciated the gift.

She reached for a vent and opened it to ensure the room would have plenty of airflow before finally taking in her surroundings. The entryway of the room opened to a rather cozy, unexpectedly large floorplan. Her bandmates would probably be a little surprised when they arrived. Viveca wasn’t the type to need a lot of space to herself, but Mother Indira had given her one of the largest rooms on the ship. The metal deck of the ship was covered in laminate designed to appear as hardwood. Wood was preferable, but this was just fine, a couple rugs of intricate red and gold designs padded the floors.

Running perpendicular to the doorway was unmistakably a bar. Viveca blinked - no way did they actually put a bar in her room. She owed Mother Indira big time. Striding around the side to look on the shelves underneath, she found more than enough liquor, at least for herself, and a few sugary mixers. Fresh fruit was at a premium on the ship, so she would have to ask the galley for it herself if she wanted some, but there was even salt and several different types of glasses secured to the underside of the bar.

On the far end, there were a few cartons of cigarettes which Viveca had purchased and sent ahead of time to meet her here. Double checking her vent once more, she removed a pack from one of the cartons. Lighting one of the cigarettes up, she took a few minutes to enjoy the silence and solitude. The stick dangling from between her lips, she placed a tumbler and a bottle of scotch on top of the wooden bar. Two ice cubes and a splash of liquor later, she finally felt relaxed. Just five minutes, that’s all she needed, then Oren and Tatiana could come in. She placed the journal she had found on the desk and pulled out two more glasses for the others. Viveca removed her coat and hung it on a rack by the door before taking a seat behind the bar to wait for the others.

No sooner had she done so than a knock came from outside. Viveca sighed - oh, how quickly five minutes turned into ninety seconds. She rose from her seat and slowly made her way to the door, blowing one more puff of smoke toward the vent before grabbing the handle and pulling it up, the bars slid back, and a pale-faced Oren walked into the room. With a trembling hand, he showed her a piece of folded paper, and with a soft voice, he spoke to her.

“What does this mean, Viveca?”

Tatiana nearly stumbled from her feet as she exited the room. She felt as though she was struck by a plague, having an underlying sickening sensation all throughout her body. Was it her work or herself within which that cruelness found its origin? Tatiana would never know, nor would she truly want to. As she padded back through the labyrinthine halls towards her room, she pondered the thought of what was to come. Was it true that a storm like no other would obliterate the forward armada? Would the Karamzina fall in line and become the successor to the same fate? Again Tatiana was unsure. How often that was the case.

Tatiana struggled with the heavy steel door in her fatigued state, but it wasn’t long before she entered her newfound living quarters. She couldn’t have said that what she then saw was unexpected, but just witnessing the space that Mother Indira had created for her left Tatiana with an odd sensation. At first, she couldn’t place it. She just felt distant. The room itself was very homey: spacious, decorated and carrying with it an uplifting atmosphere. Tatiana couldn’t help but feel out of place. Luckily, she didn’t spend much time there. A note had been left on her mantle, more particularly a summons. It felt like ages since Tatiana had last talked to her friends in Warband Leviathan, and as much as she wanted to be alone, the eerie sensation that made her skin crawl in the room made her want to leave just as quickly as she’d entered.

Without bothering to do much more than wash the blood and viscera from her skin and face, Tatiana stepped from the room. Her inquisitor’s coat looked as though it had been through each of the Varyan conquests. A close eye might even catch the subtle black-crimson tint to its originally muted colors. Tatiana’s very presence seemed to carry with it an aura of the death and pain the coat had seen inflicted in the past days. Maybe Tatiana didn’t notice. Maybe she didn’t care. Even she was unsure as she stepped further into the maze of hallways to seek out Viveca’s room.

Meanwhile, Viveca was staring placidly at Oren, who seemed to almost fall through the threshold. She motioned toward the bar.

“Is that your letter from Mother Indira? It means exactly what it says. We’re all facing a suicide mission if we don’t do something about it. I hope you used your time between graduation and now wisely, Brother,” She said, a small smile forming on her lips finally. “Because we’re about to have a very exciting few months. I would like Tatiana to get here before we start diving too deeply into our Good Mother’s message, so…” She pulled the journal she had found in the catacombs out of her things and placed it on the bar.

“Take a look through this, let me know if anything stands out to you… It’s proven itself rather dangerous, so don’t try to read any of the ciphered words out loud if you can help it. What’s your poison of the night, Oren? Or are you abstaining?” The Inquisitor asked, swirling her glass before taking a small sip and putting out the butt of her cigarette. Get here soon, Tatiana…

Oren opened his mouth to retort, but the words died before they even left his throat. Silently, he sat down, resting his forehead on the knuckles of his right hand. He… could understand where Viveca was coming from, there. If they were to meet, then it’d be best to pool all of their knowledge at once instead of having to repeat things when Tatiana arrived. Making a circle in the air with his index finger, two bottles - rum and water respectively - shifted forward on their shelves.

“I… so much has been going on these past few days, Viv. I have a thousand questions and I can only piece together the barest minimum... and I don’t understand any of it. First Iddin-Mar, and then Marius, and now this? I feel like I’m going mad.”

Oren paused, looking up. He swallowed a gulp of air. “I’m scared, Viveca.”

Tatiana took no pause at the door to her comrade’s room. Within just a second, she pushed the monolith of steel inwards, bracing herself as the groan of the metallic scraping resounded around the Karamzina’s empty hallways. Clasped in her hands, Tatiana carried Viveca’s note at her side.

Viveca lightly placed a hand on Oren’s before moving to the shelf to grab the bottles he had motioned for. Pouring him his drink, she sat back down, “Me, too… Don’t worry, we’ve at least got the knowledge that something could go wrong, we can work forward, right?” She asked, keeping her tone as calm and reassuring as possible. It wavered slightly - she was terrified too. Of the book, of the story, that Indira had told, and of a demise so shortly after their graduation. “We ca-” She stopped as the door creaked - good, now they were all here.

As Tatiana stepped into the room, she spent a long moment in silence, letting the air be pervaded only by the echoic creaking of the door as it soon shut behind her. Her solemn eyes lay upon her colleagues with a certain degree of sorrow locked behind them. Tatiana fiddled with the note between her fingers as she spoke. She made no attempt to tread further into the room from the door.

“It seems omens have become commonplace in the lives of those that tread our path…” Tatiana bit her tongue for a moment. “The future doesn’t look upon Varya’s servants well.” However much she tried to hide it, Tatiana couldn’t fully conceal the doubt that pervaded into her tone. With haste, she shook her head, switching to a more upbeat tone of voice. Facade or not, she was trying. “But never mind that. Sorry. It is good to see you two again…”

Viveca gave the best smile she could muster at the sight of Tatiana. It wasn’t much. She rose to her feet, “I agree. It’s bleak. You both have been through Hell the last few days, it looks like,” She gave a weak laugh, reaching an almost shaking hand for her drink. So had she, but by the looks of it, they had all experienced very different things. “I’m glad you’re okay, I’d hate to see the other guy,” The woman pointed out, looking her friend over before ducking behind the bar to fish out a bottle of rimerite.

“I don’t want to go first, if you don’t mind… Oren, I’d really like to hear about Iddin-Mar. I desperately wish I could have gone too, what did you find?” She glanced to Tatiana, sliding the journal down the table, “At leisure,” She added quietly, tapping the cover of the forsaken literature.

Oren paused as both women turned to him. Right. His would sound the simplest of the three, at least in concept. Taking a deep draught from his glass, he turned in the chair so that he faced halfway between Viveca and Tatiana. He cast one last look at his hand before beginning to speak.

“You both presumably know why I went to Iddin-Mar. I wanted to connect myself to the history there, experience it at least once. In hopes of forming a tighter bond with Mother Ziotea of your warband, Tatiana, I asked her to accompany me. I am grateful that I did that, now, because otherwise, I don’t think I would be alive and well here before you. Or perhaps I would - either way, I almost was not. So allow me to explain.

“On our journey north, we were met by a young soldier, Private Andrei Semenov. He didn’t look much younger than us; half a dozen years or so. Reportedly, he was to accompany us to Iddin-Mar - I didn’t question it. Two Omestrian-blooded Inquisitors headed for an old ruin ought to warrant something, wouldn’t you agree?” Oren shook his head. “Andrei wasn’t there for the Seminary, or the Clerical Branch, or even the Secular Army. Keep that in mind.”

“When we got to the ruins themselves, the Marian Gate was mostly deserted - just two soldiers, Sergeants Mikhail and Veena. They seemed surprised by our arrival, as anyone would be - we hadn’t exactly sent word.”

Viveca intently watched Oren as he recounted his story, nodding now and then. “Seems odd, though… a Private accompanying two fully-fledged Inquisitors to Omestris? Even if he was Secular or Clerical, what could he have possibly done to protect you or stop you from doing anything he was ordered to prevent..? Doesn’t seem like a very well thought-out excuse,” She pointed out with a shrug, taking a sip from her drink, waving her hand - she didn’t want to overshadow Oren, sounded like they had quite a few twists and turns to buckle in for.

“Well, my thought process - and his - was that if Semenov were not to return, that would be sign enough. When we made our way down, he attempted to… cosy up to me, I suppose. He showed me a pendant of some kind, with Mother Indira’s symbol, claiming to be… some sort of acolyte of hers, I suppose. I’ll tell you now that he wasn’t. So I told him to stay at the barracks - Ziotea and I went into the ruins alone. And in there, well...”

He bit the inside of his cheek, pondering what to say next. Should he tell them? He had no reason to lie to them… Mother Indira trusted them enough to let them in on her grim, though uncertain, fate. When he thought of Fie and Vahn’s faces, though, it made him hesitate. His eyes flitted to Mother Tatiana… the unknown in his equation… maybe the best option would be ‘not yet’.

“We met a woman. Lyessa al-Nors. Old, but an immensely powerful apostate, or ‘retired inquisitor’, as she put it. She… well, she surrendered her catalyst to me, in exchange for amicable conversation. I believe that Ziotea was… wary, as any of us should be, but I was more curious. And, well…” Oren took another gulp of his drink. “She told us things about Omestrian history… or even Varyan history, to look at it in another way, that have been all but forgotten, now. And about an azure circle, that every inquisitor of Omestrian blood sees in their vision at culmination… that is why I believe her. I saw that circle on my hand - almost engraved upon it.” His fist clenched, almost involuntarily, but enough to hurt. He carried on. “Ziotea claims to have seen one of her own. And I know that you must have seen one in yours, Viveca.”

Viveca nodded, “I most certainly did…” She shuddered, “I’ve only felt it twice… Once in the vision and once while looking through this book. A cold unlike any other followed it closely behind - in the vision, it was branded to my chest,” She explained, absently stirring her drink with one hand as the other rested gently upon the splotched mark on her neck.

Oren nodded at her, even as his eyes tracked her hand to the mark. But here came the part that he shouldn’t dare utter. Even though he knew it to be true, it was heresy against the Church he served and the God he owed his loyalty.

“...What she told us last, is what we need to think about… We know that Lanostre devoured C’eione, the Right Hand that held her. We are told that Varya consumed Risgyn the Right Leg, Retmis the Left, Phiiuss the Eyes and Kirana the Soul, while T’sarae and Muraad watched on, and that Omestris awakened around this time. What Lady Lyessa revealed to us… she told us about another god… the brother of Omestris. The Shield, Asherahn. A being that burned with the hate of the Fire Titan… and how he planned to betray his sister. How T’sarae, Varya, Muraad and Omestris united against him, to imprison him… and how he might still be influencing Omestrian Inquisitors through our Aspects.”

“Another god…” Tatiana interjected briefly, but soon trailed off again. The thought of the Broken Pantheon splitting even more made her head hurt, but it also offered insight into what may have been before her at the glaciers of Lanostre. “Sorry. Go on.” Tatiana shook her head, then gesturing to Oren.

The pale inquisitor bowed his head towards Tatiana in turn. “…but I am inclined to believe her. Because on our way back through the garrison, we… well, we were attacked by Seminov, Mikhail and Veena. But not as I thought they were… I can’t quite explain it… they were almost like demons - but also not. Armoured bodies that our weapons could not pierce. Crystal arms that were more blade than limb. I admit to being shaken by their appearance - and by how close I came to death.”

“The crystalline warriors… More godlike entities… We’ve dealt with very similar things in Lanostre.” Tatiana’s mind once again began to wander as the fog of her mind overcame her will to offer any words. She half expected to fall back into another sort of trance-state with all the talk of the demon-like creatures. Glimpses of the memory rushed back to her, and for a moment, Tatiana felt as though she could once again see the fell creatures and their reinvigorated form in her dream-state.

“I believe they come from the East— the creatures, I mean. I don’t know what they are, but demons never before identified inhabited the Glacier. They were harbingers of the Varyan fleet’s demolition…” Tatiana bit her tongue. The aching pain cutting through her head gave her pause as she tried to recall the most important details of her journey with Galahad and Astraea. So much had happened that she was unsure of how to sift through important and unimportant bits of information. Regarding her time around Polarpike, though, Tatiana was apprehensive to even mention it.

“Much… Very much has happened with regards to the Varyan troops and inquisitors stationed at Lanostre, but we should also discuss our other business. Has Indira given word to the two of you?” Tatiana palmed the letter in her hand with the seal of her mentor. A part of her knew how much she failed to offer her fellow inquisitors. Another part of her recognized that she was redirecting her focus for a reason.

Viveca drummed her fingers slowly on the bartop, her brow furrowed in thought as her eyes would glean the cover of the forsaken tome apprehensively. “I did not receive a letter… She told me the story in person and bade me to find you two once we arrived to the ark. What Father Creid saw may be our very same fate if we don’t find a way to stop it… or prevent it. Because nothing we say is going to keep these arks from taking off,” She pointed out, running a hand through her hair.

“I haven’t read the letter, but Mother Indira told me everything they saw… She dubbed it Vai’roth… I’ll save you the time, because it took me a moment to figure out, it’s Omestrian for Hellfire.” She shuddered at the words, “It came from somewhere in the sky, so fast… so imperceptibly fast, it decimated the ark, causing destruction at every turn, disintegrating all in its path. She said it took but moments… The way she described it made it feel so real - as though the thought alone of looking at it was enough to cause a severe burn.” The Inquisitor reached to the back of her head and carefully brushed her ribbon, reassuring herself.

She sighed, “If we’re to do anything about this, we only have today to gather what little resource we can find. We’re on our own starting tomorrow. And that armada was doomed before the blueprints were even complete for its creation.”

A nagging at the back of her mind caused her to turn back to Oren, “But you mentioned Asherahn, right?” She asked, resisting the chill down her spine at the word, “Look at this. Be careful,” The Inquisitor warned, pulling her tome’s cover aside and flipping pages until she came to the one with the circle etched on it. The word Ashe-rahn was written inside. “When I read this, a terrible cold enveloped my body… I froze, literally, almost completely encased in ice…” Viveca sighed, “It was horrifying, I’ve never been so helpless to death… I was certain I was going to die in the archives… I found the book with a family in these strange sarcophagi. And on the way here, I found this too.”

She flipped a few more pages and revealed the image of a brilliant white sphere colliding with an azure dome, shaped as a perfect circle encapsulating a cityscape. “I have no way of knowing for sure… But what do you two think? This here,” The woman pointed to the city, turning the book so they could see it, “Looks like Iddin-Mar. If I had to guess, at least, it’s the only city I could think of it being anymore. And this,” She moved her finger to the sphere, “I don’t really know… I wonder if it isn’t Sydon-Mar, but that doesn’t make much sense… If it is, how was Iddin-Mar protected and how did Sydon-Mar end up so far to the North? Lastly, based on this azure circle business we’ve all been looking at… the dome protecting the possible Iddin-Mar, could it be a blessing from Asherahn? Thoughts?”

Oren studied the picture for a moment, before a stray word flashed through his mind; fallen. Lyessa had called it the ‘Fallen Star’. And he shook his head. “I believe not, Viveca. Or if it is a blessing, it has since become His curse. The woman spoke of it as the Fallen Star - and, if I am correct, its trajectory could have been what made the Scar, before resting at the northern end… and eventually becoming Sydon-Mar. What this ‘Star’ truly is or how it ‘fell’, I cannot say. But we only have half-truths and fragments of the past to go on…”

Tatiana tapped her hand idly on the countertop. She almost seemed imperceptive to her own movements as her thoughts had swallowed her whole. When she finally seemed to break away from her listless gaze off into distance, she spoke in a low and quiet voice, as though talking to herself. Tatiana’s tone soon picked up, though, her random thoughts finally starting to offer pieces of a solution.

“Hellfire…Vai’roth… There must be a way to escape it. That place—the east— there must be a cause of it there.” Again, Tatiana took a long pause in her speech. She wrestled with herself in an attempt to force herself to reveal more detail about the events at the Black Glacier. “I may have some insight into what lies beyond. Perhaps not the cause of the ‘Vai’roth’, but about what’s behind it.” Tatiana’s eyes flickered open and shut a few times. Her mind wandered to her vision at the Glacier, or at least she tried her best to recall it as perfectly as she experienced it.

“There’s something, or someone rather over there. A people— a society even. I saw them through the strangely new demons at the Glacier. One of our colleagues at the Red Seminary is even there… I think. Father Dara, the other summoner. I’ve been wondering since first reading Indira’s letter… They must be controlling or at least aware of this ‘Hellfire’s’ causes.” Tatiana still had not met the gaze of the Leviathan inquisitors until that point. Just as her eyes flashed over those of Oren and Viveca, however, they just as quickly flicked away to stare at the empty glass before her.

“The people over on that other side, they even spoke to me. They were a king and queen on wooden thrones… They—and Dara—could be related to whatever eradicated the first armada.” Tatiana sighed with finality. “I don’t know. It was like our visions at the Seminary… However crazy that may sound.”

At this, Oren let out a hollow smile. “Everything that we have been discussing sounds insane, Mother Tatiana, if not heretical. Fire, and dead gods, and demons of the like that no one has ever seen? We have no answers, no explanation, and we haven’t the time to search for them… not here, in any case.” His smile dropped, and he stood, turning away from them to face the window, looking out over Cero. “...So what are we going to do? We cannot keep this to ourselves, that much, I am sure of. Father Galahad will need to know.” He thought back to Ziotea’s insistence on letting her warsiblings know what was going on. “...And perhaps a few others.”

Viveca drummed her fingers on the table once more in apprehension, finally putting her cigarette out in an ashtray. She picked up her glass and refilled it, offering more to anybody who needed a drink with her to cut the tension. She listened to each of them in turn, absently pulling the ribbon from her hair and weaving it between her fingers in different patterns. It helped distract her and, more importantly, kept her from lighting more tobacco as the conversation only festered more anxiety.

“Nothing anybody has said sounds so crazy when we’ve all experienced some form of incomprehensible bullshit in the last few days. I agree that we should talk to some more people about this… Ziotea probably deserves to know. Tell who you will, everybody has something to give, but we also don’t want to sow chaos if we can avoid it, right?” She bit her lip, staring at her drink as the lone ice cube swirled around the glass in her hand. Her amber eyes remained fixated for a moment. Now came the hard part - deciding what they could possibly do about it with what they know now.

Viveca took a long inhale, shuddering slightly as she let the breath out. “I don’t like this - what I’m about to say… But Tatiana, I feel like you’re one of few people who can help with the hypothesis. You know I’ve never had much… flashy power with my ether… But maybe your experience with summoning can lead to something here. Like I said before, I called forth some wretched power from that forsaken tome. Perhaps it was lack of experience, perhaps it wasn’t summoning at all, I know nothing of curses nor summoning, but do you think it’s worth looking into? If it can be controlled, maybe it has something to do with this shield and if I’m not the only one who can do it, we might be able to use it among other things.” She placed her glass back on the bar and pinched the bridge of her nose for a moment, shaking her head, “I really don’t know, and I really don’t want to try, but if it could help and I wasn’t alone, maybe I could try to do it on purpose.”

“Are you willing to take the risk?” Oren asked quietly. When Viveca looked up to answer him, she saw a glint of steel behind his eyes, and the hand that held his drink was white-knuckled and shaking. “Are you? I am not. Whatever this… book, this thing did to you; you said it almost killed you, and you want to try again? If it is tied to Asherahn, and I believe it is, then it is more than simply dangerous.”

Viveca met her old friend's eyes, solemn for only a brief moment before a renewed determination fortified her gaze. “We have very little choice than to experiment if this is our fate. I've a few scars from the ice, I pushed it down once, with help I'm sure it's worth looking into. If it can stop this, then we have no choice.”

The two stared at each other for a few moments, an unspoken battle of wills passing between them, before Oren broke away. “So be it. Tatiana?”

Tatiana eyed the glasses spread across Viveca’s bar despite her empty hands. In the end, she recognized the thirst not for any one spirit, but for an escape. Tatiana turned around in her seat, examining the rest of the room instead. She pondered the question that Viveca proposed to her. Could her summoning succeed in finding a solution to the hellfire? While her odds didn’t seem likely, Tatiana hadn’t yet found a problem that her and her abilities couldn’t solve.

“I would try to assist with the book should you believe I can help... What would you have us do?”The thought of her warband within the mighty Karamzina braving the endless cold was foreboding alone, but what Tatiana saw of Dara, of the demons, of the strange king worried her even more. The Vai’roth was just one more problem to add to the mix.

“Perhaps there is something we can do to stop it…” Tatiana stopped at that thought. She didn’t have any particular strategies in mind. Her absent gaze must have telegraphed that. “Perhaps those that traveled before us will have somehow stopped the threat. We won’t know for sure until we set off— until we run into it…”

Tatiana’s thoughts traveled back to her strange encounter on the bridge to Polarpike. She wondered if the solution was in the hands of the inquisitors. She wondered if perhaps the message received from the foreign emissaries could be a solution on its own. “I may find a way yet… One of us must.” Tatiana balled her hand into a fist as she spoke, determination pervading onto her rather stalwart expression. “We ought to start looking—sifting through what we know, what we’ve learned, and so forth…”

Tatiana nodded her head at her own words, rising from her seat as she did so. “There are things I could study, things I could explore. No matter where the solution is hidden, perhaps we shouldn’t be looking for it in drinks.” Tatiana eyed the door before looking to her colleagues for their input.

Oren looked at his glass - though a fair portion of it was empty, the dregs of his drink still swirled at the bottom of it. He looked at Viveca. He looked at Tatiana. “...I think I have a plan.”

Forelands outside City of Cero, T'sarae

In the darkness to the east of the city a lone ship sped across the white expanse.

The Sword of Dawn, betraying its namesake, was a jet black steam craft, its form sleek as an arrow, its ethersails like shadowy wings beating against the night.

Dmitri stood at the helm, frozen hands gripping the wheel, his bright yellow Omestrian eyes resolute as they focused on the shining horizon dominated by Cero's massive crystal aegisdome. He was shorter than most men, and didn't look like much a soldier. For a decade he had trained for this. Behind him, his master sat on the deck cross-legged, shirtless.

Even knowing that Master Ilya had spent all those years in the Red Seminary, seeing the young inquisitor sitting there near naked, defiant against the violent cold, was unnerving to the Omestrian soldier. Dmitri knew the cold, as all soldiers did, but to treat it with such disdain as Master Ilya did, here outside the aegis' protection, bordered on insanity. And yet Ilya sat there, his bare skin bathed in the aegisdome's intensifying light, smiling.

Master Ilya had been gone too long, and the man that returned was not the boy who left.

The sun began to break through the clouds just as the Sword neared the Ceroan forelands. In the pale light of morning the black ship appeared like a dark serpent on the ice. A tiny serpent, for it was a speck compared to the hundred or so Varyan steam ships floating on the frozen water outside the city.

The Second Armada wasn't as grand as the First, but seeing the black and steel vessels dotting the Ceroan coast was both a grim and empowering sight. Several months from now, these ships would follow Master Ilya's own ark, the Karamzina, eastward. The second invasion wave... Dmitri wondered if it would even be needed.

A gruff voice, tinged in the southern lilt of T'sarae, spoke through the radio, bringing him out of his thoughts. It demanded to know the Sword's docking credentials. In response Dmitri offered a sixteen-letter code. The voice on the other end of the radio remained silent for a moment.

"Welcome to Cero, Your Reverence" it spoke before guiding Dmitri to the nearest open dock.


It had been a short yet arduous journey, and Father Ilya's mood had been as mercurial as the water that he lazily shifted to and fro while standing at the deck's edge. In the first few days, during their journey southward and across the hallowed sea that stretched between Varya and Lanostre, Ilya had been bored and restless. Sailing across what the Lanostrans called The Wounded Sea, through the final resting place of thousands of soldiers and dozens of inquisitors-- Dmitri thought it would be enough to rouse the young lord from what he called his "post-Graduation stagnancy", but alas, Ilya spent most of the journey through the Wounded Sea in his cabin.

It wasn't until the Sword had to sail through the ice tides east of the Wounded Sea that Ilya returned to his usual self. The bright season was fast approaching and thus the sea itself was changing. Crossing the tides during the summer wasn't something even the most seasoned Lanostran sailor would willingly do, but Father Ilya Bjornley wasn't an ordinary navigator, and the Sword of Dawn wasn't an ordinary ship. With an entire glacier plateau breaking apart around them and a particularly vicious summer hail storm threatening to perforate the ship's tiny but powerful aegis, the Sword barely made it through the tides. It had been an afternoon of non-stop sailing since then, and Ilya's blood still ran hot.

He needed a drink.

"Leave it to the natives," Ilya said as he stepped off the Sword's deck and onto the first solid ground he had been on for the better part of a week. He was still shirtless, for the increase in heat within the aegis bothered him, or so he claimed. His pale blue eyes looked across the busy port. It didn't take him long to find the tavern he was looking for.

Dmitri looked to his master with uncertainty, his arms hefting a large crate full of Ilya's belongings.

"I don't trust these folk. I will unpack the ship, my lord."

Ilya approached him, his crooked smile widening.

"Don't worry. There's nothing here of importance," the young inquisitor said, placing a surprisingly warm hand on Dmitri's shoulder. "To be honest, I don't care if they toss it all into the sea. Now, let's go drink."

With that, Dmitri sighed and shoved the crate on to a passing T'saraen sailor's arms.

"This is the ship of Father Ilya Bjornley, Inquisitor of Warband Leviathan. See to it that all his belongings are safely delivered to his chambers aboard the VSS Karamzina. If anything should go missing I will personally come and find you, T'saraen," Dmitri spat to the sailor, staring down the lad.

"A-Aye, sir. It will be done," the sailor stuttered before yelling at a group of uniformed men to follow him onto the ship.

"Right then. Let's go get drunk," Ilya said before walking in the direction of the tavern, not bothering to wait for Dmitri to catch up.


It was a nice enough place, Ilya thought. He had spent the last decade of his life getting drunk in secret with passing SA soldiers at the Seminary. Thus sitting down at an actual pub was a lot nicer than sneaking around in dark hallways where Marius couldn't find him.

It was shameful, a sin according to some clerics, to partake in alcohol while serving under the shadow of the Red Shrine, but Gods what else was he supposed to do in the Seminary? Ilya was not meant for such places. He was meant for the battlefield and the sea, to be among soldiers. As he walked through the pub, Varyan soldiers saluted him. This is more like it.

"Barkeep! I will pay for everything," he said to the T'saraen tavernkeeper as he passed him by. The Varyan soldiers cheered him on in approval.

"Your Lady Mother would never approve of this," the young Omestrian warned as Ilya took a seat at a table at the front end of the tavern.

"Approve of what, man? Her darling son celebrating his Culmination? Perhaps me drinking in honor of the successful maiden voyage of her newest, most shiny steamcruiser would be enough for her to turn a blind eye."

"You are an inquisitor, Master Ilya. A champion of the Varyan people. And this place is... beneath you. It is disreputable. The city is crawling with men from the Imperial Chronicle, if they see you in here--"

"Let them see me! Look at my abs! Look at these arms!" Ilya yelled, laughing out loud, flexing his well-toned muscles. He took a swig of his drink.

The shame on Dmitri's face was palpable.

"Sit down, why don't you? I don't see you for ten bloody years, then Mom forces us on that ship without giving us a moment to catch up... but now we're finally here. We can relax, take it easy for a while," Ilya spoke, his pale eyes regarding his young servant warmly.

"Have a drink with me. Or several."

Dmitri leaned in, his lips inches from Ilya's ear.

"You very well know that I can't do that. Now please, at least put a shirt on."

Ilya smirked in response and said nothing more. He continued to drink as the hour passed. He invited soldiers and T'saraens both to his table, drinking merrily with them, asking for the latest gossip. He learned of rumors regarding a black-haired summoner who had escaped imprisonment in Sapharan, and of the whispers surrounding the destruction of the small Varyan fleet patrolling Lanostre.

His eyes stared unblinking as he heard tell of these rumors. Dmitri remained silent.

"What about you, Reverence? Are you excited for the journey?" a young Varyan conscript asked him.

"Pft. Of course I am! Wouldn't you be?"

The conscript looked around cautiously. He took a drink and took his time placing the glass back on the table.

"I... I think... If I may speak freely?"

"You may."

"I think it's a mistake. There is... darkness across the sea. It's a place of demons and devils and... people who consort with such monstrosities. Our Lord has already brought all of the peoples of the world under His protection. This strange place beyond the storm -- the people there, why do we need to bring them into our flock? They are no better than the Omestrians," the young conscript spoke in measured words, his eyes falling on Dmitri with disgust.

Ilya's smile disappeared from his face.

"Hm. I'll have you know that I have served with Omestrians and I can vouch for their strength and tenacity. They worshiped the wrong God, of course, but they themselves aren't so bad."

The conscript cleared his throat, and once again stared at Dmitri.

"I didn't mean any disres--"

"Dmitri here has served my family since he was a child. He was born in the pipeworks. His parents died in them, giving a lifetime's gift of their ether to us. He was destined to do the same, until my parents saw in him a calling for something greater. Do you know what that means?"

The conscript stared back, unsure of how to answer.

"For an Omestrian to rise above cattle, they must prove themselves of having extraordinary potential. Thus, if you ever come across an Omestrian who is free of his chains and serving the Empire proudly, nod to them in reverence, for each one of them is a treasured pearl worth several of us Varyan men."

A derisive laugh rang out loudly from a table at the far end of the tavern. The pub immediately fell to silence, and all collectively turned to face the one who would dare laugh at a Varyan inquisitor.

A dark-haired man sat alone at a table, sipping from a martini glass. He was dressed in ordinary civilian's clothes, but there was no mistaking him.

Ilya smiled. "Father Hassan," he said, his voice reaching throughout the quiet interior. The T'saraen inquisitor stared back silently. He was leaning back in his chair, the shadows were still around him, his lightning blue eyes like two sapphires in the dark.

"I didn't notice you come in," Ilya cried out.

"You don't seem to notice a lot of things," Hassan answered, chuckling to himself.

Ilya rose from his seat. He found that he had become... cold for the first time since entering the aegis. He glanced at Dmitri, and immediately the servant removed his own officer's coat and draped it around Ilya's shoulders.

Hassan was on his feet. His lips were curved into that dagger smile of his and as he began to walk towards Ilya the Varyan inquisitor felt his ether begin to surge within himself, a natural instinct, but when Hassan greeted him with a warm embrace, Ilya allowed the magic in his veins to dissipate.

"It's been a while. Shame you didn't join us on the journey down here," Hassan said, clasping Ilya on the shoulder.

"Believe me, I wanted to. But... family obligations," Ilya answered, glancing at Dmitri.

"This your man-servant?" Hassan asked, turning to regard the Omestrian with a curious gaze. "Ah. You have clear eyes. Not as sunlit as most I've seen. They're very pretty. Take care of those," he added, winking at the servant before turning back to Ilya.

"Come on then. We have much to discuss."

Without turning back, Hassan walked out of the bar.
Yeeess Oreeen

Btw, this OOC has been kinda dead, but the RP isn't! Not sure if anyone in the forum reads this thing, but we do most of our planning/chatting on our discord these days since it's easier. The OOC is kinda... yeah, but the RP itself is still going strong!
Mother Xera Athalos, "R'haelyn" (Lanostran for "Hunter of God")
Age: Unknown
Occupation: Lanostran High Inquisitor

One of the most powerful Lanostran inquisitors in known history, Mother Xera Athalos is a name spoken in high reverence throughout the nation. For near a century she was the edge to Lanostre's spear, defending the nation from both rebellion and threats from outside the nation's aegis. At the end of her long tenure, the aged inquisitor faced down the Varyan empire's invasion, using the last of her power to defend the nation for as long as she could. At the end of the war, she dueled Father Gregoroth for three days on end, and it was only after they were both mortally wounded that Lady Lanostre herself called a ceasefire to the fighting.

After Lanostre's annexation Xera refused to serve Lord Varya, claiming that her blood was bound to the Goddess and no one else. In honor of her service to the nation, and some would say to appease the Lanostran inquisition, Mother Xera was banished from the nation instead of being outright executed for her defiance. She was sent on a coffin ship into the southern blizzards and is believed to have perished, though there are some who believe her to have survived.


Father Lior N'halaam, "The Lightning's Song"
Age: 35
Occuptation: Varyan Inquisitor

A flamboyant inquisitor of half Lanostran/T'saraen blood, Lior is a celebrated hero throughout the empire. He is renowned for his adventures into the western storms to hunt ice dragons for sport and is beloved as a patron for the commonfolk of the empire due to this outspoken criticism of the Varyan nobility. Lior was the former warleader of Phoenix Warband-II, and his rivalry with Mother Indira continues to this day. A mercurial and restless thrill-seeker, he was the originator of Warband Seraph but abandoned the group halfway into their training once he grew bored with academic life, an act which has earned him no small amount of ire from other inquisitors.

A talented machinist and even more adept marksman, Lior created a full armory of magical weapons that only he could wield. He currently commands the Red Wrath, a powerful Varyan stormship at the vanguard of the Elurian invasion.
@The Angry Goat Awesome post! It was really cool seeing the parts of Cero City that aren't traditionally T'saraen. Makes you remember that there are just normal everyday people in the T'saraen race who aren't super intelligent engineers and scientists. :p

The ring is a super cool idea! It's definitely a rare item, with the wood and the unknown stone. I definitely have some ideas about where it could've come from, but I'll save that until it becomes relevant... which might be soon-ish, depending on what happens. :p
@OppositionJ that was incredible. Your posts always inspire me in unexpected ways. Didn't feel like writing atm but now I do. So thanks?
Posted this on the discord, but I figure I'll post it here as well!

Hey everyone!

So, right now I think @CollectorOfMyst and @OppositionJ are working on posts. Can I get a quick update on where you guys are at? No hurry of course.

I'll also be working on another post from Hassan's perspective at some point. And probably Ilya. Because he exists. Somewhere.

@shylarah @The Angry Goat @CollectorofMyst

Wow that took longer than it should've!

Thank you to each of you for the collab! You all did such a a great freakin' job and I loved being able to have our characters finally converse and share a moment with each other. I apologize for how chaotic it got at some spots, but I think it came together really well in the end. <3
ONE Centre, First City of Cero, T'sarae

[written by Lovejoy, shylarah, Collector of Myst & The Angry Goat]

It was a beautiful and terrifying thing, the Aegisdome.

All around him, the city of silver spires gleamed in the grey radiance of the impossible barrier that hung over it. Earlier that morning a hard snow had begun to assail them just as their train reached the domed city. Since then, the sky had erupted in a vicious icestorm that was now pummeling the aegisdome. Ragnar had spent the entire afternoon gazing up at it. Boulder-sized hail crystals assaulted the monolithic crystalline barrier, sending faint pulses of light dancing across its surface. It was of course impossible to hear the sound of the hail smashing against the dome, but Ragnar winced all the same, imagining the shearing chorus of millions of remnants of ice shattering all at once. He wondered how many storms the barrier had withstood in the centuries since its construction, and how many it would take to turn it into cracked glass.

He finally tore his eyes from the terrifying sight above him and eyed the crowds of T'saraen civilians walking the city streets. He observed the native people with a jealous and somewhat scornful expression as they traversed through ONE Centre, the city's largest plaza. It was a vast open space surrounded by tall gleaming buildings and elevated highways, while strange metal trees covered in silvery crystal leaves had been erected on manicured pits of hard earth all around the plaza, giving it a natural yet strangely manufactured atmosphere. Ragnar and Stina had converged on a platform overlooking Xegatris Station, the great train terminal where the remaining members of Warband Phoenix would be arriving.

This was the young Muraadan's first time in the Land of the Skull Remnant, and to his surprise, the people here weren't what he was expecting. He remembered the T'saraens who had crowded around Tatiana when she returned to Lanostre all those years ago on her summoner's expedition. Even now he recalled the warmth in their smiles as they welcomed her home, how they danced around her and stared in awe at the enchanted shadowcloth of her inquisitor’s coat. The T'saraens who had found a home in Lanostre's Bridgetown were a loud and gregarious lot, a people not unlike his own Muraadan clansmen, but the men and women who walked through the beautiful pathways of the First city were silent and stone-faced and didn't so much as spare one look at each other. Not even the icestorm raging just outside the barrier elicited any response from them. They seemed to be solely focused on getting where they needed to be and little else. And thus, despite being surrounded by crowds of people, there was a strange lack of noise in the plaza. It filled Ragnar with a strange unease.

He remembered the Tale's End slums in Magnagrad with its dark steaming alleys choked with dirty people crowding over barely-working etherlamps and its children hawking stolen blood in exchange for food. Cero wasn't open to folk like them, of course. The slumrats of Magnagrad were destined to live and die in the mechanical abyss that sprawled within the city of blood and steam. The native T’saraens on the other hand would never have to worry about freezing on a street corner. These people lived safe and measured lives, free of the cold that clung to every inch of the world. The Aegisdome kept them warm and safe while their beautiful city offered them enough freedom and infrastructure to allow them to work on their miracles and machines...

Why couldn't Magnagrad be turned into such a place, Ragnar mused, not for the first time.

"It's nice here, isn't it?" Ragnar said to Stina, trying his hardest to fake a smile. They had been stuck on a cramped train for the past two days and so it was a welcome relief to be able to stand out in an open plaza, despite the circumstances. Stina nodded in agreement. “Too….. too many people on that train.”

Ragnar turned to smile at this warbrother. Stina had chosen to stay with Ragnar as he waited for the other members of the warband to arrive. Hassan and Vivica didn’t seem to share in Stina's desire to keep Ragnar company and both left soon after their arrival. The young Muraadan had greatly appreciated his brother's company. Despite them being stuck on that train for so long, Ragnar didn't want to be alone. He never wanted to be alone.

Allowing the pent up air to escape his lungs, his eyes fell on a pair of T'saraen teenagers waiting to cross an intersection.

"So much death and yet it never seems to reach this place," he thought aloud, desperately hoping that Hassan and Viveca weren’t getting into any trouble.

Across from them a small group of Varyan soldiers marched through the plaza in lazy, ill-formed ranks. The soldiers were whispering among themselves, not paying much attention to their surroundings, when they finally noticed Ragnar and Stina in their inquisitor's coats. The soldiers saluted them and hastily turned to walk in the opposite direction. Ragnar couldn't help but notice the look on their faces. It was the same look on everyone else's faces, T'saraen native and Varyan soldier alike. There was a disquieting rumor that something had occured in Lanostre, but the Church had been blocking all information from escaping the Queendom.

At that moment an old train covered in steaming ice pulled into the station. Ragnar's worried expression suddenly melted away, a giant smile forming across his face as he turned around to face the train platform.

The train was an ancient beaten down machine, its faded steel exterior covered in giant hunks of ice. It had come from Magnagrad, Ragnar understood. No other journey would cause the train to accumulate so much ice build-up. As the train slowed to a stop the ice covering every inch of it began to crumble and fall apart. Ragnar gripped the railings of the platform in anticipation as the train doors slid open with a mechanical hiss.

Mother Ziotea and Father Oren stepped out of the train.

In truth, it had only been about two weeks since he had last seen the two Omestrian inquisitors, but it had felt like an eternity to him all the same. He began to hop in place, disturbing the three wolfpups who had been cuddling near his feet, and then proceeded to wave his arms like a crazy person. He shouted at the top of his lungs, not caring if all the world heard him.

"Oi, you two!" he shouted, his voice seeming to cause the entire plaza to stop and stare at him with a confused expression..

The two Omestrian inquisitors turned to face him, their eyes still squinting at the sudden influx of light given off by the massive aegisdome looming in the sky above them. Ragnar looked back at his giant companion and waved him over. "Come on Stina, let's go welcome them!"

Not bothering to wait for Stina, Ragnar jogged down the steps of the plaza to the train platform.


Ziotea stood alone, while Oren was conversing behind her with the small crew of the train that had brought them here. The pale inquisitor bowed his head, presumably as a gesture of thanks, though his lips moved so little and his voice was so low that it was difficult to discern what he actually said. Seeing Ragnar approaching, Oren turned and made his way to where Ziotea stood at the edge of the platform.

There was something off about Oren's gait. Ragnar had only been in close proximity to the Leviathan spellranger for a few weeks since Oren and his Leviathan warsiblings were transferred to the warband, but in that short time Ragnar had taken note of each of their physical quirks. He had to make certain that if something was off about any of them, if they were wounded or needed help in any way, he'd notice -- and thus, Oren's slight limp immediately raised an alarm.

Ragnar's violet eyes narrowed, and he cast an accusatory glare at Ziotea. Hearing Stina's loud footsteps behind him, Ragnar's courage flared. Good, I won't be alone in this.

"What did you do to him, Zee?"

“To him? Nothing.” She didn’t exactly look pleased to see them, but then the small woman rarely did. She was though, that much was obvious, at least to Ragnar. “Saved his ass, probably. I’ll have to tell you about it later.”

“Why is he limping? You two visited those ruins right? Those quiet, safe ruins?”

“The ruins were fine. It was after we came out...look, it was weird as hell, and we’ll tell you about it, but not right now.”

“I knew I couldn’t leave you alone with him. I tried to warn you, Oren.”

The Leviathan’s gaze shifted to beyond Ragnar. “Unfortunately, she has the truth of it.”

Ragnar turned and, seeing Stina standing behind him with the wolf pups trailing him, the Muraadan protector took one of them and lifted it proudly in front of Ziotea.

“Wolves! From my homeland! Aren’t they precious? We bought them in the slums!”

Ziotea eyed the animal warily, but when all it did was squirm and stick out its tongue she shrugged. “I guess.” She was trying hard not to be dismissive of her friend but she was clearly distracted. “Did you go on a trip after all, then?”

“We went to that pub and I saved a bunch of civilians from a rocket. But I’m sure you will hear about it soon enough. The soldiers can’t stop talking about how much of a hero I am.”

“Already? I’m jealous. Here, let me rub your head for good luck~”

Ragnar happily allowed her this gesture, and she gave him a smile.

Stina, somewhat suspicious of Ziotia’s unwillingness to share information, looked downwards at her, as she rubbed Ragnar’s head, with a small measure of hostility. “I hope tha-tha-that you will not forget to tell us. Someth… that harms an Inquisitor is something we should all be aware of.”

“Look, I said I’ll tell you all, and I will tell you all, just...when I can tell all of you. I’m still processing. Besides, if people start turning into weird blue giants, I’m sure you’ll notice.” Ziotea paused long enough to deliver a playful but solid punch to Stina’s arm. “Bigger than even you. Kind of hard to miss.”

Stina grunted and shrugged his shoulders. “Do not let your emotions distract you frrrrrrom protecting us as well with information as you do on the battlefield.” It felt like he had more to say, and he paused despite still holding the attention of the conversation. Perhaps it was something about respecting her need to understand a trauma before being able to verbalize it, but he didn’t have the vocabulary to even fully comprehend the thoughts he was trying to convey. He instead settled for softening his facial features, and resting his hands in the pockets sewn onto the inside of his cloak.

“Blue giants, Zee?” Ragnar shook his head. “Really?” the young inquisitor asked with an incredulous expression. He threw a quick glance at Oren for any hint of confirmation to this ludicrous lie. When the Leviathan inquisitor gave him only an impatient glance in return, Ragnar frowned.

Oren folded his hands together behind his back, his eyes trained on Ziotea, his mouth pressed into a thin line. “Is the open really the best place to discuss recent events, Warband Phoenix? We can talk about our encounters later; at present, we need to make sure we’re ready to leave.”

Ragnar breathed a heavy sigh. He was very much looking forward to hearing Ziotea and Oren’s account of their visit to the Corpseland, but the pale-haired inquisitor was right. Now was probably not the right time to speak of their visit to that place. Still, their reticence to speak on the matter picked at him. Hm. Whatever had happened to them in those ruins, it has to be important, Ragnar thought to himself. Ziotea wouldn’t be drawing it out so much if it wasn’t. Still, the events at the Shadow and Storm pub were too monumental for Ragnar to keep quiet about. Ziotea and Oren had traveled to Cero on an empty train and thus they had no way of knowing about the “Butcher of Tale’s End” and the justice he had dispensed at the legendary tavern.

“I suppose we do have places to be right now, Father Oren, but you must at least listen to Stina’s story,” he said, slapping Stina on the forearm playfully.

“Go on. Tell them about the ice pirates!”

“What, that louuuuuusy lot of heretics?” He laughed,. “After training aagainst you lot for so lo-o-ong, cutting through them was like a…. a walk in the park. Honestly the best part of th-th-th-the whole thing was right at the beginning when Hassan just w-w-waltzed in and cleared out all the civilians with a single sentence.” He thought back to the night again. It really had been wonderful: no repetitive training, no teacher yelling at you for holding the sword slightly too low on the handle, none of the politics involved in talking to people. Instead there was just battle - and the hunger he had just now discovered, but that still sat, eagerly, deep in his soul, crying to get out. He grinned as he continued, though the smile seemed to hold a little bit of the bloodlust within him.

“After that, a-a-a-a--- sssssshort shootout, before a Secular Armyman encouraged me to charge the pirates. It wennnnt poorly for them.” He stood there, collecting his thoughts for a moment before continuing. “This one,” he said, nudging Ragnar, encouraging him to tell his own part of the story, “stopped a huge explosion, aaand Hassan caught up to- t’their leader. Got some important information about the apostate Dara.” He finished with a scowl, as if the man’s name had a bitter taste to it.

The mention of the lost apostate seemed to bring Ragnar back down to earth.

“Father Dara... He was last sighted in Lanostre, wasn’t he?”

His thoughts returned to Tatiana and the others. All the crazy rumors going around about an attack on the Varyan flotilla blockading the Lanostran capital and about a young inquisitor being involved had filled him with trepidation.

“I know you and Oren have been secluded up there in Omestris but, have you heard anything about Lanostre?” Ragnar asked Ziotea. “I haven’t met with Galahad, Astraea, or Tatiana yet but, there are rumors. Weird ones.”

“Nothing,” Ziotea answered. “We just got in, only had most of a day at the Seminary before heading out again, and I wasn’t listening to the gossip.”

“There’s been all kinds of talk about some kind of attack. The lord clerics are keeping a lid on everything, of course.”

“Of course. Bastards.” Ziotea spit in the snow at the mention of the clerical branch, causing Stina to break into a smile.

Ragnar recoiled instinctively, immediately scoping the area for anyone who might have caught sight of the blasphemous act. He leaned close to the Omestrian warrior. “There is something strange happening. I can feel it.”

“I hate being toyed with,” she growled, feeling the skin on her arms prickle under her vambraces. “There’s definitely something going on, I can tell you that much. I just don’t get how it fits together.” She frowned for a moment, then made herself relax. She was back with her warband, and together they could face anything. “We’ll discuss the details when we’re all together, yeah?”

He nodded, cuddling the wolf in his arms.

“I met with Rodion earlier. Tried to bring him food but he shooed me out of the room. Some new ethereal toy has him ensnared, I bet. I’m certain he’ll make time for you though.”

“You did?” Her face lit up at the mention of the engineer. “I suppose I’ll have to track him down, then.”

“He is aboard the Karamzina, our wonderful new state-of-the-art steam ark. It’s a beauty, Zee. Sharp as a blade and and sleek as a spear. It’s docked at the Forge, the special drydocks at the southeastern edge of the city.”

Ziotea nodded, and split off at once. She’d not seen Rodion in far too long.

For a few moments, Oren watched after her. Whether or not she saw it, Ziotea’s eagerness was all too plain. Well, so long as the watcher knew what to look for. He turned to look at the other two, and with a small grimace, he said to them, “Well. As nice as it has been to talk to you, Father Ragnar, Father Stina… I need a bath.” - and then started to walk.

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