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@TheDuncanMorgan @Sundered Echo

~|After the Party|~

Darkness had well and truly overtaken Nyhem by the time Lana left the party. She was one of the last to go, and it was in a rather less respectable state than she would’ve preferred… She had drunk a little too much at the end of the party, driven to drown her memories with wine. She had planned to fly home, but she was at least cognizant enough to realise she was better off not trying to shape shift in her current state. She also refused a carriage, as it would not doubt leave her in a most unladylike state at the end of the inevitably bumpy trip. Similarly, she was too proud to have city guards escort her. Her manorhouse was not far away, and she was no stranger to walking at night.

And so it was, that she was walking from the palace back to Dionisa Manor, a little unsteady on her feet at times, but still keeping up a respectable clip. She gazed into every shadow, keenly aware, or at least as much as one can be through a wine fueled haze, of how similar her situation was to the night Aurelia met her end. Yet she saw nothing, and was confident in her ability to defend herself.

She was just considering how little she had to fear from brutish mundanes when she heard a sound from behind her. She barely had time to begin turning before there was a sharp pain on the side of her head.

Suddenly, everything went dark. She felt the sensation of falling, but she never hit the ground. Then there was no sensation at all, just inky blackness.

~|Some Time Later|~

Lana’s return to consciousness was a slow, painful experience. At first, all she could feel was a dull throbbing that seemed to permeate her skull. The floor beneath her was hard, and bitterly cold. Her dress was torn, and barely clung to her slim frame, providing almost no respite from the cold. She opened her eyes slowly, to the sight of a sparse, dimly lit room. Sunlight streamed in from a slit window near the ceiling, making her squint.

She tried to push herself up, but barely managed to writhe in place as she discovered that her hands were tied, and her fingers bound. She tried to cry out in pain as fear began to rise in her chest, but found she was gagged as well, with a rough cloth tied tightly across her mouth to stop her from making all but the most inarticulate sounds.

She struggled with her bonds for a moment, but quickly stopped when her wrists began to burn with pain.

“Don’t bother.”

A male voice came from behind her. A voice she knew, but speaking in a tone she had never heard from it. Inelegantly, she rolled to face it. Her hair fell across her eyes, but through it she could still see who the man was. He was sitting on a plain wooden chair next a small table, with a wall-mounted torch lighting his features from one side. She knew who he was. He just smiled. An evil smile, filled with cruelty and malice. There were iron bars between them. She was caged.

Awkwardly, painfully slowly, she worked her way up onto her knees. Now that she knew she could not use her hands, she could avoid toppling over. Once she was kneeling, she defiantly flicked her hair out of her face and glared at the man. He stared back. Slowly, a glowing halo of energy began to manifest around Lanaya’s head. Casting a lethal spell with a throbbing headache and no use of her hands or tongue was excruciating, but her hate and creeping fear drove her on.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

The man said. She ignored him... Until he raised a pistol crossbow and pointed it at her heart.

She stopped, letting the magic dissipate harmlessly. There was no way she could cast a spell before his bolt found its mark. Still pointing the crossbow at her, he stood and walked closer.

“I know you don't need your hands or words to cast spells Lanaya. But you will not use magic in this house.”

Then, he reached up and roughly thumped the ceiling twice. As soon as he did so, movement could be heard above, and a moment later the door to the small room opened. A big man in the garb of a common thug stepped in, holding a young girl and a dagger. The girl was bound similarly to Lana, but in the dim light she could only barely make out her features. It looked like Miriam, the young mage girl that her Guard Captain had saved before the riot.

“Remember this one? She’s like you. A vile witch. If you so much as glow again, I will hurt her. My men and I know how to cause a lot of pain without killing someone. Do you understand?”

Grudgingly, Lana nodded her head.

“Good.” He said, then turned to his man. “Take her back up stairs.”

Panic was starting to set in now. This man knew a great deal about her, and about how to properly restrain a mage. Far more than she had ever imagined.

“Now that you understand your position, we can have a proper talk.”

He made stepped back and put the crossbow down on the table, then took a key from his belt. He opened the cell door, and stepped inside. Lana tried to stand, but he pushed her back down roughly by the shoulder. Then he went to loosen the gag, stopping at the last moment.

“Remember, no magic. Speak common only.”

Then he pulled the gag off. The moment her mouth was free, Lana spoke, spitting her words quickly and harshly at him.

“You’re a dead man Thanatos. Let Miriam and I go right now and I might be lenient at your tri-”

She was abruptly cut off as Thanatos slapped her. She toppled to the ground from the force and surprise, landing hard on her shoulder.

“I don’t think you quite understand Lanaya. I am in charge now. I am going to give you one chance to do this the nice way. Far more than you deserve, you murderous bitch.” Anger was creeping into Thanatos’ voice now. “You took my father from me. Then you took my inheritance. What vile magics did you cloud his mind with to make him leave House Thale to you?”

Lana crawled back onto her knees before responding. She refused to beg from on the ground.

“I didn’t even have to cast a single spell on that old buffoon once. He was smitten the moment he saw me. Being young and beautiful was all the ‘magic’ I needed.” She told him, truthfully, though her voice was laced with disdain. He clearly didn’t believe a word she was saying. “Did it ever occur to you that he just didn’t like you?” She added spitefully.

He hit her again, and again she fell to the floor. This time she cried out in pain as she landed on her already bruised shoulder.

“Do not speak of my father like that! Dominus Thale was a proud man, a great man, until you arrived!” A moment passed as Thanatos fumed, Lana getting back up even more slowly this time. He was the first to speak again. “You will give me back my House and my Title.” He demanded angrily. “And you will give me all of House Dionisa as well.”

Lana looked at him incredulously for a long moment, then, mustering all the defiance and hatred she could, simply said -


She winced expectantly, but no strike came. Instead Thanatos looked down at her blankly and spoke, with remarkable eagerness. “Fine. I was hoping you’d say that. Now we can do this the hard way.” He motioned for her to stand, then seemed to even help her rise to her feet. But the moment she was up, he slugged her in the stomach. She doubled over in pain, and he let her slowly fall to the ground once more. Then he tied the gag back over her mouth, far tighter than it had been before. Tight enough to cause pain.

He stalked out of the cell then, retrieving a pointed object. As he drew closer, she saw that it was a dagger… But no ordinary dagger.

It was a Dragonbone dagger. Her eyes went wide with fear, and panic set in.

“You really should’ve just agreed to my demands Lanaya. But I’m happy you didn’t.”
I have updated my CS post with my new character - Arianna Zerrikan, Tide Master of the Summer Isles.

@Sundered Echo @TheDuncanMorgan

--- Something is not Right.... ---

Nyhem, Thale Manor, Slightly after nightfall.

Mary, maid servant of House Thale, was afraid. The riot had been going on for hours now, and though the Magister had scared the mob away from the manor for a time, bands of angry people from the lower districts still came by occasionally, shouting, waving torches and clubs. Until now, she had considered herself quite lucky to live and work in the Garden District, for even as a mere servant she still had it better than most. She knew there would always be food, often good food. The manor was always warm, and she even had the good fortune of a kind master, who paid her and the other servants quite well for their station. Sure, sometimes she had to do some quite unpleasant jobs, and sometimes she would be shouted at and ordered around by the mysterious Magister, but all in all, she thought it was a rather safe and comfortable life. A good life for a farmers daughter.

But now, she was afraid. Fearful that she would be beaten, killed or worse - simply for working and living in the house of a Nobleman and a Magister. The people outside had plenty of hatred for both. If they got in, she would be just another mage sympathiser, or lackey of the nobility.

And so it was that she found herself ever on the heel of her master, Lord Dominus Thale. She felt safe near him - he had donned a chain shirt and taken his shield and mace from the display on the wall. Although, admittedly, it was less the old, fat man's state of armament that made her feel safe, and far more the fact that Sir Hansen of the Order of St. Elenor also followed him. He was a tall man wearing plate armor and carrying a long two handed sword as though it weighed no more than a feather. She knew that the gods would safeguard him and those that followed him. And if not, then the steel he wore would certainly empower him to defend her.

Just then, there was a loud knocking on the houses grand door. She nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound. She told herself that the guard were still near, keeping the streets safe. It couldn't be rioters. And they wouldn't knock anyway. Would they?

Sir Hansen went to check who it was, with Dominus close behind. Mary followed the men. Dominus was shouting - he had gotten quite worked up about this whole affair. “If those blasted ungrateful peasants have broken through, by the gods I’ll put them back in their place! My mace will remind them that it’s the right of the nobles to rule and protect, and the right of the peasants to-” He stopped suddenly as he saw who it was at the door.

Before them, in the acrid, smokey air, stood three figures. The two on the sides were gigantic men, wearing a variation of the Thale Guardsmen uniform that marked them as hailing from the provincial lands. The one in the middle was clad in black, with a voluminous black cloak about his shoulders. There was an expensive crossbow slung from his shoulder, and a sword clearly visible at his waist. His hood was down, revealing a face with sharp features that were haughty, but also somewhat weather-worn. “Father.” He said on catching sight of Dominus. “Good to see age hasn’t made you too soft on the peasants!” He said, though there was little mirth in it.

“Thanatos, my boy!” Dominus said, waving him and the guards in. They all filed in to the great hall just beyond. “What brings you back to the city? And on this dark day?” There was far more joy in Dominus’ voice than his sons, yet Mary could sense the tension between the father and son. She knew there had been some unpleasant history in the past. She hoped that would not boil over now. This day really didn’t need to get any worse. “I came for news of the war. Yet when this chaos broke out, I knew I had to come by, and make sure the rioters hadn’t gotten to you.”

“Ah, very noble of you my boy.” Dominus said. “But you needn't have worried. Lady Lanaya has the house well defended with sorcery.” Thanatos’ face took on a dark expression at that. “I see. It is good to see you safe all the same father.” They talked for a time, of casual things, and of the family holdings, yet something felt wrong to Mary. Not merely Thanatos’ calm in the midst of this chaos, but something else. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she did not feel safe. Yet it was not her place to trouble her betters with her petty fears and worries.

“Where is the Sorceress anyway?” Thanatos said, his words once again catching Mary’s attention. There was an odd tone in his voice - It was normal enough for him to speak of the magister with anger, but this was something else. Dominus didn’t seem to notice, but replied sternly all the same. “You’ll not be picking a fight with her again boy. This is my command. She sits on the High King’s council now, and it is to his Majesty that she has gone this night. Angering her may bring the Kings eye down upon you Thanatos, and not in a good way.”

Thanatos looked cowed and… almost disappointed by his fathers reply. “Yes Father. I understand.” That set warning bells off for Mary again. Never in her time serving the Thale’s had she seen Thanatos back down from such a stern talking to by his father. Dominus seemed not to notice, merely saying “Good.” Mary thought maybe she should say something, but caught her tongue just before voicing her observations about the strangeness of it all. Noble’s worked in mysterious ways, always fencing with words and saying things they did not mean. No, it was not her place. Besides, should anything untoward truly be going on, she was sure the gods would let Sir Hansen know.

Thanatos dismissed himself then, walking up the stairs presumably to retire in his room. It was far too late for him to travel back to the Thale estate in the countryside, if he could even leave the city safely. Dominus made his way to a chair at the side of the hall and sat, seemingly deep in thought. Mary tentatively approached and spoke. “Milord, is there anything you would like?” He looked up at her, his features softening. “No thank you Mary. But if you could check on my Son, make sure he is comfortable?” She nodded and set about seeing her lords wishes made reality.

Ascending to the second floor, Mary made her way to the guest rooms. She was expecting Thanatos to have already made himself comfortable in what was once his room, but this was not the case. She stopped suddenly when she saw the man staring into the room that had been given to the young girl Captain Moros had rescued from the streets. After a moment of confusion, she timidly spoke up. “Milord, are you alright? Is there anything I can get you?” He was silent for a moment, then, without turning to face her, asked “Who is that?” Mary answered promptly, without thought as to the consequences. “Thats Miriam. Captain Moros rescued her from the streets at the Magisters request. She’s supposedly a mage.”

Only after she finished did she realise that it might not have been a good idea to tell Thanatos of all people the whole truth.

He turned to her then, a vicious looking grin now twisting his features into a rictus mask that chilled Mary to her core. He very pointedly said “Thank you. That will be all. You may go.” Then turned and walked deeper into the Manor. Mary turned and abruptly headed back to Dominus, trying to put the image of Thanatos’ face out of her head.

Fifteen minutes passed, and Mary finally began to relax. There hadn’t been any more mobs immediately outside the Manor and everything seemed to be getting back to normal - at least as normal as possible when Thanatos was in the house. Then, for just a moment, a muffled scream sounded from upstairs. For a moment Mary thought she had imagined it, but then Dominus bellowed “Whats going on up there?” And got to his feet. He was just approaching the foot of the stairs when Thanatos’ came down to them from above. “Don’t worry father. This is all for the greater good. I’m going to save you.”

He descended the stairs, his two brutish guards behind him. One of them was awkwardly carrying a young girl with a strip of cloth bound over her mouth and her hands and feet tied off with rope. Mary immediately recognised her as Miriam. Dominus immediately raised his voice and responded, a rare steely sternness in his voice. “Now you listen to me boy. I do not need saving. Lanaya is not controlling my mind.”

“Father I know you think that.” Thanatos began, his voice conciliatory. “But that is what she wants you to think. I’ve seen it. Your mind isn’t your own. It hasn’t been for a long time.” He was clearly passionate, yet it did not sway his father.

“You’re insane.” Dominus roared. His face was a brilliant shade of red now. “And how do you plan to save me by kidnapping that poor girl?”

“You don’t understand father. Your mind belongs to the witch! I’m helping you!” Now Thanatos was raising his voice. Mary could only stand by in shock as father and son railed against each other.

Suddenly, Dominus’ voice cut his sons off mid-speech with a terse command. “Sir Hansen. Retrieve that girl and bind my son as one of the rioters!” He was practically hysterical now. The Knight spared only the slightest sidelong glance at the furious Lord of the house before springing into action. He strode forward, raising his arms to act - but Thanatos acted faster even than the knight.

Before anyone realised what was happening, the young man had swung his crossbow into firing position, aimed the already primed weapon and but a bolt clean through the chainmail around the Knights neck. Sir Hansen was flung back off his feet by the force of the weapon, hitting the ground with a clank and gurgle.

Mary was frozen in shock, and could only look on as Dominus suddenly clutched at his chest and fell, as if in slow motion, to the ground. Between gasping for air, he managed to rasp “What have you… done…”

Thanatos’ face shifted as rapidly as his fathers had, from triumph to despair. He rushed to his father's side, kneeling down and cradling the large mans head in one hand, while taking a clawed hand in the other. “Father, no. No! what has she done to you! Stay with me. You have to stay alive. You’re stronger than her sorcery. Please.”

Mary continued staring in shock as tears streamed freely down Thanatos’ face. Dominus had already stopped moving. She could only watch as Thanatos’ remaining unencumbered guard sauntered up to her and roughly grabbed her from behind. She was vaguely aware of tears now flowing down her own cheeks.

Moments crawled by like hours as Thanatos remained kneeling over his father’s body. When he finally rose, it was not grief that defined his features, but fury, and the unrestrained hate of a man who has just lost the person he cared most about. “That witch will pay for this.” He said quietly, cutting the silence like a razor. He began to turn to leave, but then stopped and turned back to look at Mary. For the second time tonight he was looking straight at her, his face twisted into a demonic visage. She screamed.

“Sorry.” he said, his voice now a strange combination of sadness and disappointment, as though he were informing her she wouldn’t be getting the gift she wanted for her birthday. “But we cant have any witnesses.” He pulled a vicious dagger from its sheath and stepped towards her. Tears rolled down her eyes as she pleaded. “Please, I wont tell anyone. Please milord. I don’t want to die…” He raised the dagger up to her throat, but paused, speaking now with a tone of inevitability laced with hate. There was madness in his eyes. “I’m sure you wouldn’t. But you see, the Magister would just bewitch you as well. You would have no choice but to tell her everything. So its her fault really. She may as well wield the blade herself. In your last moment, know that it was Lanaya Dionisa that killed you. Tell the gods about it when you see them, and maybe they will punish her.” With that, he quickly and brutally drew the blade across her throat. The guardsman let her drop to the floor, and she scrambled meekly at the gash as it bled profusely. There was only pain and emptiness in her mind as her lifeblood spread across the polished stone.

--- Wrath of a Magister ---

Nyhem, Above the Docks, around the same time.

Far above the city, Lanaya’s hawk eyes searched for an ideal spot to intervene. With her petty errand for the king done, she was now free to actually make use of her full power to put a stop to this insane riot. She was not feeling particularly kind, however, after her argument with the king and his underuse of her abilities. No. She had priorities to focus on. Mages deserved help first, nobles a distant second, and everyone else would get help if they still needed it after all of that.

And so it was that she spotted the flicker of magelight below - at the docks, where one of the Summer Isles Catamarans was docked. Its crew, mostly mundanes but also a few specialist mages, seemed to be trapped on the dock, just out of reach of the swift vessel, surrounded by a crowd of peasants with all manner of daggers, torches and improvised clubs.

She swooped down, diving towards a clear spot just in front of the ship’s crew. There was still a several meter gap between the two groups, as the crowd warily eyed the mages and the unearthly light emanating from them. Lana wasted no time in retaking her original shape as she touched down, remembering at the last moment to cover up the ugly bruise on her face with magic. She would not let the mundane scum here get the idea that she could be injured.

Amplifying her voice, she spoke while the crowd was still shocked at her sudden appearance. “By order of the Circle you are to disperse and go back to your homes at once, or face the wrath of a Magister!” There was fire in her voice, and magical flames began to lick at her fingertips as she spoke. The gem upon her breast glowed a vibrant crimson.

Some of the crowd began to look uncertain, but these people had already made up their mind to attack known powerful mages. They would not be cowed by her display, and the uncertainty quickly passed. In fact, it spurred them on. Someone shouted “Burn the Witches!” and the crowd surged forward. Some of the ship’s crew fired crossbows into the crowd, their bolts all finding fleshy targets in the dense mass of people. Others prepared swords for melee. Yet they never got a chance.

Power surged through Lana as she raised her hand to the sky, her tongue twisting around arcane, inhuman words of power. Then she suddenly dropped the hand to point at the ground, marking out a half circle in front of her. As soon as she finished the gesture, a glowing half circle of runes appeared on the ground, surrounding the ship's crew in the front, with the edge of the dock behind them. As soon as the first mundane foot touched one of the runes there was an intense flash of light. A wave of force rolled outwards into the crowd, smashing them to their feet. Those near the water were thrown into the blood slicked crimson waters. Those near the back of the crowd were thrown bodily into the buildings that lined the dock with a sickening crunch.

But Lana was not done. She had not cast any destruction magic on this scale since leaving the Summer Isles. She had forgotten how much of a rush it could be. That feeling mixed quickly with her hatred of mundanes and their mundane violence. She couldn’t stop now. They had to learn. She had to make an example of them. Her hands sprung into motion as she began to cast another spell. The gem glowed brighter.

Out of the waters behind them all, long, sharp shards of blood red ice began to rise. They floated gently above the waves, aimed towards the crowd. The moment a rioters picked themself up from the ground, one of the ice spikes shot forward and impaled them. There was so much force behind the shards that they picked each victim up off the ground and propelled them into the building behind, where the spike stuck and held them aloft. Some of the rioters tried to rush the ship's crew again, and every one of them was slain in this manner. Others got up and tried to run. They too were cut down. Two minutes of this indiscriminate slaughter passed, Lana’s hands in motion the whole time. The very air seemed to twist with the arcane words she spoke, regularly punctuated by the screams of her targets.

But then, she stumbled, barely remaining on her feet. Even she had limits. The ice shards fell back into the water, and those that already impaled rioters already began to slowly melt. Many of the smarter people in what was left of the crowd took this opportunity to leap up. Many ran, but not all. Some of them were driven wild by the horror they had just witnessed. These remaining fanatics sprinted towards Lana specifically, screaming for blood and vengeance. Lana raised a hand and blasted them back with a simple wave of force. Yet this was not enough. They all began to pick themselves up again to charge.

But Lana was not alone. Behind her, the ships mages had joined hands. They formed a circle behind her, and she felt two hands on her shoulders. It reinvigorated her instantly. Standing tall again, she began to chant a new spell. Behind her, three more voices joined in the same chant in unison. The sky cracked with thunder. The clouds above momentarily took on a red glow. And then it appeared. From on high, a searing ball of what seemed to be white fire streaked towards docks. It consumed the first two of the maddened rioters immediately, leaving nothing but charred husks. But it did not strike the ground. It moved sharply, darting to each man in turn, until all fifteen of the remaining rioters on the dock were charred beyond recognition. Then, with a pop, it disappeared.

Safe at last, Lana and the other mages were free to collapse. None of them hit the blood soaked ground though, as the hands of the mundane crewmen caught them. Lana felt that she was being carried towards the Catamaran by the ship's crew, but all she could think of was how heavy the now dark gem felt.

--- Epilogue ---

Bay of Nyhem, Aboard the Summer Isles Catamaran Petal of Light

Lana awoke with a start. The world was rocking about, ever so gently, and she immediately realised she was on a ship. From the wood and construction style, she also realised it was a Summer Isles Catamaran. She was confused for a moment, and could not remember how she had gotten there. All the signs of magic induced exhaustion. She felt weary, and as she stood up from the bed she had been placed in, her dress suddenly felt so very heavy. Though it was nothing next to the weight of the large jewel hanging from her neck. Oh how she wanted to strip it all off right now. Her hand moved towards the latch on the necklace, but just before she could undo it, the door opened. It was one of the ship’s crew. “Ah, Magister. You’ve recovered. Good. The Tide Master wants to thank you. I’ll take you to him when you’re ready.”

Lana looked at him blankly at first, but then the words seeped through the weariness. She remembered that she had no time to be laying about, and though she couldn’t really muster up the feeling of urgency right now, she still didn’t want to waste time. “I’m ready now.” She said, trying, and failing, to sound energetic. The crewman smiled and with amusement and simply said. “Very good Magister. This way.” It clearly wasn’t the first time he’d dealt with a mage trying to look like she wasn’t exhausted from her magic…

She was lead through the ship to the mage in command of the vessel - the Tide Master. When he saw her, he smiled and spoke. “Thank you Magister. You saved my crew in its entirety, not to mention myself. I am in your debt.” Lana meekly returned the smile, then went to the nearest of the comfortable looking seats built into the wall of the cabin. “I just did what was right.” She replied.

“That was very impressive Ball Lighting.” The Tide Master said, sounding genuine in his admiration. “Thank you… I’m not sure how I managed it to be perfectly honest. I have never cast it before. I don't think I could’ve without you and your companions.” She wasn’t even sure if that was true either. Her memory of the whole encounter was… fuzzy. But it would make the Tide Master happy to hear it.

“Even more impressive then. I’ll be sure to tell the others what you said. But for now, we must decide what to do next. I intend to return to the Summer Isles, but if you have another directive…” He trailed off expectantly.

“No. Return to the Circle. They must know what transpired here. But tell them that I intend to step up the actions of the Collective. If even the citizens of Nyhem can embrace the idea of burning our kind for no reason than our existence… Then we must act now if we ever wish to walk the lands beyond the Isles again.”

Meanwhile, in Thale Manor

Guard Captain Moros was distraught. He had returned from his patrols to find his Lord dead and Miriam, who he had saved, nowhere to be found. He felt responsible. Maybe if he had been there, he could’ve saved them. He was ready to accept the blame when he informed Thanatos and the Magister. But what he was not ready for, was handing over the document in his hand to Thanatos. Having taken his Lords key and entered the study, he had acquired Dominus’ will, to ensure it was not ‘misplaced’ by any stray hands. In his curiosity, he had seen who the estate was left to.

It was not Thanatos.

According to the will, he and all the Thale lands, fortunes, rights and titles now belonged to Duchess Lanaya Triskell Dionisa.
The scene outside Thale Manor was chaotic as the riot erupted. A crowd had formed, including many who had been present the last time such an event occurred, though few would notice that fact. Some shouted Johannia’s name, others railed against the hoarding of wealth. Others still roared in a more wild rage, caught up in the crowd and the city's general unrest. Unlike the crowds elsewhere in the city though, this one was being egged on by a very well armed man. He had a fine mace at his side and wore a fine chain shirt - though this was somewhat obscured beneath his dark cloak and cowl. A few others also stood out amongst the crowd - big brutish men with crude but effective weapons and rough leather armor. Hired muscle to be sure - thugs that would give the crowd more punch if, or rather when, violence broke out.

Before the Manor’s grand doors stood Captain Moros and several House Thale guards, shields raised, but weapons still sheathed. Alongside the Captain, Sir Hansen of the Order of St. Elenor stood, longsword tip down… For now. He was sworn to safeguard Lady Dionisa from exactly this kind of threat, just as Moros and his guardsmen were sworn to safeguard the Manor and its occupants.

“Disperse! Go back to your homes!” Moros was yelling, though even his booming voice was drowned out by the din the crowd was making. Even the hooded man could barely be heard now as he whipped the crowd into frenzy. They shouted and pushed closer to thin line of armored men before the door - two sword lengths away, then one. Then they were pressing up against Moros, not yet attacking, but pushed forward by those behind. He shoved them away with his shield, many falling to the ground only to be trampled by the mass.

It was chaos. Seconds dragged on, then minutes, as the crowd shoved, shouted and roared. Then there was a clang of metal on metal as a hammer struck the shield of a guard. Swords were drawn - some of the front of the crowd tried to scramble away, though to no avail. Others saw it as provocation and struck at the guardsmen. Sir Hansen’s greatsword rose into the air - and was about to strike when a female voice cut through the roar of the crowd. It was commanding and proud. Powerful beyond the capacity of mortal lungs. It simply said “Stop.”

Above them all on the small second floor balcony, Lady Lanaya Dionisa stepped forth, and the crowd was silent. All eyes turned to her, some burning with hatred and rage, most fearful.

Someone in the crowd shouted “Kill the witch!”

Several rocks flew, aimed squarely at the fragile looking lady on the balcony. Apprehension filled the crowd for a moment. But then something unexpected happened. The rocks sparked off a glowing white barrier, being repelled back over the crowd’s heads at great speed only to shatter on the stone walls of the buildings behind them, showering them with shrapnel. As quickly as it had appeared, the barrier faded, only now two arcane glyphs, one each to either side of the balcony bled harsh witchlight out over the street.

The crowd froze, shocked into silence once more. This time, primal fear was etched into their faces. Lana spoke again, her voice still magically amplified, only now her eyes blazed with power and light radiated around her.

“This House is protected. This City is protected. Go back to your homes, lock the door, and await the dawn if you value life and limb.”

The crowd remained transfixed by the beautiful, yet terrible sight before them, though it was now evident many sought to leave. Lana continued, her voice now taking on an edge of challenge, and of wrath.

“To those heretics among you, to those who would see all mages burn. Come now, test your faith, your hate, against my will. My power is a gift from the true gods, and I will eagerly do their will by scourging your falsehood from this land!”

At that, there was motion in the crowd. Three of the thuggish brutes and two men with torches pushed forward, taking her challenge. She reached one hand up to the sky, then purposefully made a fist. The word of power she spoke split the sky itself. A great fork of lightning snaked down from the cloudless sky in an instant. It split into five tendrils, each sought one of the men moving towards her. The bolts struck perfectly. All five targets were charred to a cinder instantaneously, the blackened remains falling to the ground. The silence persisted only a moment longer as the events of the past seconds sank in.

Then the mass of people broke, running, fleeing as fast as they could, their faces masks of abject terror. Within seconds, the street was empty, save for the five charred corpses and the thin line of the houses guardians.

Moros had barely begun to congratulate his Lady when he noticed more witchlight from the balcony above. Then a swift bird with a streak of orange-red around its neck took to the air. It circled for a moment to gain altitude, then soared in the direction of the palace.


Lana circled above the city for a few minutes, quickly confirming her suspicions. It was a city-wide riot. From the shouts she had heard outside her own dwelling, it seemed to have two distinct elements: one religious - the mad heretics of Johannia, an apparently more capable foe than she had first thought… And the discontented general populous. With the recent string of monarchs being bled dry by the Ironbarks, the people had begun to feel the financial pressure as well. The war had only worsened matters. Nyhem had been a midsummer bonfire just waiting for a spark. A spark Lana was eager to lay at the feet of Johannia.

The scene below was horrific. Lana had never seen the sights of war herself, but this is how she imagined it would be. Fires, thankfully still fairly small, dotted the city. Mostly churches, but several manors in the garden district were ablaze as well, and someone had evidently accidentally lit several smaller structures in the market on fire as well.

The masses writhed through the city, clustering around a few locations consistently but otherwise on the move. The Market was filled with looters and the Garden district was being hit hard - the people evidently deciding to take out their displeasure on the wealthy nobles. The bank of Nyhem was besieged, but the Ironbark guards seemed to be keeping them at bay, at least for the moment. There was a notable absence around her own Manor - her display of power had apparently been effective. She could see the banners of the Steel Fist merc company proceeding through the Field and Stone Districts, wooden staves in hand, displaying all their famed efficiency as they set about quelling the riot.

The final conspicuously empty place, however, was the courtyard before the Grand Temple. The stones there were slick with blood, and the waterways and drainage systems were already beginning to flow red. It was then she spotted yet another massacre just as the last rioters were being cut down - virtually on the steps of the Palace. Glistening plate armor and barded horses covered in gore could mean only one thing. Lycaon’s men were slaughtering the heretics wherever they found them. Even from on high, the sight horrified Lana to her core. Such bloodshed as she had never seen. The streets ran red with a river of blood - and already the harbor was taking on a crimson hue as it began to drain away. She could not imagine what it was like up close.

She decided she had seen enough, and began to swoop down towards the Palace. She spotted Duncan and Isabel atop the wall and vectored towards them, but changed course at the last moment when she spotted Lycaon emerge. Instead setting down out of sight, but within earshot, she remained in bird form and eavesdropped on the King’s conversation… As one sided as it was… With Lycaon.

When she heard Lycaon leave she flew back up and, landing several meters away from Duncan, re-assumed her normal form swiftly. “My King” She said, stepping towards him, barely stopping to hurriedly curtsy as she did. “The harbor runs red with Nyhem’s blood. The bank is besieged and the Bazaar is being looted. The garden district is suffering badly as well.” She wasted no time reporting what she had seen from the sky in a clipped tone that almost, but not quite, hid her horror at it all.

Despite his best efforts to calm himself, Duncan was still furious. However, his anger was now not only directed towards the riot, but towards the realisation that Lycaon had far more power than Duncan had previously thought. Now that he had killed the heretics, Lycaon had complete support of the people of Nyhem. A feat that the Duncan could only ever dream of. Right now the man was untouchable; even after committing a bloody massacre in the center of the city. If Duncan attempted to apprehend him then the people would be in an uproar. Lycaon's power was becoming a threat, and it was all of Duncan's own doing.

Duncan was surprised by the sudden appearance of Lanaya, however his surprise did nothing to cool his temper.
"You think I don't see that" he snapped at Lanaya as he violently gestured towards the city "The entire city is burning right in front of me, or do you perhaps think I am blind"? He knew that Lanaya didn't warrant any of Duncan's fury. Right now he was simply venting his anger and Lanaya had been unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end.

Lana was taken aback by the sudden rage directed at her. She was only trying to help the King with accurate information, not rub in his apparent failure. “My King.” She began, her tone mild. “I think no such thing. Not all the city burns - already the Steel Fist begin to clean up the outer city. I can descend to the streets and subdue the populace as well, but I can only be in one place. Which would you have me prioritize?” She spoke as a humble servant, imploring him to direct, as was his role. Yet deep inside, an irrational anger began to flare.

Duncan paused for a moment as he tried to compose himself, to no avail. It was flaw both he and his siblings suffered; once his anger started it spread like wildfire "fly to the steel fist and order them to secure the garden and then proceed to Bazzar. And be quick about it" He shouted before mumbling "perhaps you might finally be of some use to the Concord".

Lana began to turn away and prepare her shifting spell again - it was an errand unworthy of her, yet it was the king's order. But when he called her worth to the concord into question, she whirled back around to face him. Who was he to question her value? Just a mundane with a fancy chair and circle of useless metal. When she spoke her voice was icy cold.

"My use to the Concord? Hah! My work will unite all of Formaroth, then force the Elven Imperium to acknowledge us as their equal."

Both Duncan and Isabel were taken aback by Lanaya's retort. Isabel was the first to reply
"How dare you speak to you king in such a way" She shouted as she looked at her brother, expecting him to punish Lanaya for her insolence

"Your work" Duncan coldly laughed as he walked towards Lanaya slowly "The credit of your work doesn't even belong to you, it belongs to Aurelia. I would be careful making such bold claims for someone who is merely riding the coattails of her betters".

"You're right." Lana replied, cold fury overcoming her. What had been a heat of the moment retort now led to words of icy and hurtful intent. The Gem upon her breast flickered and glowed as she continued. "Aurelia was better than me. Better than all of us. You didn't deserve her. To think I ever encouraged her feelings for you. Madness."

Duncan's response was almost instant; without a second thought he punched Lanaya squarely in the face, breaking a couple fingers as he did. Duncan had never punched someone before and the sudden realisation of what he had just done was enough to bring him out of his anger. Even Isabel stood in shock at what had just occurred. It wasn't the first time she had seen Duncan anger but she had never seen him like this before.

Lana staggered back from the unexpected blow, her cheek stinging like fire. It hurt more than anything she could remember. She fell to one knee as she lost her balance and looked up at Duncan, stunned. She had never considered this a possibility, and for once, she was completely without words. All she could manage was to bring one hand up and gingerly touch her cheek where the blow had landed.

Duncan was stunned. It had been years since he had let his anger take control of him, and the last time it happened he had sworn he would never let it happen again. Duncan just stared at Lanaya, not with malevolence this time, but simply with shock unsure what to do or say. In the end Isabel was the one break the silence

"Consider yourself lucky, you deserved to executed for your vile words" Isabel said. She tried to sound confident though she was clear still shaken by Duncan's actions "Now do as your king commanded and be quick about it".

Lana barely heard Isabel’s words as she stood. If she had, it wouldn't have made much difference - she already despised the De Reimer sister. She turned and began to walk away half in a daze, still running her fingers over her cheek. It hurt so much… Yet really it was barely a noteworthy blow at all. It only hurt because she was so unused to such physical pain.

After a moment she gathered her wits about her again, and in the midst of wondering why she had done something so stupid, transformed back into a bird. She would do as the king said and inform the Steel Fist of their new orders.

Written by TheDuncanMorgan and Myself
As soon as the all powerful gem had come into her possession, Lana immediately began to consider ways to keep it safe but available at the same time. Eventually, she had come to the conclusion that it was most safe in only one place - on her person. And so, she set about arranging for it to be placed in a necklace for her to wear at all times. It was easy enough to commission a piece from one of the many jewelers in Nyhem, yet getting it done immediately instead of after the other projects the nobles and occasional well off commoner had commissioned before her was more difficult.

Yet coin solves many problems, and after she had showered her chosen jeweler in silver pieces, he brought forward the priority of her request. It was hard to give the gem to someone else, even for this, and even for such a short period of time. She found herself unwilling to leave the shop while the man worked, regularly bugging the Jeweler’s assistant for updates on his progress. It was quite rude and unbecoming behavior by her standards… Yet she hardly noticed she was doing it. All she could think about was the fact that some mundane fool was poking at the most potent magical artifact in the city without the first clue of how important it was.

Eventually, the man was done, and brought the necklace with the gem - a simple, unadorned piece that consisted only of a fine silver chain, a plain silver ring housing for the gem, and of course the gem itself. She quickly put it on, and only once she could feel the cold stone against her breast did she feel secure again. She paid the man without incident - giving him a frankly exorbitant sum for such plain work - and promptly left to attend to other business.

~| Some time late - Thale Manor |~

Lana had been studying much of late. Aurelia had kept many notes, and it had taken a great deal of time to get through them all… But she had finally done it. It had cost her time in court, and time frolicking amongst the waves or trees, yet despite the cost, it had been worth it. The gain in theoretical knowledge of the gem alone was significant. There was even more than that, Aurelia had had several projects running and independent research as well. Lana had devoured that knowledge too, but unfortunately some of the higher order theory was beyond even her. Despite being several years Aurelia’s senior, Lana had never quite kept up with her friend in theoretical research.

Time in her past spent politicking and accidentally creating myths of forest nymphs, mermaids and other such playful yet elusive creatures was not time spent studying. And even had she restricted her appetites for fun and manipulation in favor of study, she was no prodigy in high theory.

She reflected upon this as she began studying Drevala’s works - another mage who’s dedication and natural talent outstripped her own. Of course Lana had contributed a little to the Circle’s ever growing library and catalogue of magics… But she knew she would never be remembered for these meager cantrips or subtle mergings of illusion with other schools.

Her latest work, which she had found only the time to, with the aid of the Gem’s raw power, brute force into existence, was the merging of timed glyphs with short illusions. Replacing the stored elemental energy of a glyph with a static image or a short sound would be useful for communication, but without creating a method that could be easily replicated by others it was not even worth sending a letter to the local mages about, much less the Circle.

No. She would be remembered… But not for that.

As she leafed through Drevala’s book, she noticed something land on the small balcony outside her third floor room. Moving swiftly, but not so much as to look like she was hiding something, she closed the book and sheathed its drab cover in an illusion as she stood and moved to put it back on the shelf. When she noticed that the bird on the balcony was shape shifting not into a local colleague, but Drevala herself, she slowed. There was no need to hide the book from its author after all.

Drevala was, as usual after most non-combat shape shifts, completely naked. Lana immediately felt her cheeks and ears heating up - not so much at the sight itself, but at the idea of someone on the street below seeing a strange naked woman on her balcony. Thankfully, Drevala quickly opened the always-unlocked balcony door and entered the room. Lana only waited to put the book on the shelf before rushing to embrace her friend. Drevala returned the embrace, holding on longer than Lana expected. When she finally pulled away, she couldn’t help but notice that her friend looked… distant.

Stepping to the side and opening a draw with some of her travel clothes for the shape-shifting mage to put on, Lana spoke first. “My friend, it is good to see you. What news from the front?” There was concern, but also gladness, in her voice.

Drevala replied as she pulled the simple but warm clothes on. “Lana I… I’m afraid you will have one less new sister.” Drevala spoke softly - it seemed to Lana that she had not yet fully processed the loss.

“Beatrice has fallen in battle.” Lana said. It was not a question, for it was the only logical assumption under the circumstances.

“Yes.” Drevala replied unnecessarily. “The victory of our armies seems hollow when it comes at such cost.” It was strange for Lana to see her normally quietly exuberant friend looking so dejected.

Lana stepped forward and put her hand on her friends shoulder in a comforting gesture. She knew it must be hurting Drevala deeply to suffer such a loss, and her heart skipped a beat in concern for how Eli might be handling it. Yet she felt little over Beatrice herself; for Lana had barely known the, by all accounts, rather simple and brutish woman. “Drevala I’m so sorry. Who…” She hesitated a moment, wondering if this was the right question to ask, then pressed on anyway. “Who bested her? Was vengeance claimed at least?”

Drevala reached up to put her hand over Lana’s, glancing down at it for a moment, then stepping away and sitting on the end of the bed. “It was Andrew. He is relentless in his hatred of my family. Father was there too - he would’ve taken Andrew’s head, but was slowed as the coward sent his men to die for him on the Old Man’s blade. Andrew escaped certain doom many times that day.”

Lana poured two goblets of clear water as Drevala spoke, taking in the news. She handed one to her friend, then took the chair across across from her. “That man has caused your-” She stopped, then with a quick, halfhearted smile corrected herself. “Our family much sorrow. One day, he will pay for that. I promise you.” She let the words hang in air, her eyes taking on an unnatural fire to them for just a moment.

Drevala did not notice the vicious expression that momentarily overcame Lana’s face however, for she was staring into her own reflection on the surface of the water in the goblet. “Maybe if I had been faster…” she began, slowly.

Lana was no expert on grief or counseling those struck by it, but she knew that this line of thought would go nowhere good. “No. It was not your fault. If your father could not save her with all his might, then you would likely have had little chance either. Think no more of this.” After a brief moment she thought it better to move the topic on. “Tell me, what of the armies mage contingent? Were there injuries?”

Drevala looked up at Lana then, her expression pained. “Lana I’m sorry…” She said, her tone hesitant.

Lana’s face went pale then as her mind rushed through worst case scenarios. She was silent, but kept her gaze on Drevala, willing her friend to continue.

“Two thirds of the contingent were killed, and half of the survivors injured.” Drevala eventually managed, meekly.

It was all Lana could do to control the energy sparking at her fingertips - she gripped the arms of her chair to avoid her hands balling into fire wreathed fists. Suddenly the gem felt heavy on her breast. “Which fool allowed this disaster to occur?” She asked, her voice deathly quiet but filled with venom.

Drevala looked very uncomfortable, recoiling from the sight of her friends fury - a sight she had not witnessed before. Her hand fidgeted with the goblet and she avoided eye contact as she answered. “It was Patrick De Reimer. He deployed them to counter the Alliance Elephant charge. They did, but the enemies light cavalry overran them before they could withdraw. I tried to save them all, but the enemy was too fast.”

“De Reimer!” She stood abruptly, her voice raising several octaves. “Why didn’t Eli stop him from using such a dangerous tactic!” She near screeched, her rage boiling over. “Patrick! I’m going to -” Her voice broke and as she repeated her unformed threat the intensity dropped off sharply. For all the fire of her rage, it was short lived. She wanted to hate Patrick for his actions. She wanted to hate Eli for his inaction. Yet she could not escape the nagging truth - she had sent many of those mages to that battlefield herself.

When she looked at Drevala again she saw her friend recoiling back with a shocked, almost afraid, look on her face. The sight brought her sharply back to present. She forcibly relaxed every muscle in her body, then blinked in surprise as she felt tears rolling down her cheeks. “I’m sorry Drevala.” She said, dejected. She began to turn away, but stopped as Drevala stood and put her hand on Lana’s shoulder. Turning back, she stared for a moment, then tentatively took her friend into an embrace. She was relieved to feel arms around her back as Drevala returned the gesture.

Speaking softly, and without any emotion at all Lana could only say - “I hope this is all worth the price in the end.”

Drevala spoke then, her voice confident and reassuring now. “It’s alright. I’ve got you. We will all be alright.”

Lana and Drevala stood then for a long while, each taking solace in the arms of the other, grateful, even if for entirely different reasons...
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