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Zarina straddled her Alpha Froabas, leaving Riesco at the stable with his friend Nuro and the safety of Zox and Jascuan. In truth, she would have preferred to leave Alqasas there too, but without the mistress the beast could prove to be a problem, especially if something happened to the beastmaster. The dragon led the herd of tuskers in the air, with An Zenui as their destination.

The duo of human and dragon split from the herd as they approached An Zenui, as to not alert the authorities, but also to provide Zarina with the privacy she needed. A stony plateau that had a view of the city and was decently elevated would have to do. The mount found its footing and rested where it could find the last golden glimmers of sunlight. Meanwhile, Zarina sat down at the edge, legs hanging want shoeless. In fact, most of her clothes were folded under a shrub barring a few light pieces ton her. Her few goods were put in a sack with a long belt tied to it, placed next to the clothes. And finally, her shield remained by her, just in case. On her lap, she pet Nibbler who was enjoying a fruit from Jascuan's garden.

Zarina pouted, lips flapping. “Ipte darn it, I would've liked to see some of that festival.” she swung her legs and waited, her eyes flicking up to the clear skies from time to time. Soon, the moons would provide beautiful, natural lighting to the event.

“Wh-at a mess.”

Blood surrounded the girl. No longer was she the soft-skinned Virangish girl with a bit too much money, hiding behind a pristine armour of platinum and dragon scale. Now, she was a beast. One the word had not see in so, so long. Curved, goat-like horns twisted just above her scale-ridden ears. She still resembled Zarina Al-Nader, right down to the eye colour and facial features. But she was distinctly Tryannus Horrifer too. Most of her body was covered in scales barring portions of her appendages and her abdomen. Her arms were abnormally long with a membrane still forming between them and her sides. The nine foot humanoid dragon loomed over the desert and once again grew familiar with this wretched form.

She whistled, prompted Alqasas to take flight, while Nibbler casually hopped onto her shoulder. By the time she was ready, satchel tied to her waist and shield slipped on like a perfectly tailored shoe, the message was received.

“It's g-go ti-me.”

And she vanished, while Alqasas was ordered to circle the skies of An Zenui until called upon. The four-moon Horrifer remained static above the city itself, witnessing the chaos unfold below. Her peers were successful, and she could even feel the Ayla's power - a power that even dissuaded an Alpha Sand Wyrm from rampaging.

Then, she felt it. Her instincts captured the signs of imminent danger, and then her energy senses confirmed them. With people dying by the hundreds, she had to act. She had to save. And she had to kill her enemies.


Time slowed down to a near stand-still. Only briefly, in her own timeline. She could see the inevitable coup de grâce reaching for the precious Centaur. In a small fraction of a second, the black dragon stood before the girl, arm-wings wrapped around her as a shield. The spell was not going to pierce through the black scales.

The dark curtain opened, liberating Classa. Nibbler hopped into her arms for comfort. The transformed teen smiled, showing off sharp teeth that rivaled her Froabas'.

Zarina looked over her shoulder to witness what had happened as her long, wicked tail sporadically whipped in the air and obliterated the occasional piece of debris.

How they writhed and contorted. Blood poured from their mouths, their ears, and their eyes. Their teeth fell out and their skin fissured, crisping, cracking, peeling, a red mist hanging in the air. Bones cracked and hair caught fire. The unholy sound of their dying screams filled the night and the would-be revolutionaries fled before a fell power they could not begin to comprehend.

The blood hung there, thickening, and then came the bones, the skin, the flesh. Twining together in vile tethers, it snaked across the burgeoning hellscape at the heart of An Zenui. These rivers joined and grew, steaming and hissing. The ground trembled and heaved, swelling and burning.

Then, there were veins, threading through the night sky, rising a hundred feet in the air - two hundred. They twisted and solidified and... began to move. The circulatory framework of a great hand plunged into the ground and pulled out a chain of screaming, wailing demons. It raised these to its mouth and then there were bones, congealing, building, hardening: teeth that tore them to shreds, skeletal fingers, arms, legs, and a vast ribcage, within which beat a molten heart. Steam and smoke rose from the growing monstrosity as flesh began to entomb it. This vented through the air, whistling and hissing. Atop the head formed a gnarled crown of bone and then, from its back, sprouted vast, skeletal wings that dripped a foul black mist and sheets of flaking skin as they spread. Its bones groaned and crackled with every step. Its flesh seared and one could smell the sickening sweet stench of cooking meat.


Then, came the noise. Its toothless mouth unleashed a warbling scream that held enough force to tear back the curtains on the battered stage and send people running for cover. Skin now covered the demon, and it was a lithe, towering female figure with a lumpen, misshapen crown growing out of its head and yawning eyeless black sockets. The bones of its fingers extended beyond what its blackened, pestilent, and peeling skin could cover, ending in gnarled, branching talons. White smoke seeped and vented from fissures as it moved and burning black blood dripped from where the bony crown and vile wings emerged from its tortured skin. Its feet were massive and thick, like an elephant's, and they pulverized the ground wherever they touched it, burning and scorching as they went.

Last of all, came the eyes. They grew into those empty sockets, hundreds of branching veins, hardening and blackening and burning. Yet, instead of forming into two complete eyes, each stalk formed a little ball of its own that moved as it wished. There were hundreds, each fist-sized and, from behind them, came a hungry orange glow that licked and snapped and flared with eager malevolence.

Thus, for the first time in a thousand years, was summoned the Grand Demon of Cruelty:



It commanded an awful, inhuman voice, multitude joined as one, in truth. Immediately, for dozens of individuals present and nearby, their manas began drawing energy uncontrollably, filling them with it to bursting point.

The beast merely glared, expelling copious amounts of heat as it was forced to draw.

Fire everywhere. None burned as hot as the unrefined rage inside the Wildblood. The instinct to lash out at the unnatural was strong, and the indignation for all the deaths and desecrations she had just seen was even stronger. The immense violence she was about to usher into this world was going to be the justice both sides implied in their own, animalistic ways.

Her allies minded the people and the fires, while Zarina charged head first into the monster. The blows, as mighty as what at least two of the others could muster up together, made her better for this role anyway.

An utter slugfest with the amalgamation of flesh, and yet it hardly hit back. Was it ignoring Zarina? Or did it not see the point in taking down the resilient dragon first, and aimed for the weaker ones? None of these thoughts crossed Zarina’s mind. It didn’t matter. All she wanted was to destroy this thing in particular, no matter what it did.

Then, it took a particular aim toward Josca with a concentrated blast of energy - one the cazenax could not stop alone.

Driven by both a desire to devour the energy but also the human portion’s instinct to channel the will of Oraff-Zept, the half-transformed wildblood appeared before the girl and halted the blast with some light aid, and then returned it to the demon.

Nothing. Not even a scratch. If anything it claimed the flames to use later.

The dragon was vexed. Any thank you or call was zoned out. All that mattered was hurting that tower of flesh.

The struggle was real. Her blows hardly scratched the mass, and the efforts of her peers merely chunked a few insignificant pieces of flesh. Something had to change, NOW.

Taking to the air again, the Horrifer inhaled slowly, syphoning in energy with the help of Gorge and its own special organs to contain the specific conversion and transformation she was doing. Arms opened, a ball of green energy began to form inside her opened maw. Then, she fired. A loud screech that rang for many hundreds of metres. A beam of energy got to the upper right of the beast, and with a simple turn of her head, was dragged horizontally down fast like a blade carving a piece of meat.

The grand demon recoiled, a massive burnt gash on its core and the first significant damage it had taken. It was vulnerable.

The dragon recoiled, overheated from the previous attack with steam erupting from her orifices and pores. She was vulnerable.

But she also had allies, and they capitalized fully, until Hetraxa’s fury grew into something new. For all of the devastation that this demon had wrought, those arrayed against her had struck back and struck truly. After eating a nuclear blast from Benedetto, bound by Ayla, she paused and released a colossal amount of scalding steam. Those surrounding her reeled back as she began to change …


An enormous swarm of insects began to form.

Kneebiters and Sanguignats. None passed through the exorbitant heat around Zarina, and they quickly learned the futility of doing so. Instead, the others were prime targets, while the Wildblood’s position didn’t change.

The pounding continued, and the state of the group was starting to deteriorate. It gave Zarina all the more reason to prepare her next nuclear blast.

But then, as she readied her claws to gore a nearby portion of the demon, Classa was dragged before her!

“I... LET ME GO! LET ME GO, YOU BITCH!” the girl let out a terrified sound.

Zarina stared right at her with gold, feral eyes.

“Don't hurt me! PLEASE don't hurt me! I don't mean it!”

Then she looked at the demon. And finally to the nearby bugs. They were too close, and so she unleashed a stream of acid that morphed into a corrosive cloud to consume all the vermin. And with enough time, Ayla was able to clear the Dominion curse from the centaur, letting her scurry off so that the grown ups could end this.

The next big laser was in order: One that’d pierce through the core of the monster, leaving a bleeding hole in its place and causing it to stagger once more. Enough for Desmond to claim another significant piece with his special bullets.

Although not before finally getting a swipe off Zarina. The massive set of cleavers finally caught her off guard in overheat. Her reaction was slow and she had to catch the blade to hold it back, creating massive gashes on her palm, abdomen and forearms. Slowly, these would begin to heal, but now it was clear that even the Horrifer’s scales could not entirely stop this monster’s rampage.

Once again, Hetraxa was undergoing a change …

This time, a green mist surrounded the colossal creature and it sunk deeper into it.


It rang in ALL their heads. Madness from the Void. A sickening feeling. An enraging feeling.

Zarina began to gather energy. An obscene amount, and concentrated the excess into her core, where her final Horrifer blast was to take form. All that had to be done was survive. Survive the plague mist that infected so many. Tku, some of the snakes, Marci … She could sense it - the sickness in them. Taking their skin.

This needed to end quickly.

In position, the Wildblood took aim. Everyone could now sense the obscene quantity of energy she had focused into one point. The madness had made her even more callous to the potential destruction she’d bring, but perhaps considering that angle was a ticket to death. Maybe this was necessary.

And just as she was about to attack, Zarina turned to her friends. No longer was she in control of her body.

“NO!” she screamed. “NO! WHAT! NO!”

No amount of rage could stop this. Her grand finale was no longer pointed at Hetraxa, but at her own sister. She could not even self-destruct, everything except the mind and speech was robbed of her.

She fired.

And Marceline Hohenfelter-Escarra survived, nearly unscathed, to a Horrifer blast that even put the Nox Arcanum one to shame. With the Zox wall and some help, of course. The smoke cleared, revealing no casualties to the relief of the now burning dragon, exhausted from her last attack.

It was there that Benedetto came to deliver the coup-de-grace to the exposed dragon, with no way for her to defend herself. She looked Nyax-Acan right into the eyes - his furious and regretful eyes - and prepared for the end.

Except Marceline once again defied the odds and hurled her remaining wall to protect. But it wasn’t enough, Benny’s nuclear blast was going to push through …

Until a wailing Alaqasas tackled the blonde young man off his footing and redirected his attack to the sky. The Froabas had acted without Ayla’s command and intervened to save her handler. The animal stared down the possessed Benny, while Marci got to work.

The Cure-All in Zarina’s pouch was swiftly ripped out of the bag before Hetraxa could intervene and the vial shattered to coat the Wildblood with the stuff. In just a few seconds, the curse was lifted. Zarina was back in the game, right by her dragon. She layed a gentle paw onto the alpha’s snout as a thanks.

The hour was dire. The sickness was spreading further. Soon, they would all be dead. And Zarina was the last singular heavy-hitter with Benedetto still possessed. And she did not have the mind to strategize quickly enough.

But Tennaxi did.

She knew a new dominion was coming. The young raider-turned-close ally was more observant than most. Something had to be done before the many eyes glared once more unto game changers.

Josca and Desmond, in one coordinated assault, shattered the remaining barriers the demon had put up. It could not be stingy anymore and needed to put everything in its next attack. An attack it could not be allowed to have.

“It okay.” something called to Zarina. “Friend.” and then it came from behind. She recognized it as a shadowy aura surrounded the Horrifer’s body with a little, dark form grabbing onto her from behind, this time with legs.

“Together.” she said simply. The dragon understood.

To the heavens they took, and even higher. They did not move normally, however, and instead Zarina had rapidly warped to the stratosphere. A cold and beautiful place. She could see the stars, and all of Sipenta! But her eyes were on one, minuscule point: Hextraxa.

“T-T-Together.” she uttered before descending down. Gravity and her own immense power made exponential by Tennaxi’s influence made of a crashing celestial body that terrified many ages.

High up, it looked like a simple, red comet slowly making its way down. Dangerous, but far. However, as Zarina his maximum velocity and burned bright, she vanished.

And appeared right on top of Hetraxa with a single, darkened fist lunging right at its centre.


Tried as she might, the creature’s defenses quickly crumbled and the Wildblood pierced right through her, leaving a massive hole that traversed through her body, to the point of rendering the body near-unusable.

Massive tendrils of thick, oily blackness snake up from the abyss. They entwine themselves about her arms and legs. They wrap around her waist and up over her shoulders and the bony crown growing from her head. The ground opens up, glowing with an unholy dark fyre.

""N O ! I W O N ' T G O ! I ' M N O T R E A D Y !"

Her eyes become sharp, black things that burn with fury and hatred.

""T H E Y M U S T S U F F E R ! Y O U A R E I N S U L T S T O C R E A T I O N !"

She thrashes and struggles and the tendrils begin to snap, but more emerge. She manages to break one massive hand free and her bale gaze settles upon…

""Y O U ! ! !" she roars, fist clenching Ayla tightly, with bonebreaking force. ""Y O U C O M E W I T H M E! T O W H E R E Y O U B E L O N G ! ! !"

It takes notice of the spell that was used.

The great stone pinnacle shudders.

Further towards hell, Ayla is dragged.

She sees the truth of it in that moment, below her, above her, all around her.

She is weightless.

She is everything...

and nothing.

Then, as the ground begins to close, the VOID of hell wavers and writhes.

This... THING that should not exist within reality is met with the world's fury, its disgust, its.... wrath.

All of this channeled through one boy - almost a man.

The great, desperate hand crumbles to ash and the ground... implodes.

The force is terrific. An Zenui rises and falls.

Great boulders and shards of rock hurtle in every direction.

Ayla, however, is not returned to reality.

For she is of it and also not of it.

She hangs there, in limbo.

Assani 19th

Location: Xochiyeiteteo - 4S Farmstead > An Zenui - Omenaxan
Day of the week: Lepdes
Time: Morning
Present: A lot of people.

Rikard, Abdel, Jocasta, and Trypano found themselves approached by a long, lithe sinewy creature of the palest white. Its eyes burned a fiery blue and its great coils wound about. The sheer energy that it exuded brought most of them to their knees, though this was not the case for Jocasta. Yalen needed her help. She would do what she could to empower the others. From there, it was their fight.

The lake was quickly freezing over, the plants on it curling up and crumpling under the growing frost. Jocasta, however, bled heat into her surroundings. "I have to go. Yalen's alone against... that monster" She glanced over, face lined with worry. "How can I help before I do?"

Abdel looked up in awe at the magnificence that was the frost giant up above. He nearly lost his balance! This thing was comparable to the Sand Wyrm, too. And then flooded in the Ogauraq too. Did he make the right call? Was his fate sealed from the start?

He shook his head upon snapping back to reality thanks to Jocasta's words. “Right.” Abdel steadied himself. “My Skuggvars. There's no way we survive without them.” he looked at Jo. “Please!”

"I shall try to alleviate these symptoms as so to not divide your attention too thinly." Trypano answered back before she started sinking into the ground, drawing the earth below away until her head vanished, stone sealing away the top so as to block attacks from catching her from above, whether by accident or not.

From there she would make her attempt to alleviate the symptoms...

"Yes," Jocasta agreed. As the dragon approached, she grabbed the reins of spacetime and ripped a portal open. Qadira and Dayanara were on the other side of it.

"Wh-what the hell are we doing here?" Rikard exclaimed in a panicked voice. "We have... no chance against that thing without you!" He'd fought monsters before, of course, but they hadn't necessarily looked like monsters as this one did.

Then, the ground itself began to shake and separate.

The moisture in it condensed and froze into dagger-like crystals that grew explosively in every direction.

"Sophomoric," hissed Evil Eye, melting the ice. She superheated the water and then rapidly froze it, raking the beast with thousands of tiny, razor sharp cystals. The Skuggvars synchronously belched out corrosive steam to melt the nearby ice and render the frosty useless. The beasts” skin glistened in a thin coat of mucus to help with the heat. Abdel kept his distance, and thus remained safe. Rikard managed to blast the ice crystals away by depolarizing the water crystals within them.

Abdel drew from some of the steam from his Skuggs to create a makeshift layer to evaporate the remaining ice projectiles Trypano could not stop. Then, the Skuggs launched a barrage of spikes from their tails toward the big threat.

The enormous dragon whipped up a cyclonic wind to push the projectiles away. They were redirected at Trypano.

Trypano might have been beneath the earth but she could detect the oncoming surge of energy. She attempted to draw the moisture away from her pocket so the ice could not form. However, several spikes made their way not forming in the air but punching through the soil. She braced for impact but a surge of heat managed to melt them away in the nick of time. How thoughtful. She just hoped they weren't putting themselves in danger just to help her.

The barrage of spikes was scattered more or less effortlessly. However, one slipped through to stick right between two of the enormous white beast's scales. It let out a frosty hiss of annoyance and batted at the tiny skewer. Then, it had to deal with Rikard.

A ball of lightning shot towards the dragon, but it opened its vast maw and sucked all of the energy out of the attack. The air grew colder.

Annoyed by this tiny human's efforts and recognizing Jocasta as the greatest threat, the dragon disappeared.

Jocasta slowed time and created a physical shield around her, but it wasn't enough. As she slipped away, the barrier shattered and her ankle was caught in it and broken. There was no reaction, but she knew about the injury.
Meanwhile, Trypano attempted to bless her allies with a boon as the frigid dragon loomed over them, readying its new assault.

"You should probably try to hit big ugly," Evil Eye grumbled. However, she tried something else instead. "Your eyes are not yours."

The dragon blinked. It seemed unaffected. Evil Eye swallowed and took a step back. But then something came from behind to attack her.

Elephant Mouth's explosive attack was absolutely colossal. A mushroom cloud rolled up into the sky, lightning snaking and writhing about it. The heat was phenomenal.

Qadira ran in front of Evil Eye, used her big fat blubber to defend from the shockwave. Evil Eye was able to handle the rest, drawing locally to escape the effects. "Holy.... shit." She twisted to regard the Ogauraq girl, alarmed.

Then, a tug of war over the blessing Jocasta sought to bestow onto her allies, between the caster herself and the dragon. After an intense showdown, the warmth had cooled into nothing, but left the serpentine creature vulnerable. The chemical magic was dispelled and, with it, Yalen seemed in trouble not so very far away. It appeared that Ash had brought... friends. Jocasta shot them a bereft look and disappeared.

They were on their own.

A wave of cold and poison sought to sap the group of their strength. Qadira was in a vulnerable spot. Abdel, knowing this wasn’t winnable without his beasts, actively sucked the poison toward himself rather than let his Skuggvar be weakened. He released a wheezing cough afterward, falling to his knees.

Evil Eye lifted her eyepatch, revealing what was beneath. The shrivelled powergazer eye let loose a stream of reddish-gold energy.

The dragon was pinned down by the pair of skuggvars. It was only for a moment, but it was all that Evil Eye needed.

The dragon writhed and twitched in place. But it wasn't enough. The beam sliced its head clean off. Its eyes went dark as the massive chunk hit the ground. Its body fluttered and collapsed like a falling ribbon.

Trypano, upon feeling the familiar forces of the draw upon her lines the walls of her pocket with flesh before letting her blood flow freely, replacing it as it leaves her body to try and keep the pool inside her fresh. It seems her hypothesis is correct, diffusing the weight of the forces on her mana and alleviating the symptoms of the sickness.

Smoke streamed from Evil Eye's titular eye. Dried blood was caked all around it. She wobbled and dropped to her knees, breathing heavily. "Go to hell where you belong, you piece of shit." Everyone watched for a moment, not quite believing that they'd actually killed this monster.

They were right.

The corpse twitched. Black blood began gushing out in three great streams. The blood congealed into swarms - swarms of demonic insects. They piled one upon the other. The heat was unfathomable. The dragon’s skin began to blacken and crisp. A sickening stench pervaded the air.

The wicked heads - warped, twisted, and burning - form where once there was one. Three pairs of glowing red eyes opened, casting their bale case upon three separate targets. The dragon rose once more, long trails of flame working their way down the revived behemoth's back. It arched its middle head and released a colossal screeching roar.

The horrible monstrosity that emerged from the infested, decapitated body of the Frost Dragon had shifted its attention to another target: The Golden Dragon’s enemies. In fact, both avians had switched positions, bringing the one-armed golden beasts before Abdel, Rikard and Trypano while Evil eye made quick pursuit of the creature she had previously decapitated.

In exchange, they got Golden Monkey in his ever brilliant shroud of gold.

The dragon's arm quickly grew back, incomplete and fleshy, but functional. The moment that it sighted the new threat, the dragon plunged for it, releasing a mighty tower of flame in Abdel's direction.

Abdel was still recovering from the foul sights he had actually seen. No longer were these horrors mere images, they came to life right before him. He absently tended to Dayanara, relieving from her recent contamination. The arrival of the golden dragon had finally come to, and he barely had time to prepare for the mighty spiral of flames coming right at him. An improvised shelter of stone was in order!

The Skuggvars intervened, coating themselves with a protective mucus oozing from their pores to protect from the heat. They piled over the shelter made by Abdel, protecting themselves and their master from harm. They then drdw as much as possible from the tower of flames, and spewed back massive globs of burning, napalm-like fluid.

The dragon conjured a massive wind to blow the gobs away. They scattered and it remained in place, utterly unperturbed. The sight of the strange egg annoyed it, so the golden dragon redirected the burning gobs towards it, enhancing them with chemical reactions of its own.

The gobs splashed against the egg, but they lacked quite the sting that they should. Trypano is rudely melted out of her refuge, but was otherwise uninjured. Rikard had gone virtually unnoticed in the commotion, but he was hard at work on something.

There was something inside the egg that was even more displeasing than it. The dragon decided that it needed to die.

As the tail collided with the placid looking yet perpetually annoyed binder the ground quaked with the force of its impact, little to be seen as she's buried beneath it. As it slid it's limb away however Trypano appeared to be laying flat, completely intact as she was pressed into a soft cushioning mould she formed out of the ground below. "You know, you are making it quite difficult to sympathize with your plight when you attack non-aggressors." She retorted flatly, a subtle underlying tone of snark beneath her icy response.

The dragon ignored her completely. "A healer of the enemy is no friend," its voice echoed through her head and those of others within its range.

The dragon glared at the Sanguinaire that had caused him much grief. It was going to show him what true, unadulterated power truly was. The beast lunged forward and attempted to ensnare the speedy Golden Monkey.

Golden Monkey wretched the scales like a spiral, drilling into it to make it release. The dragon was enraged. It inhaled with a high pitched screech as a very brief warning to those unfortunate enough to walk under its shadow. A massive wall of flames descended upon the group!

All managed to pull through with minor burns. Dayanara, groaning in frustration from the mild burns, launched a barrage of quills toward the dragon’s eye. Monkey took this opportunity to strike. He warped underneath it and launched a heavenly right at the wound he had previously created.

The Golden Dragon sneered at the coming quills. They were yet another petty attempt to harm it. It was about ready to redirect it like it did the blobs of flaming mucus but ... It was a distraction?! That Yasoi seized this opportunity to return the favour. A Heavenly lance destined for its very neck, ensuring a fate just like the one of its comrade.

At this moment, the dragon closed its eyes. Everything slowed down.

Then, it radiated a brilliant gold, a light that could blind those that stared directly at it.

Fortune was its true power. Fate was rewritten.

The lance missed and the quills hit its robust scales.

"You cannot fight he who can manipulate fate itself." It shook its great maned head. "Surrender now and pledge your loyalty and I shall allow you to live. I do not wish for more death."

“How do I know this isn't just another lie?! Your leader did just that! Lie right to our faces!” screamed out Abdel.

"There are some truths for which the lesser races are unprepared. This is a burden we must bear for you."

"My allegiance is to my word. I shall sustain my colleagues until we return, regardless of their choices." responded Trypano.

“You are arrogant. That is how you lost ReTan! Just STOP!” pleased Abdel.

The dragon said no more and leered the youngest of the group. The one that reeked of something unnatural.

Rikard blinked. Uh-oh.

A cloud of white smoke erupted from its nostrils and surrounded the kid. And with a simple amber from the crunch of its teeth, the whole cloud ignited in one grand explosion.

Rikard called upon the powers of deep magnetic magic to stome the attack before much more than a bit had been issued, and it came out far less powerful than it could've. He was barely more than slightly singed.

Then, it was Abdel’s turn, as a spire of flames descended upon the boy. Abdel inhaled as he saw the flames befall him. The thunderchild focused deeply at the centre of the tower of fire. Sparks of electricity danced around his being as the searing pole of death splitted in the middle as it reached him, while he maintained the air around him cooled enough to not succumb to a heatstroke. But as courageous as he had shown himself, he could not stop it all. His extremities were burnt to the second and third degree. Still, he kept a strong face. Abdel did not falter this time. Caught off guard, he meekly tries to move his damaged body, but it is too late. The dragon used this chance to close distance and trap him between its claws. The dragon prepared to end this child’s life. A simple burst of flames would have sufficed, and yet it took its time to charge. Like it was hesitating.

In the nick of time, Rikard and Monkey were capable of conjuring a thunderous attack that would have annihilated the beast on the spot at the potential expense of Abdel. In response, the dragon shined once more, and gave Abdel another lease on life. The boy scampered off, still hurting from the burns. He tripped near his Skuggvar, growing increasingly exhausted.

Abdel Rose. Burnt, wheezing and broken. But not defeated. “We cause a lot of trouble for lesser beings, don't we?” he coughed, and readied his attack. Sparks flickered around him once more. The recoiling dragon could barely hear him after eating Trypano’s and Rikard’s counterattack right at the face.

The clouds above swelled once more with power after Rikard's use of the Heavenly wrath. “Heh. No way am I gonna be outdone by a guy obsessed with boobs.” he joked, and then coughed again.

Meanwhile, the Skuggvars lined up and drew as well. They were to attack from below, while Abdel ushered hell from above. Flames leaked out of their thick lips from an excess of corrosive and flammable mucus. Bombs capable of obliterating a quarter of a small village were about ready to be shot.

The thunderbolt crashes upon the dragon, forcing it to fall onto its underbelly. Right before it were the Skuggvars with nothing but rage in their beady eyes. And just as they were about to claim the head of a second dragon, they froze. A voice called out.


The animals obeyed, more so from his magical control over them than a willingness to listen to him. Still, the magical tug was enough for them to be dissuaded. “Enough.” he panted. “Enough. You're all going to lose this country if you just keep killing each other. You're going to DIE for NOTHING!” he clenched his burnt fists. “How can you be so proud as to lose so much for NOTHING?!”

The dragon was quick to rise, deeply wounded though he clearly was. "Then I will die for a noble cause. These men are tyrants and those who serve them have been won over by their honeyed words." He coughed, and it was great, wracking wheeze that echoes in his chest and resounded across the ruins of the imperial gardens.

"They rose to their thrones through lies, murder, and genocide. Yet every one of you would fight alongside them." The enormous reptilian shook his head. "I would rather fight for the light than live on in your darkness."

"If it means allying with some who are less than savoury, then I will hold my nose and bear it. Perhaps they may yet be redeemed or, if not, then they too will be brought to justice."

“And yet Wu Long lied to us, is keen on murdering everyone here and wishes to genocide the Sanguinaires.” Abdel limped toward one of his Skuggvars, Dayanara, and began to a slow healing process of the beast. “There is no light at the end of this tunnel if we just keep killing each other, Golden Dragon.” The boy sighed. “And could not these current rulers be redeemed either?”

The dragon shook his vast head sadly. "You foolish child." He let out an exasperated snort. "I have lived a hundred of your human lifetimes and I have seen what these sanguinaires are capable of. Others have warned you of them. I have now warned you of them. You have no idea how black their souls are, what they are capable of, the brutality and depredations, the shameless depths of lies that they use to get what they desire." He let out a long, pained groan. "The only good sanguinaire is a dead sanguinaire. I do not want you to realize the truth of my words some years from now when their evil spreads yet further. I am not saying this for the satisfaction of being right. THEY. ARE. AN. EXISTENTIAL. THREAT. Do not be fooled. Please!"

"In the end why put faith in humanity achieving better?" She grimly remarked. "Your faith in the very people who bought their lies and cast you down will lead to disappointment. In the end it is simply a condition of their design, to trust that which resembles them over the unfamiliar, To betray others for short-term benefits, to cut and to eat away regardless of how much harm they bring." As she readied to heal the wounds it had left her she let sift through her grit teeth a weary sigh.

"There are greater evils in this world, dragon. Those that stem from the very origins of things we now see. I cast my concerns to the very fate of this world. This, however, is mostly just an exercise in disappointment... For yourself, and for I."

Just then, some distance away, the great white dragon that had become a black monstrosity fell, erased from existence by a phenomenally powerful atomic blast. In a different direction, the Black Guard Cold Soup fell at the hands of a ronin with a spectacular sword. At least a handful of ogauraq lay dead about the battlefield. Many others, from all sides, were injured. The Progenitor himself held Sleeping Carp by the neck, lifting him off the ground. They were killing each other: killing each other for reasons as varied as deeply set beliefs, the love of friends, or simple mercenary gain.

An equally sad look washed over Abdel's face. His fresh, fifteen year old view of the world was consisently challenged and demolished. Entire peoples were worthy of being hated and killed, and ancient and majestic beings staked their lives to put an end to them. It all felt so insidious. So wrong. The worst part was how he could relate to this dragon, a mere instrument to grander schemes. Abdel sat not too far from the pained dragon, he himself barely coping with the burns he just started to heal. “... But these ones are going against the tide you've known for centuries.” Abdel recalled the visions. Were they all fabricated? He did not know. He felt as though Carp could be trusted. Somehow, there was a genuineness to that man. A mysteriousness too, but something trustworthy that made him recall Ranger Manuel Escarra. “I've seen evil too. I know I'm young but I've seen evil.” Tavio Ortega, Huarcan Frannemas ... “I don't believe this to be true.”

Abdel shot a look at Trypano. He wasn't angry, and if anything he was a tad disappointed at himself. But that smugness in her words always rubbed him the wrong way. It did to most. “What is that darkness with many arms that looms over all of us?” asked the Tethered boy, seemingly out of the blue. “Wu Long's master. Your master.”

"It is order, boy. It is not darkness. It is what keeps this world from coming apart at the seams. It is something that has the power to destroy us - all of our combined abilities, all of our strength - as if it were nothing." His great coils were settling now. He was flagging. "They are the Knowers - for they know all - a primordial force beyond the mysterious sirrahi and the sanguinaires, the wildbloods, even your Quentic Gods." He shook his great draconic head weakly. "They are neither good nor evil. they simply arbitrate this world and others. If they find us wanting, we shall all be erased." He bowed his head, as if accepting something. "This is why I was made. This is why I serve."

Rikard staggered back, eyes wide and brow furrowed. He was not certain if this was a profound revelation - some deep truth beyond his understanding - if it was the blathering of a mad beast, or if it was a programme of lies designed to corrupt his reason. The idea of simply accepting - of bowing to the arbitrary whims of some self-appointed greater beings - rubbed him the wrong way. Was not the very essence of life to grow, to discover, to learn, and to thrive? Simple acceptance of a status quo led to stagnation. That, his storied many-greats uncle had impressed upon him in one of their few meetings. That, he held as true. He wrinkled his nose in subtle, silent disgust at the preachings of this dragon, for they were not truth - not a truth that he would accept, anyway.

"I am aware of the Knowers." She replied, finally satisfied to start cutting to the heart of this grand conspiracy. "I had spoken to one, or so the five had told me."

She looked to the chaos enveloping the scene around them. She had to do something to help the others, despite the insignificance of her abilities overall. "Perhaps, if the damage to the timeline could be mitigated, one could go back and warn of what these choices will have brought us all."

It was a dangerous suggestion. She loathed to manipulate time in such a way as it threatened the stability of the timeline. If one such creature would know the consequences however, it would be this one.

"I still stand by my words earlier, that there's a better choice than to clash here and now, leaving so much of value lost to the ever-cleansing tides of inevitability. I know not how best to save what is lost, only the regret that comes with witnessing it."

“And so you remove one tyrant,” Abdel muttered, just loud enough for the dragon to hear. “for the sake of an even worse one, holding us hostage so we follow their design.” this did not terrify him. It actually felt like he knew this, in a way. What he had seen had told him this, but his mind could not understand it until it was put into words. “I ... Resent this - this existence. I do not want to just take it. And we are stronger now, Golden Dragon. Stronger than you all were lifetimes ago.”

The dragon's great head came to rest on the ground. His breath came in gasps and wheezes. "You are making the gravest of mistakes," he rasped. "The hands of time. It is exactly such interventions that invite the wrath of the Knowers, for they are otherwise benevolent and even -" A deep shudder vibrated through his serpentine body. "kind."

In the background, fighting continued. A colossal explosion of pure darkness emanated from the direction where the Twin Emperors faced down Wu Long. "Yes, you will find them kind. No," he gasped, struggling to shake his head. "No, you cannot fight them. You will see. I hope you do not see, but you will if you..." He let out another wheeze. "If you persist."

The air around them, then, seemed to waver. It grew light and electric. Space seemed to lift itself from time for a moment. "I am sorry I could not save you," the dragon wheezed. "That I could not beat you with mercy - a mercy you have not shown me. I have doomed you." Foam began to collect about his lips. He uttered one final word: "Run."

The dragon appeared to be about to expire. However, sensing accurately was very difficult. The air roiled with a strange, rich sort of energy. You cannot properly sense it though it is there. You cannot draw from it. You cannot use it.

Trypano, seeing that the dragon had made it's final choice, decided to heed it's words. She looks quickly to see if anyone else requires aid in fleeing before she turns heel and makes haste herself.

Abdel stood up, still unable to run, and limped back until he could straddle Qadira. “Dammit ...” he cursed, upset over the unfortunate outcome. He had shown mercy, and yet this beast - no, this individual was still dying. And by the looks of it, something else was at play. Thoughts on the ways of the world were put aside in favour of his own survival. He and the Skuggs made as much distance as they could.

Rikard, genuinely unnerved, senses something that he doesn't understand. In many cases, his natural curiosity might take hold. In this instance, caution wins the day. "Go!" he screamed. "Go! Go! Go!"

The sky opened like a massive eye of the purest blinding white.

Present: Ashon’amar’loiyang @Ti, Cal’tuuro’jaros @Suicharte, Casii’fyret’alan, Dorothea Hohnstein @Jasbraq,
Kaspar Elstrøm von Wentoft @Wolfieh, Edyta Łaska @Force and Fury, Ymiico’luun’yoru @CaliforniaState, Taleja Drakenknecht,
Father Jacques Dubosque, Brother Baudile Dubosque, Viktor Strauss, Laura, Cristophe Wiliken, Margot, Denis, Juan, Ricardo, Juulet

Dory’s arrival turned out to be a bad omen, as soon after the melancholy spread throughout the group. The jolly Ashon had turned glum and Casii froze and reverted into a deep silence. The poor girl had lost her arm, seen so much death and was hated by most in her group for the tragedy she had caused. And now her only friend, only ally, only Isii was now gone. The emotional shock did not elicit an immediate breakdown. Instead she kept to her corner, eyes fixed on the shattered pavement before her feet.

Juan abstained from adding anything else. He had said enough and any more information could only lead to more danger to these youths. The merciful dragon slapped his tail onto the ground, signalling his pet Froabas to wind up its wings a couple of times before taking flight. “I am sorry for all that you have gone through.” he lamented, head lowered as he addressed the group. “I promise you, had I been here earlier, I would have intervened.” the avian circled the ruins, awaiting further orders. “Now, I can only try to salvage what remains.” he let the lightest of chuckles escape him when Ashon brought up Tyrel and her fallen cousin. “You will likely see those adventurous girls before I do, young Monkey.” he shot a knowing grin at Ashon. “I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to see their Constantian friends again.”

“I will stay, at least until you do what you need to do.” Baudile stood before the dragon. “My place is with my brother, at least until I know he and his people are safe.” the Conde canted his head and scratched his chin. “Once again, how can I deny a Stresian with my record?” he shrugged. “Very well. Maybe a familiar face would make this work far better than some Tarlonese envoys. You are not with them?” Baudile shook his head. “I came here to do my own investigation. I’m … Not done yet, but I have more important things to handle right now.” to which the wildblood nodded in understanding.

“Is very nicemuch but-” Margot wanted to add her piece. “Magot got her fill.” she shook the sack of gold she had gotten from the recent ransack of the boat, or whatever remained of it. “Get gooden stuffs in there, can always usemany to hire Margot, yes?” she then shot finger guns at the group, Schleim on her shoulder and Tock flying overhead, at a lower altitude than the imposing Ricardo. “Ah, Danke Schon! Danke!” the grateful highwaymen bowed his head to the roguish little creature. She turned her back on him and gestured in dismissal. “Yeah yeah. Favour Margot and live, okay?” and then, with her hood on as dawn grew strong, she darted into the forest with a light blush on her face.

The student group was privy to a final discovery, with Cristophe and Denis joining them on the occasion, under the family cemetery adjacent to the ruined courtyard. Juan stayed behind and so did Baudile, at first, but he eventually caught up after exchanging a few private words with the Conde. The crypt was easy to find: A singular stone edifice with mermaid-like carvings gave way to stairs that led to the tomb. At the bottom was a door with a large keyhole rattling open. Inside was a small, stone room with multiple stone sarcophagi that held the heads of the Kapperstel family dating back since the times before the Oriflamme - before the legend of the Beast of Mandelein ever came to be. Back when they were but a minuscule nobility in Dudgunze.

There was nothing. “Not even the boxes hold anything other than withered skeletons.” the monk remarked thanks to his keen use of blood magic. “So why did …” Baudile speed walked out of the room to look at the only metal door. It was open, but they had a key that had been safeguarded for what seemed like a long time by Juan. “The secret is not here.” he concluded, greasy and wet hair pulled back as he gestured for the others to come. “Everyone out. I think I know what this is.” once the rest had complied, he closed the door. “Mister Ashon, to you goes the honour.” his flat hand pointed to the keyhole. “Whatever they have hidden, it's not nothing if they’re using something so big.”

When Jamboi turned the lock, he could sense before all the others a shift in the flow of time and space. A ripple that fit the frame of the door so perfectly, it was as satisfying as seeing the right block put in the square hole. Then, he opened it again, and inside was an entirely different room. One that looked more like an armoury than a crypt. “Well I’ll be damned …”

Two sets of armour stared right at the group that dared to enter the premises. The one to the right was rusted with the toll of time overly apparent, the other in fine condition as if it had been maintained. Both wielded a large Zweihander sword, with the one to the left being a good bit larger with the armour proportionally bigger to accommodate. The other blade was darker in colouring, about as big as one would expect a such a greatsword to be, but there was a peculiar aura to it. Baudile recognized it immediately.

“That-” he stuttered, eyes wide and his knees weak. The Stresian walked an unsteady gait toward the ancient armour and reached out, his fingers just an inch away from the sword. “That’s the War God’s arsenal! Eshiran-Zept’s Sword!”

Somewhere, maybe far, maybe close, was this small collection of goods gathered by Hübert Kapperstel, second renown Graf of Mandelein. With the blessing of Conde Juan, the students were permitted to claim their share of spoils. It was entirely up to them, of course, to decide who got what and whether they should even take these things to begin with. There were weapons, accessories and riches, all of which could be identified by Baudile.

Jocasta reached out and sensed a heart in that being: a moving, beating thing. Breath entered and left lungs. Blood flowed. A mind pulsed and burned with the chemical signatures of thought.

Yet, she drew to her full capacity, so much so that she could feel the pressure building within the half of her body that functioned. The purgatory of her waistline tingled and her eyes grew bloodshot. Then, she squeezed.

The enemy reeled and staggered, but then it fought back. Jocasta poured more into her spell, wrestling with that living heart, hammering that living mind. Drawing and casting in a neverending loop, channeling, straining.

Then, there was a split second. She lost her lock on the target and she knew what was about to happen, but she was emptied and there was nothing that the tethered could do.

It hit her with unfathomable force, snapping Jocasta like a toy. Her insides disintegrated and the broken thing that was her body hurtled and crashed through saplings and undergrowth before splattering against a great old tree trunk.

Then, she was back, and quicker this time. The monster materialized beside her and Jocasta was already rocketing out of the way. A thicket of trees evaporated where she had been and the sheer heat from it singed her and set her dress alight. “Using temporal, I see,” laughed a mocking voice. “That’s cheating.”

But then Jocasta was turning the forest around her assailant into a thousand splinters and hurling them at her in endless waves. She grabbed the bitch in a kinetic fist and hammered her into the ground. She called forth the fires of all five hells and melted the entire vicinity until the ground was glass.

Then, she was ripped through time and inside an inferno not of her own making. It took all of her power to counter the flames and there was still more: trees writhing and snaking as if they were the tentacles of some great beasts, the tips of branches turning to steel, wrapping and stabbing and… she had to fight them all. Anchors. She laid down anchors. Then, she made the trees melt from the inside. Time stopped. She reached for and grabbed the enemy in its grasp and turned its wheels.

“Wither, you cunt! she snarled, and she could feel the power of this one. Never had she been forced to strain so hard, not even with Augusto. Volto Certosa glared into the eyes of another person and pulled still more. For a moment, there was uncertainty - even fear. Youth began to face. Lines appeared on a face and grey hairs took root. Skin grew sallow and the enemy let out a scream. “WHY DON’T YOU!?!?”

The crackling in Jocasta’s waist flared and began to creep up.

The visage before her passed middle age.

Her midsection grew numb and indistinct.

The hair was now near-completely grey.

The tethered struggled to feel her chest.

The enemy entered old age.

Jocasta’s fingers curled and withered and it crept up her arms. She fought back the rising panic. Strong! How could anyone be this strong!? There wasn’t supposed to be! She released her deathgrip and hammered the bitch with a flattening wave of gravity, but then she could feel that they were not alone. “Suurax,” purred a venomously sweet voice, “Qiithoi.”

Back. Jocasta pulled it all back. She was gripping the monster again, in space and time, but she knew what was to come and she released. Instead, she let loose with an internal chemical assault, powerful enough to erase everything in the bitch’s brain - enough to melt it from the inside. But then her time was up. Two other massive energies were there, closing in on her, and one let rip with a bloodcurdling howl that made her weak and numb. Lightning leapt from the other’s mouth and it was all that Jocasta could do to ground herself.

“Oooh, you’re a feisty little bitch, yanii,” the yasoi laughed. A trickle of blood traced a deep red line from her nose, pooling at the corner of her mouth. “‘specially for a cripple. I’ve gotta hand it to you.” She licked it up and an unsettling grin split the lower half of her face. “But you are fucking with a literal God.”

There were no Gods: only people who called themselves such. Jocasta reached out for one of the monstrous bodyguards who had arrived - bodyguards, she knew - and squeezed its wrist with bonecrushing force. It howled and she grew faint again until she pulled on sonic magic once again to counter whatever it was doing. Then, she ripped the arm clean off. “Oooowww!” screamed the beast. “Oww oww oooowww! It hurts!”

Then, the yasoi had a hand on her and it went right through Jocasta’s shoulder as if she were made of pudding. The tethered hurtled away, healing herself as she went and she could see or at least sense all three of them giving chase, the injured one’s arm growing back even as he moved. This was insanity. The school needed to know! A mad -

There was an opening. The bitch was slow in closing. Jocasta stretched time and held herself back in it. Her full-draw arcane lance took the yasoi clean in the chest, shoulders, and face, and she howled and dropped, flesh cooked, steam rising from her broken form. It hadn’t killed her, though. How? Jocasta couldn’t say. Had she really absorbed nearly all of it? A nine? the tethered wondered, but she knew the answer. nine-two-five!? This animal was more than that, however. Not as strong as her in pure capacity - nobody was - but closer than any she’d ever seen and… She stood, face half-melted away and, already, she was healing. Batshit crazy Jocasta realized. A laugh - a maniacal laugh - erupted from her throat and she began stalking forward. “Hurt me!?” she hissed, “Why do you wanna hurt me, you monster?” Her eyes widened to unnatural size, even for a yasoi. “Don’t you know you can’t!?”

She was shaken, though. Jocasta knew it because she felt it too. This… creep had never faced something as strong as her either. There was a tremble in the yasoi’s voice - both of fear and of rage.

“I’ve been hurt enough already,” she growled, but there was a weak, whiny note behind it. “I’m fucking immune to more!” she roared. The draw was immense and sudden and their casts more or less canceled each other out.

Jocasta came to, staring up at the trees. Her ears rang with tinnitus. Her body felt like it had been tenderized, and she struggled just to move. Binding She reached out with her senses but there was nobody close by, and nobody like the threat she had just faced, wherever it had gone. The others were fighting in Mandelein, but they would win and she… She gathered matter from her surroundings, healed her wounds, and returned to Ersand’Enise, her world a bit colder and more uncertain than it had been just five minutes earlier.

It was early in the morning in Hyparii, although many of the dregs that lived in the area could hardly keep up a normal diurnal schedule. The smell of Virangish coffee permeated the air of the isolated, rectangle-shaped room with no windows or greenery. An entire breakfast meal was served on an old oak desk, likely imported, consisting of two croissants from Perrence, a mug of coffee from the Palapari exploitations, jam from Miatto and butter from Kerremand. A delectable combination that was hard to come by even for the elites of this world.

Through a wide and flickering portal came out Viktor Strauss and his accomplice, Laura. Their filth-covered boots stained the clean rug patterned in a distinctly Tettari style as they made their way to the desk. The armchair behind it was empty. Viktor, before doing anything else, merely raised a brow at the vacant spot and spoke up. “Games again, Juulet?” and in a snap appeared a Yasoi. The same, wicked Yasoi that Jocasta will have lasting memories of. “gAmEs AgAiN jUuLeT?!?!” grimaced the girl with the violet and crazy eyes. “Why the fuck are you here, shady Vik? Little DikVik.” Juulet leaned forward, arms crossed over the desk and stretched her neck to keep closing the gap between her and Viktor. Her hanging, black hair came dangerously close to the coffee mug.

Viktor placed the set of miniature canisters onto the wooden surface.

Juulet didn’t flinch, and instead canted her hair as she scrutinised the offering. “What is?” one of the metal vials was tugged out of the holder to be inspected, sniffed and glared at by the Mad Avatar. It got her to lean closer, and consequently some of her hair dipped into the coffee. “Oh shit! Crap dung! RAH!” the side-shaved girl, no older than eighteen, let the vial drop and roll out of the desk in favour of her now caffeinated hair.

“Job’s done. The formula’s a success. Where is she, Juulet?” Viktor kinetically drew a chair right behind him for a seat.


“The Boss.”

Juulet’s eye twitched. “I am the boss. Who’s above THE Avatar of Fortune?!” she threw her arms in the air and let them fall onto the arms of her chair in a relatively loud thud. Viktor opened his mouth for an answer, but. “Huh?” she cut him off in the most obnoxious manner. “HUH?!” the arms raised again, this time like they were lifting something up. Her whole demeanour was challenging. “That’s right, no one.”

Laura, standing like an awkward tree in the background, scooted ever so slowly toward one of the couches nearby. Unlike Viktor, she was visibly anxious in the presence of this girl. And for good reason. “DON’T TOUCH THAT! THAT IS MINE, FUCKO!” Juulet stood up with her own, good leg, to hurl the bottle of jam right at Laura, who luckily ducked just in time. The corner it was, then.

Viktor sighed. “The higher ups want this handled by her. The faster we do this, the faster you can enjoy …” he gestured at the general direction of the lavish breakfast. The sentence wasn’t finished.

Reminded that the food existed, Juulet, without even looking at it, seized a croissant as she descended back down to aggressively eat it. “How can you Yaniis like this? It’s like bread, but softer. Fatter. No wonder you’re all so soft.” still, she quickly wolfed down the second one after chomping the first. “BLEUGH! Piss water!” she tried to down her food with the coffee. “You willingly drink this?!”

“To help you wake up, and it grows on you.”

“Yeah, well, sleep’s for the weak.” the mug was dropped, not hurled like most things in her hands, and nearly tipped over. But, with Viktor’s intervention, it kept itself upright.

“She’s not here.” admitted Juulet after an awkward minute of her examining a second vial and dipping her fingers into another bottle of peach jam to suck on them. “Something about an arrival from Tarlon. She trusts me to handle things.”

Viktor pursed his lips. “Is Kaumo here, then?” the muscular hunter stood up with one of the six canisters taken for himself.

Juulet shrugged. “Prolly.” then she gestured in dismissal. “We done, I guess? Alright, nice seein’ ya’ Diktor.” then, something hit her. “Wait. What the shits happened to that pisshole yanii town? Where’d the big, loud prize dog go?” she leaned back into her seat, chin supported by her palm.

Viktor didn’t stop his trajectory to the door, but he answered accordingly. Laura awaited him at the door. “If the Church or the Kerremans don’t wipe the place out, the higher ups will. We don’t need the Priest when the formula proved its worth.” and with that he was about ready to open the door, only for it to be stuck. Exasperated, he turned to face the young tyrant.

“And the brats? The ones with that- That …” her jaw shifted and her fist slammed into the wood before her. “BLONDE CUNT?! I’m gonna fuck her up. Oh yes I will. NOBODY fucks with a GOD. Oh yeah, tots, you’re mine. Ain’t NO WAY!” luckily, most worldly things were spared from this tantrum.

“A few are dead. Most are alive.” he said as flatly as he could. “The School’s Pet lives too, I believe. Orders were to leave them be.” a stern look was shot at Juulet. “This applies to you too. Off-limits until new order.”

Juulet blinked, sunk into her chair again and exhaled. “‘Kay.” and then she flicked her idle wrist. “Now kindly leave. You’ve distressed my Godly routine enough as it is.” the door was opened and a gust of wind encouraged the two humans to leave. Outside, they were greeted with endless animalistic noises that would make Zarina’s menagerie sound like nothing.

They were underground, with many massive tree roots seen above. The two were on a large, stone balcony overlooking a large portion of rocky surface illuminated by copious amounts of lanterns. At the bottom of the big hole were rows of metal containers. From inside came the myriad of animal screeches, except they never sounded quite normal. They were all distorted in some manner, like the pitch was never quite right. And there were just so many, thousands perhaps in this singular sector, with a few attendants wearing odd, white coats tending to them. Viktor and Laura overlooked it all on the stone railing that connected Juulet’s lofty ‘office’ to the system of tunnels that led to different parts of the grandiose operation that was being run here. Viktor appeared unphased by it all, but Laura’s nerves were getting her to sweat more and more.

“Viktor, VIKTOR!” a woman called out for him with a Kerreman pronunciation. The hunter stopped to grace the caged beckoner with an indifferent look.

“You Pig fucker! I will fuck you and all your monkey friends!”

It was Annette. Except she didn’t look like the bandit leader our heroes had met. Fully naked and changed

“I’LL FUCK YOU I’LL KILL YOU HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME YOU’VE RUINED ME!” her hands were not human anymore, replaced with wood-like growths. Some were piercing the unchanged flesh.

“DAMN YOU ALL! I TRUSTED YOU! I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING! AND YOU GIVE ME TO THE MONKEYS! THE SAME THAT TOOK EVERYTHING FROM ME! FUCK YOU!” whatever she was turning into, it was slow and extremely painful. Maybe some would believe this to be justice, she was, after all, a nasty woman. But did she really deserve this?

“VIKTOR! VIKTOR! Please, Viktor … AHHHH!” she gurgled and screamed in agony. Her right eye had been sprouting something, preventing her from blinking. “Please help me! No more! NO MORE! Kill me!” she pleaded from deep below.

Viktor turned to face forward and walked away.

Odd, woody roots constricted her sides and poked deeper in her the more she writhed.

“Viktor please! I need you …!”

“Cristophe! Denis! Ralph!”

“Papa! … Viktor … Papa …”

“Save me … Please …”

Annette’s screams continued for another five minutes before they claimed her voice.

Three days later, she had reached full maturity. Subject T-104 had shown promise, but didn’t survive. Hopefully the new batch would show as much promise.


The pleasant air of the morning sifted through the desolate castle ruins. Peace had finally arrived in Mandelein after so long. All the dangers, all the death - it was all asleep. There was the Conde, considerably bigger than anything they had encountered in this adventure, an enforcer of the peace and to some a reassuring presence. It was hard to imagine anything could get past him, especially with a mature Froabas a dozen metres behind him.

Taleja broke the ice with her first question. “You’re a bold one, aren’t you? Fearless. I can see it in your eyes.” his loooooong form curved as to have him level with the Kressian, reptilian eyes to her emeralds. “I will answer your questions in reverse order, if that is alright with you.” he bowed his head in politeness whilst keeping eye contact. Then, he straightened himself, although his comically long body had been reduced considerably, though he still dwarfed Dubosque.

“This man was not turned by any animal. No, this has nothing natural about it. There doesn’t exist an Alpha Canine with anything so advanced. Not since an era far before the age of man, anyway.” the jolly Juan had gotten serious and his look sterner. “Alphas. You’ve seen some before, have you not? Bigger beasts, born to be, sometimes literally, the top dog. This trait that distinguishes so much in a living being is the remnant of a commonly existing trait among the strongest in species to directly coordinate and control their peers in order to ensure the greatest chances of survival. Essentially, force their wills onto their peers through the use of the Gift.” he explained with infrequent voice cracks, with some of his words sounding much deeper than they should be. “By the age of man, many of these species had lost the need for it. But some learned and remembered. Made it their own. And today only one institution officially holds dominion over such an art. The Quentic Church.” he chuckled. “I say officially, surely some other groups have an understanding, but no other entity has refined it quite like they did.”

Juan’s massive feet began to move, taking big but slow steps toward Baudile and his slumbering brother. The Conde lowered himself once more to examine the wolfman. “Somehow, he’s gotten an ability that hasn’t been seen among us Wildbloods, us Originals, for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.” he rested his palm over Dubosque’s chest, while Baudile watched with visible unease. The draconic man then retreated back to his normal standing position. “Yes. That is what we are. Wildblood. We Originals are an organisation of men and women like he and I. A covenant that has fought alongside with the Sirrahi long ago to repulse the true threats of this world.” he said so solemnly. “And as one of the oldest living Originals, I find it to be my duty to extend a helping hand to my brothers and sisters, especially at a time where we are … In the midst of rebuilding our unity.”

There then came the bickering between the human and the Yasoi, with Ashon bringing up key points Juan hadn’t fully expected youths to know. “So you know about Tarlon, young man?” then, for a moment, he paused. He realized something. “Please! Tell me your names! I feel akin to an Aristocrat with little self-awareness!” he collapsed his hands together and beamed down at the group. Anyway, back on subject. “They will not live on the mainland, but instead on a safe island, should they accept. Because, yes, young Yasoi, I will not take them if they do not wish for it. It is, and always has been, a core belief among us ever since our Founder’s first endeavour against the world’s enemy. Freedom! It does not matter how well one will be or how many lives a certain order may save. We must consider the heart too!” her tapped his own chest with his fist. “Without it, what is the point of being human, or Yasoi, or Sirrahi, or Cazenax …? We would merely … Exist.”

Ideas of using the people as weapons, or being prisoners in some form were flung. The Conde waved his hand in denial. “They will be secured. It will be a form of prison, for their own good and the good of everyone else. At least until we can understand what’s happened to him.” his chin gestured toward Dubosque. “They will be studied, but only from a distance, except for him, of course. But they will always have a choice. And I have no intention of drafting confused peasants. That would be awfully gauche … Awfully Constantian.” he sighed, his arm slumping back down. “In the end, you have little reason to believe me other than my word. My word as a fellow Wildblood. My Word as an Original. My word of a man who could so easily decide and take but promises he will not move a finger without consents. Other parties will not be so merciful. Whether it is the Church, the School that sent you or the authors of this sordid experiment seeking to cover their tracks.”

Then came Kaspar’s input. Juan, with his reptilian, thin eyes leered right at the boy. Pale, dark hair, with a clear grasp of the local language. “Friends? Maybe even family, yes?” the tone had softened, the unnaturally deepness of it fully asphyxiated as the Conde tried his hardest to sound as human as possible despite his imposed form. “I am sorry. In the first months or even years, that will not be possible. For their sake, more than yours.” it clearly bothered him to say this. His claws dug into his sleeves and met the robust scales that covered his flesh. “Pero, I will make a case for you. It is not often that youths survive not only the rawest of our kind, but an entire town of them? Historically unheard of! Surely, some of my comrades would wish to meet you, and it would be an opportunity for you to see your loved ones - or at least make a case.” he smiled brightly.

“And what if they refuse? What if some want to stay back? What then? How can this all be decided in just a couple of days before the executioners get here? HOW can you even move them?” an exhausted Baudile had found the energy to speak up and did not hesitate to challenge the Conde.

Juan took a few seconds to study the monk. “I will not force anybody to do anything. If half the town wishes to stay, then they shall. My only condition is that your brother agrees.” answered the Wyrm-man with an adamant look. “You’d let them all die if he refused, then? So this isn’t about saving them, in truth, but about getting a rare speci-” Baudile was cut off by a deep, bellowing voice. “WRONG!” everything went silent for a second, and then the world returned to normalcy. “The people of this town do not experience normal transformation. My associates informed me that some turned at the absence of moons, and I’ve seen for myself that they’ve undergone a five-moon transformation when there are only four out.” the more he spoke, the longer he seemed to get again, like a natural instinct to make oneself look bigger when standing one’s ground. “I need someone that can control such chaos. And he is the only one. Without him, there’s too big of a chance they’ll kill each other, and kill my people too.”

The idea of waking Dubosque for his answer was then engaged, and the dragon-man wagged his index finger. “Bad idea.” he pointed straight up at the very moons he had mentioned before, still visible in the slowly illuminated clear-blue sky. “I do not want to be swarmed by the town and be forced to kill more should he take exception to my proposal. I will wait until the night to awaken him.”

It was around this time that Dory had found the group. The Conde seemed unperturbed and unsurprised, having likely detected her a while ago. “Greetings, little lady!” he even shot her a thumbs up. “Now then,” opposing digits met as he mused for a brief moment. “What to tell your superiors …” his nictitanting membrane flashed as he looked to the group. “Perhaps simply tell them the truth? Tell them the tale of Mandelein, and how the town was just … Swept away by a beautiful dragon after surviving the night.” he let a self-indulgent chuckle escape him.

Then, he reached for the inside of his overstressed top that didn’t take too kindly to his form shifting. Out of it came out an old key. “Hübert had hoped for his son to have this but …” a regretful look befell the ancient but well kept item. “Anselm was a peculiar man. Discreet. Never wanted to get involved with things beyond his land. Never was quite the same after what happened to his father, really.” literal steam erupted from his nostrils. Big draggo-sighs. “I was hoping to give this to him. But now that this town is a goner no matter what, I only find it fitting that it falls onto the hands of those that courageously fought against impossible odds, and still stand strong.” the key then rested flat on his palm. Juan descended down and offered it to the group. “It’s what Hübert would have wanted. That honour-bound fool. Ever the pompous warrior. Better let his memory live on through those he would have admired than bury them, or be used by his enemies.”

Acquired: The Key to the Kapperstel Family Tomb.

Khaliun, along with Fritz the Landkenecht and Sugawara the Ronin, was particularly keen on dumpster diving the collapse. More so than the rest of the group. Aggressively, she pushed to venture through the depths and reach the bedrock of the bedrock with minimal regard for the risks. “Kuso …!” the darkness even got the exceptionally skilled Ronin, causing him to badly sprain his ankle. “Must we stop?” inquired Khaliun, her tone cold and judgemental as were the shining hues in the dark. “No. I just need to gather my bearings.” he refused to show weakness. “If you say so.”

Eventually they hit the abyssal zone. Pitch black and with frequent rockfalls. The map the Strazi had previously purchased was serving this small group well in navigating the semi-collapsed tunnels and sniffing out the true treasure hidden deep down. “Shhh, I hear something.” Fritz drew his spear. “I do too.” Khaliun hovered over to a piece of matter that didn’t fit with the rest of the stony mess. “This should be one of the vaults …” she mumbled to herself. Indeed, the quantity of metal that could be found had been suspiciously abundant. Something had been built here.

Then, she found it. A box containing none other than a Chaos Marble. “Here!” squeaked the royal sentinel. A radiant smile graced her expression as she covered the box from random debris. But just as she thought she was home free, a Thresher burst through the dense, hard earth below and attacked the intruders! “Big Bug! We need to leave now!” warned Fritz, but Khaliun wouldn’t budge. “Keep it busy! I’m almost done.” sweats accumulated quickly on her tanned forehead. Meanwhile, the Ronin and the Landskenecht did their best to repulse it.

Sugawara successful stung the creature, prompting its retreat, buying Khaliun just enough time to extract the spherical mass of pure destruction. She had the power to hold it, albeit imperfectly. Next was the insertion into the hammer. The mighty weapon that had been hovering behind her was dragged toward the levitating orb, and soon they merged together to create an instrument that could even make mortals dance with Gods. By then, the beast returned and caught the bodyguards by surprise. Rocks began to fall and retreat became more and more difficult. Contract or not, was it worth a suicide mission?

They didn’t have to worry for long, as they too could feel the immense pressure coming from the now fully empowered Indigo Fury. A wicked grin grew on her face as she held the weapon with both her hands and dragged the face through the cold, dark stone. “Good job.” she congratulated her associates. “This is perfect to test it out!” Khaliun hovered, and then darted toward the armoured creature, the dragged hammer leaving a mild gust of pebbles behind it. Even a stupid creature could recognize the threat, and attempt to burrow underground rather than ward off the danger. But, it couldn’t move. Gravity suddenly became unbearably heavy for it and its movements seemed constrained by a force that bent space around it. It couldn’t even properly move its claws to protect itself. Aided by an unseen external force, she striked with no hesitation.


A single upward strike right under the head had over half of the beast’s body utterly annihilated and sucked in by the marble. It was clean and contained in a small radius, preventing any sort of massive shockwave to condemn them. Not that a collapse could do much to someone with a hammer.

“HO HO!” Khaliun gleefully watched the result of her work. “Blyaaaat.” giddy, she scoffed at the many thoughts that crossed her mind. Just how fucked up it was to such things actually existed. “It’s as good as they said.” the tip of the hammer was dropped to the ground as she turned to her associates. “That’s your first contract fulfilled.” she looked down to the two, hovering high enough to have her hand rest over the pommel of the gigantic weapon. “Now, for the next one.” would they dare say no at this point?

Khaliun and Fritz were stationed about a kilometre away from the monastery, while Sugawara was placed near those that entered the lion’s den. “I don’t often ask questions about a well-paying job,” he began, prompting a raise of brow from Khaliun, but her eyes stayed on the remote building she locked her senses into. “but why are we even considering attacking a holy site? It doesn’t feel right.” still, there he was despite being briefed on the gist of the job. “A lead has brought us here. And conflict is inevitable with these ones.” answered Khaliun in a matter of fact way. The Landskenecht scratched his chin. “The monks?” he asked, to which Khaliun responded with a shake of her head. “The children.”

First offensive draw was sensed. The fight had commenced. “It’s begun.” the Tethered announced, prompting the bodyguard to draw his blade. Support was offered to those in need, however they would have to fend for themselves soon enough. Behind Khaliun appeared the gold-cloaked Abbot - the most powerful she had sensed - attempting to freeze her innards. “Watch out!” Fritz swiftly drew his blade to break the clergyman’s focus, allowing Khaliun to repulse the man before any fatal attack could be made.

“Who are you, blasphemer?!” the abbot bellowed. “Begone!”

“New management.” Khaliun sneered, hammer raised over her head. “I will give you three seconds to leave the borders of Kirimansk.” the power was swelling at an alarming rate. “One.”

“Two.” all forms of energy were being devoured by this instrument of unadulterated destruction. Khaliun's bodyguard knew exactly what was coming and made some distance BEHIND her, while the abbot was right before the levitating menace. A smirk pushed at the corner of her lips as the supposed clergyman desperately drew the scraps of energy he could find. Finally, at the zenith of the charge, there wasn't even sound to be found in the vicinity. Except, of course, for Khaliun's singular word. “Three.”

The hammer descended down. It was not an explosion of all-consuming death that befell the earth it struck, but instead an implosion so severe, even the temporal flux the abbot attempted to make use of to escape was disrupted. He could BARELY warp out of the death radius, at the expense of massive internal damage, ranging from a broken femur to various bruising from pops vessels. He could still stand, albeit with growing difficulty. “Shall we do this again?” uttered Khaliun as she lifted the hammer over her shoulder again. “One.”

“H-hey wait! Let me at least leave!” called out the panicked Kerreman who knew just how crazy that hammer could actually get. “I can still help from afar!” but the abbot was having none of it. In a flash, his wounds restored themselves and a kinetic blast interrupted the mercenary’s escape. Then, he drew from the hammer itself.

“Tw- Cyka …” she instantly felt it - the loss of connection between the power source and the tool. The abbot had damaged the hammer enough to partially disconnect it from the marble. A hateful glare was shot at the goldcloak’s direction. “Two!” she would not falter.

The abbot crossed his arms and awaited. He could foresee the future without temporal magic, as Khaliun’s frustration made her predictable. The hammer was raised and … Nothing! The marble failed to respond, prompting her to improvise. “Three!” and she missed. There was no epic blast, just the normal thud of a normal, oversized hammer. The abbot laughed. “Out of tricks, girl? Not counting anymore?” and despite this brief opening out of sheer arrogance, the Landskenecht narrowly missed shoving his spear into the man’s skull.
Khaliun's eye twitched. "I only need to get lucky once.”

“You look like a lucky person …” the abbot replied.

The hammer’s vigour returned, and multiple minions of the monastery had been taken care of. It was at this juncture that the abbot’s eyes grew wide and manic. “None of you understand! You fools! You saboteurs! We are trying to save our nation here!” A massive nuclear reaction thrummed into existence. The power was spellbinding. Incredible. “If we die, you die with us!”

Both Khaliun’s and Fritz’s eyes widened and their pupils retracted. They both simultaneously knew what was coming. Both tried their best to limit the chain, but …

It was at that very moment that …

The magic just … Stopped.

For a flicker of time, the abbot’s eyes widened. Perhaps he remembered his gods.

No magic. No control. Even Khaliun dropped to the floor.

This was a nuclear reaction. A runaway nuclear reaction, now.

“Make a shelter, quick!” the pale and terrified Khaliun sprang into action. Her cloak was dropped - it got in the way, just like her braided hair she undid out of pure panic and frustration - and she floated there thanks to an unseen aid. There was no stopping this. “I’m going to move it. We are going to move it.” she said with frigid confidence that her hired sword did not buy, but all he could do was hide.

The hammer was readied once more, this time readied to her side. A deep breath. She could not do this alone. Another force, one far away, gorged her with additional strength. Strength that matched her almost identically. “Боги желают …” she ascended and readied her chaos hammer. With a mighty swing that nearly ripped her shoulder ligaments, she unleashed a blast of pure, gravitational energy that could not only displace the catastrophic chain reaction, but do it fast enough to avoid total obliteration.

Still, the blast was titanic.

For a moment, there was a complete absence of sound, as if it had left the world.

Then, there was a roar.

And head. And light so intense that eyeballs melted in their sockets, skin peeled away. And flesh. And bones.

A gigantic mushroom-shaped cloud rose over the Vossoriyan wilderness outside of Kirimansk.

But then the magic was back. Too late for the abbot. His eyes melted out of his head and most of his skin peeled away. Khaliun, on the other hand, was snagged by Fritz just in time as she fell to the ground, keen on being paid and partial to letting a girl that saved him just die.

Such was the force and fury of this cataclysm that, even channelled in the opposite direction by two very powerful mages, it was nigh-irresistible. The student had a chance to resist, though. It was a slim one, but there was a chance!

The dust settled and they lay strewn about the countryside, as a group of hegelans poked their heads out of the damaged temple.

Marz was among them, and many other faces that the group did not know. They two groups sighted each other. The false monks had been defeated. Kirimansk had been freed... in theory, but there was far worse news.

Their activities here had drawn attention.

Present: Ashon’amar’loiyang @Ti, Cal’tuuro’jaros @Suicharte, Casii’fyret’alan @Pirouette, Dorothea Hohnstein @Jasbraq,
Kaspar Elstrøm von Wentoft @Wolfieh, Edyta Łaska @Force and Fury, Ymiico’luun’yoru @CaliforniaState, Taleja Drakenknecht,
Father Jacques Dubosque, Brother Baudile Dubosque, Viktor Strauss, Laura, the Mad Avatar, Cristophe Wiliken, Margot, Denis, Juan, Ricardo

An explosion interrupted the brief exchange between Viktor and Dorothea, coming from the Northeast. The flames of the crumbling castle Mandelein ignited the horizon and added a tint of orange to the dark sky that reigned over this deadly night. “It looks like your friends are putting up a fight.” remarked Viktor, the vial he came for was pocketed and the one survivor of the ordeal fully secured. It was a good night for the man who was going to get away with it all. He couldn’t help but smirk as he turned to look at the destruction ushered in by Jacques Dubosque. “You should leave. Follow the river, the beasts shouldn’t intercept you. Keep a lookout, still. Should your friends survive, it would not look very glorious if you tucked tail and ran without them.”

He pointed to one of the many hills near the castle. “Wait there. And remember.” The hunter took a few steps back with Laura mimicking his movements. On cue, a bright portal opened behind him, one far too bright to see anything other than the shadow of something. “The Mad Avatar. They will understand. Until then, however.” the odd silhouette definitely appeared humanoid but … The lower part of its body, it looked like it only had a single leg. Not quite like Penny or Tyrel. One, bulky appendage kept it upright, and at about the size of Casii. “Just listen, and you’ll know what to do next.” Viktor tapped the top of his head with his finger. With a final, cheeky wink, the portal closed, taking everyone but Dory out of the scene.

Dawn was breaking, the long night had finally ended. And yet none of the misshapen beasts were returning to their human forms. It was as Taleja had said, it was not contingent on the day cycles, but on the position of the moons. Even if they could not be properly seen, they were still there exercising their influences. Because of this, Baudile couldn’t move from his spot, while others were too injured to move and the few remaining would not be enough to track down someone like Sister Laska.

“You know what will happen once the Church knows.” the wolf-bound Baudile grit his teeth. “It’s all screwed anyway if she gets away! Find her!” an angry and panicked young man barked at even those that sided with him. No matter how hard he tried, it seemed as though he couldn’t make a dent on the fate of these people - the fate of his own flesh and blood.

“Good.” scoffed Cristophe in his broken Avincian. “No more death. No more like Cris.” he coughed in his corner, still gravely wounded despite being stabilised. Baudile snarled in his direction. Fueled by rage, he began to draw the same way Casii had back in the boat. It was maybe the first time they’d see this man use magic so aggressively to harm. Cristophe said nothing, like he was ready for it now that he had at least found his son, with his only regret not being able to find the true culprit. But alas, he knew he was but a small man.


A familiar voice, enhanced by sonic magic, was focused on the ruins that were once a beautiful castle. It was Denis! But, the voice came from the … “Friends! HALLO!” the sky?!

Up above, circling over the group as the rain began to thin and eventually die down, was something much bigger than Denis. It was a Froabas! A type that was definitely out of place in the area, as it would neither be a coastal or mountainous sort, but a Dune Sea Froabas that Kaspar would recognize quite easily from the size (it was an Alpha), shape and its unique cry as it roared during its descent. The flat courtyard was good enough. Once landed, Denis hopped off the ornate saddle on the beast. Behind him was another person, a shorter and more discreet form. “Still aliving well, huh?” it was Margot, the prisoner Dory had rescued back at the boat.

“Denis? Wie hast-? (Denis? How did-?)” Cristophe struggled to talk, let alone move. “Ja. Ich war kurz davor, von diesen Tieren gefressen zu werden, aber diese Dame hier … (Yes. I was about to get eaten by these animals, but this lady here …)” he pointed his thumb toward Margot. “Sie kam genau rechtzeitig, um mich zu retten. (She came right on time to save me.)” Margot waved in dismissal. “Nah. Nah. Them beasties were in Margot’s way. But you owing real good now.” she half-jested. The good mood faded quickly when she saw the unconscious body of Dubosque.

It was a jolly reunion, but someone had to ask. “Thank Dami you found safety, Denis.” Baudile smiled, but his attention was on the unusual steed. “But err, where did you …”

The monk did not have time to finish his questioning as a sudden earthquake suddenly befell the area. Not strong enough to cause any collapse, but mighty nonetheless. Something was coming, they could all sense the massive energy source snaking underground. It was fast and dead set on joining them. Margot, Denis and even the Froabas did not seem too surprised beyond slightly losing their footing.

“An enigma to be sure!”

A voice echoed from all directions, one with an accent that didn’t resemble anything the people involved had ever heard before. It was an Avincian that sounded more old than regional.

“Who can bring such a beautiful beast out in the big Eye, cause heavy earthen rumbles, save poor vagrants from the clutches of death and look astonishingly great while doing it?”

Within the hole that Dubosque had created that led to the basement, a long entity was emerging and then plunging back through the walls, revealing portions of its draconic and excessively long body in the darkness. It was getting higher, and soon it was going to burst out of the courtyard.

“Don’t be shy! No penalty for trying! A right answer will earn you eternal life and free Barbecue Sauce!”

The grassy field near the landed animal fissured and burst open to reveal an excessively long … Creature. With the colouring of something that Kaspar and Casii had seen once before. It was a Royal Sand Wyrm?! Except, it wasn’t nearly as big as one, and its arms were longer. As it fully emerged, the appendages could be examined. That thing, it was wearing clothes! Custom-made, too. With its limbs appearing a little larger relative to its body. It also had the most dapper, white wig ever.

“It is, obviously, the one and only. Conde Juan Antonio Mendoza-Cardenas. Proud Original and Advisor to the Tantas Empire. Slayer of Leviathans and Bloodsuckers. Chronicler of Wildbloods and Scholar of their life cycles!” his arms opened up triumphantly as he made his entrance. He was easily twenty metres tall without even stretching, although he quickly compacted his form to be closer to seven meters. “But, nowadays, it’s really just … Juan.” he sighed.

The beast shot a brushing look at the errant group. “Ah, I must apologise for the theatrics.” arm to his ‘chest’, he performed a small bow. “I was under the impression Hübert’s son was here. But the rumours were true, it seems.” the arm rested behind his back with the other as he began to pace among the group. “... Which is even more impressive to see you have survived! Bravo. Muy bien! Très bien!” he stopped before Dubosque and his brother that kept him sedated. “What you have managed to subdue, my new friends, is something the world has not seen in a very long time. Longer than this old sack of bones.” he cleared his throat and wiped his reptilian snout with the back of his hand. “The only other living human with such a power being our very leader.” he shook his head. “I should not be saying that, or he would have my head!” he let out a belly laugh. “Well, he can try, anyway! These two really need to, as the kids say ‘chill’.”

An obscene quantity of energy was drawn, from matter and earthen heat, Juan concentrated it all on the tip of his Wyrm claw and then shot what looked to be a dart into the wolf. “This should last a few hours.” he chirped and nodded to Baudile. “You can let go, my son.” Baudile was still shocked by Juan’s manoeuvre, fearing that his brother had been euthanized without him even getting to say anything. But a basic draw and sense confirmed that the wyrm was honest. “How do I know you won’t just wake him up if I let go?” to which Juan replied after a big shrug. “I am here to help, brother. I would not dare double cross a Philosopher! Shune has enough to resent me, bless their hearts.” his reptilian eyes closed for a moment after he made the sign of the Pentad and opened again. “If it makes you feel any better, I think Ricardo alone could finish you all off without my help. I really don’t want to hurt anybody today.” his tone deepened a little. He was more serious. Baudile, after some hesitation, let go.

“Now, you youngins,” he turned to acknowledge the youths that had taken down the great menace, his body stretched out a little more, but his head snaked downward to bridge the natural gap between him and most humans. “what is it you intend to do now that you’ve captured the big beast alive?” he looked at each individual - gave them a good sniff too - and studied them thoroughly. “This town will not live for very long now that the secret is out. Do you not agree?” he looked to Ymiico in particular. With a loud exhale, he had cast a mid-level binding spell to help with her recuperation. “Would you trust a slithering, old snake-thing you’ve just met if he said he could hide them from this cruel and unforgiving world? Under the protection of those like them?”

Sleeping Carp was wordless as he led Abdel toward the water. The others had split off in their different directions and one of the Twins had walked up close to Jocasta and taken the seat beside her. Then, as they neared the pond's edge and Abdel might've thought that they would stop, the Black Guard just kept on moving. His feet left ripples in the water, but these spread outwards with unnatural slowness. He twisted at that same speed and looked back at the youth with expressionless expectation.

Of all the Black Guard, Abdel had to end up with the stoic and infamous Sleeping Carp. There were rumors of his near-divine strength, with many jokes also coming at his expense with how slow he was said to be. All the teen truly knew for syre was that this was a Sanguinaire and was more than capable of killing him on the spot. He was visibly nervous, as evidence with his right hand clenching his left wrist. The quietude was the worst. Like waiting for the inevitable slap from an angry parent. Abdel froze when Carp finally acknowledged him, audibly gulping and constantly hesitating between making eye contact or looking down out of humility. “Uh, hehe,” he did not know why he tittered there, it just came out. “greetings. Errr, I'm Abdel Varga of Torragon?”

The large, stocky man smiled softly and the water rippled around the boy's feet. It became an image: Torragon on a map, and a place in the desert. The water raced. A path led back to Virang and disappeared in the haze. Sleeping Carp shot him an expectant look the same as he had a minute ago.

Abdel blinked and recognized the desert. Well, it could be any desert, but something about it just felt like Torragon. He smiled back at the man and nodded. “Yeah. Lots of sand. Have you ever been?” already he felt a bit more at ease with his hands moving to his sides.

Sleeping Carp nodded, and they continued walking, past an island where a drunk and a masked woman postured. Next, he stopped beside a large rock that rose just high enough to be visible in the bluish-green murk and the water formed something: a question mark.

Abdel nodded again and pursed his lips, unsure of where to lead this subject. He followed and stepped closer to the water to acknowledge the shape. “Questions? Uhm.” he mused for a moment. “What do you want from me? Help you? Just step aside? Say something to my friends?” he was beginning to overthink, especially as the only actual voice in this conversation. “If you want me to tell you the truth, I don't really know how to feel about any of this. I'm just-” he continued to walk, head sunken a little. “some kid with big lizards that finds people. This is ... So much.”

The big man reached out then, and it was... was it slow or was it fast? His hand was simply there. It was on Abdel's shoulder and it squeezed gently. There were pictures of lizards in the water and they grew and grew. He shook his head. There were images of Abdel and his skuggvars fighting various members of the Black Guard. In each case, they died in horrible and sometimes darkly comical ways. Sleeping Carp grimaced, albeit very slightly. An emphatic cross was put through the images of fighting. The Black Guard continued walking and Abdel knew what to do by now.

Abdel flinched when he felt the hand before he could even see it. His eyes widened and his forehead accumulated droplets of sweat. “Facing you is certain death.” he interpreted, tittering at the more absurd variations. His pace matched the bald man's. “But letting this rule continue isn't right either. I-” he thought about it. It wasn't right but said who? The being that never showed its true form? The Sanguinaire keen on bloody conquest? Wu Long ... “Wu Long.” he mumbled to himself. “The only one to claim rulership should the empire fall is Wu Long. A man I hardly know.” he rubbed his shoulder, head sunken again. He scoffed. “I don't know what future can be brought to his land by such a man. But I resent what's been done with it. All your people, rendered dumb and helpless, relying solely on you, the rulers, to be protected. I lived in a place like that.” deep breaths, if he was to meet a comically bad end, it wouldn't be as a pussy. “It was awful. And I'm sure more than a few feel that way.”

Wu Long. Sleeping Carp went still at the name. After a moment, he shook his head. "He is an ancient evil, reawakened," rumbled the Black Guard. His face was stoic, his brow furrowed. He had not spoken in nearly a dozen years. "I will show you all, if you let me." Abdel was motioned forward.

Abdel flinched even harder when he heard the man's voice. The carp spoke? The rumors of his adamant silence were exaggerated. Or this was the real deal. “An ancient evil? The dragon?” it was a strange thing to hear, a Sanguinaire calling something ancient and evil in the same phrase. But it made sense. “But he works for something. Many somethings.” he wagged his finger at the direction of Carp and then brought it to his chin. “According to Ash, anyway. But why would he lie when he was about to die?” he looked at Carp inquisitively, as if they were both cracking a case together. The shared look awakened Abdel from his moment. “Ah, uhm. Yes. I'd like that.” he awkwardly stepped forward, ready to be shared some wisdom.

A heavy hand came down upon his head: not deliberately rough, but heavy nonetheless. "You will see," the sanguinaire rumbled, and 'see' Abdel did. He saw moments in a life stretching back thousands of years. He saw neolithic, copper, and bronze age Retan under the dragons: how they had bred and crafted the mana slimes to redistribute energy to where they saw fit. Certainly, they had allowed magic and it had flourished under them. Certainly, it - and other sapients - had existed to serve their ends.

That was not all, however. Abdel saw the many peoples that had passed through this land: the hegelans, who had been driven away; the ogauraq and humans, who had been made into servants; the yasoi who were incorrigible and suffered for it. Once upon a time, Sleeping Carp himself had fought the dragons when men had risen up against them. He had ruled, briefly, as an emperor named Cheng.

Then, had come his fellow sanguinaires, including one whom he called 'brother'. That brother had struck him down and he had nearly died. The face of that man was unmistakable. It was the Progenitor. He was here. There were years in quiet exile, as a monk, a village leader, a fisherman. There were wives and sons and daughters, but he had watched them all die before him. If the dragons no longer ruled openly, they came to rule again, from the shadows. Retan was a land of harmony instead of choice, that way of thinking woven indelibly into its cultural fabric. Still, the energies of magic flowed inward to the dragons and outward to the people like controlling tendrils, and the great beasts remained indolent and arrogant instead of wise.

This, then, was one of the reasons why magic had been so strictly regulated: the dragons could drain it. They could use it. The more that there was, the stronger they became. The stronger they became, the more tyrannical. Yet, there was more. Some seven hundred years ago, his brother had returned to him. He was now unquestionably the greater between them, and any ill-will had faded. It was the prerogative of humans to stand on their own, he had insisted, to establish and maintain their own order. Those above him had decreed it so, for the dragons were poor servants of order. In the background, hovering in the shadows behind the world of Sipenta, behind the many thrones and crowns of men and gods, was the shape of a great being with many arms.

Sleeping Carp had not wanted to serve, but his brother had reconciled with him and bid him to do so. It was the only way that men might stand tall, and sanguinaires were their most potent weapons against the forces of such monsters as existed beyond the light of their science and knowledge. Besides, if there was one thing that he and the Progenitor had both craved, it was an end to the rule of dragons, brazen or secretive.

So, he had groomed and watched over two of the Sanguine Council's chosen: another pair of brothers, and had determined that it would be different for them. He had come to know them and their hearts. He had come to share a dream with them, to make difficult decisions. The power of the Knowers - that was a word that was impressed upon Abdel, then - was overwhelming, and the Progenitor, as their servant. So, he and the twins, as they had grown in their determination that things might change, had begun to make compromises.

They had played the roles allotted to them. They had taken on others, over time, until they had seized the throne. One bad emperor, one slip from the dragons, and they had done it. Yet, the work of governing was onerous. The requirements of the Sanguine Council kept them bound. Sleeping Carp had stepped away from such machinations, for he was weak, despite his strength, and they disgusted him. Now, the Twins had pushed against good faith and driven to anger those who stood against them, so that they might finally act and be revealed. That was the crossroads at which they now stood. The man lifted his hand away.

Abdel lived through countless lifetimes in the span of a few moments. It was far too much for his developing, human brain. At least he could understand Ismette to an extent now, not that he knew her all that much. When Carp let go, Abdel fell onto his backside, numb and changed. He had seen what no human was supposed to see, and it hurt so much on a mental level. Most alarming was the unfathomable form of the cosmic monstrosity that stood above it all. He kept picturing that image over and over, and each time cause him to recoil and clench his skull with one hand. “Why did you show me this?” he inquired, although it was more accusatory than curious.

“Why would you ever show me all of this?!” he fell to his back over the perfectly cut grass, facing the sky and both hands now pressed to his skull. The Twins were not the evildoers, Wu Long was a slave to a horrible thing and this terrifying Black Guard had the power to match Gods. But that wasn't what tormented Abdel so much. Now the choice was impossible. It didn't even matter who he believed, every path was leading to something terrible for someone, especially himself and his friends. They oppose the Emperors, they die, they oppose Wu Long, they are noped by that disgusting monster, they oppose Nikan and they face the wrath of all the bloodsuckers. And all of this because he took a slightly bigger job than his usual hunts. His meek desire for a promotion in his side gig and getting Maura her cute trade deals led him into this rabbit hole of pure Hell. He began to giggle, almost meniacally so as he looked to Carp. And then he screamed. “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” arms flailing and bashing the ground behind him while still on his back. His hands gripped his hair and tugged without actually ripping anything off. The screaming lasted a good ten seconds until his throat gave in. He just needed to let it all out. He needed to scream since the Nikanese attack, but now there was no need to bottle things up. He was FUCKED in any case. Eventually, he did calm, his chest heaving from his outburst.

“Cheng.” he called out with the raspiest of voices. “I don't want to die.” he uttered meekly, eyes to the sky again. “I don't want any of them to die either. My classmates. Even if they take the most vapid of deals. I don't want them to die. They didn't ask for any of this.” he hardly blinked, causing his eyes to get teary, but he wasn't crying. No, he had no idea how to feel after this massive existential terror he experienced. “What's stopping those dragons, and that thing, from just killing us all if we oppose? Or that ... Brother of yours. Or anything.” both his tanned hands covered his face. “I want to just leave. I don't want anything. No riches or greater powers. I ... want to go home. But I can't.” his hands slid down a tad to reveal only his eyes. “I can't just leave them. I wasn't left behind by people who risked a lot for me and my family.” his eyes peered to Carp again. “What do I do? What CAN I do?”

Sleeping Carp just watched the boy. If he felt remorse, he did not openly show it. Then, he sunk into a crouch. "What's stopping them is our power," he replied simply. "Ours, and the sirrahi's. You've heard of them?" He shook his head. "Don't worry, Abdel. You're still a boy and there's no shame in that, but you're strong, you're only going to get stronger, and I promise you that you're not alone. Nearly every one of your friends has accepted our offers. I will also fight beside you." The monk smiled and say cross-legged on the water beside the boy. "To not fight when you have the power is to lose regardless."

It was then that something strange happened. Sleeping Carp touched the water's surface and, as far as Abdel could see and sense, he saw not only space and the things in it, but time as well. He could sense it. He could feel it as if it were a tangible thing. Every person, every thing was multiple images: past, present, and possible futures. They branched. "Besides," the Black Guard concluded. "We have monsters of our own. In time, this is a power that you might hold as well." That was when Abdel turned his attention to himself. For a split second, he could see some of his futures, and it was true, what Sleeping Carp had said, or at least, it could be.

Words and reassurances, all did little to pacify Abdel. It could all be an elaborate lie, they were all obscenely powerful after all. He looked up to Sleeping Carp, having sat up to match the crouching man. For a time he had felt on edge around this man, and this feeling got worse after knowing what he was, but to see and hear him talk changed something. The teen did not feel in danger. He should, these people could so easily kill him and they'd have some justification for it. But not now. There was a total lack of hostility in the Black Guard that disarmed Abdel, if only slightly. He was about to talk, but nothing came out of his mouth. Something else was shown that had him forget what he wanted to say. He saw the past, his past, from before he was even from the Refuge. Familiar faces he had long since forgotten the names of, and a city he had enjoyed adventuring in. The present, all the events that led him to this pond. Wu Long in particular, the hindsight he was given made every interaction with the dragon-avatar appear more and more convenient. The group was at the right place at the right time. It was ... Suspicious. Then finally came the future. Many futures. Deaths. Happiness. So many paths. But there was one that really took his attention. It was never clear, only 'glimpses' and feelings. One branch showed him, a few years from now, still on his two feet and his magic intact. For all intents and purposes, he looked cured of the malady that he hated so much. “I-I can walk. I'd be rid of it ...!” he muttered as he shot Carp a look with restrained excitement in his eyes. “How can this be done? How is this even possible?!” deep down he knew the answer. He now believed Carp's words, that his friends sided with the Empire, but he wanted one final reassurance - a final gesture to put his worries at ease.

Sleeping Carp rose, but his arm reached down, hand open in front of Abdel. He spoke only a single word: "Together."

Present: Ashon’amar’loiyang @Ti, Cal’tuuro’jaros @Suicharte, Casii’fyret’alan @Pirouette,
Dorothea Hohnstein @Jasbraq, Kaspar Elstrøm von Wentoft @Wolfieh, Edyta Łaska @Force and Fury,
Ymiico’luun’yoru [@Salsa Verde], Taleja Drakenknecht, Lycans, Father Jacques Dubosque, Brother Baudile Dubosque,
Viktor Strauss, Laura, Cristophe Wiliken, Margot, Denis, The Birds

There were a few absentees in this wicked, four-mooned night. Father Dubosque was nowhere to be seen, that was what many in the Church had noticed. But Laura had disappeared from the group just as Qasem had taken Dorothea and Viktor, the supposed hunter of beasts, had also vanished without a trace. They were both, in fact, not too far from the lodge at a vantage point atop a hill, bearing witness to the blood fest as the cabin broke down from the dark bolts and the wolf’s rampage.

“Do you want me to shoot him now?” spoke Laura in Kerreman, her Koppelman readied and trained at the cabin. She wore a hood and cloak that went well with her petite and lithe figure.

“Nein.” answered Viktor, knelt at the edge of the cliff with binoculars aimed toward Leluun in particular. “She is the true problem. If that Yasoi gets the crown, I’ll need to do something. We need to get rid of her regardless.” he sighed in exasperation. Laura moved to aim her sights on the other-Ismette.

Then, the girl blinked. “S-she’s gone.” it was so quick. Vedil’s assault had proven fruitful, and the witch had been destroyed. “I didn’t see it. What the hell are we dealing with here, Viktor?!” the young woman apprehensively inquired, only to meet complete nonchalance from the hunter. “Something we can’t let get taken or killed.” then remained the beast. “Kill the Darhannic before he causes harm to the host.” a hesitant Laura readied her gun again. “And the Magusjaeger?” she asked, now composed and her breathing balanced for a coming shot. “I’ll handle it.”

Laura was ready to take her shot. A final, big inhale as Qasem stayed in place to offensively draw matter from the two. The perfect opportunity. It would have been, anyway, if the cross of her rifle wasn’t suddenly smashed into her chin and face. Again, Laura wasn’t able to react to the speed of the assailant. Her face was blooded and she fell on her back, now disarmed by the attacker. Viktor, on the other hand, had already drawn his knife and got to an appropriately defensive position without giving too much range for the attack to use that rifle on him.

“Turin got what was coming to her for not killing you on the spot.” commented Viktor, immediately recognizing who had intercepted them. He chuckled, clearly itching for a fight, or just downright murder of what he hated the most in the world. “You estimateless good charms.” while the words sounded like they made a joke, the tone was nothing but amused from the female. “Margot must should burned the forest in your sleeping. Would havein saved many people.” she growled. Viktor scoffed. “Look who’s underestimating now.”

Just as they were about to clash, Laura tried to stand, only to be met with suction cups binding themselves to her joints and a land-squid coiling itself around her to keep the girl down. “Ahhh! What is- ?!” her lips were shut, and her partner did not pay her any mind. His focus was solely on the Sanguinaire empowered by the night.

It was going to be a knife fight, the rogue and the hunter, to the death. Blades clanged and sparks illuminated the dark peak they were dancing upon. Margot had the speed and the nighttime strength could match Viktor’s muscular bulk. The blonde hunter compensated with experience, most notably against her kind. What he did best was use the environment and magusjaeger tactics to get the jump on her.

Catching her off-guard, Viktor nearly stabbed her in the chest, with only an inefficient cross-armed block from below being improvised by Margot. “You should have stayed in that cave.” sweat drops fell upon the pale girl’s face as he exerted himself fully to try and snuff her. “Monster! Margot will never forgive what you did.” her anger fueled her, and with a burst of energy, she pushed back, causing Viktor to stumble backward and struggle to get his footing. “What you trickered us to do! All these people …” a brief look was directed toward Mandelein, where the flames of destruction illuminated the horizon.

When she turned to face her opponent, a large gash had formed across her face. It began to heal as it formed, but the pain was impossible to ignore, just as the massive man an inch away from her nose was. She wanted to draw and form a spell that could dwarf any of his abilities, and yet he was always too close and intercepted any attempt to cast anything intricate. Additionally, her strength could only match his. “If it wasn’t them, it’d be just somewhere else!” exclaimed Viktor as he finished his assault with a brutal punch to the gut, causing an air bubble to form in her stomach via his deep kinetic skills, with the subsequent popping causing big internal damage. “There was no stopping this, kid. Just as there’s no stopping them.”

A battered Margot struggled to get on her feet. When she looked up, a handgun barrel was to her face. “Now return to dirt, carcass.” but just as his finger pulled on the trigger, the bits of energy she had managed to store and failed to cast all went into a very focused explosion of heat inside the barrel. An internal arcane smell that caused the powder to prematurely explode, making the whole thing burst. “UGH! You little shit!” growled Viktor in pain, his hand and forearm burned and filled with shrapnel. They began to heal rather quickly too.

Margot, seizing her chance, whistled for Schleim to free its prisoner and hop onto her back. “Margot will meeting you again, hunter.” standing at the edge of the cliff, she glared at the man with raw hatred. “Will drink you, and destroy you.” she then hopped into the dense darkness of the forest despite the efforts of both Mandelein renegades. By the time they were in position, they could not get a clear shot and she had since escaped their range.

“You were made helpless by a Stumpfkrake.” he remarked whilst peering at a dishevelled Laura. “I-I was stuck. I didn’t expect it to be so quick.” a little panicked, she clenched the gun in her hands and raised it slightly. “You will be expected to redeem yourself. And soon.” he said threateningly before raising his binoculars once more to see Manfred vanishing and Dory rising with the crown once again on her head. Viktor grinned.

Dorothea Hohnstein von Albesatz-Danzau was alone in the middle of the forest with the only nearby shelter recently brought to nothing by the recent battle. There laid the corpse of Qasem Laghmanin, her would-be killer had it not been for Manfred, her lover who had abandoned this world. And finally, there was a singular, red feather set conveniently before Dory’s footwear, the last trace of Leluun in this world. It was dark and quiet, no wildblood was nearby and the only lightsource was the Feskan’s own creation.

But after a half-minute, a once concealed presence made itself visible, standing over the corpse of the once-ally. It was Viktor, and Laura followed soon after. “I see you did not need any help with this or that witch.” he remarked, posture straightened and muscular arms crossed. “And you’ve accepted your destiny.” a conspicuous glance was shot at the crown. “A relief!” he merrily clapped his hands, smiling bright at the newly made avatar.

He kneeled once more and searched the pouches that remained tied to Qasem’s belt. Due to the morphology of the lycanthrope, legwear had a tendency to survive the transformations. Out came the metallic vial that looked identical to what Kaspar had found before, and was one of three in the container from the boat. “Stolen goods recovered.” he said, which prompted a nod from Laura. “You will need to explain this to your friends. It is a bit strange that a single wolf took down two of you, don’t you think?” he looked to Dory as he pocketed the peculiar object and then approached her.

“Keep it simple. The more you try to detail, the more it will sound like you’re trying to convince. Only guilty people do that.” he was a few feet away from her now, hands on his sides. “Repeat after me. Manfred was grievously wounded putting down Qasem. Your friend Ismette argued to spare your friend, and it spiralled into an argument, where she got stabbed by Manfred by accident.” as he spoke, Laura seemed to be prepare Qasem’s large body for something as she stretched the legs and arms to have the whole thing on display. “Manfred, as he was about to die, finished off Qasem and succumbed to his wounds. All to protect you. Understood?” he raised a brow as he made deep eye-contact with Dory.

The group of students, including Denis and Brother Baudile, had just barely escaped what was certain death. Cristophe and Laska ensured their exit was covered by an explosion and the vines that served as support for the bypass made to the old tunnel did not crumble down and bury those lagging behind. There was an initial rush among the group - a desire to cover about a kilometre of distance at a brisk pace before the monk spoke up. “I think -” he huffed, clearly exerted from the previous ordeal. “we’re good, for now. We need to think of our next move, sim?”

Cristophe was quick to interject. “Nicht für lange. (Not for long.)” he kept his words brief, and then shifted to a very limited Avincian. “Them up. Fell.” he pointed upwards, and of course with simple drawing one could sense the masses scrambling and ‘following’ their energy signatures, albeit they seemed to lack precision. “We go. Yeah?”

The tired clergyman shook her head and gestured rapidly. “If we don’t think of what we do, they’ll catch us and surround us the moment we come out.” and just as he said that, some of the earthen walls began to crack, causing falls of dust to occur semi-frequently. “If they don’t dig in here first. We need to find somewhere safe for the night.” he argued, looking at the group.

“And the day,” Taleja mused, her expression obscured by the mask. “Even though they are not visible, the moons are still above us during the day. It is the alignment, not their light, that determines the strength of mana-types. A less poetic outcome than the myth of howling under a night of full moons.” She commented, her tone dry and matter of fact. “When will they revert, then?” asked Kaspar, making efficient use of his time to heal the wounded, although he could only do so much when bodies were worn down to such a point. “Revert? Optimistic. However, they should become more manageable by tomorrow evening,” she stated, her voice steady and composed.

A collective rise in heart rates, including even Taleja’s, could be felt by those morbidly curious enough to sense. This was terrible news.

“Die Abwasserkanäle führen zum Fluss. Mit etwas Glück könnten wir vielleicht ein Boot finden … (The sewers lead to the river. With luck, maybe we could find a boat …)” suggested Denis, who was promptly translated by one of the competent linguists. “Too dangerous. You saw how quickly they closed in on you. I fear the worst for those that didn’t make it to the Church.” Baudile formed the sign of the Pentad before brushing his greasy hair back. “Ich weiß, wo ein kleines Boot zu finden ist. Ich kann auch Hilfe finden. Ich werde meinen Geruch und meine Anwesenheit verbergen und sogar alleine gehen. Weniger Aufmerksamkeit. (I know where a small boat can be found. I can find help too. I’ll hide my scent and presence, and even go alone. Less attention.)” the group has since reached a branching path, all of which leading to different sewer passages, with one being a direct line to the castle, while a more convoluted path led to the river. A loud clanging noise was heard in the direction of the latter.

“I’m going to be real with you people.” Cal began, the most inwardly frightened of the bunch, but outwardly had managed to keep his composure. “I am not going back out there. We need to lay low. Surely we can hide somewhere.” Laska shot him a glare, but Baudile spoke up with an idea. “The Castle.” he said to get the group’s attention. “The walls were designed to keep such beasts, likely even stronger, in. Logically, they could also keep them out, yes?” a longshot, but he had his reasons to visit this final landmark. Laska knew this. “A handful, perhaps, Brother. But an army?” she challenged him with a rhetorical question. “Are your hopes to find Father Dubosque, your own Brother?” she did not hide the slightly accusatory nature of her question, but at the same time her tone held no real threat. “He’s alive.” Baudile said firmly. “I don’t know where. But he is. Whether he’s at the castle or not, it doesn’t matter. I want to live this dreadful day, and this seems like our best chance.”

There wasn’t much discussion to be made, as talking slowed them down, and in turn they began to hear more clanging and banging. Something was coming from the sewers. “We should leave. The Castle will at least hold. Then we can go underground to retreat.” they made a run for it, but just barely a few seconds in, seismic activity induced by something caused dirt and rocks to fall. The tunnels were old, there was no way they were that sturdy. Ultimately, it did not cause much trouble, but Denis shouted a few words along the lines of ‘I will find you!’ and ‘Just go, I know what I’m doing!’ before he ran to the opposite direction of the castle tunnel, right where the sounds were coming. One less to the team.

A good ten minute push through the uncertain tunnels eventually led to the end. A metal grid prevented their ascension to the surface - nothing blood magic couldn’t remedy. They would emerge in the courtyard, long since vacant of leisurely strollers and gossiping gawkers. But despite its lack of use in over a century, the flowers were maintained, hedges trimmed and the benches cleaned. There were also torches and lanterns that illuminated every part, much like the many lights visible within the castle that stood mighty before them. Had it not been for Laska’s and Dory’s investigation, they could easily deduce this was very much inhabited.

It was eerily quiet, still, with only their own bodily sounds and the flickering of the torches to be heard. Even the wind was muted due to the massive walls that circled the whole property. If they reached out with their senses, they would only sense minute traces of life, but nothing akin to a Wildblood, and all of it outside the walls. The gates were closed and reinforced, but the large entrance doors to the Castle itself were wide open, as if someone had forgotten to close them, or guests were expected.

But before any could enter, the group was interrupted by a voice - one very familiar to some.

”Squaaaawwwwk! Alive! Alive! They are alive!” said one red bird, its presence suddenly detectable, along with another.

”EEEEK! They should be dead! Deady-dead! Not precious enough to not-dead.” talked the other bird, sitting over one of the few trees planted in the courtyard. Both took a branch.

”Wait. Precious? I can see it! Smell it!” the demonic-looking one began to bob its head and stared right at Sister Laska. ”Show it, yes! Shoooowwww it!”

”We will reward with special precious! Oh yes! Choice of precious!”

Once presented with the offering, they would present their own offer.

”One precious to choose. Yes! One.”

”Of three. Three precious. Very important. Choose wisely.”

”What waits for you is certain death. More death than the town. Oh yes. Very death!” they foretold. They had not been wrong so far. A small warning, a freebie for their precious-holders.

The demonic bird nibbles under its wing to groom itself before announcing the prizes. ”First precious, restoring you lot! No more hurt. No more sweat. All good!” the normal one bobbed its head excitedly. ”Second precious, BOON! Nice boon. Boon of the smart bird! Oh yes, need to be smart in this cruuuuuuel world!” the way they squawked and chirped almost seemed like they were laughing. ”Third precious is raaaaaare precious! Trinket! Mighty, legendary, worthless? Only your character can tell what! For a few keys, maybe it is worth it?”

What did they choose?

Shortly after their trade, it began to rain. Hard.

Seeking shelter was wise, and the Castle waited for them with open doors. The foyer was as large as one would expect, with multiple halls connected to it, a large wall with the portrait of the last lord of Mandelein, Graf Anselm of House Kapperstel, beamed down at the guests in its well-maintained state, with the symbol of the Pentad hung above the portrait. Not a speck of dust could be found, even on the barely used wooden rails of the twin set of stairs by each side of the massive painting.

The lanterns were all on, but there was no staff. One could explore, and find little more than what Sister Laska or Dorothea had found on their first trip here. It was quiet, just like the outside, and by all accounts, safe. If it weren’t for the sudden tenth presence a few would have immediately sensed. It wasn’t making itself discreet, and if anything it flexed enough energy to stand out. Like a hiker purposely making noise in a predator’s territory to prevent any surprises.

The doors were opened if they weren’t shut already, and then the presence shut them behind him. “Oraff smiles upon you all on this cold night.” announced the familiar voice of Father Jacques Dubosque. With use of blood and binding magic, he conjured a beam of wood to lock up the door. Nothing they couldn’t easily break. It just seemed to be a precaution. “I am sorry for this … Torturous treatment you’ve all endured. It would not have been this way, had I had a true say in it.” he turned to face those in the foyer standing taller than most humans and nearly matching the male Yasoi.

“As you may have deduced, we all are cursed.” he began to walk in a steady gait toward the portrait of the lord. An unperturbed stride with clear purpose, once he got at arms reach of the painting, he reached out, but only to tug on the hourglass shape above it, so he could hold it. “We always were. Since you’ve arrived, since these bandits took us hostage, since the very first Graf, even.” he lamented, his eyes admiring the carpentry that went on this representation of the five. “Cursed and forgotten. But not lost.” parts of the wooden symbol began to thin and eventually break down from aggressive drawing. “Even at its worst, I will not just let these people - my people - be used for the machinations of megalomaniacs or the systems they maintain.” he turned to face them again, his green eyes trained on Laska in particular.

“No. The hungry eyes that leer this town from the outside are not welcome. This curse will stay within. Its existence will be kept a secret.” syphoning energy from the brewing storm outside and the many trees outside the property, Dubosque was drawing, but not very fast. Actually, it was noticeably slow.

“For this reason, I cannot let you leave Mandelein.”

Baudile Dubosque spoke from the stairs, having just arrived but heard just enough. “Jacques …!” he said, prompting his older brother to peer at his direction. “I told you to leave, Baudile. You … Never listen.” the priest reached for the inside of his coat and revealed a small vial containing a transparent fluid. “I’m sorry.”

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