[Fanfic:] Traveling Circus — Guild Wars 2 Forums

[Fanfic:] Traveling Circus

Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
edited October 8, 2017 in Community Creations

With the launch of the new forums, I would like to let you know that TC is still in-progress. While this may come as a shock to you, I still intend to keep writing the fiction until at least the beginning of the third Living Story season.

For the link to the old story (and to get refreshed if need be), follow this link: https://forum-en.guildwars2.com/forum/community/creations/Fanfic-Traveling-Circus/first

Keep traveling (and always stay alert for missing baubles)!


Want to pick up where you left off with Traveling Circus? Look under "Traveling Circus" here: https://firestonewritesstuff.tumblr.com/


  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited May 16, 2018

    Chapter 3a:

    “You think that’s going to be fast enough to outrun a Risen, recruits,” snapped Myrie, arms crossed behind her as she strode behind a line of racing Vigil soldiers, “then you’ve got an unpleasant lesson to learn.” She armed her shortbow, aimed, and launched an inky shot that teleported her to where it landed. A young charr nearly leapt out of his tawny fur in shock as Myrie’s dagger rushed towards his muzzle. “Claw Island is now heavily fortified by the enemy. The odds are not stacked in our favor.” He barely managed to parry her blows, growling in frustration as her blade glinted like a flickering star in the light of the setting sun. She nodded briefly in acknowledgement of his defense before sneaking around to the back of an asura, sweeping her squat legs out from under her. She rolled with the movement, drawing two swords and leaping back only to discover that the ground below her had a steep drop-off. She landed with a yelp.
    “You’ve got to know your territory, soldiers,” Myrie called out, dodging the asura’s vicious swipe at her knees and stealing her blade in the process. “Simply going off of what we know is not going to work this round. Keep your wits sharp and never fight alone. The Risen will kill without hesitation or mercy, and this means that you need to be ever-vigilant that your own allies do not have the chance to become corrupted.”
    “Easier said than done,” muttered a brawny norn.
    “Care to repeat that?” Myrie shouted, stalking up to him and brandishing her daggers. “In case it missed your attention, recruit, anything that kills the living will also work on the undead. Does it have a heart?” Her weapon hovered over her own chest. “Stab it. If it’s still got its head, remove it. Don’t think just because you’re bigger – or smaller – than your opponent that victory is uncertain.” She sheathed her daggers, glaring up at him. “If you think like that, you’re already as good as dead. You’ve got to fight smart.”
    “What do we look like, the Priory?” he snorted. “If I wanted to run from the enemy or hide in holes, then sure, I’d have joined them.” He hefted an axe over his shoulder, sneering as he turned on his heel. “Forget this. If I want to fight Risen, I’m doing it my way.” Myrie watched his retreating back, jaw shifting as her eyes narrowed.
    “Ma’am?” The charr spoke uncertainly. “Are you just going to let him go?”
    Her arm moved like a blur, throwing a glittering silver spike at the retreating soldier’s back. He barely turned in time to avoid having it hit any major organs, but her blade stuck in his arm. He gave a bellow of pain, face twisted in rage.
    “What in Bear’s name was that for?” He yanked it out, throwing it aside and clamping a hand over the bleeding wound.
    “You knew I’d react somehow, didn’t you?” Myrie snapped. “So why weren’t you prepared? I’m a predicable ally, and I could have killed you right then. What makes you think you’ll survive against the Risen?” She marched over to him, glaring at his challenging fist. “Go on, strike me,” she hissed. “Maybe Zhaitan’s horde will have second thoughts when they see you run mewling away because you can’t be bothered to take orders.”
    “You’re mad, tiny,” he hissed.
    “And I’m not a coward. Tell me, which one of us fought against the dragon’s minions, huh? I didn’t come running just because of some overinflated sense of glory. You can either straighten up and get back in line, or I’ll actually let you charge in there and die in the first place, because something tells me that you never really planned on sticking around if it wasn’t going to end up with your name in the stories of the skaalds.”
    He took a long, deep breath through his nose, glaring down at her. She defiantly stared back, emerald eyes as sharp as her daggers. Finally, with a growl of frustration, he hefted his axe back over his shoulder and marched back into line. Myrie felt her shoulders singing with frustration, and as much as she would have liked to have immediately sighed or gone and relaxed after that moment of tension, she knew that as their squad leader, she had the responsibility to keep them all quick to fight and cohesive when fighting as a unit.
    “Everyone meet back in the Lion’s Square. We’ve got to meet up with the other squads shortly and see how they’re faring. Dismissed!”

    Want to pick up where you left off with Traveling Circus? Look under "Traveling Circus" here: https://firestonewritesstuff.tumblr.com/

  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited October 8, 2017

    Chapter 3b:

    The thief rolled her shoulders as the Vigil unit marched away, their normal low buzz of conversation and hushed whispers more like a dull drone; not a single laugh or triumphant cry interrupted the gray cloud of noise that hovered ominously over them. A senior officer took over the unit’s beach drills, allowing Myrie to be swept aside by Sylfia, who looked equal amounts of irate and concerned.
    “We can’t find ‘er,” the sylvari growled. “Selana’s assured me she’s not in the Whispers’ camps, and the Priory knows better than to let her near their artifacts – ”
    “Wait, slow down,” Myrie stopped in her tracks, causing the sylvari to undergo an equally-drastic halt. “Who can’t we find? Please tell me it’s not who I think it is…”
    “Oh, unless you know more than one raging sylvari psychopath, please let me know!” Sylfia removed her helm, freeing her stiff, pointed leaf-hair from the metal. “Just wot we need during this rotten mess,” she seethed.
    “She won’t cause any harm as long as my seal’s still on her,” Gryphon said, emerging from a Whispers tent flap. Whatever mutterings had been going on as the thief and warrior approached had become sharply silent. “And I assure you, it would take some impressively-potent work to get it off without any negative consequences.”
    “Why do we even keep her around if she’s such a bad thing?” Myrie huffed, crossing her arms.
    The mesmer shook his head. “I don’t like her any more than either of you – I would dare say I like her less – but we’re in a desperate situation. With one Elder Dragon on the rise and more to doubtless follow, we can use someone with her talents to taste corruption or sense other energies. She’s unusually-sensitive to them. The Master of Whispers has consulted with Steward Gixx, and both have agreed that it’s exceedingly-rare to have someone like her around. Not to mention,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his neck, “she’s rather good at getting information out of otherwise-unresponsive captives…”
    “You mean torture,” Sylfia grimaced. “Obviously whatever seals you’ve got on ‘er don’t seem to be inhibiting her murder factor.”
    “Actually,” the mesmer said slowly, looking from one to the other, “it has.”
    Myrie shuddered, remembering those many nights ago when she had awoken to find the necromancer tasting the blood of Selana and herself. Gryphon had threatened Nettle in no uncertain terms that any further experimentation on her impromptu guild members would result in her most precious object – her brain – being reduced to little more than a potato in its functionality. She had since then fought alongside them with cold, deadly accuracy, striking more as a surgeon whittling away bad flesh than a frenzied bloodletter. Still, having her free to kill or experiment on others outside of the Knights of Gryphon or the heads of the Orders left her with nearly all of Tyria to test.
    “At a time like this,” Gryphon’s voice broke into Myrie’s memories, “we can’t afford to have her gone. The dragon could easily be readying a massive counterattack before we can reclaim the island. If we can’t get that back, there’s no way we’ll be able to launch into Orr.”
    “Well, fortunately for you,” a calm voice intoned, the low, hollow tapping of fingernails on bone accenting her words, “you won’t need to worry too much. Well, not about me, anyway.” Nettle slid from the shadow of a tree and into the light, smiling blissfully at the rays as they beamed warmly down on her pale face. Myrie’s stomach lurched. There was something very, very wrong with how innocent and frail her form seemed compared with the cruel, inhuman rationality of her mind. “Unfortunately,” the necromancer continued blithely, cleaning her nails with her dagger, “it appears as though my talents have come in handy at the wrong time.”
    “What do you mean?” Gryphon loomed over her; she merely smiled at his grim face.
    “Isn’t it obvious? There are traitors in your midst. All of your orders have been compromised.”
    “Then let’s head in and root them out before they can do any more harm,” Sylfia snarled, hefting her hammer.
    “There you go again, thinking like a Vigil,” Nettle sighed, rolling her eyes. “Spies work best when they think they’re safe. If you let them know they’ve been uncovered, they either tunnel like worms into a corpse or lash out.”
    “Well, we can’t just stand here and let whoever it is send messages to….” Myrie’s brow furrowed. “Who, exactly, is spying on us?”
    “How do you get anything done, thinking with all of that meat? Let me outline it for you. Who or what would most stand to benefit from the destruction of the unity of the three most powerful Orders in Tyria?”
    Myrie’s stomach dropped. Nettle clapped slowly. “The ink of realization has finally spilled upon your blank page of a face. The dragon is smarter than we give it credit. Be careful when you work on uprooting your worms from your apples. If it lashes out, you know more than nearly anyone that it’s going to spew its venom, and we have no clue who will get burned.”

    Want to pick up where you left off with Traveling Circus? Look under "Traveling Circus" here: https://firestonewritesstuff.tumblr.com/

  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited May 16, 2018

    Chapter 4a:

    "How are you holding up?" Llumin's head rose from her scroll at the sound of Selana's voice. She rolled it closed with a quick whisper of parchment.
    "As well as can be expected," she replied with a brave smile, standing and brushing dust off of her segmented skirt. Selana supposed that the leaves making up her armor could very well be considered a part of the sylvari's body; the line between it and skin seemed blurred, as if she grew it from herself. "Was there something you wanted to talk about?"
    "It was just recently that you wanted to speak to myself," the elementalist replied. "May I sit down?"
    The mesmer motioned to a threadbare plush chair. "I think I know of what you speak," she said hesitantly, replacing the scroll and sitting opposite of her. "As mad as it seems..."
    "In a world beseiged by dragons of unfathomable power, hardly anything seems normal anymore." Selana gave her an encouraging smile. "You have nothing to worry about from me."
    "But this is all so... so different from what can be expected! The Elder Dragons are a new facet of life, albeit one I'm sure we can take down, surely. But this... these memories..." Her leafed brow furrowed. "There's no logical explanation for them. None that make any possible sense."
    "You're speaking about the memories of your birth. Not the rebirth from the Pale Tree -- your true birth." Llumin's wide eyes rose from her latticed fingers to stare hesitantly at Selana. The elementalist sighed, shaking her head. "You saw the ghosts on the battlefield, didn't you?"
    "Mother and Father," she murmured. "At least," she laughed softly, "that's what those few memories would suggest."
    "Then we are in agreement." Selana stood, hunching over slightly in the Magister's tent, before giving an awkward cough and returning to her seat.
    "You're a bit taller than I am," the sylvari smiled.
    "You're taking this surprisingly well," came the noblewoman's reply. "I was in a state of shock when I discovered.... well, it's a long story."
    "I was dying, wasn't I? That's why Mother and Father brought me to the Pale Tree -- to see if she would be able to heal me."
    "No. At that rate, they had all but accepted that you weren't going to live very long; at least, not as a human. They prayed to the Six for forgiveness when they asked that you be accepted into the sylvari's Dream of Dreams to be reborn. Gryphon Radwing -- "
    "The other mesmer? The red-haired one?"
    "That's him. He said that I was so distraught at what was happening that it would have caused a severe mental schism if he hadn't sealed the memories of you. I suppose something similar must have happened to you?"
    "I was just an infant. It's honestly a surprise that I remembered any of it -- it must have been the Dream which preserved those few recollections, though I just dismissed them as someone else's. They seemed too improbable to be mine. I just thought I had some strange admiration for humans brought about by my own curiosity for knowledge."
    "And that may still be."
    "But it was really when your friend, the necromancer -- "
    "The other sylvari? Nettle?"
    Llumin nodded vigorously. "Yes; her." She paused, enthusiasm mellowing at Selana's face. "Although I take it," she said hesitantly, "that she wasn't really your friend?"
    "The enemy of my enemy," came the human's cold reply. "The Orders are all skittish of her for very good reason."
    "Well, after she visited me, talking about humans, I thought that perhaps she might know more about those sylvari who felt like outsiders -- those who had been born in the wrong skin. And it seemed as though her chats were helping. I felt as though I had some direction towards understanding who I was. Yet I never could really push away the feeling that something was missing. Memories of a sibling or parents I never had. After all," she shook her head, a bitter smile on her face, "I was sylvari. We are all born from the Pale Tree, our only mother. Siblings or parents we can all adopt on our own. Seeing you for the first time made me remember that strange dream, although it was still distant and many events were obscured."
    "I would guess that the Pale Tree helped subdue them. She probably didn't want you to be too upset about your old life."
    "Mother would have been perfectly happy if I had never remembered, I think. She doesn't hate or think unwell of humans, but as any parent would, she worried about how the memories of my past life would affect me. She was right to worry. I'm getting better with them now," she said quickly, noticing Selana's worried expression. "It's just that... it's still rather strange, thinking that I have a human for my sister. Not just an adopted one, but one who is actually of my own flesh and blood."
    "Well, I doubt I'm made of leaves and sap," Selana smiled, "but I understand how you feel."
    Llumin stood, walking over to a small firepit where a small. silver teakettle bubbled. She wrapped her hand with a thick woolen scarf before removing it and pouring hot water into two earthen cups and placing a few vibrant purple leaves into them. "I grew this tea myself," she said, adding quickly that they weren't literally leaves grown from her own body. "Would you like some?"
    Selana nodded and accepted the warm mug, blowing on the hot brew to cool it down. Taking a sip of the pleasantly fruity, herbal drink, she set the cup aside and asked, "So, now that we are both aware of our relationship, how would you like to proceed?"
    "Does anyone else know that we're sisters?"
    "If anyone else outside of the Knights of Gryphon heard the tale, I really doubt they'd believe it," Selana replied, shrugging. "You don't have to announce it to the world. I wouldn't be surprised if you or I would be poorly treated by our respective races because of it."
    "Well, that's stupid," Llumin declared, frowning. "Just because we don't look much alike doesn't mean that we aren't family!"
    Selana couldn't stop the grin from forming on her face at the sylvari's serious expression. "You're right there. Nonetheless, I will leave the choice up to you." She stood to leave. "I do have to ask, though, in the spirit of sisterliness: How long have you admired the Marshal?"
    Llumin's eyes widened, a vivid flush causing her light purple glow to brighten like a lit candle. "I don't -- I mean, I know he doesn't -- but we're of the same Cycle, and he's very intelligent and determined and kind, very encouraging --"
    "All right, all right," Selana laughed. "Don't worry, I won't push either of you. You're both very intelligent, but I won't walk where I'm not wanted."
    Llumin's wide blue eyes stared up at her. "I'm not in love with him, you know. I just admire his work and character."
    "Mm. And he certainly seems to have a high opinion of you from what I've heard. But we have work to do. It was wonderful to speak with you, Llumin. Stay safe."
    "I will. And," Selana turned to see the sylvari smiling shyly, willow-leaved hair draping slightly over her face, "please feel free to call me 'sister' if you so wish. Should you require any help with research, please let me know."
    "And I will be in the Order of Whispers if you need any secrets revealed. Stay in touch, sister."

    Want to pick up where you left off with Traveling Circus? Look under "Traveling Circus" here: https://firestonewritesstuff.tumblr.com/

  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited February 1, 2018

    Chapter 4b:

    Selana re-entered the campgrounds, noticing a distinctly-different air about the place. It was buzzing with suspicion. Order was seperate from Order, and all eyes stared at one another skittishly. Many were armed.
    "Did you hear?" she caught wind of an asura whispering to her partner furtively. "Rumors say we've been compromised."
    "A spy," growled a charr Initiate as she walked by. "Dragon's got its teeth into someone's brain. Trahearne's saying we might have an attack soon, but when? Where?"
    "We can't let fear paralyze us," a magister stated, smacking her fist into her hand. "I say let it come. We'll take it out and defend our camp. It'll be a good warmup before we kill its champion at the island."
    "Don't be overconfident." Khimma's voice snapped into the norn magister's boast. "We're not dealing with some tomb robbers. We're dealing with an Elder Dragon."
    "Wait, what's that?" Lyca Whitestorm emerged from the chef's tent, carrying a platter of sandwiches. Elmfrond hastily sneaked over and swiped several from it, stuffing them into his pack as the ranger set the tray down and drew her bow.
    "Where?" he asked, green cheeks bulging with roasted chicken and homemade bread.
    "There." She pointed at a speck in the sky. Her wolf growled at it as her eyes narrowed. "I think we have our spy."
    "Wait; don't shoot!" Selana warned; yet by the time her warning was voiced, the white-haired norn had already drawn back and fired a deadly arrow. Shocked yelps were heard in the camp as the rotten corpse of an eagle plummeted to the ground, twitching as it was returned to its eternal rest.
    "There," the norn sighed. "I think that solves our problem."
    Trahearne had entered the main camp during the commotion. Upon seeing the Risen eagle's corpse, he looked up. "That eagle was definitely our spy... When did you see it?"
    Elmfrond remarked that he'd seen some sort of speck in the sky a while back but had dismissed it as a seagull. He swallowed his sandwich. "I'm... guessing that wasn't what it was."
    "No. No, it wasn't."
    The waters behind the camp began to seethe. The necromancer's golden eyes narrowed. "Everyone, brace yourselves," he shouted, drawing Caladbolg. Its blade glowed in the chilling air. "We're under attac --!"
    A Risen krait lunged from the depths of the sea, brandishing barnacle-encrusted weapons with fangs bared, rotting flesh shining slickly in the dull light of the torches. Elmfrond drew his pistols and loosed a round of lead into its rotting skull, sending putrid fragments of skin and bone spewing in the air.
    "Under attack, got it," he panted. "Anything you want us to do?"
    More Risen emerged from the seas, dripping saltwater snarling gurgling threats.
    "Defend the tents," the Marshal ordered. "They have our information on the Risen and their plans. If those get destroyed, we might not have the chance to push them out again."
    "Push them back," Selana shouted. "Push past them, and we can retake the Island!"
    "We have to find their leader," Trahearne said, swinging his gleaming blade. "See if you can find which one of these brutes is leading the charge and kill it. Their offensive is useless without someoe directing it."
    "You've got it! SHU-TY, tie their rotten tendons in knots," Khimma barked, dashing from the Priory's inventions tent with her tiny silver golem. Klixx turned disbelieving eyes on her as the automaton clinked to the ground and bobbed away.
    "See, you just admitted that thing can be used as a weapon! When this battle's over, I'm dismantling it!"
    Her hammer sent a shambling human reeling back. "Don't you dare touch my precious little golem!" she snapped, shooting him a glare before returning her gaze to the fray. Klixx sent a firebolt crashing into the bloated stomach of an oncoming foe, conjuring a bellowing gust of wind and sending another attacker flying from the guardian's exposed side.
    "It's not precious," he retorted. "It's a device of pure, unadulturated evil!"
    There was a series of moaning cries as a line of Risen ravagers toppled to the ground, mangled legs crumpling beneath them. SHU-TY dashed away from their clawing hands, whistling cheerily.
    "Good golem!" Khimma cried, blasting two of the undeads' heads with her hammer.
    Klixx huffed in frustration. "Why I even bother..."
    "Watch yer back!" His collar was roughly tugged back as he found himself rising into the air. He briefly protested before he saw a red-leaved head crash into the stomach of a silent Risen that had stalked upon him unawares. It flew back as Sylfia plunked him back onto the earth. "Yer welcome," she muttered, wiping rotten matter from her brow as she charged back into the fray.

    Elsewhere by the tents, the tides of reanimated foes clawed and gasped at the defenders with blind fury. Mesmeric magic shattered on one foe, converging with single-minded fury into mental shards of pain.
    "Get the injured away from the Risen! Don't let them be struck," Llumin cried. "We can't let the dragon add any more to its army today!"
    "It won't." Selana raised her hands to the sky, calling down healing rain and soothing wounds before she summoned winds to speed the injured along. "Go on, get to the center of the camp!"
    A piercing, unearthly wail echoed through the camp. Selana felt the blood drain from her face. All movement seemed to slow. From the edge of the seawater rose the staggering remains of a norn female, skin gray and flecked with barnacles.
    "Do you think that's our leader?" she asked, turning to deflect a blow and searing the face of a snapping Risen. Llumin's sword finished it off before she raised her eyes towards the noise, face grim. The norn, brandishing a driftwood scepter, stalked towards them. She howled down at a Vigil recruit who had failed to retreat in time. His screams briefly drowned out hers before they were abruptly cut off. Her rotten face turned towards them as she began to take up her unearthly screams again.
    "I'd say that's a yes," Selana muttered, laying down a line of flames to ward off the Risen that rushed their way. Llumin brandished her sword, readying a defensive stance.
    "Then let's end her. On your mark...!"

    Want to pick up where you left off with Traveling Circus? Look under "Traveling Circus" here: https://firestonewritesstuff.tumblr.com/

  • A quick FYI: The link to your original story no longer works. If you'd like help putting the original manuscript somewhere that others can access it, I'd be glad to help you out!

  • @Gryphon Radwing.7042 said:
    A quick FYI: The link to your original story no longer works. If you'd like help putting the original manuscript somewhere that others can access it, I'd be glad to help you out!

    Thank you! That would be very much appreciated -- I have all of the original manuscript saved offline, but if you'd be willing to help, I would be more than willing to accept the offer!


    Want to pick up where you left off with Traveling Circus? Look under "Traveling Circus" here: https://firestonewritesstuff.tumblr.com/

  • Chapter 5a:

    Fighting against the Risen, Trahearne had once told Llumin, was like fighting the tides. They would come and go, sometimes with strong attacks and others with little more than a scouting party. Unlike the tides, however, they could be unpredictable, appearing without season or rhyme. You could attempt to divine their next place or time of attack, he had continued, spreading his fingers over a map scored with marks where they had begun to encroach on previously uninfested land, but you could never truly be certain. When they did come, the Risen were truly like the sea. They were cold, they felt no pain, and they didn’t stop coming until, as if called by some silent song, they simply fell off of the attack. The dragon’s minons couldn’t possibly be endless, he had mused, standing and walking from the parchment. Otherwise, why would it retreat instead of simply overwhelming its foes from the start?
    “We have to make it feel pain,” he said fiercely, eyes glowing. “It must be fed somehow. Stop up the mouth, blind the eyes, and we could possibly take this thing down. But never underestimate it. Never think that you’ve won against its minions until you’ve killed the last one to rise. Even then,” he had said, standing and taking the parchment, “you should always keep an eye open. Set a guard. Don’t stop fighting. We’ve come this far. If we can retake the Island… we might just have a chance.”

    Don’t stop fighting. Those words echoed in Llumin’s mind as she let out a cry of pain; a Risen’s claws had dug into her arm. Even when severed from its limb, the hand had only further tightened its grip. She beat it off fiercely, swallowing the scream that threatened to burst from her lips. Golden sap oozed from the wounds it made, incisions burning with pain. She grunted as she clasped her palm over it, squeezing to staunch the flow. The Risen leader still stood, blocking and attacking from within a center of Pact warriors with inhuman speed and ferocity. “They don’t tire,” she whispered, eyes narrowing. She readjusted her grip on her sword. “Selana, how hold the gates?”
    The elementalist summoned a shield of magnetic waves that reflected a putrid cloud of poison from her, sending it hurtling back at the caster. A grasping dead found that her staff was useful for more than magical purposes as she punched its end through the back of its skull, spilling its brains and gagging as it died.
    “They’re holding, but barely,” she grimaced. She let out a cry of pain as the corpse of an asura warrior lurched from the ground, blood still fresh in its veins as it lashed out with dulled claws and snarled at her. A thin, cold dagger sighed into its neck and easily carved the head free from its holding.
    “We’d best kill our snake properly, then,” Nettle purred, running her tongue down the flat of her blade before melting back into battle. Adam’s eyesockets burned with necromantic energy, chilling foes in front of her and freezing the rotten flesh in place until it was sliced away. “Cut off the head,” her lilting voice echoed through the throng. “And the body will die.”
    “Quit dancin’ round the bloody enemies, then,” Sylfia snarled, eyes wild as she horse-collared a foe and crunched its head against another’s, “and getcher sorry-leaved backside at it!”
    “Don’t worry, sister,” Nettle sighed, rolling her eyes. “We’ll kill it soon.”
    “Soon ain’t enough, we’re losin’ men!”
    “Mm, but think of the observations we can make! Trahearne, isn’t that what you would want?”
    The Firstborn was already shouting orders at the massed units, directing them towards taking down casters and stripping away the norn’s guard. Nettle frowned, lip curling in a sneer. “Fine, then,” she said, drawing her staff and casting necromantic symbols on the ground, “more experiments for me.”
    “You’ll fight alongside us and focus your attacks on the leader.” Gryphon’s cold voice echoed in her ears as the mark on the back of her neck burned and seethed. Nettle hissed, slapping at it before whirling around to send a chilling glare at the mesmer. “As you wish, Lord Radwing,” she growled.

    Want to pick up where you left off with Traveling Circus? Look under "Traveling Circus" here: https://firestonewritesstuff.tumblr.com/

  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited March 4, 2018

    Chapter 5b:
    The fight against the risen norn was brutal; hordes of undead continued to stagger ravenously from the sea, and even under dozens of blows and bleeding from multiple wounds, she still clung to her stolen life until her resistance finally ebbed out with the rotten blood from her veins. Few Risen attempted to rise from the sea after that, though the Pact couldn’t help but feel as though this was merely another calm before the storm. There was no time for celebration; the tents with medical supplies had been rent, and despite the choice to stay slightly off-shore in order to keep the undead as far away from the city as possible, there was still the unwanted chance that some had slipped in; the Lionguard would need whatever help they could get.
    Sylfia slumped against a gore-slicked barrel, breathing ragged.
    “Hey,” Myrie’s voice came from above her; the green-eyed sylvari squinted at the brunette’s silhouette. “You doing all right?”
    She gave a bark of laughter. “Oi’ve been burned twice in my life, nearly died both times, found out that there’s a bunch of undead that might just want to kill us all, and decided to follow my Wyld Hunt of whatever-it-is anyway.” Her thin lips jagged upwards in a fierce smile. “O’ course I ain’t fine, fleshy, I’ve got breathing troubles and was just battl’in your reanimated companions and whatnot.” She tipped her helmet down, shadowing her eyes. “Wake me when I’m sober.”
    Myrie straightened and crossed her arms. “You just got out of battle. I really doubt you’ve found something to drink already.”
    The warrior’s response was a hollow backfist to the barrel behind her. “Why d’you think I slumped over ‘ere, eh? Blood Legion whisky, tha’ll put the spark back in ya.”
    The thief rolled her eyes. “I’ll give you three gold that says it gets confiscated for use as medical supplies.”
    The helmet tipped back. “Not if Oi drink it first! Wh – HOI!”
    Myrie smirked as she watched two Pact soldiers cart off the barrel without so much as an apology. She raised an eyebrow and glanced down at Sylfia, who rubbed at her sore shoulder.
    “Told you. Don’t worry about the gold,” she said, waving her hand.
    The warrior’s eyes narrowed as she rose. “Why, how uncharacteristically gen’rous of you, Miss Ward.”
    “Eh, I already pickpocketed it from you. You’re good.”
    “You – !”
    “Well done, soldiers!” Trahearne strode into the center of the camp interrupting Sylfia’s insult. His shoulders slumped yet his eyes burned with fervor. “We have proven our worth as a fighting team. We have lost some men in this fray, but we know, as do they, that no longer is the dragon’s force an unstoppable one. We shall rest for what is required. The dead will be remembered, but we cannot stop now.” He looked over the crowd, pride gleaming in his gaze. “It is time for us to put our combined strengths into action. Tomorrow, we take back Claw Island!”
    “For the Pact!” cheered Elmfrond, raising a fist. Other voices echoed the cry.
    “For Sieran!” Khimma and Klixx shouted alongside Llumin.
    “For Forgal!” Sylfia pounded her fist over her chestplate.
    “For Tybalt!” Myrie roared, raising a call with the Order.
    Nettle stood at the side, silently watching. Her gaze was unfathomable, though she had echoed Elmfrond’s rallying cry. She caught Myrie’s stare, and her lips curved, sending a cold chill down the thief’s spine. The necromancer was on their side, she knew, but who could fathom what the Order of Whispers allowed her to study in their pursuit of weaponry against the Elder Dragons? A thin ripple of spectral smoke flickered around Llumin and Selana’s outlines before disappearing; Nettle’s eyes latched catlike onto them as her fingers slowly rotated Adam in her hand.
    “Oi, we’re movin’ shortly, Ward,” Sylfia barked, shoving an oil-rag into her pack as she hefted it over her shoulder. “Don’ let whatever Nettle’s doin’ – or not doin’, for that matter – get to yer head, yeah? She’ll fight for us,” she grunted, steadying her grip on the straps. “E’en if she won’t like it.”

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  • Chapter 6a:

    Lyca Whitestorm grunted as she hefted her pitted, cast-iron cauldron over her shoulder and trudged behind the caravan. The wolf at her side shook its white-furred head, growling threateningly at a twitching corpse.
    “It’s dead, Fang,” she said, not pausing from her stride. She shifted her pack, sliding the cauldron to the other shoulder and turning her head slightly to look behind her. “Pup,” she called, voice echoing eerily in the sudden silence of the abandoned battlefield. “How are you holding up back there?”
    “I’m fine,” came the reply. It was followed by a shout of surprise and two rapid pistol-shots, answered with a gurgling sigh. “Well,” Elmfrond panted as he jogged towards the norn, “now I am.”
    “Did we miss one back there?” The woman slowed her pace, allowing the shorter sylvari to keep up. The wolf chuffed, ears twitching, as he went to his other side. The thief nodded.
    “I still don’t like how the dragon uses its minions,” he muttered. “Never can tell when one’s really and truly dead.”
    “There’s one way.” Lyca lowered her pack, kneeling by some wounded soldiers. A fragrant, rich broth was ladled from the heavy pot and into crude earthen bowls, gingerly handed to them. The soldiers murmured their thanks as they slowly ate the hot stew and as the norn went on. “You turn the corpses so battered that not even the Elder Dragon could make use of them.”
    Elmfrond grimaced, maroon hair-leaves shining dully in the dim light. Occasionally a passing torch would illuminate his face. “That seems excessive.”
    There was a slight crackle in the air, a growl to the norn’s voice that wasn’t quite normal. “Pup,” she said, silver-blue eyes like clear ice in the hazy sky, “you were nearly injured by one that someone else may have called excessive. In war, there is little grace given.” He shrank back slightly beneath her shadow. She frowned, the harsh lines fading from her brow. “I’m sorry, young one,” she sighed. She lowered a hand to pat his head; he blinked at the touch. “It is easy to forget that though you are fully-formed, you are still young.”
    “That’s why you call me ‘Pup’, isn’t it?” A grin split his face. “Because I’m young yet able to pack some ‘bite’?” He flourished his pistols; Lyca couldn’t keep herself from smiling.
    “Yes, Elmfrond. That is part of it.” Again the great soup-pot swung down. Elmfrond knew from experience that he could use it as a bathing kettle if he wished, but that Lyca did not appreciate the last time she had returned to find it half-full of lavender petals and steamed sylvari.
    “What’s the other part?” He watched as she peered into the kettle, humming thoughtfully. She arched a silver brow at him, a quirk to her pale lips.
    “Like Fang once was as a young thing,” she said, raising the kettle once more and continuing to walk, “you are energetic, innocent, and yet quite full of teeth.” She gave a meaningful look at his pistols. “But aside from that,” she said, giving a low chuckle, “you are quite fond of food.”
    “I’m not fat,” he protested, amber eyes flashing.
    “Of course not,” she hummed. “And I’ve never understood those who would deny a good meal.”
    “It’s war,” he said gingerly, stepping over a root that the advancing Pact had missed. “I don’t think the troops would like much fancy food out here.”
    “You’d be surprised, Pup.” Another stop. Two charr raised their bowls in thanks as they tipped them up and drained the rest of the hot broth. They settled back into their armor, tightening leather belts and polishing swords with more vigor than before.
    “One of the things that makes me think of home is the meals my father and mother would make to share with us. It might not be much, but a good roast ram, studded with rosemary and roasted over an open fire or in an oven, always will bring me comfort. My father would have a little secret about the loins when he would cook them – he would take a long, steel pole and poke dried fruits into the meat before cooking it. On cold winters,” she said, staring ahead as she followed the caravan, “those moments that tasted of spring would seem brighter than the others, though the sun’s shadow may have lengthened that day. Food is home, pup,” she smiled. “It is warmth and comfort and shelter, strength and courage all in one. So, no, I suppose some may not want to think of that while out here, but for those who do?” She took a great cloth from her pack, quickly ran it around the kettle’s bulbous interior, and hooked the empty pot onto a fastener. “For those who want to have a taste of what they fight for, we can give them that.” The sylvari looked up at her and nodded slowly. She smiled and pressed a parcel of food into his hand.
    “Now, come on and eat up. I believe we have a dragon to fight.”

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  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited May 9, 2018

    Chapter 7a:

    The Pact fleet swarmed into Claw Island’s overrun harbor, guns firing into the seething tides as the Risen clawed their way above the water, desperate to tear their ways into the ships. A black-furred charr leaned over the crow’s nest, shouldering a rifle flickering blue with ghostfire. An experimental weapon, but this field would be a worthy testing ground for it. A black lip curled over small, yellowed fangs as she squinted amber-colored eyes, aiming the weapon at an undead that had somehow scrabbled up one of the sides of the boats. The gun gave a thunderous roar, spitting a magic-infused bullet that sent the Risen’s skull splattering into the stormy sky.
    She gave a triumphant snarl as it fell from the rigging.
    Her ears swiveled down; she could barely hear the captain’s voice above the din of battle and the howling storm.
    “Test your guns when they’re pointed away from our ships!”
    “Aye, sir,” she said, holstering the rifle and descending to the deck. A light flickered across the waters; the ship with the Marshal and some of the spearheading forces had reached the docks; already the path towards the gate was thick with the Dragon’s minions. Bloodlust, old as the magic her father, that disgrace of a Flame Legion shaman, had guarded, rose in her chest. He had been a traitor when she was born, sullying her name as a cub. When she had met him as an adult, he had changed and fought against the Flame Legion to not only save her life, but that of her Legion’s leader, Imperator Smodur the Unflinching. It was her Iron Legion that had instructed her how to forge the ghostbore musket she held, but it was her father who had shown her how to bend the wrathful flames of the dead Ascalonians into the very bullets that would kill them.
    Nonetheless, she’d rather not go down in history as the crackpot charr who sank one of her allied vessels for the simple reason of testing out her new weapon. The captain’s voice cracked through the storm once more, drawing her gaze from the mesmerizing flicker of the rifle’s blue flame.
    “Everyone man the cannons! We’ve got to make sure the Marshal and the rest of the fleet can make it to the island!”

    Khimma’s blue head bobbed as the Risen that had popped up from the side of the ship exploded in a halo of ghostly fire and maggoty brains. Regaining her nerve, she rose again and cupped her hands to her mouth. “Hey, fire away from our ships, bookah!”
    Abovedeck, Trahearne held conference with the leaders of the Orders, pausing to give a quick word to Llumin or listen to input from Selana or Gryphon Radwing. Finally, he nodded, and the leaders disembarked, spell and blade and weaponry at the ready.
    “Cut a line through them! We have to get through the gate!” he shouted, raising lumbering minions to defend against the vicious occupiers.
    “What then, Marshal?” Nettle leapt back as a Risen norn’s hammer cleft through the air and crashed into the stone where she once stood.
    “If you’ll please stop jittering around, these wires are very delicate,” Klixx snapped, hefting a diamond-shaped prism out of the way of scrabbling claws and nearly tottering over in the process.
    “The plan is, we blast through the gate by refitting the lighthouse with the prism Klixx has there,” Llumin said. She gave a grunt of pain as her blow was parried by an undead asura, who lashed at her with blind fury.
    A fireball incinerated the creature, sending its charred corpse screaming to the ground. “Afterwards we storm the gates and set up invasion points to reclaim major locations and weaponry,” Selana continued smoothly. “Once that’s done – ”
    “Once that’s done, we get the bloody lieutenant dragon whatsit right in the gob and kill it so the Dragon knows that it ain’t gettin’ this Island back again!”
    “Well-put, Sylfia!” Gryphon beamed as he parried a strike and buried his sword to the hilt in a jabbering corpse’s chest. It sank gurgling to the ground, grey flesh slack as the Pact continued its charge up to the broken lighthouse. Klixx and Khimma jogged over to the broken panel; the latter pried away the old panel while the former squinted and started to line up the wires. Meanwhile, the rest of the group battled desperately against the undead, who had begun to congregate around them at the sight of the new prism.
    “Oh dear,” Klixx muttered, absentmindedly twitching his ear out of Khimma’s hammer range as she golfed a shrieking Risen away from him. “Khimma, are you sure these blueprints are right? Whoever first made this lighthouse was an idiot!”
    “That would be the Priory, cog-brain!”
    “Well, tell them to let us handle any future wiring for laser-lighthouse compatibility, hm?”
    “All right, all right, I’ve got it!” He twisted the last two wires together and shoved the prism back into the casing. The glowing stone at the top of the lighthouse rotated once and flared. A bright blue beam lanced through the night and blasted through the bony fortifications at the fort’s main gate. Below, the main bulk of the Pact’s forces gave a cheer.
    “We’re through! Now, forward! We must recapture the weaponry and repel the undead!”

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  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited May 21, 2018

    Chapter 7b:

    Like two colossal tides crashing against each other, the Pact and the Risen locked into battle with a chaotic roar. Myrie thumbed the safety on her pistols, took a slow breath, and rolled into the fray. A Risen gorilla beat its chest and roared down at her, charging forward flanked by others of its kind. She raised her guns and unloaded a firestorm of lead. The bullets sunk heavily into the gorilla’s thick skull; the beast gave a gurgle as its charge came to a stumbling halt. She dodged the skidding corpse and leapt to the side. One second of peace allowed her mind to catch and race through the possibilities.
    “Marshal,” she barked, pointing to a parapet.
    Trahearne glanced at her, sending several Risen hurtling back with a wave of magic from Caladbolg. Understanding lit his gaze. He nodded, shouting orders to the Pact forces.
    “Keep the Risen contained to the courtyard while you can! The rest of you – with me! We’ll occupy that parapet and go from there! Push them back!”
    Klixx whooped as he let loose a bolt of chain lightning. Smells of rotten, charred meat filled the air as undead were sent screeching to their final rests. Khimma’s shield repelled those that tried to snag him, hammer making short work of those who pushed past.
    “We’ll help the soldiers in the courtyard!”
    Sylfia nocked flaming arrows onto a bow carved from molten metal. Two Risen servants coughed putrid blood as the smoldering shots lanced through their throats. In that moment, Myrie could see how the warrior and Nettle were related; in the heat of battle, both sylvari wore the carved, grim smiles of war. It was in the eyes that they differed – while one fought with the fury of a warrior, the other battled with the fanatic light of blood-frenzy.
    Ascending the steps, Trahearne raised his sword barely in time to block a crushing blow from a Risen abomination. He grunted, struggling to hold his stance as the towering creature roared in his face.
    “Llumin!” Selana cast down a line of fire. The mesmer leapt forward, enrobing herself in a flaming shield as she crossed the line, rolled behind the abomination, and struck, severing its hamstrings. The monster gave a horrifying bellow of rage as it sank to its knees. The Marshal whirled around as the thorn of the Pale Tree bit deeply into its chest. The Risen gave one final howl before it fell dead.
    “Quickly now,” Trahearne gasped, raising necrotic bone wurms as he turned to face the courtyard. “We must press on!”
    “There are trebuchets on the eastern and western ramparts that we can retake and repair,” Gryphon said. “I’ll get some of our fastest workers on them.”
    “And I’ll assist with the cleansing of prey.” Nettle switched her weapons to a staff with three fused skulls. The glow from Adam’s eyes faded, reappearing in the lowest of the three. “We will end them,” she said. The glow in her eyes mirrored the skull’s and the necrotic marks she cast on the ground. “Drag the enemies into the marks,” she snarled.
    Llumin’s illusions strode across them harmlessly, fighting stances mirroring the mesmer’s. The Risen surrounding the broken trebuchet turned on them, snarling and firing poisoned darts. For a moment, the flickering images flinched and stumbled. Then, at a single silent command from the sylvari, they converged on a target, throwing their arms open and shattering in psychedelic clouds of purple butterflies. The undead snarled, clawing at their scalps and eyes as they stumbled forward in a blind fury. The moment one flayed foot crossed one of Nettle’s marks, magic exploded upward, seething, putrescent lines that lashed into their skin, leaching poison and stealing strength. Myrie’s daggers finished the weakened foes as Priory engineers set up around the trebuchet.
    “Go on,” one of them bellowed. We’ll keep this place clear!”

    They traveled through the occupied fort, struggling against the Risen in a similar, deadly fashion until all three trebuchets were repaired and the courtyard’s tide finally seemed to turn. Though members of the Pact would fall and turn in battle, their forces were sufficient enough to put down any former allies and cleave through long-dead foes alike. Myrie saw more than one look of horror turn to an enraged grimace as the living fought against allies that had fallen before the enemies’ blades seconds before.
    “Courtyard’s clear!” Klixx shouted. He incinerated one final scrabbling Risen as he turned to look towards the broken wall. An earth-shaking roar ripped through the air, causing Myrie to stumble back. Descending from the storming sky was a hideous dragon whose size towered above all but the highest parapets of the ruined fort.
    “Blightghast,” she heard Trahearne murmur, awe and uncertainty in his voice. He leapt over the parapet’s railing and landed heavily next to the other soldiers. “Fight smart! Repel the monster, and we’ll finally reclaim Claw Island from Zhaitan’s forces!”

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  • Chapter 7c:

    Cannonfire and trebuchet blasts hurtled through the air, pockmarking the already ruined ground. Blightghast landed heavily on the cliffside, bloated flesh writing with maggots half as high as Khimma. Its face held no eyes, but the rotted pits of its skull seemed to glare with cold malice nonetheless as it stared down at the Pact, reared back, and opened its mouth.
    “Get back!” Trahearne ordered. “It’s about to breathe poison!”
    Seconds later, with a bellowing roar, clouds of noxious fume roiled across the land. Grass withered, insects died in-flight, and soldiers turned to flee in terror. Khimma’s shield of shimmering guardian magic flickered twice before it dissolved in the dragon’s acidic magic. She coughed, eyes watering.
    The dragon’s claws dug into the ground. Bony fingers lanced from the soil, slashing and grasping at those who neared them. The asura’s grip on her hammer faltered as she limped out of range of one of the rotten appendages. She opened her mouth to shout again.
    “Keep your mouth shut,” came a cold hiss.
    She felt the poison drain from her veins. Khimma blinked rapidly and turned to thank her savior. The words withered in her throat. Nettle straightened, licking a coil of magic from her lips and grimacing.
    “Radwing wants you alive,” the sylvari said. A Risen fish burst from below the ground, breathing putrid clouds and sucking prey towards its mouth. The necromancer turned her dagger in her hands, veins pulsing with light as she carved the eyes from its head and pared the skullcap from its rotten flesh.
    “Break the bones of Blightghast’s fingers unless you want to be flayed.”
    More than one Pact soldier was sent hurtling down a hole that the grasping fingers made, screams ending in series of disturbing crunches and wet pops. Sylfia’s arrows lanced like stars through the night sky, burning shots that loosed ichor from the lieutenant’s wounds. All the while, the thunderous strikes from the trebuchets crashed onto the dragon like the fists of the gods themselves.
    The dragon gave another roar as a blast from the artillery fire sent it scrabbling back on the cliffs.
    “We have it on the run!” Trahearne cheered. “Come on, one last push!”

    “Whatever we’ve got to do, it has to be fast,” Myrie murmured. Blightghast looked as if it was about to flee, and she knew the island wouldn’t be able to survive another assault in whatever undoubtedly-short time the dragon would have to recover. Once more she looked back at Selana and Llumin. Her eyes widened. Dierdre Firestone’s ghost turned aside envenomed arrows from the enemy while Arcon's lent his power to his daughters’ magic. Even in death they protected their children. Myrie was shaken from the shock of the image by a final scream from Zhaitan’s lieutenant. It clawed at the fires that burned in the hollow, dripping space of its chest cavity where the relentless shots from the fort’s rebuilt weaponry had finally weakened the monster. It turned from the cliff-face, grasping desperately at the air before it coughed, writhed, and finally plunged lifeless into the roiling depths of the sea. Towering fountains of water gushed up from its impact. Myrie braced herself for a soaking, yet when she opened her squinting eyes, she saw the water sloughing from an ephemeral shield. Selana smiled down at her, grime streaking her pale face and sweat matting her fiery hair.
    “This battle is finally over," she said tiredly. A touch of pride silvered her gaze. "We’ve won.”

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  • Chapter 8a:

    The celebration in the reclaimed fort was dimmed only slightly by the losses incurred by the Pact. For the most part, there were shouts of joy and murmurs of surprise that the three Orders could have managed to work so well.
    One historian in the Priory camp didn’t sound particularly convinced of any future victories. She frowned, tossing amber hair over her shoulders. “You realize this ‘pact’ only has a one in three-thousand seven-hundred and twenty chance of succeeding?” She crossed her arms, arching a skeptical brow at Llumin as she walked by.
    The magister stopped in her tracks and took a breath. She turned. “You really think,” she finally said, voice even, “that we’re going to fail even after all of this?” The historian seemed taken aback, stammering. Llumin continued, gesturing at the amassed tents and soldiers. “We may be just getting used to working with the other Orders, but look around you. We are likely the largest collaboration of forces and resources that Tyria has ever seen. As long as Trahearne’s leading us, I’ll take that one of thousands. We’re the only ones who can help him succeed, and he’s the only one who can bring us to Orr.” Her gaze softened. “I understand your doubts, historian,” she said. “But in some things, we must have faith. Hope is just a sunrise away.” She clasped her shoulder and smiled. “Now, go rest up.”

    Llumin turned, brow furrowing.
    “Excuse me, I can’t quite – ah, there you are. Hello, Myrie. You’re quite a bit shorter than most humans I am used to speaking with, so I apologize that I didn’t see you right away.”
    The thief made a mental note to steal the mesmer’s teacups. The sylvari beamed innocently.
    “Is there a problem? You seem rather stressed.”
    “Well, considering we just fought a literal army of the Elder Dragon’s undead and finally managed to retake the fort, I would say I’m doing quite well, actually. But yeah, there is something I’ve been thinking about.” Myrie grimaced. “You know Nettle’s a tenuous ally at best, right? The only reason she hasn’t killed us all or at least experimented on most of us is due only to Gryphon Radwing’s seal. But before your parents’ – your human parents…” Myrie cleared her throat. “Point is, Selana pretty much told me that the only reason you and she are safe from experimentation is because Lord and Lady Firestone’s ghosts have been royally messing up her experiments that aren’t vital to the Whispers’ operations. Now, I don’t know much about necromancy – or any magic at all, really, I just take stuff when I can and usually go on my merry way – but…” She rubbed the back of her neck. “Just … be careful, all right? Nettle’s not the kind to forgive a grudge or go under someone’s thumb for long without trying something awful. Just because your parents are ghosts doesn’t mean they’re safe – especially not from her.”
    Llumin’s wide eyes stared down at her, worry etching her features. “How would she even be able to do anything to them? The only kind of ghost-binding I’ve heard of requires a form of crystal used in asuran golemancy.”
    Myrie huffed. “I think it’s that skull, Adam, or whatever she calls it. Like I said, I don’t know much about magic, but even I can tell that thing isn’t normal. Most times I would brush off sylvari talking to skulls as just some weird plant thing, but with her, I can’t help but feel that it might actually be talking somehow.” The thief rubbed her neck, glancing around. Her street-rat senses were tingling. Were they being watched? “Like I said, be careful. Sometimes fair-weather allies are worse than steady foes.”
    Llumin inclined her lavender-leaved head, briefly reminding the human of the mesmer’s noble sister. “Thank you, Myrie,” she said. “I will let Selana know.” She glanced up at the parapets. Trahearne stood at the top. Noticing her stare, he smiled and waved, gesturing for her to follow him.
    “If you’ll excuse me,” she said, stepping aside. “I do believe that the Marshal wishes to speak with me.”
    “Go on.” Myrie palmed the satchels of glittering dust and pirate doubloons she had taken from Llumin and smiled. “I’ll be down with the Vigil if you need anything.”

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  • Chapter 8b:

    Llumin ascended the stairs and gave Trahearne a polite greeting. Alongside him now, though, above the Pact’s soldiers, any further thoughts seemed to have fled her mind. So many lives stood before them. Both looked below at the amassed forces below in silence while the soft touch of rosy sunset painted the rubble of the battlegrounds with its gentle hands, dulling the harsh edges of the fallen and the broken structures. Was this truly the army that defeated Zhaitan’s lieutenant? Would this be the force that could end it all?
    “The tides of history have changed, Trahearne,” she said softly.
    “Indeed.” He shook his head. “I still can’t quite believe this is real.”
    “Many others fail to believe it still.” She smiled. “I suppose we’ll have to prove them wrong.”
    The Firstborn was quiet. The sword Caladbolg glowed dully in the setting sun. Finally, as if shaking himself lightly from a dream, he spoke.
    “Zhaitan waits at the center of Orr, surrounded by a nation of undead. The battle to destroy the dragon will not be easy—but it can be won. Never before has Tyria been so united.”
    “And we must keep pressing on. We can defeat the dragons. We will!” Llumin’s eyes shone. “Look at what you’ve helped us accomplish, Trahearne. The Orders would never have listened to someone who was one of their own. Imagine,” she said, laughing, “a Vigil warrior trying to take orders from a Priory magister? That would be something, wouldn’t it?”
    Trahearne exhaled slowly. “That may not be too far off the mark. I cannot possibly direct all of these people by myself.” He held up a hand. “Your faith in me is inspiring, Valiant, but there are some times where we must take a step back and think through things a bit more – though I must say that you’ve proven yourself well enough.” He leaned over the parapet wall, resting his elbows on the rough stone and letting his hands dangle loosely below. “Your companions – would you say they are trustworthy?”
    Llumin blinked. “Well, the general consensus is that nearly everyone aside from Nettle seems faithful enough. You may be in for a surprise if you ask Sylfia what her next tactic is, or if you leave Khimma or Klixx in charge of an excavation, but overall, yes – the Knights of Gryphon seem to be as trustworthy as an ally could hope for. Why is that?”
    Trahearne straightened, clasping his hands behind his back. “As the designated Marshal of this Pact, I can only do so much. Already I know that there are those whose concerns will go unvoiced or whose plans may be overlooked if there are no in-betweens for the Orders and myself. I will need commanders to help lead where I cannot, people to direct operations and lead battles on the ground. I know Orr and its terrors,” he said, a cynical smile twisting his lips. “Not people.” He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. “We've come a long way from the Grove, haven't we?”
    “We have.”
    They were silent a moment, staring down at the forces below. Even now, Priory talked freely with Whispers Agents, Vigil spoke with Priory, and Whispers conversed with other Vigil warriors.
    “I would like you to be one of my foremost commanders,” Trahearne said. “I would not ask this of you if I did not believe you were worthy. You, of course,” he said quickly, “have every right to refuse. This position will not be easy. You would report directly to me, and along with others who accept the position of Commander, you will be responsible for many lives as the hands and feet of the Pact during its future missions.”
    Llumin tilted her head. “Would I still be required to report to Steward Gixx?”
    “No, and none of the other commanders would be under the jurisdiction of any of their orders or any other, either. That would leave too much room for accusations of sectional influence. Your place will be by my side to keep the orders unified.”
    “I… I am honored,” Llumin said. “But where do we go from here?”
    Trahearne smiled, sunset-gold eyes crinkling. “That directness and humility will take you far, my friend. I know of a ruined fort on the coast of Orr. It will take some effort to make it defensible, but from there, we can strike at the heart of Zhaitan and its forces.”
    “Well, a ruined fort won’t be terribly inspiring without a name,” Llumin said. “Do you have any idea what we shall call it?”
    Trahearne blinked, a momentary expression of surprise passing over his face. “Honestly,” he said, “I’ve spent so much time preparing for Claw Island… I didn’t really devote much thought to it.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, would you have any suggestions?”
    Llumin pondered. “We are three forces coming together,” she mused. “Wouldn’t it be fitting that we would work from Fort Trinity?”
    “Fort Trinity.” Trahearne smiled. “That’s perfect. I’ll set about letting the other commanders know of their positions should they accept them and send word when the invasion force to Orr is ready.” He bowed at the waist.
    “I will await your word, Marshal Trahearne,” she said. She gave a salute and strode back down.

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  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited May 17, 2018

    Chapter 9a:

    “Never thought I’d think fondly of Lion’s Arch,” Myrie sighed, smiling as she counted out coins from her bag and slid them across the scarred wood of the bar table.
    “Maybe that’s because of your odd ‘talent’?” Llumin watched with growing awe as the thief removed four earrings, seven pocket-watches, two bracelets, and one concerningly-purple rabbit’s-foot charm. They stared at the dismembered limb for a moment; Llumin raised concerned brows at the brunette.
    “Don’t ask me where I got that; I claim no responsibility for these hands,” Myrie said helplessly.
    “Is that ring at least yours?” Selana tried desperately to ignore the twitching in her temple that seeing the thief’s stash conjured.
    “Yeah, you noticed?” Myrie displayed the jewelry proudly. “Gryphon says that if I keep this up, I’ll be a master jeweler in no time!”
    “A thief who steals jewelry and sells her own.” Selana shook her head with a wry smile. “There’s something ironic about that.”
    “Hey, are you feeling all right?” The thief squinted at her. “Something’s different about you. New haircut? Sudden increase of human normalcy in interactions?”
    “Oh, please.” The elementalist rolled her eyes. “Getting away from Divinity’s Reach is a nice change of pace. Here, I’m not viewed with awe and fear as ‘Lady Firestone.’ I’m just… me.” She closed her eyes as she sat down, sighing contentedly. “I could get used to the anonymity.”
    “Yeah, until someone decides to try stealing something from you or calls you names.” Myrie drew herself up to her full height in the chair, adopting an imperious tone. “Excuse you, I am The Great Lady Firestone, last of the human line of House Firestone and daughter of …” Her monologue withered under Selana’s cool gaze. The thief cleared her throat awkwardly and pulled at her collar. “Yeah, like that. Ehrm. Sorry.”
    “Apology accepted,” the elementalist said frostily.
    “So! Llumin, what’s the word from Tree-nerd?” Myrie asked, hoping to shift the attention from herself. Sylfia walked behind and cuffed the human on the back of the head.
    “That’s Trahearne, and for wot he’s doing, Oi’d show ‘im a bit more respect.” The warrior leaned back in her rough, wooden chair and kicked her heels up onto the table, nursing a mug of ale larger than her head. “Man’s a bookie, but ‘e’s not a bad ‘un,” she grunted. “Seems to ‘ave a good ‘ead for tactics and can even ‘old himself in battle. I mightn’t be able to understand all of what he says, but I can respect what he does.”
    “Yes, yes. Anyhow, any news?”
    “Yes, actually.” Llumin twisted to the side, reaching into her pack and pulling out a delicate parchment. She unrolled it, blue eyes briefly flicking over the elegant handwriting.
    “Do tell me; is it your infatuation with the Marshal or lingering battle-fatigue that seems to require so many readings of the same letter?”
    “Oh, shut up, Nettle. I’m just getting a refresher.”
    The necromancer sneered. “Most people get a refresher by the second time they’ve read something. You’ve read that at least five times.”
    “Well, some of us like to make extra sure that we’re delivering the correct information,” the mesmer sniffed.
    Nettle rolled her eyes. “If you need me, just ask Gryphon. I’m sure he or the other Whispers will know where I am,” she said bitterly before striding out.
    “Good riddance,” Sylfia muttered into her mug.
    “As I was about to say,” Llumin’s gentle voice had taken on an edge of impatience, “Trahearne has sent word that we are to meet in Fort Concordia in the Timberline Falls.”
    “Wait, as in the Timberline Falls that’s all the way over in the Shiverpeaks?” Myrie grimaced. “I should’ve known the missive to wait for more orders in L.A. wasn’t a ‘hey, we know you’ve just saved the city, have fun’ thing!”
    “Well, it’s not too terribly cold where it’s located,” Llumin said as she unrolled a map from her pack. “If you could hold down those corners…? Thank you. Trahearne says that some of the caves in the Rankor Ruins have been overrun with Risen as of late. He’s concerned that their presence correlates directly with a dwarven artifact the Priory recently discovered. Whatever it is, the dragon wants it. This is a perfect opportunity for the Pact to clear out the area and recapture whatever is in those caves.”
    “And doubtless to rescue whoever’s going to get trapped in there from the time we leave to the time we arrive,” Myrie sighed. She drained the last of her rice wine and plonked the empty mug on the table. “I was getting tired of this place, anyway. Who serves good Canthan wine in a mug?”

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  • Chapter 10a:

    Once more the balmy air of Lion’s Arch gave way to the frigid climes of the Shiverpeak mountains. Myrie thanked the gods for whoever had the patience and tenacity to build the bridges and roads that led to the fort and cursed the creatures that attacked them in equal measure for slowing down their travels. Thankfully, it was only a few days that were required for the trip from Hoelbrak to the fort, yet by the time they arrived, a familiar, unwelcome miasma was slowly settling over the stone parapet.
    “Balthazar’s beard,” Myrie swore, throwing her hands in the air. “What did I tell you?”
    “There’s no need for panic or frustration just yet,” Llumin said, though her own brow was furrowed in concern.
    A short, armored asura with light brown skin and ruddy hair walked out of the gates and saluted the group. “Commander Llumin, good to see you. I’m Warmaster Efut of the Vigil. I see you’ve brought some of the other potential candidates?”
    “I will work alongside Llumin if it is possible, but should it be required that I go elsewhere,” Selana nodded, “I would be willing to accept the title.”
    “So much for anonymity,” Myrie muttered. Llumin gave her a look.
    “What happened to your invitation?”
    “That thing? Threw it in the firepit. I knew it as soon as I saw it. The only way they’ll get me to command is if we have some seriously massive casualties – which hopefully won’t be happening.”
    “What? I just want this madness to end. I’ve already led once,” the thief said bitterly. “Making choices as to who lives and who dies isn’t exactly my strong suit.” Her fingers played with the ring at her neck. “I’m just here to make sure the job gets done.”
    Llumin looked at Selana in confusion; the elementalist gestured that she’d tell her later. Warmaster Efut glanced from one woman to the other and cleared her throat awkwardly.
    “Well, I’m sure Trahearne will understand your reasons for accepting and/or denying the position. He’s just inside the fort.”

    “We’ll need the best of the best to help with our weaponry,” he was saying, back turned to them as they entered. A norn and sylvari stood alongside a birdlike tengu, who all were listening intently to what he had to say. “From what I’ve heard, you are all the best smiths among your people. Your works here will be remembered throughout the ages.”
    The norn puffed out his chest. “My works even now are garnering attention, Marshal. These works will launch my name straight into legend!”
    The gray-skinned sylvari next to him rolled his eyes. “I’m sure that your attitude is legendary, Beigarth. We’ll see about legends when our inventions actually work.”
    The tengu clicked his beak. “Occam is right. This Pact and the world around us will only recall our tales with glory if we are proven worthy of them.”
    Efut marched to Trahearne and gave a light cough. The Marshal turned slightly. Catching sight of Llumin and the others, he smiled. “If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” he said, leaving them to their bickering. “My friends! It is good to see you.”
    Selana bowed. “I have accepted the position of sub-commander as outlined in your letter, Trahearne. Though I am aware that I would report to you, for the time being, if possible, I would prefer to be paired alongside my – ”
    Llumin nearly caught the word sister before Selana did. The noblewoman cleared her throat. “Alongside my sylvari companion, Llumin.”
    “Oi, wot about me? I’m a sylvari companion,” Sylfia groused. “Though, to be perfectly honest, I don’t mind too much ‘bout your decision.”
    “Ah, yes, Wyldcaller. What was your decision as to the position?” Trahearne asked. Myrie was half-certain that the smile on his face was strained. Three days’ worth of liquor had managed to somehow fit in the warrior’s pack and even more shockingly her stomach; the thief suspected that Sylfia’s slight state of constant inebriation was a point of contention in her letter’s writing. The flame-colored sylvari waved a hand.
    “Nah, not really my thing,” she sighed, shrugging as she dangled her hands over the haft of her hammer, which rested over her shoulders. “Oi’m not bad in a fight, I know that much,” she said, “but I’d rather help fight and be directed where to go than anything else. I ain’t a commander sort – but I’ll help where Oi’m needed,” she grinned. Trahearne barely managed to control the expression of relief that flooded over his face as he discreetly stepped back.
    “Well, now that that’s been addressed,” he said, turning to Llumin. “I’m sure you know who these are at least by name. Izu Steelshrike, Beigarth, and Occam are all the best metalworkers and magic-crafters of their races. They have agreed to help us with building supply carriers and ships for the Pact.” He lowered his voice. “And I hope that it is either out of the generosity of their heart or the pride of their heads that they will keep their word. Speaking of words,” he continued, ascending to a small parapet where a tiny desk was squashed, “I would like to know what the troops’ opinion of me is. I’ve tried asking them directly, but …” He rubbed his neck. “They all seem to be avoiding my questions, or playing them off.”
    “So you would like a mesmer to see if she can detect any lies?”
    “I would like to see if my Commander and friend can discern the truth,” he said, holding her gaze. “I need to know my weaknesses as much as my strengths, Llumin. As with any study, without proper preparation, I may very well fail in this role. I want to be worthy of this Pact’s hopes and dreams.”
    Llumin gave him a sad smile. “Just remember that you’re not alone in this endeavor, Trahearne. Mother gave you that sword for a reason. I’ll report back shortly.”

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  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited May 20, 2018

    Chapter 10b:

    She had to admit that Trahearne’s observations were accurate; while he waited outside to hear her news, Llumin noticed that the troops seemed more relaxed when he wasn’t around.
    “Sure he’s nice enough, I suppose,” she heard one sigh, “but he gives me the creeps! I mean, who goes around studying Orr? More importantly, who goes to that godsforsaken land and decides to go back?”
    Llumin ignored him but decided to walk over to his superior, Tactician Art of the Vigil.

    “Excuse me, Tactician,” Llumin said, saluting briefly. He returned the gesture.
    “I didn’t know that there wasn’t some sort of fancy protocol for the new Commander of the Pact. At least I know that I won’t have to bow, at least.”
    “I was unaware that word had traveled so quickly,” she said. The soldier shrugged.
    “We may not be members of the Priory or Whispers, ma’am, but Vigil soldiers are hardly as dense as they seem. You enter with a group and are drawn aside to speak in private with this new Marshal of ours? Well, adds up pretty quickly. Your presence here merely confirms suspicions.”
    Llumin quickly recovered from her surprise, clearing her throat. “I merely have some questions for you. What are your impressions of the Pact and Marshal?”
    The human raised a suspicious brow. “Trying to have an interrogation?”
    Llumin shook her head. “Simply seeing how the troops feel.”
    He sighed. “Well, as long as this is anonymous – it will be anonymous, right? Between you and me, I don’t have many concerns about the Pact. We obviously fight well together despite our size. But Trahearne? I’ve never had a scholar lead an army before.” He crossed his arms. “I’m just not sure he’s up to the task. And, no offense, but Claw Island was small. You may have kept your cool in that situation, but compared to what we’ll be going up against…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Two scholars leading an army of this size with this many lives tends to make a military man skittish.”
    “Does your Order representative share these views?”
    Warmaster Efut strode to the front, soldiers saluting her as she walked by.
    “I can speak for myself, Commander.” She held her posture with confidence. “And I would be lying if I said that I was completely without concern. Building an HQ in Orr is a smart move, especially for a civilian. But,” she said, one ear twitching, “before I commit any more troops to this ordeal, I want to make sure that he can lead under fire. Art and I are of the same mind on this: one victory does not win the war. If he wants our trust, he – and you – will have to earn it.”
    Llumin ignored the uneasy knot of worry that crawled into her stomach. “Thank you for your honesty, Ma’am,” she said. She took her leave and went to the next camp.

    She found Doern Valasquez, the Order of Whispers’ representative, in the corner diagonally-opposite of Tactician Art’s, flanking the left side of the fort’s entrance. He, too, expressed his own concerns. The fort was, in his opinion, too obvious of a target for the Dragon and its minions. Aside from that, he was uncertain about the integrity of maintaining the Pact’s unity.
    “Between you and me,” he admitted, “alliances of this size are fragile creatures. Forming this one was difficult. Maintaining it for long, I worry, may prove to be an impossibility.”

    Wynnet Fairhaired, the Priory’s representatives, spoke plainly.
    “I will speak to you as an equal in this situation,” she said, “as we both are magisters of the Priory. I can appreciate Trahearne’s idea of placing a fort in Orr, but I worry about our long-term prospects. He has the knowledge we need, but…”
    “You worry that the soldiers and spies may not listen to him.”
    The norn laughed. “I see you’ve already spoken with the others. Is my worry ill-placed?”
    Llumin sighed. “Not entirely,” she murmured. “And I worry of my own qualifications, Magister. Who has heard of two scholars leading a war?”
    The spokesperson smiled, placing a hand on Llumin’s shoulder reassuringly. “By the end this is all over, all of Tyria will have heard of it. Your legend is just beginning, my friend. You will prove worthy of it, one way or another.”

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  • Chapter 10c:

    Trahearne stood outside the fort, watching the waves quietly lap against the shore. Every now and again, an amphibious skelk would appear from the dusky shadows and strike at the water, disappearing back into hiding with a wriggling fish in its mouth. How like the Dragon it was, he thought. To the unobservant, the skelk blended in seamlessly with the shadows, waiting for the faintest ripple to strike. Those who had encountered them before, however, would know the signs – a sort of ripple in the air, like water, a slight hiss as the creature prepared to attack, a deepening of the shadows in which the minnows made their refuge. Did the colonies of fish prepare themselves against the attacks of their predator? Did they resign themselves to being prey? The smell of rot and of musty, drowned magic was faint on the air. Zhaitan’s minions would show themselves soon. His ears perked at the light whisper of his commander’s footfalls as she approached, rousing him from his reverie.
    “So,” he said with a dry smile, “how are the casualties of the Pact’s reputation?”
    “Well, all things considered,” Llumin replied as she came to a stop by his side, “morale isn’t as bad as it could be. Mainly, there are those who seem more confident in the role that our Pact could play in the greater history of Tyria, while some wonder if it will manage to survive that long without tearing itself apart. Others are uncertain as to your leadership capabilities.”
    “All valid concerns,” he admitted. “Did you manage to find out what they think of you as the Commander?”
    “I think they’ll grow to like me.” Llumin’s teasing smile faltered. “But if they were wary of you leading them, imagine how much confidence they have in my abilities to make decisions on the spot.” She gave a thoughtful hum. “There’s not much I could do with my history, I suppose, but if you’d like, I’m sure I could tell them some convincing stories of your battles against the Nightmare Court and Risen while I was in the Grove, or perhaps -- .”
    “A kind gesture, Valiant, but unnecessary. We must win our troops’ trust through our own battles of today, not the wars of the past.”
    The mesmer chuckled softly, shaking her head. “I fear we’ll have more of those than we’d care to admit, Trahearne. Especially if the humans’ skittishness and the atmosphere are indicating what I think they are.”

    “Somebody help! You’ve got to help them!” A worn-down human stumbled, scrabbled towards the fort where the Vigil stood guard. “They were – too many – under attack…!”
    “Easy there, hold on,” Myrie said quickly, holding up her hands. “Could you tell us – "
    His eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed to the ground.
    Myrie sighed. "Oh great, he’s passed out.”
    Selana conjured an orb of water. “He’s in shock. Sounds like he was running from Grenth’s reapers…” She released the liquid over his face, stepping back slightly as the blanched runner revived, sputtering and blinking rapidly. “What happened? Are you all right?”
    “I’m fine – barely got away to let you know…” He ran his tongue over his lips, eyes darting around. “The Priory recently discovered an artifact in the caves, as you might know. But before we could get them out, we lost part of our team. Some of them are trapped in there with the undead, and the others are stranded just inside the ruins. I don’t know what the Dragon would want with this thing, but if we don’t get to the team soon…”
    Selana straightened and turned towards the back gate, where Llumin and Trahearne jogged in from their conversation.
    “The Priory’s team has gone missing. We’ve got to recover them and whatever they found before the Dragon destroys both. What is your plan, Marshal?”

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  • Hello!
    I started reading TC back during the old forums, but like Gryphon said, the link at the top doesn't work. Have I missed a link to the other chapters somewhere?

  • @MasterMoose.6034 said:
    I started reading TC back during the old forums, but like Gryphon said, the link at the top doesn't work. Have I missed a link to the other chapters somewhere?

    Hello, MasterMoose! First off, thank you for your longstanding interest!! It's really encouraging to hear from you. :)

    Unfortunately, the old forum link has expired, and I'm still working on a new place to put the compiled chapters. I do have a tumblr where I'll occasionally post stuff/flashfics, but the larger part of Traveling Circus has yet to be organized. If you PM me what chapter/Arc/section you last remember reading, I'll try to post those on my tumblr so you can access them. :)

    Thank you, as always!

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  • Chapter 11a:

    The party was small but efficient. Llumin, Selana, Myrie, Trahearne, and Sylfia all quickly readied themselves and were joined by Agent Zrii, a demolitions expert from the Order of Whispers.
    “I’ve heard you’re the ones working with the Skull,” she said, priming a set of charges and tossing them at a horde of Risen that rose from the ruins. She was unable to hide the gleeful grin that followed the resulting explosion of gore and chum. “I’ve got to admit, I’m pretty curious how that is!”
    Myrie’s pistols let off a report as she sidestepped a risen hylek’s blowdarts and sent its shredded corpse splattering the stone behind it. “The Skull? Who’s…?” Her eyes bulged. She spun around and neatly kicked a corpse’s head from its body like a rotten ball. “You have Nettle be creepy enough as is, then you decide to give her the brilliant codename of Skull?”
    “Well, Whispers does tend to use its weapons more enthusiastically when they’ve got fun names,” the asura replied. She crouched by the now-silent dwarven ruins, thin black lips curving downward. “No survivors here, Trahearne,” she reported, jogging back to him. The human thief was once more concerned.
    “You didn’t wait to see that before you started throwing explosives?”
    Zrii frowned up at her. “Listen, I don’t know if you Vigil are aware of how to see about Risen attacks, but at the Order of Whispers, we’re all highly trained to – ”
    “Yeah, I don’t care, duck.”
    The asura’s yellow eyes widened, but she complied just in time to avoid having a vaulting Sylfia barrel over her head, hammer held high and with a proud laugh ringing from her lips. A Risen krait had been hiding behind the bushes ahead; it reared back in surprise at its discovery, dismembered jaws gaping in a furious snarl as heavy Ascalonian stone turned its skull to paste.
    “Might want to work on your ambush-noticing skills,” the sylvari said, brushing off rotten flesh. Her ears pricked. She half-turned to look behind her as Selana unsheathed her staff.
    “You ‘eard those shouts, too?”
    “The Priory did have two dig sites,” Zrii muttered, casting her eyes towards the top of a ruin-pocked hill. Risen corpses twitched in their death throes nearing the top. “The first one’s up there. It should be mostly abandoned, but I’ll make sure that any personnel we had there are evacuated. I know you’ll need to probably blow your way into the cave ruins, so take these.” She removed a satchel of small explosives and handed them to Myrie. “You seemed pretty quick-fingered with those pistols, Miss Ward, so just for now, I’ll entrust these to you. If you want to prime the charge, just twist the red top to the left, set the whole bunch down by the desired exploding point, and book it before these things blast you to smithereens.”
    Myrie stared dubiously at the bag of death. “And how many seconds of time would that give me?”
    Zrii scratched behind her ears. “Well, I’ve primed these with the fleet of foot and large of blast in mind, so if I’m being generous, I’d give you no more than ten seconds.”
    Selana placed a hand on Myrie’s shoulder. “I’ll see if I can help convince the winds to bend to your favor,” she said.
    “I have a better idea,” Llumin said. She glanced from one to the other. “I can open a set of portals; if we time it right, we’ll be out of the blast’s range faster than the wind.”
    Trahearne’s brow furrowed. “Are you certain? I know you said you’ve been working on it, but – ”
    “I can do it, Trahearne.” The mesmer’s mouth was set in a grim line. “You said it yourself that we haven’t much time. They'll last.”
    “Well,” Myrie said as she hefted the bomb bag carefully over her shoulder, “speed is of the utmost importance. All right, Llumin, let’s take your path. If I get stuck in some weird interdimensional portal, I’ll at least know who to blame.”

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  • Chapter 11b:

    There was a strange music about the portals, an unusual flickering in the air, as if the fabric of reality itself flexed and warped to Llumin’s bidding. Which, Myrie supposed, it did. Although separated by birth, looking at the sylvari’s determined expression, the thief could still see the remnant of blood that bound her and Selana together. ¬The Firestone frown, the thief thought. She stifled the giggle that threatened to burst from her lips. Now was not the time for that. In a flash, she and Llumin were at the cave’s entrance, where rubble had collapsed the opening. The sylvari stood a pace behind her, staff at the ready.
    “The portal won’t last forever,” she said. Her shoulders shook slightly from exertion. “I’ll do what I can to keep it open, but please hurry.”
    “Yeah, I’ll do that, just let me make sure I don’t accidentally blow myself up in the meantime,” Myrie said shortly. She cursed under her breath. Which bomb was the primer in this gods-forsaken snarl of powder? She couldn’t read asuran with its squiggly mathematic symbols and letters, and her eyes throbbed from stress. She gulped and tugged at the ring on her neck nervously. If sight would do her no good, instinct would have to do. She closed her eyes and reached in the bag, fingers dancing over the orbs until she finally closed her hand over one.
    “You have to hurry!” Llumin’s gasp came through clenched teeth. The portals’ music was growing dissonant, and sharp, ominous crackling underscored the chaotic rhythm.
    Myrie cranked the bomb sharply and set it down. A set of quick clicks followed the twist. “I got it!”
    She raced back to the flickering exit portal and closed her eyes as the ground beneath her lurched and flickered. In a second the cave’s entrance was in the distance. She staggered back to regain her footing. Llumin gave a low groan and pressed her free hand to her forehead with a grimace. Myrie stared at the entrance, stomach churning. Those explosives were the only way in there. Did she prime them proper --
    An earthshaking explosion sent the group stumbling and reeling backwards. Myrie dove behind a collapsed section of ruin, peeking over the top when the echo had finally started to fade from her ears. A wide grin slowly split her face.
    “Did you see that?” she crowed. “What a blast!”
    “And Oi’m suddenly very glad you never took up engineering,” Sylfia muttered, squinting one green eye. “C’mon, Oi can smell those Risen from here. Let’s go save our crew while there’s still crew to save.”

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  • Chapter 11c:

    The caves were low-ceilinged and musty, scented with the thick odor of rot and rancid magic. Selana’s flames illuminated only some of the shadows that clung thickly to the air, burning and driving back the Risen that lurched towards her and the group. Eventually the gargling curses and screams of the undead became a grim background to the chaos of battle and its desperate rhythm.
    “Where could they be? Do you think they held up in here?” Myrie’s hands ached and her calves throbbed with pain.
    “We haven’t seen any fresh corpses wearing Priory coats,” Trahearne said. Caladbolg’s faint blue glow lit his face with an unsettling light. “The chances of the dragon’s minions staying after getting what they wanted from them would be very slim.”
    Myrie suppressed a shudder. “Can’t deny that logic, I guess.”
    A far cry caught her ear.
    “Hey! Anyone not dead out there?”
    “Khimma, will you hush? They might hear you, and I am not dropping this tome again just to fight off more of those blasted things!”
    “We’ve been trapped in here for hours, Klixx! If we don’t get out now while we can – ”
    The search party rounded a corner, weapons held at the ready. A familiar, blue-haired asura let out a yelp and scrabbled back.
    “Oh, thank the Eternal Alchemy, someone did hear us!”

    “We’re all that’s left of our party,” Khimma said. She marched just behind Klixx, guarding his back and keeping a wary eye out for more Risen. “By the time we’d fled from the dig site, all of the rest of our krewe had been slaughtered and turned. It’s only thanks to Klixx that either of us are alive.”
    “Well,” came the statician’s voice from behind the towering tome he carried, “you were the one who shielded me. If you didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have had time to use our subrupture portals.”
    Myrie’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Your what now?”
    “Khimma and I have helped invent portable exosuits,” Klixx explained. “They don’t last very long, and they teleport back after a set amount of time, but they do their jobs well.”
    “He looked pretty funny, though.” The asura guardian couldn’t quite stop the snicker. “That old dwarven tome he’s got there took up half the piloting space in his suit. He was squashed almost completely against the electropulsive barrier – could barely operate the thing!”
    “The point is that we managed to keep ourselves alive just long enough for both our defenses to wear out and for you to get here,” the elementalist huffed. “Khimma, why don’t you try holding this for a while?”
    “You know I can’t cast spells as well as you,” she retorted. “I’d be practically useless! You use books as foci all the time.”
    Klixx’s eyes bulged over the ancient tome. “They’re usually a bit lighter than this, Khimma!”
    “See, that just proves you need to work on more muscles than the page-turning ones!”
    A rustling snarl was all the warning the asura had before a risen norn lunged from the deeper shadows in the cave. Khimma staggered back, hammer rising slowly before a crack of lightning flashed through the air, sending the corpse flying backwards with the horrible smell of burned, rotten meat.
    “Sometimes muscles aren’t fast enough,” Klixx said. His krewemember nodded mutely. A low chorus of groans echoed through the cave.
    “We can’t fight all of those,” Sylfia said, eyes widening as she peered into the darkness.
    “Pick up the pace, people,” Myrie barked. She dashed ahead of Llumin. “There are fewer Risen up ahead!”
    “Myrie, wait!”

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  • Chapter 12a:

    The group caught up with her just in time to see the second entrance become closed off with a gate of rising bones, curving like ribs to trap them inside. The thief’s triumphant smile melted, face drawn in pale horror.
    “Why,” she gulped, “do I suddenly have the feeling that we’ve just been trapped?”
    Trahearne grimaced. “They’re evolving their tactics. I’ve heard of Risen using basic strategies before, but this far from Orr and with no visible leader…”
    “Well, that’s just great,” the thief said, spreading her arms. “But we’re kind of stuck here, so if you know a way to trick these rotten flesh-bags away from us or something, now would be a great time! Do they have books like that?”
    “Myrie, calm down,” Llumin said sharply. “I understand we’re in a bit of a situation, but losing our heads won’t help anything.”
    “All this rot for a book.” Sylfia shook her head. “Why would the dragon be so interested in it?”
    Klixx huffed, shifting its weight. “It’s not just a book, you thickheaded tree. It’s a dwarven tome. 250 or so years ago, the Elder Dragon Primordus nearly rose from its slumber, sending its champion, the Great Destroyer, ahead of it. Almost the entire dwarven race was exterminated in the effort to kill it.” His clawed fingers clenched on the worn leather binding. “This book is proof – hope – that we can defeat the dragons. It may even show some of their weaknesses.” His eyes seemed to glow dully in the cave. “If anyone who’s ever fought could tell you, hope is one of the most powerful weapons of all.”
    “Great,” Myrie said, squatting and scuffing her boots in the dirt. “I’ll keep that in mind when we get eaten.”
    Caladbolg’s glow brightened as the sylvari necromancer walked from the entrance. “These gates are impenetrable – and we’re out of explosives,” he muttered. “There’s only one way we could get out. I will be defenseless while I channel the spell, and it will take a great deal of my strength, but when it is done, you must run.”
    Selana stepped alongside him. “We’ll defend you. Whatever it takes, we cannot afford to be stopped here.” Llumin had already drawn her sword. Sylfia stood ahead of them all, hammer at the ready and jaw set.
    The Firstborn stood straighter. “The undead will sense the spell and come when they sense it, so be ready.”

    Llumin watched him out of the corner of her eye, torchlight barely illuminating the muddy floor. At first he seemed to do nothing, merely standing in place and staring at the ground. Then she heard him inhale, slowly, as if he was taking in the very soul of the earth below. The rumbling below her feet nearly made her lose her footing.
    From the corridor ahead, the undead shrieked. Sylfia had switched to her longbow, sending a Risen asura scout gurgling to the ground. Three others took its place.
    Llumin looked back. The glow from Caladbolg lit the Firstborn’s face in an eerie blue glow. His shoulders shook, fingers clenched around the hilt of the living weapon. What was his spell? Was it working?
    The scent of cold gravestones and fresh dirt was the only thing that preceded the ground bursting from around his feet. At first Llumin thought they were Risen, and her throat went dry before she realized that the constructs surrounding him weren’t made by the dragon.
    They were made by him.
    Standing at least seven feet high, the flesh golems’ muscle was a dull red, horned skulls staring emptily down at Trahearne. There were six in total, hollow ribcages and with arms that ended in scything, wicked claws. Among the giants, their summoner seemed impossibly small.
    “Go,” he whispered.
    The silent sentinels turned on clawed feet and charged ahead. Caladbolg briefly sagged in the Firstborn’s grip.
    “They’ll help us fight off the Risen while we can. They won’t last forever, but for now, the dead have agreed to battle the dragon before returning to their slumber.”

    The battle to lead them back outside was not glorious. It was muddy, full of rotting blood and screaming dead, atrophied flesh and reeking marrow spilt on damp stones and in murky waters. Trahearne’s undead servants worked in horrific, brutal synchronization, surrounding and slashing viciously at the larger abominations. Only when even they had suffered too much damage to their constructed forms did they give a single, sad sigh before slipping back into the earth like a sleeper beneath warm covers. When they arrived at the fort again, there was little celebration. There were dead to be buried, and the gore of the battles and the silt of the caves stuck to their skin only slightly less than the horrors that gnawed their minds still. The Traveling Circus filed their way to Order tents and medical stations to deposit the books and work on resting their weary minds before the next inevitable battle.

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  • Chapter 13a:

    “Skull! We need the information from that prisoner as soon as possible!”
    The sylvari bent over her subject, green eyes narrowed as she watched for any changes or discoloration. According to her research, this poison would first cause the blood vessels in some of the more mucous-lined or exposed organs, such as the nose and eyes, to necrotize. The human in the chair below her squirmed, eyes bulging.
    “You can keep up with your witchcraft, plant,” he spat. A dribble of darkened blood ran down his clenched teeth. “The false Queen will live knowing that she sent her prisoners to – ”
    Nettle’s fingers flexed around the hilt of her dagger. A few seconds longer and the poison would reach its full, agonizing affect. Her lips twisted. Too many interruptions. Too much noise. The sigil on the back of her neck burned; only months of practice kept her from swatting and clawing at the pain like an irritating horsefly.
    “Now.” Gryphon’s voice was an unignorable command in her skull. She snarled and plunged her dagger into the captive’s leg, twisting with surgical precision as the muscles within snapped and warped unnaturally around the blade. The prisoner’s taunt was cut off in a howl of agony, tortured body straining uselessly against the restraints.
    “The swamp! They’re all in the swamp!”
    The burning at the back of Nettle’s mind eased.
    “Good work, Skull. Congratulations on another successful extraction.” The woman at the far end of the room stood. “We’ll have our troops back by sunrise.”
    Nettle ignored her and her cold, echoing steps of the stone floor as the woman ascended, leaving her and her materials in the interrogation dungeon. One hand was pressed firmly against the forehead of the prisoner, eyes narrowed as she stared at him. Disgust rose in her like bile. Too late. The mesmer’s prompting had forced her to miss viewing the results of her poison. The man on the table wept tears of blood from ruined eyes, choking on pain.
    “Next time,” Gryphon’s mental communications were stern, “focus more on the objective than your own research. You would likely have seen your results had you retrieved the information sooner.”
    She stood and wiped her dagger on a nearby stained cloth. “I would have seen them if you had let me,” she hissed. “I am the Order of Whispers’ most effective assassin and extraction specialist, yet you and the Master of Whispers keep insisting on interfering with my research!”
    “Lives are at stake, Nettle. The Pact has no time or men to waste while the main body of troops march towards Orr.”
    She grimaced, teeth glinting in the flickering light of the torches above. “Then perhaps allow me to work freely, Lord Radwing,” she said. “Your sigil and the presence of the Firestone ghosts have decreased my productivity on poisons by no fewer than thirty-seven percent, and the specters alone have ruined more resources in my laboratory than I’d care to admit.”
    “You and I both know that they only interfere with your work when it’s not geared towards the fight against the Dragons or their minions.”
    A flicker of a human form – Dierdre, thorns snare her – appeared to the left of the prisoner, cold blue eyes staring at him. Her face turned to the sylvari, gave a grim nod, and dissipated.
    Nettle snarled. If she really wanted to show her appreciation, she and her wraith of a husband would leave her materials alone! A distant crash and the smell of burning driftwood tinged with scorched silver let her know how likely that would be. Orr. It was all anyone, living or dead, was focused on.

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  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited October 15, 2018

    Chapter 13b:
    Adam’s thin, hissing whisper rasped into her ear. She at first ignored him – the ancient skull was berating her, as usual, telling her how Eve would have thought of several retorts and spells to rein in those who would use her, how she would never have let the idea of diplomatic immunity or unlimited resources sway her path. She had half a mind to take her knife to the ancient bone and etch a line into the brittle material, but before she could do so, he gave one, final line that prevented it from happening
    “Gryphon,” she said as she stooped to pick up some of her fallen instruments, “how go the advances south?”
    “The Pact has been moving with encouraging speed,” he said cautiously. “Llumin and Selana have proven to be an admirable duo in commanding forces towards the southern part of the mainland. According to estimates, some would say that the Pact is scheduled to reach Fort Trinity and begin capturing it within a few weeks.”
    She inspected a scalpel and holstered it within a soft leather roll. “Would it be possible to request a shipment of materials from Rata Sum to reach the forces? I can think of several golemancy crystals that would assist the asura in creating more resilient automatons.”
    The sigil on the back of her mind was silent. She barely noticed as the ruined body of the prisoner in its chair gave its last breaths. “After all,” she continued, “Orr is commanded by the bodies and enslaved spirits of the restless dead, is it not? I understand,” she said, lowering a clay bowl to the cooling corpse and removing her dagger, “that subjugating the still-enslaved minions’ minds would be entirely too risky to attempt binding to crystals. But what if,” she purred, “you could simply take the essences of those that had been freed? A bit of soul, if you will. They may not even recognize the transferal.”
    “Nettle,” Gryphon said coldly, “you do realize you are talking about sentient beings. They’re ghosts, yes, but many of them were unwilling to turn to the Dragon’s corruption. We wouldn’t be much better than it if we were to use them for our own purposes.”
    Her pale lip curled as the darkened blood from the captive dribbled sluggishly into her bowl. Small necrotic crystals glimmered at the sides as she tilted it in the torchlight. “Lord Radwing, you said it yourself that we don’t have many men or resources to waste. I’m a necromancer; those of my profession would consider it…recycling.” She removed a glove and stuck a finger in the bowl of blood, rubbing it against her thumb. The sediment was like fine sand; the crystals broke down under pressure. A feeling of contentment rose in her. At least some of the experiment was still a success. “We would, of course free the ghosts and what we took from them after their service, or even offer it as revenge of some sort. Those who’d rather not don’t have to.”
    There was a sigh in her mind. The human hadn’t entirely denied the value of her point.
    “It may even help to keep the Firestone girls out of danger,” she pressed, feeling the cold presence of the ghosts at her back. “If, of course, anyone is interested in that,” she said, turning and glowering at them. Arcon and Dierdre crossed their arms and gave her an even stare.
    “What are you planning, Nettle?” Gryphon’s voice tamped down the smile that lingered on her lips.
    “Nothing that would endanger any one of our precious troops,” she said. “Or anyone in our guild.”
    “The two do tend to correlate,” the mesmer said flatly. She could almost see him running a hand down his face.
    “One favor,” she said. Her stomach soured. Why did this feel like begging? Only the weak begged. “Something we could send to help the troops. I could study and see how the crystals work; perhaps find something that could remotely interfere with the Dragon’s influence.”
    There was silence on the other end of her sigil. She knew the mesmer was close by. He hated seeing her work, but kept just enough of his awareness on her that when in this range, he could twist and prod at her focus just enough to direct her like a puppet on a string.
    She subconsciously rubbed the dried blood on her fingers off, feeling the grains flake like so much sand onto the stained stone floor. The stares from Selana’s ghosts seemed a bit too intense for her liking. If this was the longest they had gone without interfering with her work, she figured she’d best take what she could get. She opened her mouth and drained the rest of the acrid blood from the clay bowl, swirling it on her tongue like a fine wine as the magic within tingled glittering lines of satisfying knowledge through her mind. She swallowed the tainted gore, mentally categorizing the magical changes and properties before she politely cleared her throat.

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  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited October 12, 2018

    Chapter 13c:
    “Lord Radwing, I do hope you’re not ignoring me after such a spectacular performance.”
    She could feel his frustration through the link.
    “I’ll allow for no more than three shipments before we have any concrete results,” he said finally, “and only if we route it through your old mentor.”
    Nettle decided to attribute the sudden twist in her stomach to the poison in the blood. Her eyes narrowed. “You’d be more likely to win over the Dragon to our cause by using Llumin’s horrible optimism and rainbows,” she sneered.
    “Boneweaver Vixxa is one of Rata Sum’s most advanced necromancers, but I’m sure you knew that; otherwise, you wouldn’t have sought her out when you left the Grove.” He sounded entirely too smug for her liking. “If she finds no reason to disapprove of the shipments, then there’s no reason to not send them out.”
    “That old lizard is a good necromancer and intelligent,” Nettle snapped, “but she refuses to see the modern uses and practicality of current necromancy and its applications! She’s too stuck in the past.”
    “Well, that’s unfortunate; I’ll keep your name off of the shipping manifest, but I’ll still run your plan by her and see what she thinks of it.”
    Nettle rolled her eyes and took out a scalpel to begin dissecting the body. She’d dispose of it later, likely by giving it to the sharks that swam through the waterways of the Order’s hidden base. “It involves golemancy. She’s an asura necromancer. Bah, I can almost hear that creaking voice of hers about the two being connected!”
    “Yes, well.” Gryphon sounded distant; he was already shifting his main focus elsewhere; good. “As to your personal request for transference, I suppose I can see the merit of having you down there to sense dragon magic or corruption. I’ll take it up with the Master of Whispers and see if she’d be all right with sending you to Orr. You’d likely be good at removing spies.”
    “Of course, Lord Radwing.” The sylvari gave a mock bow to the corpse on the table. “Now, unless you’d like to be aware of my incisions…”
    The mesmer's presence went silent. As she bent over the prisoner's lifeless form, her lips twitched, ghastly smile hidden as Firestone's ghosts decided to busy themselves with ruining another potion. This plan was long, but Adam had a point -- if it worked and the ancient skull's theory proved correct, Tyria would see a fusion of ancient and new magics like never before.
    She pressed the knife to cold skin and drove through it.

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  • Chapter 14a:

    If there was one thing the recent battles against the Risen had shown the Pact, it was that despite their incredible resources and combined abilities, they were still lacking in firepower. Fortunately, the Vigil was more than willing to offer all they had to aid the mission to Orr. Even though the trip to Sootberme in the turbulent lands surrounding Mount Maelstrom was grueling, plagued by insects, and punctuated heartily by Sylfia’s grumblings at the lack of liquor, eventually Llumin, Selana, and several other members of the Traveling Circus arrived at the makeshift camp.
    “Pity we couldn’t convince Lyca to spare a few more rations,” sighed Myrie. She scraped the bottom of her bowl as Sylfia rinsed out the large jar of soup that had been sent along with them.
    “I wouldn’t complain,” Selana said as she gathered the dishes. “At least we’re not eating seared skelk or foraging for food.”
    “Well, we’ll have to on the way back down!” The thief brandished her spoon at the elementalist. “And I’ll tell you right now, I am not going anywhere near strange mushrooms! I’ve heard way too many stories of people thinking they got the right one and ended up keeling over moments later because, whoops, that was the deadly version and the edible one has brown spots instead of green!”
    “Well, if you paid better attention,” said Llumin, “I suppose you would’ve learned the proper way the first time around.”
    “Hey, in Divinity’s Reach, you don’t forage for mushrooms to live. You just nicked fruits from nobles’ tables or something.” A grin split Myrie’s face. “Ah, never will forget that one time Quinn and I managed to nab that roast quail from beneath Lord Whatsit-or-Whatever’s overwaxed mustache. Fed the whole gang for a week, and Mom was none the wiser.”
    “Oh, I very much doubt that,” Selana said, rolling her eyes. “How are your parents, anyway?”
    “Last I heard, they’re doing well.” Myrie stood and stretched. “Queen Jennah’s actually seeing about what she can do to restore my dad’s title and get him some help from mesmers and other people who’ve dealt with what he’s got. Mom’s doing what she can to raise awareness for soldiers and other people that have trouble with keeping their heads out of old battles.”
    “You sound proud.”
    “I am.”
    “Aye, you humans and your fleshkin. Ain’t that complicated with sylvari, us poppin’ all off the Mother Tree and whatnot,” Sylfia said, using a twig to remove some of the beef stuck in her teeth. “Good on you, though.”
    Myrie gave her a look. “Thanks, I guess.”
    The warrior clapped her hands and stood. “Right, then, who’s this rot that Llumin’s got to talk with here to get our munitions? Sooner we get them, sooner we can get our fort all set up and whatnot down in Orr. Then we’ll be able to open lines of transport, theoretically.”
    “You know, sometimes I forget that you know words like ‘theoretically’, Sylfia.” Myrie gave the fiery warrior an angelic smile.
    “Well, talk like that, and I just might have to ‘theoretically’ give you a kick to your fleshy – ”
    “Pardon me, Sylfia, but I wouldn’t speak like that in the presence of a commanding officer.” Llumin’s voice was calm but firm. Sylfia’s pale green eyes widened as she scrambled to stand, hurtling a hasty salute.
    “Warmaster Caisson!”
    The human waved the salute off. “At ease, soldier. I am surprised, though, that the Commander doesn’t respect that kind of awe.”
    Sylfia gave a grunt, sliding her gaze from the Warmaster to Llumin. “You’ll pardon me, ma’am, but Oi’ve been Vigil longer than Pact. She doesn’t quite inspire the awe of the old silver and black.”
    “She is your commanding officer, Wyldcaller,” Caisson said sharply. “If Trahearne sees it fit to suggest her leadership, I don’t see why you think yourself any different.”
    The warrior’s shoulders stiffened, lips curled. For a moment, Myrie thought she was about to fire another retort, but she merely shook her head, laughing cynically. “You’d know it if you saw it,” she muttered, “but as you wish.”

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  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited October 15, 2018

    Chapter 14b:

    “We’re glad you came. I could understand why Trahearne may want his Commander’s supervision on this shipment, and we need all the help we can get. Lately, the Risen have been increasing their patrol numbers and blocking the path south towards the Orrian front.” The Warmaster shook her head. “I know Trahearne says the Dragon has been more aware of our presence, but this is eerie. It’s as if it’s actively watching us and waiting for our next move.”
    “That’s because it is.” Selana was grim. “And part of why we’re here to help.”
    “Well, we’ll take what we can get,” Caisson said. She motioned behind her. “The dolyaks are loaded up with supplies, but we’ll need to move while we’ve still got the chance. Like I said, Zhaitan’s been taking greater interest in our runs.”
    Sylfia gave a fierce smile. “Well, then, let’s give it a show. A black eye for the old skink!”

    The air grew more stagnant as the Vigil troops marched onwards. At first, the scenery seemed much the same as it had early on in their journey. The trees and moss-covered stones were still as mossy and rocky as before, interspersed with an occasional flake of ash descending from the semi-dormant volcano.
    “You really sure it ain’t gonna blow up on us?” Sylfia squinted suspiciously at the ever-present, towering mountain. “I mean, really, I know it isn’t always the most stable of things, but Oi’m pretty sure I speak for all of us when I say I’d rather avoid being turned into firewood.”
    “Making a pun on your own race?” Myrie couldn’t help the grin that flashed on her face. “Never thought I’d hear it from you.”
    The warrior snorted. “And Oi never thought I’d say I’ve been burned alive twice and live to tell the tale, but here we are anyway.”
    “Hush.” The hissed command forced both women to still their tongues. Ahead, Selana’s fiery head paused, pale skin shining in the dull light. “Do you smell that?”
    The sharp smells of pine and wet stone were accented as rain started to hiss down on the party, perfuming the air with the musty scent of wet dolyak and leather. Now, though, it was overwhelming, scents of sea-decay, of brine and oily rot. The back of Myrie’s neck prickled. Street-sense had given her enough of an awareness of danger to help when it counted – and sometimes when it didn’t – but now was one of those times where she knew that the path ahead was no longer safe.
    “Do you see anything?” The thief’s voice was low, and despite her efforts, she couldn’t quite keep the nerves from showing in her speech.
    “Not yet.” The towering noble craned her neck around the caravan; Llumin had gone ahead with the first couple of dolyaks alongside the Warmaster; Selana took the next two and left Myrie and Sylfia guarding the rear. The Vigil troops that walked alongside them muttered uncertainly; they, too, had noticed the change in the air.
    “Weapons ready, troops,” Caisson barked. “Move steady and keep your guard up.”

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  • Chapter 14c:

    Tension sang across Myrie’s shoulders. She was glad that the snorting and grunting of the massive beasts of burden and their cargo masked the low, quick clicking of the safety on her pistols. It had been at least five minutes since the warning, and the rain had bogged down the dolyaks, turning the trampled dirt path into a muddy slog. A norn warrior sneezed, earning him a nervous glare from his companions.
    “What?” he hissed. “This weather’s awful. You really think they’ll wait until we get to our destination before jumping us?”
    “Doesn’t matter.” A short charr curled her lips at him. “These stupid yaks and their smells are masking anything else that isn’t them. I feel blind.”
    The rain came down in gray sheets now. Myrie holstered her pistols and Sylfia slung her bow over her shoulder. There were no torches lit to guide their path, and the few lanterns that were lit shone dully through greasy, soot-stained glass. The troops and their grumblings weren’t helping the morale.
    “Shut up and keep your eyes peeled,” she said. She snorted a drop of water from the tip of her nose.
    “Oh, yeah? And who’re you? You’re at the back with us, aren’t you?” The norn’s edginess turned on her. “Commander of the Pact my foot. She seems to think real high of you if you’re back here with us grunts.”
    A low bellow silenced Myrie’s retort.
    “Burn me, a dolyak’s gotten stuck in the mud,” cursed the charr. She sprinted towards the beast and inspected its foot before calling others to her side to help push it from the mud-pit. “Come on, help me lift or push this stupid beast.”
    Myrie moved carefully through the sucking mud. Cold water oozed in between her toes, chafing against the wet leather of her boots. The dolyak’s wide brown eyes flashed white in terror, snorting hot clouds of steam as it bellowed and struggled against the mud.
    “Come on, Scotty,” the charr growled, shoving herself against the dolyak’s shoulder. “Can’t be keeping up the rest of the caravan.”
    The mud beneath the dolyak’s left hind foot writhed. Myrie blinked. Just water across her eyelids, surely.
    Another howling moan broke through the lashing of the trees. The charr raised her head, eyes meeting hers.
    “That…wasn’t the yak,” she said slowly.
    The norn warrior gave a shout of surprise as an undead grub as thick as his arm burst from the mud and launched itself at him. He raised his shield, sending the writing worm back into the muck before giving a vicious stomp and sending brackish green guts splattering into the air.
    “Undead are on us!” He drew his sword, eyes widening.

    What happened next was a flurry of motion. The Risen had been patient; now that they were immobilized, the Vigil’s tasks were split between defending their munitions and fending off the undead that crawled from the ground or burst from behind wet foliage. Abominations that had been lying in wait lumbered with horrible purpose towards the caravan. The screams of the dead and the bleating of the dolyaks combined with the cacophonies of the storm and of the howling warriors to produce a hellish orchestra of confusion and agony.
    Nettle would like the atmosphere, Myrie thought idly as she leapt out of the way of a crushing blow. The abomination facing her lifted its rotten head and growled at her.
    “Return to Orr,” it said. Its voice was as drowned as the land. “Die.”
    “Well, yeah, you’re gonna die,” she said, vaulting over its arm to land on its back. “But I really don’t have time for it.” She unloaded her pistols into the back of its head and gave a yelp as the massive patchwork of bodies howled and pitched forward, writhing in death throes. Waterlogged bones crunched wetly beneath the mass.
    “Oi, good shot, fleshy!” Syflia’s hammer pulped several grubs into unrecognizable green paste. “Got a few of those other Orrian rots beneath it.”
    “Yeah, totally meant to do that!” Myrie lied.
    Llumin’s illusions flickered around the battle-path, grim determination mirrored on the reflections of her face. A platoon of undead archers had set up ahead of the caravan. Warmaster Caisson had an arrow imbedded in between the plates of her armor. She gave a grunt and broke the shaft from it before turning to cleave an Orrian jester’s head and hideous hat in two.
    “Keep fighting, troops!” she shouted. “We’re nearing our destination!”
    Were they? Myrie looked around her and behind, where the corpses of both Risen and Vigil lay strewn about like the forgotten dolls of some childish brat. The night’s battle seemed to wage on forever in an unending fight of the restless dead and the wearying living. A dull gleam of pitted metal flashed ahead.
    “When we make it to the bridge, we’ll have the perfect vantage point to shell any undead that try to come at us,” Llumin said. She cast down a wall of reflective magic. The arrows that the Orrians launched at them sang across the barrier and ricocheted back towards them, landing heavily in their throats and sending them choking to the ground. “Don’t give up!”

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  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited October 15, 2018

    Chapter 14d:

    The bodies of the dead and the fallen formed a macabre path ahead, giving the muddy ground enough traction for the dolyaks’ plodding gait. Miraculously, not even one of the soaked beasts had fallen in battle, though one or two had wounds that were a bit concerning to Myrie. Selana’s firestorms baked several grubs into the earth and popped them like burned pastries.
    The thief decided to avoid sweets for a while.
    “We’re here! Move, move! Set up,” barked Caisson. “Get those turrets ready!” She turned to Llumin. “We’ve had reports of undead here for weeks. This is where they’ve been coming from. When you see them, we’ll fire on your command.” She grimaced. “I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks.”
    The sylvari squinted through the rain. The torches that were set up gave off greasy smoke as their light flickered and hissed in the storm. A dull gleam of ruined armor in the ravine below caught her eye. She clenched her eyes shut. She could be seeing things; the haze of smoke, rain, and battle-fatigue had dulled her senses. The soldiers seemed to have similar issues; Llumin only hoped that the weapons’ calibrations had been performed before they had left the camp. She barely caught a hint of magic in the air – likely fragments of the battles beforehand. Another glow flickered below her in the valley. Her eyes widened. There was an entire troop of undead marching towards them. If they reached them, the battle would not be in their favor. Yet something seemed off. Unease gnawed like a termite in the back of her mind. An Orrian raised its head, gaping eye-sockets staring emptily up at the platoon. It opened its mouth and gave a gurgling roar; others followed suit. Cold dread turned to electric resolve.
    The mortars heaved fire and fury on the massed undead below, blasting lights and explosions echoing with the rage of a fallen god as the shells burst on their hapless targets. After several seconds of thunderous shots and the howls of the undead, the forest rang with silence. Warmaster Caisson gave a grim smile. “Excellent work, troops. Those Orrians never knew what hit them. Let’s go make sure there aren’t any stragglers.”

    The bodies of the fallen remained still as Llumin followed closely behind the scouting party, stumbling in exhaustion.
    Confusion and fear shook an asura scout’s voice. He knelt over a body and lifted its arm. “These… these are our colors.”
    “What?” Llumin stood rooted to the spot. “No, that’s impossible – I saw them – they were Risen…!”
    Warmaster Caisson’s face was impassive. She turned brusquely to the Vigil behind her. “Check for survivors! Move it!”
    “Over here!” A wet cough from the far side of the ravine. “Smodur's eye, you just shelled all of my troops!”
    “We’re on our way, soldier!” Medics dashed to the fallen Vigil, a lone charr that lay propped on one arm.
    “Who’s responsible for this?” She coughed, blood spattering her scorched armor. Her tail lashed the ground. The troops all turned accusing eyes to Llumin. Even Selana’s gaze was wide, horror paling her skin. The charr’s lips curled into a grimace of disgust and her ears flattened against her skull as a vicious growl grated from her throat. “Nice going, Commander.” Her eyes flashed with murderous hate as she staggered past her. “You just killed everyone in my entire platoon.”

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  • Chapter 15a:

    “Name and rank, soldier.”
    “Tactician Syska, sir.” The charr’s gaze was murder. Though in obvious pain, her furious gaze never left Llumin’s. “Half of my force is still in the volcano.”
    “What was your mission?” The medic ducked to avoid the tactician’s tail as it lashed furiously.
    “Why are you questioning me?” She half-lunged from the cot and stabbed an accusing claw at the mesmer. “She’s the one who should be answering for what she’s done!”
    “Tactician, if half of your forces are still up in the volcano, we need to get them out as soon as possible.”
    “We were monitoring Destroyer activity. They’ve been bubbling up from Maelstrom’s core more than usual,” she said. She seemed very unwilling to sit still; if it weren’t for her wounds, Llumin wouldn’t have been surprised if the charr would have tried to kill her then and there. She slumped on numb legs against a tent pole.
    “Half of us were on the patrol for Risen in the area. They’ve been getting worse recently.” Syska sneered. “Ironically, we were trying to watch out for you and your forces.” She spat on the ground. “Funny how that was repaid, isn’t it?” She waved off the medics’ concerned stitching. “I can make it from here.” She stalked past Llumin. “Get out of my sight. I swear on my troops’ graves, Trahearne will hear of your incompetence.”

    Llumin turned to Warmaster Caisson. The human shook her head.
    “This isn’t your best day. You’re going to give one hell of an explanation to Trahearne if you want to get out of hot water this time.”
    “Please tell me I wasn’t the only one.” Llumin swallowed dryly. “Please tell me I wasn’t the only one who saw the Risen.”
    Caisson sighed and crossed her arms. “I want to believe you, Commander. But everyone was keeping an eye on the munitions and the path ahead of us. Apologies are cold comfort to the dead and their families.” She shook her head. “Didn’t anyone tell you to get a clear sight of your target before you shoot?”
    The sylvari took a slow breath. “Something isn’t adding up here. Why didn’t we hear of any other Vigil missions nearby? If we were going to cross paths, wouldn’t it make sense to hear from the tactician beforehand?”
    Selana Firestone walked behind her and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. “Llumin, I don’t doubt your reasoning or logic, but we’ll need evidence if we’re going to get to the bottom of this.” She exhaled slowly. “I …don’t want to believe that you were careless. So far, I see only one of two paths that would make sense. We either investigate Syska, or we get her troops back and see what they have to say.”
    Warmaster Caisson sighed. “Regardless of the choice you make, I can’t let you remain on active duty with my troops.” She gave a short whistle, and a hawk flew from one of the cages by the camp supplies. “I’m sending a missive to Trahearne concerning what happened. I’m sure you have your own messenger to use.”
    Llumin nodded and swallowed. “I have a white raven that Lady Firestone gave me. It should be able to avoid any major Orrian patrols between here and the staging point.”
    Caisson gave her a smile that was almost sympathetic. “Send your missive. In the meantime, I’d recommend finding out what you plan on doing next.”

    “I know what I saw,” Llumin said quietly to herself. Her pen tapped absently on the parchment that lay unrolled before her. The feathered quill was slightly ragged – she had taken to picking at the feather’s strands out of nervousness. The shaft of the pen limped dejectedly like a half-shaved cat’s tail in the air. She groaned as the thoughts in her mind once more evaded capture by ink and placed her head on her desk. “I can’t take all day.” She shook her head and took a sharp breath. “Selana,” she called, “would you come here, please?”
    The fiery elementalist ducked below the tent flap with a greeting. Her red brows were still knit in concern. “Have you thought of anything?”
    The sylvari sighed. “Not a word. ‘I was wrong’? ‘The smoke got in my eyes’? It just…doesn’t make sense. None of this does.” She set the pen down and did a double-take as she caught sight of the ruined feather. “Oh dear.”
    “You don’t have to ask the obvious.”
    “I can’t blame you,” Selana said soothingly. “I’ve thought of a solution. You can’t really be in two places at once, right?”
    The mesmer raised her head from her arms. “You flatter me by thinking I’ve mastered that level of illusion yet, Selana.”
    The human gave a brief nod. “Well, what if we both ensure that the ends are tied? I’ll go to the volcano and see about extracting Syska’s unit, and you can investigate the charr herself. It plays to both our strengths,” she continued, “as though I’m talented at finding falsehoods, you may have better luck in investigating her past. I’ve done extractions in the Order of Whispers before. Gryphon just recently authorized a shipment of new crystals for some of the exosuit golems – I’ll have to have Khimma or Klixx operate them, but they should be crucial in monitoring environmental hazards.”
    “Such as?”
    Selana grimaced. “Such as the volcano that’s currently unstable.”
    Llumin’s eyes widened, worry creasing her brow. “Are you certain you want to go there?”
    “It’s not a want; it’s a need.” The elementalist straightened as much as she could in the sylvari’s tent. “I know I’m not the one that authorized the blitz, but I’m your sister. I should have been able to make sure everything was all right.” She gave a brave smile, which was returned weakly. “We can do this, Llumin. Send your message. I’ll send word to you when I get back from the volcano. For now,” she said and turned to leave, “I’ve got to prepare for some warm-weather extractions.”

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  • Chapter 16a:

    Jorikk looked up from his paperwork, tapping and swiping on an asuran hexmancy tablet as he cleared a few signatures and filled out new writing forms for the newest shipment to the Pact encampments scattered throughout the Bloodtide Coasts. “Excuse me,” he said, squinting up at the shadowed figure in front of him, “but you’re in my light.”
    “Ah, my apologies.” The individual stood slightly to the side, allowing the asura to finally see who was in front of him. A gleaming emblem from the Order of Whispers shone on a pale sylvari’s armored shoulder, decorative daggers flaring from the armored pad like silver rays of sunlight. “I merely wanted to see how the shipment’s processing was proceeding.”
    “M-ma’am!” Jorikk snapped a hasty salute, ears sticking straight out in shock. “What a surprise! I knew Lightbringer Radwing wanted to make sure things were going smoothly, but I assure you, an Agent needn’t concern yourself with a little duty such as this,” he said firmly. “The Rata Sum authorities have already cleared the materials for gate transfer through the Priory’s main headquarters in the Shiverpeaks. We’ll be using dolyaks to get them where they need to go. It might take a while, but trust me,” he said as he puffed out his small yet broad chest. “The Pact Post will ensure that all materials, hazardous, foodborne, or otherwise, will reach their destinations with as much efficiency and retention of life and product as possible.”
    The woman in front of him laughed. “How long did it take you to memorize that reel?”
    Jorikk felt his gray ears pink. “Three weeks,” he mumbled as he scuffed a three-toed foot on the ground. “I wasn’t exactly the smartest progeny in class,” he said. “But at least here, my knowledge of maps and routes can be put to good use.” For a moment, the woman in front of him was silent; her smile seemed almost masklike, and her gaze was distant.
    “You have no idea who I am, do you?” she said amusedly, shaking her head. The delicate green leaves on her head glowed a faint green as the Maguuman sunlight filtered through them. Jorikk’s hairless brow furrowed.
    “No, ma’am,” he said. He reached up and scratched the back of his knotted red hair. “I get so many shipments and see more recruits pass by every day that I can’t exactly keep track of who’s who.” He straightened. “But I’m sure, by the Alchemy, that every one of you who’s heading down there to fight the dragons are all heroes in your own way!”
    The sylvari beamed. “Oh, you flatter me,” she said as she waved a dismissive hand. Her smile really was quite enchanting. “I’m no-one, really, not any more than anyone else.” She shrugged. “Everyone either lives or dies someday, and I figured I may as well put my life to use if I can,” she said.
    Jorikk perked up and frowned. “Now, that seems a bit fatalistic, Ma’am! I may be just a postmaster, but I think everyone’s life has use.”
    The sylvari gave a low laugh. “On that, we can agree.” She peered down at him. “When does the caravan depart?”
    “As soon as possible.” He tapped a few more times on the magitech device and looked up at her, eyes widening. “Wait, are you one of the guards scheduled for my shipment? I know some of them were going to be Vigil. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that an Agent would be assigned to a Whispers-made order. Though,” he said, squinting down at the details of the manifest, “last report I had said that you were a bit more…um. Fleshy.”
    She shrugged. “My former companion was delayed. Got a bit of parasites from eating an unknown fungus outside Rata Sum, so I’ll be taking her position,” she said. “Humans. I told her not to eat everything that glowed,” she sighed, rolling her eyes.
    The asura snorted. “Bookahs always think they can just eat whatever’s nearby. They’re little better than canine infants!” He coughed. “Well, some of them are. Lord Radwing and the others in Whispers and Priory don’t seem too bad, I suppose.”
    The woman’s lips twitched. “True enough. I’ll only be accompanying you to Mount Maelstrom. The dropoff point there is very volatile lately, and the team of researchers I’m in contact with wants me to deliver them personally.”
    “Well, that may be,” Jorikk said quickly, looking from the manifesto to the sylvari, “but unfortunately, I’ll have to get them to sign off on the manifesto so I can personally attest to the proper shipment of materials.” His smile faltered in confusion. “Is there something wrong with that, Miss…?”
    “Etlain,” came the taut reply. “And not terribly, aside from the fact that I don’t know if the support chute the researchers are insisting on having me use will be able to take both of ourselves and the crystal shipment.” She fiddled with the strap on one of her belt-bags. “I suppose if you went down there, they’d understand why I’d not be present,” she muttered. “But how will they know…?”
    “Not to worry, Agent Etlain.” Jorikk puffed out his chest again. “If you’ve got something I could sign in your place authorizing the delivery, I’m sure they’d understand. You’ve got important places to be, after all!” He winked one coppery eye. She beamed.
    “Are you certain? The trip will likely be dangerous.”
    He waved off her complaints. “Unless they’re any worse than the pack of ettins that were convinced what I was carrying was not in fact an edible rock of magical power – it was just a fancy jade seal – whatever’s in that volcano should be a piece of cake. I’ve taken extra precautions for destroyers and undead with this load. With you at our caravan’s back, nothing will keep it from getting where it needs to go.”
    She held out a small piece of parchment, which he didn’t bother to read as he signed it. He gave a sharp cry of surprise and swatted at the back of his neck.
    “Mosquito?” Etlain’s brows were raised in amusement. Jorikk laughed sheepishly.
    “I guess they still prefer meat to vegetables,” he said. The sylvari gave a hum and licked her lips as she stared over the horizon.
    “Well, then, nothing to lose aside from a bit of ration-weight as we go, hm? Let’s get moving.”

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  • Selana Firestone.6389Selana Firestone.6389 Member ✭✭
    edited December 3, 2018

    Chapter 16b:

    “And you’re absolutely certain these statements are accurate?” Trahearne looked up from the report on his desk to the charr in front of him. Tactician Syska snarled.
    “Do you really think that I would joke about the death of my men? I was among their bodies! These were good troops, Marshal, and I want an explanation. It’s the least their families deserve!”
    “I understand, and I agree completely, but what more would you have me do?” The necromancer set the paper down. “Llumin has already been removed from active duty with any major patrols for the time being while we continue this investigation, and she’s sent a missive telling me that Lady Firestone is going to rescue the rest of your troops in the meantime.”
    “I don’t care about the human mouse. I want that sylvari murderess punished!” Her lips curled. “You think that slap on the wrist will discourage other traitors?”
    “Tactician, that will be enough.” Trahearne reached a barely-shaking hand to his temples. “I want to see this through as much as you do, but your ceaseless requests for more severe punishment won’t make this go any faster. Besides,” he said, motioning to the bandages that peeked below her armor, “you won’t want to aggravate those wounds. The insects here are as merciless as their mainland natives and twice as aggressive.”
    The tactician stood without saluting as she spun on her heel. “You might have the some of them fooled, Marshal,” she hissed, “and you may even have convinced yourself, but allow me to ask you this.” Her ears were pinned flat against her skull. “How often have you let those wide blue eyes of hers bat their way out of trouble before? I’m not the only one wondering it, sir,” she said. “Try listening to the people whose lives you hold before you claim you’re a neutral party.”

    He remained seated as the charr left but stood and walked to the tent to ensure that she was out of earshot before he let himself relax. He sighed and leaned heavily on his desk.
    “You’re taking a very, very large risk, Llumin,” he said softly. The air behind him rippled.
    “I know. But I have to do this.” Her form shimmered and flickered like a trick of the light. The illusion scuffed a toe in the dirt. “You heard what she said. You have to have your doubts.”
    “I do.” He turned to face her, his expression troubled. “Before this, you’ve given me little reason to doubt your ability, but this incident is …”
    “Unusually-incompetant? Foolhardy? Unexpected?”
    He nodded slightly; his smile was wan. “I don’t want to believe the rumors that you fired blindly – or worse, knowingly – on one of our own units.” He pulled out a small drawer from the desk he had somehow grown in the peninsula’s sandy soil and leafed through the papers written in her delicate hand. “The questions you bring against Syska are,” he admitted, “troubling.” He stacked them absently on the living wood. “If you’re right,” he said slowly, “then the Dragon has been playing us all for fools longer than I’d care to admit. If you’re wrong…” He opened his mouth and closed it. He couldn’t quite meet the projection’s gaze.
    “I’d be unfit for duty, Trahearne,” she said gently. “The Mother Tree may know much, but she is not omniscient. I would head back to the Grove and do what I could to help from there. Selana would make an excellent Commander in my stead.”
    He shook his head. “Having her after you would only continue to raise concerns; I would need to find someone elsewhere to lead if you had to go. Of course, nothing is set in stone,” he said. He raised a hand towards her and pulled it back. He could easily hear Syska’s accusatory laugh in his mind. “If this does turn out in your favor,” he said quickly, “we’ll be able to forge ahead with a more united Pact; Fort Trinity could be within our grasp in a matter of weeks.”
    The illusion’s head gave a tired nod. “Perhaps we could discuss battle strategy over a bit of tea, then?”
    He mirrored her gentle smile. “Rose tea, if you will have it. Pale Tree guide you, Llumin.”
    “You as…” Her form faded with a sigh before she could finish the blessing.

    Trahearne stood and stared at the now-empty space for a moment, veins glowing a faint purple in the dim light of his tent. The low bustle of moving troops, the scents of hot metal and cooking fires, and the clanging of the Pact and its preparations rushed into the space where her form had been and assaulted his senses. He sighed. As much as he wanted to, he could not rest. The Marshal of the Pact stood and walked outside his tent. There was much to do.

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  • Chapter 16c:

    Llumin groaned and squinted up at the bright light that filtered through the soot-stained windowpanes. How long had she dozed off? The last thing she recalled was something about charr military formations and roll calls and --
    “I thought your kind didn’t sleep.” A grizzled charr, her reddish mane streaked through with stiff gray hairs, gave a smile as she crossed scarred arms across her leather apron.
    “We don’t.” The sylvari stretched her arms behind her head and shook her head, rustling her willow-leaf hair. “Not like you do, anyway. It’s more like … a trance. Some of us have a stronger connection to the Dream that we connect to in that state. I just sort of ..what’s the phrase Myrie uses..? ‘Drift away.’”
    The charr gave a grunt. “Still sounds like sleeping to me, just a bit more odd. Bah, what do I know.” She raised her paws in a shrug. “When I was a cub, your kind wasn’t around.”
    “Thank you for letting me stay here, by the way,” Llumin said. The tavern-owner curled a cynical lip.
    “When I heard you were investigating that creep, Syska, I felt like helping you would be a matter of national honor.” She turned her head and spat into a distant bucket, proudly humming when it landed with a concerning clang. “Hopefully those old strategy books have been some help?”
    “They make for interesting reading,” Llumin said politely. She wrinkled her nose at a concerning rust-brown stain on a page that looked very much like it had been stabbed at least once by a greasy meat-knife. The bartender sighed.
    “You don’t need to polish this rusty gear, cub,” she said. “I wondered if they might help with some insight into how she might be thinking, but I suppose you can’t catch fish in a dry pond.”
    Llumin decided to not ask why one would even attempt such a task and managed to murmur something in assent. The barkeep perked up.
    “But there is one thing I can do – one final task that could help with your investigation.” She flipped out a stool and leaned on the creaky wood. “I may not have liked Syska, but even she somehow managed to find someone that could stand her presence. She used to have a companion of sorts – not sure if they were bandmates or friends or whatever they’d have called their relationship – but he used to come here all the time.”
    “Used to?”
    “Yeah.” The barkeeper’s smile widened, displaying a frightening amount of pointed leonine teeth. “Until I threw him out for trying to start fights. A little scrabble’s to be expected in a bar, but he always fought dirty and then expected us to believe he didn’t.” She leaned back, tail swaying. “He did it for coin, I think. Honorless gladium. He’d sell out his own sire for gold. Last I heard, he’d joined up with the Vigil and managed to get himself stationed in the Shiverpeaks. Lucky for us, he’s decided to make a quick pit stop in our lovely hovel here.”
    Llumin grimaced. “What choice company our lovely subject kept.”
    The charr threw her head back in a laugh. “If you think the backside of a krait’s lovely, sure, you could say that!” She grabbed a gnarled mop and plunged it into a bucket of powerfully-herbal water. “I let him come back if he promised to not start any more brawls, and he seems to have kept his end of the bargain so far,” she said. “But burn me if he doesn’t seem more suspicious than before. I would’ve thought the Vigil would’ve straightened those knots from his tail, forced him to shape up.” She stabbed the worn, raggedy mop-head into the floor. “Talk with him. See if you can figure out why that living trash-bag’s been so skittish in my tavern, and I’ll let you and anyone you travel with get free drinks for life.”
    Despite herself, Llumin gave a laugh. “You may want to consider that offer,” she smiled, “but I’m in. When does he usually arrive?”
    There was a creak at the door. A brawny, oak-furred charr garbed in Vigil armor shoved his broad shoulders through.
    “Hey, barkeep,” he swaggered, “door was still closed! Your hours are from three hours past sunrise until dusk!”
    The charr’s grip on her mop-handle was murderous. “You’re wondering where Ridgerunner is? Behold the lush.” She threw the mop back into its bucket. “If you need me, I’ll be carving meat.” She turned her head and gave a low hiss, which Llumin barely caught. “Better for the floors that way. Blood’s a lot harder to wash out than beer.”

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