Darien Whiteland: “Gods…gods…bloody gods…”
Darien barged out the doors, hurriedly straightening his cloak and running a hand through his messy hair. Arceyx followed in exasperation once more. Kezia had ordered him to arrive at the base of the citadel at the crack of dawn, where she’d have someone waiting for him. The sun had risen almost half an hour ago.
He fixed his pack and sighed, letting his familiar alight on his shoulder. “Shall we go see who gets to torture us on our quest?” he asked, and received a clipped hoot from Arceyx. He stepped out of the shadow of the building and glanced around warily, waiting for Kezia or some such angry blustering figure to come tell him off.
Maralen: Maralen sat at the top of the stairs to the building, balancing a throwing knife on the tip of her finger. Her pale white fur glistening in the sunlight, she smiled as she saw the disheveled boy coming through the main doors. ”I see you’ve finally prized yourself from your pillow.” Her accent poked through as she spoke, rolling the words together. She was wearing faded green cloak and had a small pack sitting nearby. “So I’m supposed to babysit you as you check on your dungeons.”
Darien Whiteland: Of course she’d send her half-breed.
"Maralen!” He put on a half-grin and quickly bowed, causing Arceyx to take flight in annoyance. “I…I wouldn’t use the word ‘babysit,’ no…perhaps…accompany? For I certainly would enjoy your company, absolutely. No trouble at all.” He paused, pressing his lips together. “And…’check on’ is putting it lightly. My guild has made an error and I intend to correct it.”
Maralen: “I expect to be informed of whatever dangers we face before we get to them, boy.” She gave a half grin to Darien before spinning the knife and holstering it. “Shall we?"
Darien Whiteland: Darien extended an arm and tipped his head. “Please, after you, milady.” The effect was slightly ruined as Arceyx chose to return and sit on Darien’s head, sticking his tail feathers in his face. "You stupid idiot son of a gargoyle—" he hissed, flapping his hands angrily and chasing him off again. “Yes. We shall. Yes. Well…what did Kezia tell you?”
Maralen: "Kezia said I would be perfect for this, and that I should keep an eye on you. I do not think you’ll be getting the full version of her telling me that, unless we want a three hour delay on top of our current one.” Maralen begins walking down the stairs. “The griffon riders agreed to take us close-by, unless you’re afraid of heights.” She chuckled to herself.
Darien Whiteland: “Me?” He hurried down after her. “Oh, no, I have iron guts in the air. But…perfect for this? What did she mean by that?” He nearly tripped on the hem of his robe and fixed his stride, gratefully stepping off the stairs and falling into step with Maralen.
Maralen: “The less you know now, the more I get to surprise you with later. That is if the need arises. I hope my… being a half-breed doesn’t impair your judgement of me?” She was leading them to the aviary as she spoke. “This shouldn’t take several days out of our journey, at least.”
Darien Whiteland: “Not at all.” His cheeks grew slightly rosy and he stared off at a group of hagglers by the wayside. “I think you’re quite capable, Maralen.” Unlike his previous clumsy attempts at connection, this was a genuine, respectful compliment. He understood how much grief the half-breeds were given, and honestly, he didn’t agree with most of it. He and Brion often rubbed each other the wrong way on the issue of half-breed treatment. Darien agreed that there was a reason they were different, and that humans should be there to protect them and look after them–they did have animal halves, after all–but he saw no need for cruelty.
He did not feel comfortable bringing the subject up, though, not in front of a full-blooded half-breed. And besides, he didn’t feel like turning against his fellow council members. No reason for more conflict. So he finally shut his mouth.
Maralen: “That is… good.” Maralen knew this was a difficult subject, especially after the exodus. “Ah, Thaddeus, glad you could meet us.” She shook hands with a burly man with bronze skin. His blonde mustache twitched up in a smile, “My dear Maralen, any favor you need from me you can have. Is this your… ah… guest?"
"Yes, this is the wizard in charge of the dungeons. I’m technically his escort, but I assume he’s powerful enough to watch after himself.”
"Well, my birds are ready to take you, if you’ll follow me.” He turned into a large open barn, Maralen beckoned Darien to follow.
Darien Whiteland: Darien carefully followed her into the huge, spacious barn, eyeing the massive creatures that pranced restlessly in the roosts and through the air, wings sweeping up clouds of dusts and dark eyes rolling. They made him quite nervous but he was determined to mask it. “Are…are you sure about this?” he asked Maralen casually, in an undertone. “We could always go on foot…or horseback…in a canoe…”
Maralen: “You very well know, no river reaches close enough to the dungeon. Now put away your fear and let’s get this over with.” She grabbed a saddle and whistled, summoning a black painted griffon. “You can ride with me if it makes you feel better.”
Darien Whiteland: Darien shrugged vaguely, making a noncommittal noise, and then dropped his head, mumbling, “If you wouldn’t mind.” Arceyx made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a snigger.
Maralen: “Then let’s get mounted up, pretty boy.” She flung the saddle over her shoulder and hefted it onto the back of the griffon before walking over and punching Darien in the arm. “I can throw you on her, since we seem to be out of stepping stools. Unless you want to look totally disgraceful.”
Darien Whiteland: “Throw me?” Darien rubbed his upper arm, looking at her quizzically. He was about to object when he realized what a ridiculous scene it would be to attempt climbing onto the griffon’s broad back. “I…I, eh, it would…uh, yes, you can, I suppose. Well more of a…a boost, if you will?” He didn’t really know how to object.
Maralen: “Well, you got my meaning, so you’re not totally helpless.” She knelt down and put her hands together so he could put his foot on it and clamber up. Maralen pushed him up the rest of the way before climbing up herself behind him. “You’re kind of adorable when you’re scared.” She grinned before she pinned in her heels and said “Fly, Falkreth."
Darien Whiteland: "I am NOOOOT!!” The last word stretched into a frantic yelp as the griffon squawked and ran forward, pumping its wings and sending them up into the air, through the roof of the barn that was rolled open to allow the creatures access to the skies above.
His hands flew backwards frantically but all he could find was the griffon’s slippery feathers and–oh–that was her knee. Reddening, he tried leaned forward instead and grasped the longer crest feathers coming from its neck, holding on with all of his strength. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Arceyx lazily catching up and the distance between the griffon’s claws growing…growing…the entirety of High Central spread before them like a map. It was almost too much for him to take in. Darien squeezed his eyes shut and pulled his knees up slightly, trying to calm his mind. “How long will this take?” he said loudly over the wind.
Maralen: “Well, you said it was about a three days journey on foot by road, so a couple hours. I don’t plan on stopping for any potty breaks though.” She laughed as she spoke. “Do not worry, friend. Falkreth would not let you hit the ground if you fell.”
Darien Whiteland: “Would he,” Darien mumbled, choosing to ignore a smug remark from Arceyx about what Darien would do before he’d fall off. “Well, that’s reassuring.” And he spent the next few hours in clammed-up silence.
Darien couldn’t thank the deities above more than when Falkreth’s talons hit the ground. His muscles cramped and seized up as he dismounted. He nearly fell over as his legs hit the ground hard, spraying snow in a little puff around his feet. Then there’s the journey back… Biting back queasiness, he glanced at Maralen as she dismounted.
“We’re close. But it’ll be dangerous, so don’t go wandering off by yourself.”
Maralen: “Don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand.” Maralen shouldered her bag and trudged through the snow with Darien. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen snow this thick, do you magic-folk play with the weather around Central?”
Darien Whiteland: Darien shrugged, keeping an eye on the trees around them. There was an odd ice formation up ahead, but he figured it was an old remnant from one of those large ice-spitting dragons that used to be populous around this region. “Only if it gets particularly nasty. No reason to be shoveling snow when we can just move it from over our heads, right?"
Maralen: "Ah.” She fell silent as they drew nearer to the dungeon. “So this is one of the places where you put my people?” She marveled at the structure forming through the trees. But it was obviously in disrepair, and built into the side of a glacier? “That’s an odd choice for a foundation, the glacier, I mean.”
Darien Whiteland: “I didn’t…”
He came to a complete stop and stared in disbelief at the huge wall of twisted ice emerging from the side of the dungeon. The entire structure appeared to be blown off on another side, baring the rows of empty cells amid the piles of rubble. “Oh my gods…”
Darien started racing towards the ruined dungeon, Arceyx soaring above his head. No, no, no, what happened!?
Maralen: “What is it Darien?” Maralen’s voice grew cold and serious. As they grew closer the disrepair turned into outright destruction. There was no way the prison was keeping anybody in there. “Keep your wits about you spellmaster.”
Darien Whiteland: “This…this isn’t right…”
He scoured the entire dungeon with his mind, searching for any signs of life. Nothing more intelligent than a myriad of rats scurrying through the darkness.
“They didn’t say it was this bad!” he said angrily, kicking at a rock on the ground and running his hands through his hair. “Gods…the demon got out of hand…I knew it would eventually…oh, I made such a mistake…”
Maralen: “Demon? You had a demon watch over these prisons? You’re messing with dark magic, boy…” She tightened her grip on her throwing knives. “Wait… over here, follow!” She scampered off to the left along the treeline.
Darien Whiteland: “I knew what I was d—what?” He looked warily behind him before trailing after her, still staring in shock at the obliteration towering above them. “What is it?”
Maralen: “Tracks, blood, strange ice.” She sniffed around a tree. “A conflict happened here, maybe a month back, but the tree sheltered it from the weather, and the cold preserved it. The tracks head to that other ice formation through the trees. Maybe your lost demon? Or at least some of the prisoners…”
Darien Whiteland: “Another dingy ice heap?”He crouched and inspected the strange remnants of whatever had occurred near the tree before standing and striding angrily along the tracks, seeing the pointed frozen spikes jabbing towards the gray sky. “It couldn’t have been the demon…I ensured it was enchanted to stay anchored to the dungeon. It wouldn’t have been able to get outside unless—” He stopped mid-word and slowed for a moment before shaking his head and continuing. “No. No, there must be some other explanation.”
Maralen: "Come on, we’re not going to find anything out getting angry in the snow… If… we should find anyone… We’re travelers, from the Northern end of the Sea of Sand… The city of Traebor, you only know basic magic.. parlor tricks. Might have to think of different names too…” She pondered this for a bit.
Darien Whiteland: “Ah…” He calmed down a bit as he saw her logic. “Yes, yes. Of course. It would be unfortunate if we ran into the ones where mistakes were made in wiping the slate.” His jaw clenched slightly as he said this; he was still irritated over his guild’s errors in the memory erasure process, to both extremes. He believed there was a whole section of half-breeds that had had their past lives completely blacked out, and another smaller group where it hadn’t been quite enough. And then there were those who had seen things and knew too much. He’d tried to hunt down as many of them as he could, but…he was human, after all, a human ordering other humans to perform complicated tasks.
Unfortunately, there was no room for error. Not now.
He brought his mind back to Maralen’s words. “Yes, you’re right. Call me Imam, then.” He chose a plausible name from the general area’s culture. “Do you really think there’s anyone still around, though? Wouldn’t they all have made their way back home?”
Maralen: “Did you leave them a home to go back to?” She continued to follow the tracks as she spoke. “Well, Imam, you can call me Nadia. I’m a friend of your sisters, and we are travelling North to see the Marshlands when we happened upon the dungeon and decided to investigate the surrounding area.” Maralen stopped upon seeing a wall. “Looks like a nice little village they’ve assembled, shall we Imam?”
Darien Whiteland: “An entire village…” Darien’s bewilderment only grew as his gaze roved over the horizon, taking in the splintered-ice sculpture that towered above the ground, and the fortress that had practically been built inside of it. “We shall, Nadia.”
Maralen: Maralen proceeds up to the open front gates, eyeing the guards at their posts. “Do you have room for two weary travelers?” She spoke as she approached one. “We’ve traveled far and didn’t expect to find an unmarked village in this remote area.” The guard nods and permits them to enter, to look around. “Imam, there’s so much damage, it looks as if a war has just happened here.” As they strode through the streets she kept a weary eye upon the curious onlookers, eyeing the newcomers.
Darien Whiteland: Darien inspected the place as quickly as he could as soon as they walked through the gates. Arceyx attempted to follow but Darien shooed him away with his mind, impressing on him to stay outside the camp. The runed owl grumbled and agreed. “What could possibly have gone on here?” he retorted in almost a whisper. “They’ve been isolated for so long, and their numbers are few. Nobody knows they’re here except the guild. The most they could do is come up with some miniature skirmishes. Not…not a war.“ He carefully began sweeping the camp mentally, careful not to stumble on another magician.
Mera Violet Haddock: Though Mera had bustled out of the fortress with the others to retreat, in the end that was not what had occurred. She and her children, in light of recent events, stayed instead. And now as she stepped near the perimeters of the camp, children among her, she noticed some others approach.
Mera had not been in the camp long enough to be acquainted with everyone, but the way these people stepped forward clearly indicated they were new visitors. She stepped forward peremptorily, skirts bustling busily on the ground, and she stared them up and down even as she spoke to them. “Hello there. What brings you here?”
Maralen: "Oh, my friends brother Imam and I were making our way through the countryside, and we came upon your village. It’s not marked on any map from around Traebor, so we were curious. I’m Nadia by the way.” Maralen extended her hand to the lady in front of her. “And we were also interested in finding a place to stay, if that could be arranged?”
Mera Violet Haddock: “I recognize that accent of yours,” Mera said slowly and critically, not taking her hand to shake. “You’re not from Traebor, are you?”
Maralen: “Not natively, it’s been a recent move to escape the… persecutions. I don’t mean to confuse, miss. It’s just easier to say where we live now, than where we lived before we were forced out. It brings up a… dark past.” Maralen maintains her smile and her hand remains extended to the woman.
Mera Violet Haddock: “So have dark times fallen on many of us,” Mera nodded, looking downward at her son. His face was pale and blank. “I apologize. We are a bit of a small location and susceptible to… events. I hope you do not mind sharing your extensive and undoubtedly complicated story about how you have come here?”
Maralen: “If you must know,” Maralen lowered her hand and her face. “Being a full half breed, and living near Central… I dealt with a great amount of bigotry. I received death threats and threats to do other… horrible things.” She bent her face down further and bit her lip, holding back emotion.
“Imam and I have been on the run to get away since before the Exodus. He is my best friend’s sister, and he promised to look out for me. He may not look like much, but he has some skill with magics.” Maralen looked over at him with a air of confidence, tears forming in her thin eyes. “As I said before, we did not mean to find your village. It’s not marked on any maps from the area, and we were only taking the long way around Central to Peppercorn. Seeing a camp such as this in the middle of nowhere isn’t something two weary exiles would normally pass up.”
She looked Mera in the eyes. “I only share my story because of how far we are from Central. A story such as that too close to the capitol could get me imprisoned or worse killed. Please respect the risk I take in attempting to gain your trust, whoever you are.”
Mera Violet Haddock: “My name is Violet Magdalyn,” Mera answered with a warming smile. “Please, come, follow me. I will get you some food and drink. This is a place welcoming to all. I may be but an innkeeper’s daughter, but you are welcome in my abode.”
She leaned in to her son Egil and whispered, “Keep close, dear.”
Maralen: Maralen and Darien followed this Violet person further through the streets. She was surprised to see so many humans and half breeds living together in this place.
The memory wipes must have done a number on their prejudices.
“What a strange place Imam…” She murmured to Darien as they approached what looked like stables with temporary eating quarters set up around them.
Darien Whiteland: “Yes.” The sheer number of rebels here shocked him. The half-breeds alone…it was enough to convince him that these were indeed the escaped prisoners. He was gratified to see that nobody recognized him. They’d have no reason to, of course, all of the memory wipes were performed by other mages, but it never hurt to be too wary.
Arceyx pressed on his mind suddenly with alarming force and Darien picked up on it, getting a strong image of a man he’d never seen before. Giving off irritation, Darien hurriedly pushed the contact away for fear of alarming any potential mages within the camp. Tell me later.
“How did these people come to be here?” he asked tentatively.
Mera Violet Haddock: “I honestly do not know everyone’s stories,” Mera answered with a shrug. “I came here fairly recently myself, following after my husband. And the reason he came here…” she frowned “… I never found an answer to myself. He died before I arrived with my children. EGIL HURRY UP." The boy was dragging his feet and falling behind. An indignant glare from the kid preceded him obediently coming up to her leg. Mera led them toward the fortress, but not to her personal quarters, instead leading them to a sitting area she sometimes used for visitors. She waved off the guards before any could accompany her and betray her important position amongst the rebels. "As far as others I have spoken to, it’s been a wide variety of stories. Some like yours, others quite different.”
Blunt Donz: "My lady!” Blunt called, bursting in suddenly and waving a finger. “I think now is a very proper time to point out what a…” he paused, turning his head to see Maralen. “Why hello darling!” he said, as if he was expecting her, leaning in, and kissing her once on the lips, turning back to Mera. “As I was saying…”
Maralen: Maralen smiled coyly, “You know, they normally buy me dinner first. Maybe even give me their name…” She pulled a throwing knife from its holster and twirled it around her fingers. “Maybe we could start with that before we go onto the next date.”
Blunt Donz: Blunt stopped mid sentence, clapping his hands once. “Did you just invite me to dinner and ask for my name? Fantastic! It’s Blunt, oh fair lady, and I will meet you in the stables…since the dinning room was recently destroyed.”
He paused, slowly raising a finger. “And that…If I may…is a lovely knife.” he carefully reached forward, plucking it out of her hands. “Exquisite…I bet it’s really sharp too.” With that, the man experimentally pulled out the front of his shirt, slicing it down the middle with the knife. He nodded approvingly, and then handed it back to her, stripping off his ruined top easily and tossing it to the side. “Beautiful…”
Maralen: “Then we have a date, sir Blunt. Maybe if you’re polite you can learn my name.” She re-holstered the knife before turning back to Violet. “Milady, I think I just got invited to dine with this gentleman. If you would be so kind as to give Imam some food, I believe he has some coin to cover any expenses.” She winked at Violet before turning to readdress Blunt. “Would now work for you? I am so famished.”
Mera Violet Haddock: "Enjoy yourselves,” Mera responded, speaking in far smoother a voice than she felt inside. “Although Blunt, if you would be so kind to speak to me privately afterward? Thank you. Now then, Imam, let us get a bit of food. There is a dining hall not too far from here I can show you to.”
She glanced over at her son.
“EGIL. DO NOT TRY TO TEAR OFF YOUR SHIRT! THAT IS NOT A MAN TO EMULATE!”
Blunt Donz: Blunt turned to Mera, offence on his face. “My lady I assure you I strive to be a role model for the children of this world.” he whipped his head around, turning to Darin. “I don’t suppose you would like to join us for dinner would you?”
Darien Whiteland: Darien reddened a bit. “Oh, ah…no, I must decline. I prefer to take my meals alone, thank you very much.” Before the shirtless man could respond, Darien turned to the Queen and asked, “Would you tell me where I could purchase some food, my lady?”
Mera Violet Haddock: Mera produced an unrestrained, dirty glare toward Blunt, displaying exactly what sort of “role model” she considered him to be. “The main food hall is where meals are most simply acquired, but there are merchants, fishermen, and bread making Vikings about with whom you could easily trade. What will it be?” As she spoke to the others, she forced Egil’s shirt back over his head. He grumbled indistinctly beneath the fabric.
Darien Whiteland: "I’m sure I can find something suitable, fair Violet. Thank you for the direction.” He tipped his head to her and glanced briefly at Blunt and Maralen before adjusting his pack and walking farther down the street, keeping an eye out for anyone unfriendly. Arceyx tried to contact him again and once more Darien brushed him off. Not now! There could be people watching us! I’m going to investigate things myself, all right?
Mera Violet Haddock: Mera follows after him. “Let me show you the way,” she offers, though with a tone in her voice suggesting she will certainly do nothing but that.