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RE: Dead-Moon Sky

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4/6/2022 12:09:35   

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP

Karen held her breath.

She didn’t mean to at first, but it quickly started to bother her. The pure emptiness of it all. The wild was supposed to be… well, wild. And yet there was still no life, no sound. Just tree after tree after tree stretching for hour after hour as her feet fell one after the other. So when the sound of her own breath started to grate on her weary mind, she simply stopped.

And, exhale.

As her long breath flowed out of her lungs and across her lips, the gentle gust of air made her aware of yet another oddity, yet another stillness. There was naught a single breeze to move the trees, to move the grass, to brush against her skin.

Yet, out of the corner of her eye, she saw that the trees still moved.

Did they?

No, they didn’t. Her gaze locked on them, lingering for so long that she tripped over herself with her next steps and barely managed to catch herself from tumbling to the ground completely. But at least it left her certain; the trees were just as still as all else.

Karen shivered slightly, yet her form still held some of the warmth of Ember’s earlier blaze. “I don’t like this.” She whispered to no one in particular. “All this time in the woods and we’ve only ever found a single living thing. We lost someone to nothing in particular…”

The rest of her thoughts remained unspoken. The thought that they were invading somewhere. The thought that they should turn back, that at this point the risk outweighed any real gains. Voicing wouldn’t accomplish anything, she’d likely be told to turn back if she couldn’t stomach it. She took a deeper breath, and caught the new scent with it.

“Does anyone… smell venison?”

At Marietta’s question, Karen inhaled deeper, gathering the pleasant smokey scent of prepared meat. “Definitely.”

Her eyes scanned the cabin ahead, taking in the smoke from the chimney and the fire out front. As uninviting as the cabin itself seemed, there was someone in there. Karenn was sure of it.

She took a small step forward. “Anyone want to go and give it a knock? Perhaps they’re willing to share.”

She laughed lightly, but her own joke did nothing to calm her nerves. Nothing about this felt right, but it wouldn’t do to just ignore it, either.
Post #: 76
4/17/2022 21:50:09   

“But do try to contain yourself. We should not burn down the woods we were paid to investigate, no matter how much simpler it may be.”

“Of course,” Ember replied with a slight curtsy, a mask of meekness hiding the malice within. No one else managed to lift a finger to help Yondrin - or for that matter, even tried. Yet blame found its way to the tiefling. Should the tragedies continue unabated, Ember had no doubt which of the party’s members would be the first up on the chopping block.

The dancer raised her eyes back to Karen with all the innocence of a newborn babe. “I am not home in woods such as these - in the future, I shall be sure to restrain myself.” She smiled softly. And should the night come for you next, I shall be sure to ask it sweetly not to rend you inside out.

With a slight nod to Marietta’s command, the sorceress turned away from Karen and towards the burning tree. A gentle wave of her hand reduced the iridescent flames to ash and smoke. She made it seem effortless even as her upper arm cramped up from the exertion; no benefit from showing weakness in front of this crowd. Without any further words, Ember packed away her belongings, though her eyes never left the suffocating darkness surrounding them for long.

Above them the silver eye of the ceaseless watcher remained relentless in its observation.

They must have marched for hours, yet the night refused to budge in its cycle. All the while Ember made sure not to draw more attention to herself - nothing the others could use as ammunition against her. Occasionally she rubbed her cramped arm, but the dancer always made sure to give a timid look up to the sky when she did. If the party could hold any empathy for a dancer trapped in a forest of eternal night, she would be sure to extract every drop of it.

That being said, Ember her fainthearted facade rang truer than she would have liked.

Marietta looked over her shoulder at the motley crew. “Does anyone…smell venison?”

As if on cue, a savory scent drifted over Ember. She sniffed and gave a quick nod to affirm. Other lost travelers trying to weather out the night? Perhaps a noble’s caravan? Ember kept these conjectures to herself, not eager to invite any more ire from her companions. She was soon proved wrong as the source of the smell came into view. Before the party stood a log cabin, smoke billowing from its chimney and a haunch of meat cooking on a fire outside. Its windows and doors were either sealed or pulled shut, indicating none remained indoors. Ember stepped toward the haunch of venison, its meat nearly cooked to perfection. What would cause someone to abandon such a luxury?

Behind her, Karen gave a small laugh at her own joke. Helpful by accident, or just trying to keep yourself safe?

“Good idea,” Ember said as she stepped forward. “Only sign of life we’ve seen since the wolf - and a local may have more information about what has fallen upon these woods. At the very least, their absence may grant a clue.”

The dancer turned to Marietta and after getting her approval, approached the door. Catching the ranger knock an arrow from the corner of her eye, Ember stopped short. “I would suggest putting away the bow - threat of violence will only incur violence.” And I’m the one in harm’s way.

Turning back to the door, the tiefling knocked twice sharply. “Good evening! We do not wish to impose, but we are here on the orders of Baron Terex. We simply wish to gleam any insight you might have on the forest’s current circumstances. Might you come out so we can speak face to face?”

Ember waited for an answer, hoping whoever answered the door was more amicable to tieflings than the rest of the party.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 77
6/2/2022 18:25:23   

The elf could barely feel anything around him, his magic dissipating until stillness surrounded him. Everything shrunk around him until all he could hear was his panicked breathing. In, out. In, out. His eyes widened, and he struggled to contain the fear that threatened to consume him, rendering him a gibbering fool.

"…Salindrel, Karen, you'll be watching our flanks again today..." dragged him out of himself as Marietta gave them orders and a timetable. The druid latched onto that command to yank him back from the brink, moving woodenly to collect his things, ignite his magic, and head into the trees of the group's right flank.

A task was what he needed, something to distract him from the horrors he could feel within the forest. Typically, he would have connected with the surrounding trees, but here he felt only death. Silence. Nothingness. But focusing on searching for threats gave him a purpose and grounded him in the group.

Salindrel reached out with his senses toward each of those who remained. Ember, who he had perhaps misjudged but could still barely read or understand. Marietta, whose position he did not envy, but for who he hoped he could be reliable. Karen, traveling at the opposite flank, a stalwart in her work, someone he could relate to, at least a little. And finally, Luca, who seemed as brutal and violent as any creature he had previously encountered, had features far removed from those he grew up with but were optimal for the mission.

And so, the large group that had left the city were now whittled down to this motley crew. He hoped their number would not reduce any further, as the forest felt more and more dangerous. This never-ending night seemed to have replaced the day in this forest, compounding with the other disturbing features it held.

The Elven druid stopped short as they approached the clearing, taking in the first scents he could remember since they broke camp: burning wood, venison, and maybe something more he couldn't place. As the group approached the door, Salindrel headed towards the back, prepared to phase through the back wall if anything happened with Ember in the front.
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 78
8/23/2022 11:50:55   

Luca nodded in affirmation, repeating his earlier gesture, and then went over to what remained of their former leader. It was hard to see with only the moon as his only light,, but Luca squinted anyway, straining to make out any details.

Even so, all he could see was a pile of tatters. Hard to believe that this had once been a full-grown orc, though at the same time, this wasn’t his first encounter with such magic.
In Those previous cases, there’d been some tell or evidence of what had caused the victim’s death.
It'd also required a bit more investigation to determine what had caused the poor soul's disintegration, but given the chance, Luca had doubts on whether he would be able to unearth anything. Arcana had always been his sister's forte. His own knowledge was limited to some simple—and practical—Runework, of which his workmanship could be seen on his axe.

Luca bent down to pick up the box, shaking it off as he straightened up. It was light; light enough to almost be mistaken as empty, if not for a faint rattle. Perhaps the same as a small apple.

That was odd, though. Nothing else on the orc’s person had survived; flaking away just as he had. Had Yondrin dropped it before he’d perished? Or was there something else that had saved it?

His lips twitched slightly as he turned the box over.

It didn't sit right with him that they were just leaving with all these questions hanging above them. One of their team was down, taken by an unknown force, and they were moving on, with the assumption that whatever had slain the Yondrin was isolated only to this area.

Still, it wasn't as though their decision was completely unwarranted. The orc's death had been an especially unpleasant one. It was understandable that some of their number would be spooked.

Did they even have someone that could investigate? It wasn't as though any of them were Inquisitors or even Spellbreakers. The closest they had was the Hellspawn, whose expertise lay in speaking and arson.

He breathed out from his nose and made for the well, only spot something from the corner of his eye. A spear, winking at him under the moonlight, laying where Yondrin had dropped it.

Luca paused for a moment, then set aside his axe. He walked over and picked the spear up, testing its heft. It was a simple weapon; primitive, built for game, and not foes.

Similar to its former master.

He moved over next to where its owner lay and planted it on the ground, spearhead first, aligning towards the night sky. Luca gripped it firmly, one hand on its haft. And then, with a mighty shove, the hired arm forced it straight down, into the earth.

It was only when the spear was firmly in the ground that he exhaled, releasing the breath he’d been unknowingly holding. Not much of a send-off or memorial, but it was the least he could do. Well, aside from completing their assignment.

Luca dusted his hands and nodded once, then hefted his great axe on to his shoulder before setting off after his companions.

The first words among the group in what must have been hours roused his attention. Luca shifted his gaze over to their new leader, the corner of his eyebrow peaking.

… Venison?

He sniffed and squinted, looking further up the trail they were walking. There was indeed the smell of flame-cooked meat in the air; not unpleasant or unwelcome, but certainly surprising. Some part of him had not expected to come across anyone else in this unnaturally silent forest. Perhaps more petrified creatures, arcane death traps, or inexplicable oddities, but a happy camper was not on the list.

Luca looked up, following the plume of smoke down to the cabin it emanated from.

Hm, so not a camper then. Perhaps a resident of this awry, empty forest?

He felt his hand tense and grip the great axe harder, just as the tiefling took the initiative and strode forth to the cabin’s door.

A rather bold action, considering it could be anything behind that door. It probably would’ve been better if Luca himself had been the one to head-up and knock, considering he was the only one properly armoured. But Ember wasn’t exactly defenceless herself.

He took a deep breath in and held it for a moment, then released it, forcing himself to relax. The head of his weapon landed with a muffled thump as Luca planted it down, resting both gauntlets atop its shaft. His slate eyes shifted briefly across to Salindrel, tracing the elf ranger’s movements through the trees and to the far-side of the cabin.

So one at the front and another from the back. A surprising display of synergy, considering their cohort’s short time together.

The man-at-arms swept his gaze back to the cabin door and waited, his pose and expression affectedly casual, despite the tension he felt.
AQW Epic  Post #: 79
9/1/2022 23:43:41   
Eternal Wanderer

Marietta flinched at Ember’s rebuke, but kept her arrow on the bowstring all the same. The tiefling had never seen her shoot; and yes, it was pride to say so, but this wasn’t a range at which Marietta was going to miss. Besides, anyone - anything - openly living in the forest at this point had to be dangerous enough to survive whatever was vanishing every other thing that had formerly called the Piege Forest home. In the event that whatever was behind that door proved hostile, the arrow would do everyone more good nocked and ready than waiting in its quiver. And if Ember was right... the half-elf would find a way to make it up to her later.

The door drew slowly open - punctuated by the faint creak of her bow - and disclosed the cabin's occupant: a woman draped in the folds of an off-white hooded robe. Her hands - spread before her in demonstration that she was unarmed - were swathed in bandages that vanished up under wide sleeves. Upon the stranger's face was a tarnished golden mask; its visage a snarling tiger, complete with extended muzzle and bared fangs. The only outward sign of life from the figure was the rise and fall of her chest, and the inhuman eyes that peered from her mask. Marietta met the gaze of those amber, cat-pupiled eyes and-

She was falling through red-hued twilight. Something whip-cracked across her face in a flare of pain as she flailed in the murk for the half-glimpsed structures whistling by on her descent. Her heart thundered in her throat, hope flaring as her fingers found purchase. She jarred forward and slammed into a hard, curved surface. The impact was stunning, blasting the breath from her, stealing the pained cry that tried to slip out. Something in her left wrist gave with a greenstick snap and then she was sliding, clawing, falling once more. She spun uselessly in the crimson dark; up became down and left became right and her vision was stars and her cosmos was pain and-

Marietta jolted back, arrow clattering from her nerveless fingers as she struggled to get a breath into her lungs. The half-elf pressed her bandaged left wrist - throbbing once again - to her stomach, struggling to speak. “W-What was… What did you..?”

But the masked woman was looking at Ember now, eyes a sharp counterpoint to the soft soprano of her tone. “Harolight, good, good. The Baron, I fear will be disappointed to-” She trailed off suddenly, stepping lightly by the dancer and glancing swiftly side to side, unnatural gaze raking over the others.

“No,” the word was low, hesitant, but the masked woman’s voice grew stronger as she searched the clearing. “Where is the orc?” She looked to Marietta swiftly, and then Karen. “This is wrong. He’s supposed to be with you.” Her eyes flicked to Luca and she stepped forward again. “And the elf. Tell me that you haven’t lost them both.”

Marietta rocked back, out of the stranger’s path as the masked woman stormed toward the firepit and took up a frantic back-and-forth trek from the campfire to the corner of her hut and back again. The forester cast a confused glance Ember’s way and stooped, retrieving her arrow. She straightened and glared at the stranger, gritting her teeth as pain radiated up her wrist. "Who are you, and how do you know us?"

“Ranger,” the masked woman rejoined, "that is a long story." She slumped to a seat on the stump of an old tree not far from the campfire, staring into its popping flames. "Very long." The stranger took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “There is a pot of water inside, if you would make tea.” For a moment she paused and then, almost as an apology, added, “please.”

Marietta stared at the stranger before peering around the clearing and then up at the full disk of the moon overhead. Unfortunately, the inspection yielded no insights into their bizarre circumstances, and at length the half-elf sighed in exasperation, “As long as it means answers.” She turned toward the cabin, giving Ember a last cautioning glance before heading inside.

The masked woman laughed ruefully, motioning the others closer. “Aye, well, you have questions. I have answers, of a sort. Come, eat, and at least tell me that you have the Pathfinder’s box.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 80
9/10/2022 20:56:02   

Landing softly on the leaf-strewn loam at the back of the cabin, the elf moved cautiously up to the wooden wall, pausing to listen, preparing himself to dip into the grey world and pass through the wall. He held his breath, waiting for a signal from the others: a battle cry, a shout of alarm, any indication that a fight was breaking out.

The door opened. He could hear the wood creaking on its hinge, the faint scuffle of sound as it ran along the ground, the collectively held breath as those in the front would be waiting to see what was revealed and would signal if it was friend or foe.

Salindrel waited.

The silence impacted him as it always did, his mind drifting back to the teachings of his master, his thoughts escaping back into the past, to the actions that had led him to this place—his missteps with Ember, the shared watch with Karen, the awkwardness with most of the others. And now, poised to attack some unknown assailant, he wondered if most of that strangeness could have just been avoided. Perhaps if he was further along in his training. Or maybe if his master had been allowed to accompany him on this mission.

It hadn’t been either of their choices for Salindrel to come to the forest on his own. He knew Immeral had gone to the elders, told them that his pupil was not ready, and begged for them to let him accompany his student for one last mission. And yet, they had been steadfast in their refusal, knowing that the elf would never be able to step out of the shadow of his master if he was not sent on missions himself.

An exclamation from Marieta snapped Salindrel back to reality and he prepared to slip through realms to enter the cabin, but a voice responding to the group caused him to stop and listen. The accent, though easily understood, was not one he was familiar with. It was not an accent he had heard from the surrounding area.

“And the elf. Tell me that you haven’t lost them both.”

He froze at these words. How could this woman have known that there was an elf in the group? And how had she known about the Baron? These questions and many others rose unbidden into his mind and caused him to stay where he was, thinking it was better to keep their foe somewhat in the dark as to who was still around. If things turned in the wrong direction, he could surprise this one and attack with an arrow from the shadows.

Until then, he supposed he should wait. And listen.
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 81
9/29/2022 21:45:29   

The door creaked open, and a twitch in Ember’s left index finger betrayed her calm facade. Countless times before she had set out to charm a stranger, but to do so in a forest bearing no familiarity with an individual of unknown temperament at an hour not of her choosing? A warm smile may still dress Ember’s face when the ax came crashing down.

So when the figure stepped out and showed no immediate signs of aggression, the tiefling fought to let out a sigh of relief. Relief short-lived as she scrutinized the cabin’s inhabitant. Faded white robes draped her form, bandages covered her arms, and a tiger’s mask hid her face. Ember could make out none of her features, save for the cat-like pupils deep within the-

A flashing red light drowned out Emily’s reflection, save for the bright blue irises set into the polished steel. The faint click-click-click of her bouncing heel could scarcely be heard between the blaring of that infernal two-tone alarm. Emily bit the corner of her lip as the floor number lights flit on for an eternity before shifting to the next.

It must be a test. Emily raised a hand to her temple and closed her eyes as the pounding in her head threatened to split her skull. Upper management must be tracking response times and adherence to evacuation procedures during a crisis. That must be it. She winced as the blasting alarm only amplified the hammering of her migraine. Figures the suits upstairs would spoil such a day just to fill out some inconsequential forms measuring-

The entire elevator shuddered.

Emily gasped as the sudden force sent her stumbling back. Her elbow smashed into the back wall, searing white-hot pain flaring out from the point of impact. Bracing in the corner, Emily took sharp breaths as the slight tilt of the elevator aggravated. The main lights blinked out, leaving Emily swallowed in darkness in-between the flashes of red. She took a hesitant step toward the doors, and the entire floor jolted in response. Emily froze, inviting disaster if she moved but ensuring doom if she did not….

Ember blinked.

No flickering of crimson aura engulfed her, only the gentle touch of torchlight. The steel trap was gone, replaced by the trees and open air of the night’s forest.. Ember stole a glance at her exposed hand, ensuring that it remained of coal and ash, not the pale flesh of that counterpart within her vision. A counterpart bearing the surname-


Tiger Mask prattled on, but Ember found herself deaf to her words. No one, no one knew her by that name. It had been buried along with her family. Ember’s senses returned to her as Tiger Mask whisked past her, addressing the group at large. A group with whom the stranger was far too intimate. The tiefling’s mind raced to bridge all the gaps laid out by Tiger Mask’s scattered explanation. Had she also been sent by the baron? Surely not, for what benefit served Baron Terex by not informing the venturing party of the contact? But she could not not be sent by the baron, for how else could she be aware of each and every one of the party’s members, even those who had failed to make it here?

Ember shivered. Something sinister was afoot.

“Dearest stranger,” said the Cinder Witch as she stepped forward, amber eyes narrowing ever so slightly. “Before we share our story, might we have your name? You hold us at a disadvantage there, and with our plight a bit of trust would go a long way to put our nerves at ease.”

The dancer smiled softly, and while her extended hand promised comradery it held within its grasp the violence of her flame.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 82
10/16/2022 16:35:57   

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP

The door opened agonizingly slowly, but still opened nonetheless. Even with the signs of life within the cabin, Karen had been worried that it would simply have been another abandoned site, another ghostly trick of these lifeless woods. A woman in a hooded robe revealed herself, empty hands spread in a show of good-faith. And yet… that was it.

Ember had given such a cordial greeting, yet also the kind that would usually bring but a call from behind a closed door, or a request to confirm their own identities. Out here in these lonely woods, would such a friendly, familiar gesture really be someone’s first response to strangers at their door?

Karen studied the woman’s masked face, tracing the detailed lines of the tiger’s visage before her eyes met the woman’s.

The alarm blared in her ears, bolstering her as she took the steps two at a time to rush to the lower levels. It took much, much longer than she would have liked, but using the elevator in such an emergency would have only brought more dangers and greater delays.

She froze as she stepped down on the landing to the research division.

A body. One of the researchers, based on the lab coat, positioned as if he was trying to flee. And yet… he seemed physically unharmed. She stepped up to the door and grabbed the bar. If it was a break-in, she would be able to enter with more force, but if this was some more unnatural emergency… caution would have to do.

She pushed against the bar.

Karen’s hand gripped tight to her sword, almost falling forwards as her body pushed against a door that wasn’t there. Her ears rang with the dying sounds of a formless bell as she shook herself from a daze and stared at the woman once more. Her eyes locked on the stranger’s orange irises and found… nothing.

“Harolight.” The woman said, addressing the tiefling. “Good, good. The Baron, I fear will be disappointed to-”

Karen raised an eyebrow, trying to focus her mind on the stranger’s words rather than the fading vision of whatever she had just seen. The woman knew the Baron? Did the Baron know the woman? Surely he would have said something of someone n in the woods, even if only as a safe place for the party to rest. She noticed a small shiver from her companion as the stranger continued on in a panic on their missing orc and elf.

Karen took a single step forwards, grip tightening even harder on her sword. An invitation to tea from a stranger that knew who they were, in the middle of woods that was driving beasts to madness and unraveling men where they stood? The thought was preposterous. She glanced through the door behind the stranger, hoping to find something incriminating, some reason to avoid this odd hospitality and either be on their way or use more force for faster answers. She saw only what seemed to be a small bedroom and a kitchen.

She brought a hand to her face with a sigh, pushing down her irritation and lighting her grip on her sword as Marietta accepted the woman’s offer and Ember requested her name. It wouldn’t do to be overly suspicious, nor overly aggressive.

If this woman truly was dangerous, it was likely the party was already ensnared in her trap.
Post #: 83
12/29/2022 0:20:48   

It seemed like an age before the door finally opened.

But open it did, eventually, and without the sudden rush and explosion of violence some part of him had been anticipating. His body was still relaxed, arms and legs unmoving, nor even shifting slightly as the door creaked inwards. Perhaps it had taken notice of some hidden hints and cues around them while his mind had not. Or maybe he had subconsciously formed some confidence in their group’s supposed combat prowess.

Both of which weren’t exactly likely, he mused, tightening his grip on the axe’s haft.

There, a figure energed, empty hands wrapped in gauze, hooded robe shrouding an ornate, golden mask. Thin, slitted golden-eyes stared back at him from the eyeholes, further enhancing Luca's xenophobia. At least they hadn’t—

He spun as he fell, twisting just as he crunched into the stairwell wall, letting out a sharp hiss as something in his collar snapped. Luca waved away Carver’s stuttered apologies with his good arm, and nodded towards the next flight of stairs, urging him to keep going.

Gritting his teeth, he started forward and stumbled, his hand tenderly probing where he’d felt the bone go. Yep, that had been his clavicle. And to think that earlier, he’d been upset about leaving his lunch and travel pass at home. At lesat he’d kept his wits about him.

Granted, it would have been far worse if he’d struck the wall face-first. No doubt that Luca’d be lying on the floor with a busted nose and out cold, in the best-case scenario. And he didn’t—

Luca hissed, exhaling as he snapped back to reality. He leant heavily on the greataxe, feeling the earth give slightly under his weight, waiting for everything to steady. The ache in his collar throbbed sharply once and then vanished, disappearing as quickly as the vision.

The hired arm glanced around, watching as the half-elf mumbled something, while Karen slumped slightly, before turning his gaze to their new acquaintance, who was still talking, without seemingly a care.

Not the best show of hospitality, but it most likely confirmed that they—no, she—wasn’t an enemy. Nor had she said she was a friend, but it looked like Luca could keep the axe lowered for—

And then suddenly, the woman was rushing forward, towards the firepit. Luca almost made to draw the axe, but shut down the thought before his body could transition the command into motion. He watched as their host paced up and down, back and forth between the firepit and her home, before slowing to a stop and then settling down by the fire.

It was Marietta that asked the most obvious and necessary questions, before heading into the cabin to get the water for tea. While a cup of tea sounded lovely, Luca was a tad reluctant to drink whatever brew their acquaintance was offering. Perhaps after some of the proffered ‘of a sort’ answers that she had, he might be a bit more—


Raising an eyebrow, the hired hand straightened up, raising the box for the woman to see. “It was one of the few things on him that didn’t wither away with him. It’s important then, I take it?”
AQW Epic  Post #: 84
7/23/2023 14:33:53   
Eternal Wanderer

Marietta entered the rude cabin, ducking under a bundle of dried herbs hanging from the ceiling. The dwelling wasn’t much to speak of - a small sleeping space and a slightly larger room that no doubt served as kitchen, dining, and general use. The ranger was tempted to take a moment and search the shack, but discarded the notion almost immediately. Whoever the stranger was, she seemed to know the group - or know of them. She had been expecting them; it was unlikely there was anything worth the effort of ransacking the place to find.

That left tea to deal with, and Marietta turned her gaze toward the miniature kitchen wedged into a corner of the cabin: a stack of wood, a few small pots hanging above a sturdy stove, a low cabinet whose top served as a cutting board. A glance inside yielded the teapot - there had been a basin by the door she could fill it from - and… The ranger rose slowly, drawing out a mahogany box and setting it on the top of the cabinet. Her fingers touched lightly on the spreading boughs of an oak tree incised onto its cover, and Marietta bit her lip. She could almost hear the sound still, the fateful crash as Kala knocked the box off the counter and it cracked on the corner of their stove. The half-elf shook her head. “No…” But she couldn’t stop herself from reaching out, opening the damaged lid, and revealing a set of sturdy metal canisters labeled in her own hand.

The cover clapped shut with a sharp crack, and Marietta’s hand closed tightly around the sheath of the shamshir belted at her waist. “Just a couple of weeks. I’ll be back before you know it, Etta.” A jaunt over to Pinewatch, to see a carpenter about fixing the lid. Leather creaked as Marietta’s grip on the scabbard tightened, her knuckles crackling white with strain. Once Kala had made her mind up, the forester had never found a way to persuade her otherwise about anything.

It had been three weeks when the ranger went looking. Maretta let out a breath that was nearly a growl, and turned back toward the door, reaching down and gripping the sword’s hilt with her free hand. She had never found Kala, or her horse, or the damned box that had sent her down the timber hauler’s road. Four weeks after Kala had left, Marietta found a patch of churned earth, a smear of blood, and the shamshir that had once hung from Kala’s hip. Steel hissed as blade and scabbard parted ways. It was past time for answers.

The masked woman turned her gaze from the fire to Ember, and then to the proffered hand. For a long moment she stared, and then reached out to return the gesture with a firm grip. “Who I am matters much less than what I am, but you may call me Muuka for now.”

Before she could continue, Luca’s words drew her slit-pupiled gaze. Muuka released Ember’s hand and sighed softly. “Important, yes. Vital, even.” She turned the spitted haunch, her odd eyes focused on the soldier - and the box he had recovered from Yondrin’s remains. “There is something inside, something that will allow you to pass through the,” Muuka’s voice shifted, her tone careful, as if the next words were known by rote, “the aegis security matrix.” She laughed tiredly, shaking her head and turning toward the fire. “I don’t know what that is. Only that it has killed you several times.”

Muuka’s eyes closed for a moment, and she exhaled a long, slow breath. Behind the expressionless mask her tone held the driest trace of amusement as she tilted her head slightly in Ember’s direction, acknowledging her skepticism. “Give you a reason to trust… I could tell you all that I have never offered you violence before, and that you have not always returned my courtesy. But why should you believe that?” Her slit-pupiled gaze roved the clearing, and she shrugged, pointing to Luca and his burden. “You brought what you need with you. At best I am an oracle. I peer through smoke at an image reflected in a cracked mirror.” She stood, and walked across the clearing to retrieve a chunk of wood for the fire before returning to her seat. “It would be… comforting if you believed me. But I have no doubt most of you think me insane. While other things change, that mostly does not.

“But I can’t leave until this is finished.” She hunched forward as though the words were pain and sickness, fingers bunching into the fabric that covered her arms. Muuka’s eyes squeezed closed as she gripped tightly, holding herself together, or clawing for a glimpse of her mirror. “Inside the container is… access. You have to open it, but you cannot. Not here, not now. There’s a… a station, a gate into Pinewatch. It opens the gate, and the gate opens the box. What’s in there will let you through the security matrix.” Muuka let out a slow, focused breath, prising her fingers loose one by one and straightening.

Her hands flexed slowly in and out of fists, and she reached up to give the haunch another turn. “Before you reach Pinewatch, one of the Moonstruck will try to kill you.” She trailed off for a moment, gaze tilted up toward the treetops and the silent moon. “Marietta knew her… a long time ago.” Muuka sighed, her voice falling, “Within the gravity of the Dead Moon, things come undone.” Her gaze went from Ember to Luca, to Karen. “Will that satisfy you? Because in a moment Marietta is going to come through that door and try to kill me. And as little as it may matter to you, I would prefer not to go through that again.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 85
3/26/2024 20:09:44   

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP


An odd name, but no odder than any other, when it came to strange women in dark woods. Karen swept another glance through the house door whilst Muuka spoke riddles with Ember. Nothing changed, not that anything would. It was just a cabin. Just a cabin.

“-only that it has killed you several times.”

Karen shook free from her stupor. What?

“I could tell you all that I have never offered you violence before, and that you have not always returned my courtesy. But why should you believe that?”

There was tiredness to the woman’s voice. A boredom. The type that slipped from a waiter’s lips, when they announced for the umpteenth time that the tavern was closing. Practiced. Rehearsed. Performed. Hold; she was talking still. “-I have no doubt most of you think me insane. While other things change, that mostly does not.”

Karen took a single, hasty step forwards, sweeping through her options in her mind. One: Muuka was insane. What then? If insanity was dangerous, Muuka was outnumbered. Strange magics could certainly do a number on the group, but the quarters were tight and Karen, at least, was fast. Which left two: Muuka was right. The woman in a cabin in the woods speaking as if she knew them all and had performed this scene countless times was right. Well what then? How many times HAD Karen been fast? How many times had Muuka been faster? Who would prevail here?

And would it just lead back to this exact moment?

Ugh. Karen could feel the headache coming on. Overthinking these things wasn’t her style. She just wanted to move. To pick friend or foe and go straight to either enjoying a cup of tea or drawing her blade free. Muuka spoke still, rambling on about a matrix and security and access in as many perplexing ways as she could. Open it, don’t open it, go to the station or the gate and try not to die on the way.

An itch in her brain. A little blur in her vision that she couldn’t get rid of. Something was different. Wrong. Right. Now.

“Within the gravity of the Dead Moon, things come undone.”

It was driving her crazy. If something was wrong, then she had to have a way to make it right. But this itch wouldn’t go away by sitting here and listening to a self-proclaimed oracle ramble on.

“-in a moment Marietta is going to come through that door and try to kill me.”


It didn’t matter if Muuka was insane or right. If she was an oracle or a witch. She had shown them nothing but ambivalence, and killing her would either bring them back to this moment, or give them a body in the woods to dispose of and even less direction on their goal. So Karen moved. Her blade slid from its sheath in time with another from beyond the doorway, and Karen leapt past Muuka, placing herself between the woman and her apparent assailant.

“Marietta.” The huntress's voice was low, inviting. Her legs bounced with anticipation and annoyance at how much time it had been since the party had known something, anything about where they were actually supposed to be going. She yearned to move, even if just for a moment, even if that opportunity was just to disarm an ally before she made a mystery unsolvable.

“Whatever you found in there, I’m sure it can be discussed without blades in our hands.”

Marietta stopped in the hut’s entryway. Karen tried to lock eyes with her, tried to search her face for any sign that Karen had been heard or acknowledged. There was nothing there; the elf’s gaze was firmly locked past her and on the woman she protected. When Marietta finally spoke, ice crept from her throat. “She has no right to what I found in there. None. Get out of my way, Karen. This isn’t your business.”

Karen began to reply, but was cut off by the mysterious “oracle” behind her “She gave it to me.”

“She what?” The ranger’s voice snapped across the clearing; she stepped forward, blade shaking in her fist. Karen mirrored her, raising her own weapon carefully, trying to dissuade action rather than provoke it.

“Kala,” Marietta snarled. “Kala has been dead for two years.”

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