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RE: Dead-Moon Sky

 
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4/21/2020 23:56:30   
Kellehendros
Eternal Wanderer


The axe rose, lingered… fell.

Marietta flinched at the sound as edged metal sheared through fur and flesh, bone and sinew; the sickening noise was followed by a quieter thump as the wolf’s corpse dropped to the loam in two separate pieces. Her eyes stared into the forest without seeing, and her voice was little more than a whisper. “Something is very wrong here.”

Pulling her hood up once again, the forester turned back toward Yondrin and the path to Pinewatch as a chill traced down her spine. With an effort of will she prevented it from spreading to the hand clenched around the grip of her bow and kept moving. If she was walking, it was easier to convince herself the feeling was nothing more than an errant breeze, something a little exercise would soon warm away...



They marched, and the half-elf worried.

It was getting dark - not that the impending nightfall was what bothered her. Marietta had spent plenty of nights in the Piege Forest, some of them with nothing more than a knife for protection. She had trod the Pinewatch road dozens of times, alone or in the company of the heavy logging carts hauled by stolid teams of oxen out to the waiting Keken mills.

The falling night held no fear for her, nor did the twists and turns of this path. In honesty, the problem was not unfamiliarity, but its opposite. She knew this wood.

And the wells were missing.

That was impossible, of course. Shafts had been delved at precise intervals along the Pinewatch trail, each of them four hours apart, based on the plodding pace of the timber wains. At a quick march afoot the group had passed - should have passed - at least three of them, if not four. Identical they might have been to a stranger in the area, but the half-elf knew each little conical construction: pumps and troughs and winch buckets built over the deeply sunk bore holes that burrowed down to the water reservoirs below. She knew their locations as well as if she had built them herself. At least it seemed that way after so many patrols along the logging road.

And they were all gone. Not so much as a trace of them remained. It was as if the pits had been filled in, the watering troughs removed, and every touch of modification erased from the landscape.

Marietta cast a sidelong glance in Yondrin’s direction. She didn’t know how often the orc had been to Pinewatch, or how familiar he was with the trail. In the end though, be it to him or any of the others, what could she say? The suggestion that the wells had been removed was… preposterous. Wells didn’t just-

It was there.

The forester trotted forward, coming to a stop several yards from the reservoir, her expression of momentary elation falling. The well was there but… there was no trough, no pump, just the stone circle of the wall surmounted by a battered winch and its mossy housing. More than that, the entire mechanism looked… old, as if it hadn’t been maintained in months - years really. Creeping vines curled about it, working their slow, implacable way through the mortared bricks as if the forest was seeking to reclaim the site.

Whetting her lips, the half-elf glanced around uneasily. Above, the sun was fading towards the horizon, somewhere beyond the screening branches of the foliage. The forest had already taken on a murky dimness, and soon enough travel would be impossible without torches or some other manner of light. Given the state of the well they had found, and the state of the forest around them, Marietta was not exactly thrilled about camping out for the night, but what other option was there?

With a quiet sigh, the forester slipped over to Yondrin, giving the orc a nod in greeting. “As good as anywhere to stop, given the circumstances.” She paused, eyes flicking to the oddity of the well before returning to the big man. “We… should set up watches.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 51
5/4/2020 12:39:30   
  Chewy905

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP


Karen was shaken. She had hunted- and killed- many a wild animal. She’d followed wolves much larger than this one for days, tracking their paths and routines until she could slay them quickly. And in all her times hunting the beasts, she had never seen one act like this creature had. Wolves were animals. They were intelligent and cunning, and often lived and hunted in packs. And this one had been alone. Unmoving. Unblinking. Its reactions to Luca’s prodding was equally unusual; what kind of creature would just ignore everything around it once it is no longer being bothered?

As the axehead fell, Karen whispered a short prayer beneath her breath. Among the taverns and cities, she had once heard a tale of a wolf-headed goddess. If such a goddess did exist, she hoped it looked after its children well.

“May you hunt with your pack in death, as you return to the mother unfettered by the corruption that clung to you in life.”




As they continued deeper into the woods, Karen kept to the trees, albeit closer to the main party this time. The darkness did nothing to still her leaps and bounds as she crossed from branch to branch, eyes scanning for anything out of the ordinary.

Nothing off the path caught her attention, but one of her party members did. Marietta had pulled up her hood, likely disturbed by the strange wolf as much as Karen had been. And yet, even with the clear sky shifting to night above them, her hood remained up. Karen couldn’t see the elf’s face, but the rapid movements of her head suggested unease. Why? Salindrel and Karen were keeping watch for any significant threats, and while it was natural to be a bit jumpy, for someone that knew these woods her constant glances were worrying. Was something amiss? Something only one familiar to this place would understand?

The elf came to a stop at a run-down, stone well. Moss covered its mechanisms, as vines crept their way along the structure.

That wasn’t right. This was an oft used wood, right? Unless the well just... wasn’t something that was used often. But that didn’t seem likely.

It was getting dark. Karen had hunted in darkness before, but traveling through a strange wood filled with unknown dangers didn’t sound too appealing. Luckily for her, Marietta seemed to agree. This location was eerie, and the well gave off an ominous, foreboding feeling, but she supposed it at least served as a landmark for a spot to camp.

Still feeling quite awake, Karen leapt from her perch and landed beside her fellow adventurers.

“I’ll take the first watch!”
Post #: 52
5/5/2020 10:35:19   
Apocalypse
Member

One clean stroke and the deed was done.

Ember’s gaze lingered on the wolf for a moment as the party prepared to march onwards. Green blades were stained red as the creature’s lifeblood seeped into the soft earth. Starving. Alone. Lashing out when provoked. These were the crimes deemed punishable by death. Eyes of coal ever so carefully rolled over the scouting party; a casual glance to mask the judgment passed within.

Yondrin and his indifference to the wolf despite it being the first clue to the mystery he had been tasked to solve.

Karen’s approval of the slaughter.

Salindrel who may have deliberately missed with his first arrow but did not hesitate in notching a second.

The great lout of a man Luca who only surprised Ember by not claiming the beast’s head as a keepsake. Perhaps he still hoped it would remain on the pathside on their return journey from Pinewatch if there was not some grander trophy to haul home.

And poor, poor Marietta with her hood pulled up in the fine weather of the day and her face turned away from the grisly scene. Someone who wanted to speak out but had been quieted by too many in her past. Someone conditioned to believe she lacked conviction. A symptom of the illness that permeated Hron and other provinces like it. Fortunately, this symptom was not beheaded on sight. Usually.

The tiefling loitered behind as the party moved on. After a healthy distance, she stepped over to the wolf’s still body and crouched down. With two fingers she closed its eyes before turning away to catch up with the others. Falling into a walking pace as she fell in at the rear of the scouting party, Ember pursed her lips. The Cinder Witch did not anticipate a knife in her back so soon in the journey, but considering how the others treated oddities she was not of the mind to give them either the benefit of the doubt or the opportunity.

***

The sun cast its fading rays as Marietta petitioned their leader to make camp. Not the typical place Ember liked to rest - milestone markers such as wells tended to draw travelers - but she was already trapped with companions, and if there were survivors then perhaps they would aggregate here.

She sauntered over to the well and frowned. Perhaps not. The entire well was overgrown with moss and vines as if it had been an age since it was last touched. The stone seemed to threaten to crack underneath the weight of the plant growth. Ember peered over the edge into the well. Naught but darkness peered back. With a sigh, the dancer grabbed the unkept crank and gave it a pull. It resisted at first, but a bit more force from even her was enough to get the rod turning. A slow ascent but eventually a bucket emerged from the shadowy depths. Much like the well itself it seemed aged yet functional, filled to the brim with clear water. Ember dipped in a finger. Cool to the touch with no other remarkable properties. She brushed her finger against her lips. It tasted like...well, water. Well water. Nothing special to be sure, but sometimes the mundane was more comforting.

“Marietta,” Ember called out over her shoulder. “Can you come check the water with me? I’m not an expert in survivalist matters.” At least, not in nature.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 53
5/9/2020 23:34:08   
superjars
Member

The elf gathered some wood from the nearby area as the group prepared to stop for an evening's rest. Their first day had not gone as Salindrel had expected. He doubted it had gone like any of them expected. He could feel the tension in the air, thick with concern and with a thin veneer of forced normalcy over it all. And yet he could sense danger surrounding them, waiting for them to let their guards down, if only for an instant.

After piling up the branches in the center of the camp, he sat nearby, pulling out a snapped fletching from within his tunic. He twisted the snapped length, feeling the smoothness of the wood between his fingers. His thoughts strayed to when he had broken it in response to the wolves' execution. To when he had been broken himself.

It crept into his mind. The strangeness of the forest. The utter silence. This place was unnatural in a way that Salindrel had never witnessed before. He took a sharp breath as he returned to the present, taking in the others around him, becoming aware of the conversation occurring around him.

"What is wrong with this forest? Someone has to be doing it. This is not natural. Not normal." Salindrel muttered quietly to the trees around him before burying his face in his hands. "No, not normal at all…"
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 54
5/18/2020 1:11:39   
Caststarter

Ether-knight of DragonFable & EpicDuel


The wolf lashed out at Luca’s prodding. It snapped, but then practically dead in spirit once more. Metal met flesh and bone, as corrupted blood stained the ground. So it was done. Unflinching, with faint hope that would quell certain members of the team, the pathfinder continued marching forward.

The land’s emptiness, from wildlife to even water wells to aid travelers, only barely provoked an unnerved thought or two from Yondrin. It was not normal. However, there was no use to fret over countless worries of both morality and superstition. Is the forest perhaps sentient and thus is now lashing out at everyone? Perhaps.

Or perhaps there are ghosts that are concerned about vengeance.

Or even a disease coursing throughout, spreading through the very veins of the world.

Yet, what evidence was there? Dismayed, sickly, and even soulless wolve. Missing wells. All pointing to various instinctual conclusions.

Unfortunately for his team, he was merely a pathfinder and occasional enforcer. Not some team leader, medicinal guru, or wildlife specialist. The orc knows what he can eat, what can kill him, how to treat water, all that to survive and tackle problems currently present. Despite desiring the contrary, there was no soothing idea to give to the team.

After some time, edging closer to the night, Marietta stopped, hood still up. There was a well. Overgrown. Far too ruined. The pathfinder furrowed a brow, directed at the well, as the ranger suggested they take watches. Yondrin’s reply was stern. “That shall be done. As for who-”

“I’ll take the first watch!” Jovial, enthusiastic, and slightly mind numbing Karen volunteers right as he was about to make his decision.

The pathfinder quickly gazed at the hunter, then to the trees, then at the well. “Alright. Take watch. Keep an ear out especially, and perhaps find some rock or some other hefty object to toss at the well over there. If there is something suspicious, throw it over there to make some noise if we are awake, or even throw it at me if desired and we are asleep. If it is truly dire, do the usual loud and ever present alarm. If possible, set up any defensive traps you can before it all happens. Got it?”

The orc’s gaze swapped to Marietta, who was noticeably distressed. “As for you, take watch primarily near the later end of our rest. In the end, considering your state, think on things. Know that, if you wish to aid in this investigation and thus the forest, know that a manic mind can make such a desire to be impossible,” Yondrin clearly spoke.

As for another matter at hand…

The orc stepped up to the warrior that was Luca, hand ruffling through his bag. “Luca. I expected someone to lop the beast’s head off. Now the strange part is that you prodded it, risking it biting at you brings ruin to your body. What were you trying to accomplish?”

“Well, the beast was behaving rather… oddly, was it not? It seemed only natural to see how it would react to light stimulus. As for the danger, well… “ Luca peeked an eyebrow.

“Well?”

“If I had felt threatened by a starved, solitary wolf, then I’d question the qualifications that allow me to currently be before you.” Luca raised his axe, bringing it up to his shoulder. “Besides, I was quite certain that Ranger Forestwalker had me covered.”

“It was strange,” straightforwardly pointed. “However, the animal in question was clearly unwilling to do anything unless provoked.” The pathfinder glanced towards the duo over at the well. “Course, provoking it causes me to believe your head has danger as an afterthought.” The orc’s view hovered over the rest of his surroundings.

“In regards to danger, we do need to mitigate it. Just asked Karen to make her alarm more subtle if danger arrives unless it is needed otherwise. This forest will get very dark however. Vision will be nearly useless. Can’t exactly place fire points at prime locations. Forest will go up in flames. If Ember over there can keep them control and stable, then that would be no longer an issue. Though with that said, I am going to scan the surroundings real quick, set a trap or six, and then come back. Want to come with me? Marietta will deal with whatever is going over there, and perhaps you can offer your own use in survival. Or learn a thing or two with setting up defensive traps. Might even ask Salindrel to help out us or Karen.”
DF  Post #: 55
6/3/2020 22:38:00   
Kooroo
Member

Luca’s lips twitched, forming a ghost of a grin. “I’m not sure what advice I’ve got to offer on the subject of survival, but I could always use a refresher course on the basics. Very well, Yondrin. Lead on.”

The orc grunted. “Follow then.”

Instead of immediately heading towards the foliage, the greyskin trudged off towards Lane, with Luca following close behind. Yondrin notified the forester of their plan and continued on past her as Karen snapped off a salute. At the mention of traps, Luca couldn’t help but wonder what the orc had in mind. The former general remembered how to set up some basic traps from his green days in the army… Or at least, Luca thought he remembered how to construct them. In all fairness, he’d rarely received the opportunity to practice, nevermind utilise some of the more niche skills. A refresher course was probably long overdue. He gave Karen a nod as he walked past her.

Next up was Salindrel. Yondrin lumbered over and spoke to him, rousing the daydreaming elf. "Salindrel. If you can, set up possible alarms around our camp site in case of any unexpected come our way, such as placing a group of leaves or wood in spots between thickets and bushes. Otherwise, take shift after Karen."

Luca planted his axe and glanced towards the ramshackle well as the pair talked, curious about the ancient structure. There was something about the structure that seemed… odd, just like the wolf he’d put down earlier. Granted, most of the curiosity stemmed from him wanting to know if they had a fresh supply of drinkable water, but a small part of Luca wished to wash his axe of the mongrel’s blood.

It seemed that Marietta and the hellspawn had the same idea, as both of his companions were already busy inspecting the ruined structure. He made a note to inquire about their findings once they’d returned from setting up the camp site’s defences, but there was another question nagging at him.

There was movement in the corner of his eye. The hired arm looked back in time to see Forestwalker stand and walk after the already departing orc. With a last glance towards the well, Luca lifted his axe on to his shoulder and marched after them.
AQW Epic  Post #: 56
6/4/2020 20:54:31   
Kellehendros
Eternal Wanderer


He didn’t understand.

Marietta managed, with a supreme effort of will, to keep the dismay from her face. Either Yondrin was a better actor than she gave him credit for - in which case the orc really should have been a thespian, not a Dakorel hireling - or he was not the least bit concerned by the bizarreness they had encountered. The latter bothered her more than she was prepared to admit. How could he walk through a forest as deathly silent as the Piege without the hairs on the back of his neck prickling up? How could anyone?

The half-elf opened her mouth to say… something. She really wasn’t sure what. Her fear was too amorphous for her to even be able to call it that. But there was something, a feeling of lingering unease twinned to a sense of being watched, or perhaps worse - a sense of being measured. Say something... Just... tell him! But she couldn't. There was a rasping lump in her throat, old memories choking off her words.

What did she know? What could she prove? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. She was just afraid, and what of it? But if I...

Karen's voice cut across the ranger's inner-struggle, shattering the slow accretion of her resolve. She glanced away from Yondrin, a frown equal parts disappointment and self-loathing crossing her face as her blue-eyed gaze swept over to Salindrel. With his slumped shoulders and downcast countenance, he looked nearly as forlorn as the forester herself felt. Marietta took a half-step in the elf’s direction; it certainly seemed to her he could use someone to talk to. But the Dakorel employee was not finished with her just yet; his voice drew her up short as easily as if it had been a lead fastened about her neck.

It was a blessing that her posture - shoulders hunched, head turned toward Salindrel - left her so that Yondrin could see naught of her face, only the fabric of her raised hood. Though Ember, standing near the well, had a much clearer view of the anger which crossed the ranger's face.

Anger? Anger was too soft a word for it. The poisonous cascade that washed across Marietta's expression was a melange of rage, frustration, and hate. Her vision hazed as a thought-derailing flood of every memory of fear and frailty, disappointment and rejection she had ever experienced crashed through her with breathless force. No, this was not anger. This was blinding, incandescent fury.

After everything she had been through, who was this... this man to give her orders? What right did he have to tell her - tell anyone - they were out of line? Ember would have seared -

Ember.

The tiefling's gaze was locked with Marietta's own; her fury shriveled, wilting like a drought-starved leaf. She had seen. There was no way she'd missed it. Hell, Salindrel probably couldn't have missed the storm of emotion that had crashed across her face. How... how had her emotions gotten away from her like that?

The ranger took a deep breath - In through the nose. Out through the mouth. - hood twitching a fraction of an inch in Yondrin’s direction. Whatever the dancer - or the elf - might think, whatever they might do, it was the expedition leader that the forester was concerned with. The shock for Marietta was just how steady her voice was, edged with the faintest hint of ice as she spoke, each syllable clear and distinct. “I will take third watch.”

Straining to keep her expression neutral, the ranger walked away from Yondrin, denying him the chance to argue as she approached Ember and the well. She said nothing of what had just transpired, merely reaching by the tiefling to dip a hand into the water and cup a cold, clear palmful. Marietta lifted the liquid to her lips, taking a brief sip. She considered a moment while she swilled the water back and forth over her tongue and then swallowed. “Safe to drink.”

One last time the half-elf hesitated, on the verge of saying… something more to the tiefling. She couldn't find the words. It all seemed so... inadequate. Instead, she pivoted on one heel, stalking silently away; the forest all but swallowed her from view before she could bring herself to slow, to stop. Leaning back against the stolid trunk of an old oak, the forester slid slowly down to a seated position. Her arms - hands trembling slightly - crossed over her chest as she bowed her head, focusing again on her breathing.

Marietta closed her eyes, trying to think. What had happened? She had just... flown off the handle, snapped at Yondrin. That was not like her at all. Her father would have been ashamed of how she had acted. And yet...

"Satisfying, wasn't it? Speaking up for once."

The half-elf shivered, fingers bunching into the fabric of her cloak. Yes, it had been, but why did it make her feel so dirty?



Night descended over the camp, shadows gaining substance as the light fell away. There was something disquieting about the dark, about the way it stretched out from the trees like so many naked, questing fingers clawing their skeletal way across the ground. That was ridiculous, of course; a simple glance upward was enough to confirm the presence of branches laden down with all manner of foliage. And yet, once realized, that impression stubbornly refused to be shaken, like a tune one couldn’t help but hum in the vague hope of exorcising its hold on the mind. It lingered at the edges of the vision, gripping claws and beckoning talons that vanished when confronted directly.

It was better, comforting almost, to look beyond the canopy. High above, the full disc of the silvered moon - set against a velvet sky spangled with twinkling stars - shone down on the little clearing around the well and the small party getting situated on their bedrolls. As they each dropped off to their respective dreams, those who bothered to be observant of such things had an odd realization, just before sleep reached out to claim them...

The moon hadn’t been anywhere near full last night.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 57
6/15/2020 22:26:17   
superjars
Member

No reaction. Perhaps the elf's words had only been in his mind, but he could have sworn he uttered them aloud. Or perhaps something more sinister hung in the evening air, stifling his voice as his eyes had been. The wrongness surrounding Salindrel pushed in, drowning out everything else, trapping him with only his thoughts and making him drift deeper into his mind.

A voice came from outside as his mind flooded, barely piercing the bubble constructed by his pervasive thoughts, only just registering with his mind that it wasn't just more of his self-talk, but something external. The barking sound resolved into words as he shook out of his reverie, glancing to meet the source of the noise with dull gray eyes.

"I…" he quietly said, desiring to share his concerns, but paused as he realized who it was that had addressed him. Yondrin did not seem like the type concerned with ethereal threats. Concrete ones seemed more his style. "Yes, sir. I'll do what I can and take the second watch."

He pulled himself to his feet and headed back outwards, leaving the wood he had gathered in a pile at the center of camp. He could feel the tension coming from the well where Ember and Marietta stood. Perhaps one of them would listen to his concerns, or know more about these woods. Either would benefit his peace of mind and may give him some insight into what the natural state of the Piege was. But that would have to wait until tomorrow.

It took around twenty minutes for him to make a few rounds of the eastern perimeter, setting up a couple simple traps and alarms, just like his mentor had taught him. As he turned to head back, the silence of the woods he had been feeling suddenly felt very oppressive. He fell to his knees, hands pressed to his temples. The world around him felt like it was spinning and he felt sick to his stomach. Every breath was a struggle and try as he might, Salindrel could not calm himself.

He closed his eyes, shutting everything out, unaware of anything else happening around him. It felt like deep sadness and overwhelming panic were pressing on him from without, pushing through any defenses he attempted to raise and drowning his mind in dark thoughts. It was the best he could do to even keep himself conscious as an all-consuming panic consumed him.

As he felt himself slip into the darkness, the clawing feeling released as quickly as it had come on, leaving the druid gasping for breath, sprawled on the ground. It took a few minutes for him to recover enough to struggle to his feet and make his way back to camp. He kept to himself when he returned, finding a perch in one of the nearby trees to rest. It had been an interminable day already, and it was only the first. As others found their way to rest, it didn’t take much for Salindrel to find his own.



Working at Dakorel Corporation had been Sal Foresta’s goal since he had been a teen. He felt the same thrill as he entered the large lobby today as he had the very first day he started here as part of the Security department.

“Good to see you, Frank,” he called out as he waved at the security guard standing by the entrance. He scanned his badge and walked through.

“Ah, Sal. Another beautiful day, huh?” the man replied, smiling at the brown-haired man.

“You bet. Have a pleasant day,” Sal called back as he swept towards the elevators, heading up to the 15th floor. It didn’t take him long to get up there, a glass of coffee in hand as he sat down at his desk, opened his computer and browsed through two dozen emails that he had received since the previous day. Some minor necessary security patches, a few emails about attempts to hack into their system, and then one caught his attention.

A high priority email from the director of their department came into view, marked urgent. He knew the type. The director always looked for someone to step up whenever a major incident occurred, and this email usually led to a promotion for whoever solved it. Sal loved this challenge and although he hadn’t yet been the first to run down one of these, he had been close twice.

This was his chance, he felt it. As he scanned through the email, taking a few notes, though, he felt a pain in the back of his head, low and dull. He took a sip of his coffee, pushing the pain away, refocusing on the email, finishing his notes.

They scheduled a few meetings over the next couple hours and the chatter in all of them was about the email that came through that morning, theories about what might have caused the breach, and who the culprit was. Many people thought it must be the company's biggest rival, but Sal wasn’t so sure. However, his headache seemed to get worse during the meetings and he thought he should head home for the day. It was hard to concentrate on any of the things happening around him.

Sal popped his head in his boss’ office and let him know he was heading home for the day, then stumbled to his desk to collect his things. His headache worsened, gradually getting more and more painful, then a loud, dulcimer tone replaced it, reverberating through his entire being. The feeling was odd, leaving him blinking at his monitor, relief flooding his head after the throbbing that had been his experience all morning.

And then, from floors below, a two-tone alarm sounded out, a sign that some security breach was occurring elsewhere in the building. A shiver went up Sal’s spine as he grabbed his phone, searching for some message about what was happening. Nothing yet, but it was only a matter of time before they sent out an email or text giving direction to the employees. Until then, he guessed he wasn’t going home just yet.
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 58
6/22/2020 23:10:34   
  Chewy905

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP


For many, the shadows of a mysterious wood would be an object of great stress. With the light falling, they seemed to grasp forwards, fingers of a great skeletal claw wrapping around the campsite and choking the life from it. But Karen was used to it. These nights, out in the trees, resting beneath the moonlit sky, stars twinkling high above, these nights were bliss for her. She had already swept the perimeter of their site, checking for tracks or marks, anything to signify that they were not alone in this dark thicket.

She had found nothing, of course. She wasn’t surprised. There had been almost nothing during their trek so far, after all. Just that singular, strange wolf. Karen reflected for a moment on the beast, pitying it. Had it been cruel to allow Luka to cut it down? It wasn’t one of her hunts, chasing a creature that would kill innocents, it was an execution. His axe had swung down and removed it’s head, and she had simply approved.

Karen shook her head, pushing the thoughts aside as her gaze refocused on the hefty stone in her hand. Killing the wolf had been a mercy, for a creature that was lost and confused. Just as much as they all were, camped up around a broken down well. She slipped the rock into a pocket, ready to signal an alarm if necessary, and leapt up into a tree, eyes scanning the woods.

A deep breath in. A deep breath out. And Karen relaxed. She was used to this. She loved it. Just a night in the woods, under the perfect, full, moon, without a sound to disrupt it.

Calm.


Her muscles relaxed. Her arm, gripping her blades hilt, fell slack as her grasp loosened. Her eyelids drooped slightly as she settled into the peaceful glow of the moonlight on her treetop perch.

NO!

What was she doing?! She was supposed to be on watch! The calmness subsided all at once, her muscles growing rigid as she shot back to attention, almost falling out of the tree for the second time that day. Her eyes swept aggressively across the site, vigilant and fierce as she tried to push aside any lingering peace she had felt. Out here in the middle of an unknown woods, under a moonlit sky that almost seemed to shine a spotlight on all of her companions, and she had almost fallen asleep on the job! Disgusted at herself, she redoubled her caution, trying not to blink as she waited for her time off watch when she could sleep without guilt or fear.




Karen Lane was getting bored. Getting the job as security for the Dakorel Corporation had been a dream come true for her. And when that promotion for section security chief came in? She had been ecstatic! But being cooped up in the office grates was getting tiring. It had been so long since she had been out in the field, running security the way she loved to, somewhere most people couldn’t even imagine existed.

This morning had been especially problematic. From the moment she got up something had felt… different. She’d had enough “differences” turn into “problems” for her to be wary as she went about her normal rounds. An itch in her brain, a little blur in her vision that she couldn’t get rid of, and no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t figure out what felt different today.

She drummed her fingers against her leg as she turned another corner, waving a cheery hello to the researchers as she passed. She didn’t always know what they did, but she knew it was important enough to warrant putting her full effort into keeping it safe. By now she had accepted the itch. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe nothing was different after all. Maybe there weren’t going to be any problems today.

Then the alarm sounded. A two-tone siren that she recognized as the harbinger of a breach. A breach in the depths of the facility, R&D division.

Itch scratched.

Karen rushed to the nearest staircase, it would get her down to the lower levels far faster than an elevator would, and who knows what the exact cause of this emergency was. Her arm crossed her body, ready to sling her rifle off her shoulder at a moment’s notice. This had a chance of getting exciting.
Post #: 59
9/30/2020 10:12:40   
Apocalypse
Member

Ember’s eyes followed Marietta as she ushered herself away from the well. Short, curt, distant. The tiefling huffed. Far from perfect. Considering how she had been received thus far, Ember could not afford to miss out on any possible connections she could forge. She set the bucket upon the lip of the well and crossed her arms, surveying the rest of the motley group from the hateful Salindrel to the indifferent Yondrik and beyond.

Useless.

How was she going to explain this to the Ferryman? “It was rather unfortunate that I was unable to secure what was in the forest, but the baron managed to hire only the most ill-equipped hunters this side of creation?” The tiefling shook her head as she filled her waterskin. Somehow, she did not imagine that her employer would be taking too kindly to that excuse. Amber eyes narrowed. What she was supposed to do? Baron Tex had been all too eager to see her blood spilled back on his estate, and her companions were hardly any better. Over at the perimeter, the blind elf set about his tasks. Did that one house the greatest hatred, or was he just the most forward about it? Her burning gaze shifted to the half-orc, the huntress, and the brute of a man in turn. Any one of them could be waiting for their moment to dispose of their unpleasant company.

Ember stalked away from the well, finding a spot to lay out her bedroll for the evening - well within the boundaries of camp but at a distance from the others. She doubted the rest of them would field complaints about that arrangement. Only removing her boots and cloak, Ember settled herself for the night. Might as well - she had no services to offer at this time, and she would not be caught exhausted if they were needed on the morrow.

The sinking in her stomach never did quite settle before she slipped into slumber.

***

“Ms. Harolight?”

Emily did not stir from her desk, eyes closed with two fingers pressed to her temple. The pounding in her head had yet to subside. She had actually taken a lunch break today so she could make a run for aspirin but somehow popping those had only made the migraine worse. The pressure in her skull was nauseating. Just looking at the blank email had almost made her vomit, the cursor blinking in tandem with the steady beat in her head.

“Uh...Ms. Harolight?”

“I heard you the first time,” Emily said as she sat back in her chair and opened her eyes. Her secretary Janine was standing in the doorway of the office, almost as if she thought it may be trespassing if she stepped in without express permission. That’s what she liked about Janine - she knew better than to step on any toes around here. Emily stared at her subordinate for a good long second before continuing. “Well? What is it?”

Emily clenched her jaw as Janine spoke, fighting the nausea that had followed. “Mr. Richards and his partner have both filed their grievances and wanted them reviewed before their mediation this afternoon-”

“Cancel it.”

“I..what?”

Emily let her head fall to the side as she stared at Janine. The secretary’s clutch on her folder tightened. “Cancel. It. I’ll be unavailable the rest of the day.” Laying facedown in my bed with the blinds down. When Janine didn’t move, Emily only had to raise her eyebrows to get her to jump. She hurried out, only turning back to close the office door behind her. It clicked into place...

...or rather exploded.

A piercing shrill flooded through the room, tearing through Emily as if to rip her mind apart. She doubled over, slamming her hands on her keyboard before scrambling for the trash bin. It quivered in her iron grip as she sat there, head between her knees fully ready to wretch up what little food she had today. Eyes were clenched shut, yet she could feel them rattling in their sockets, yearning to burst free. She wanted to call for Janine but her jaw was wired shut from the sensation. So Emily sat there like a coiled spring unable to fly free, ready to endure this agony for however long it would dare to stay.

But as quick as it appeared, it ended.

The trash can fell with a din onto the floor as it slipped from her laxed grip. Emily leaned back in her chair and sighed. The torturous beat was gone, and she could not remember the last time her neck had felt so loose and free. She enjoyed herself for a moment before getting up. Victor was always the Dakorel problem child, no matter how good his work was; he would not take a postponement of his mediation well. It would best to get it over with.

Emily popped her head out the door. “Janine, nix that cancellation. I-”

She cut herself short as a rising sound filled the room: an alarm from below layered over itself. Emily grew cold as it rose louder and louder in a crescendo. A crescendo spelling disaster.

“Janine, stay put,” she said, cutting across the floor to the nearest elevator, the sharp clacking of her heels on tile drowned in the ocean of the alarm’s wake.
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