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RE: Dead-Moon Sky

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4/21/2020 23:56:30   
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   

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   

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   

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   

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.


“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   

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   
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 -


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   

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   

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.


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.


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   

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.


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.”


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.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 60
11/11/2020 19:05:15   
Eternal Wanderer

Deep beneath the ground, below the level of the streets, was a forest of pipe and ductwork. Strapped into a rig that would not have been out of place on a mountain climber, Marietta hauled herself up smoothly, hand over hand, as she ascended through the strata of tubes and conduits. “Seven five eight two… Seven five eight three… Seven five eight four,” she muttered the designations stenciled along the pipes, before pausing a moment to rest her forehead against the chill, faintly vibrant shell of a coolant line. Her eyes closed as she counted breaths slowly, fighting against the throbbing vise that tightened around her temples.

Of course, it would have been easier if her boss would shut up for five minutes. “Drevosa,” crackled the radio mounted at her shoulder, the tinny voice of the maintenance shift supervisor lancing into her skull. “Update me. The eggheads down in R&D want to know if we’ve located the source of that pressure drop they’re seeing Down Below.”

Down Below. Haunt of the big-brain research and development crew, home of secret projects and government contracts. Down Below, where inconveniences went to disappear - at least if you believed the hushed gossip in the cafeteria. All Marietta knew was that when something broke she heard about it, at length and at volume. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get the blighted water back on for the mole people.”

The radio yowled feedback in a tone like glass grating against her eardrums, and the maintenance worker gripped the thrumming tube before her as she struggled against nausea. Vomiting all over herself would be the perfect cap on this wretched day. Probably leave it to set overnight so I could clean up tomorrow too.

Gritting her teeth, Marietta sternly reminded herself the rent was due next week and keyed on the mic. “D-Drevosa here. At seven five eight five. No... sign of a leak yet, not even residue.”

“Five? Hell, it must be around seven six then. Keep ascending.”

Really? I figured I’d just slide down to the floor and call it a day. She sighed, resting a hand on the coolant pipe for a moment before she took a deep breath and gripped the rope to draw herself higher up. “I’m on my way up.”

And then the world fractured.

Marietta twitched, head snapping back as the squawk of her radio was swallowed up by a bone-juddering peal; it was a singular, ultimate tone, like the world’s largest church bell. The noise shuddered along her skin, rippled through her hair, vibrated inside her teeth. She might have screamed; the maintenance worker couldn’t quite be certain. Everything was shaking, as if she was strapped to the surface of that bell as its tone rolled on, stubbornly refusing to end.

She must have blacked out, because the next thing she was aware of was a gentle creak from her harness as she rocked, suspended in the forest of pipes. “Wha… What just..?” Marietta blinked, reaching out reflexively to steady herself on a nearby conduit. Somewhere below an alarm was braying stridently, and it was only then the repairwoman realized her headache seemed to have vanished.

But before she could start descending the lights went out; not all at once, but in a cascade of chattering, bursting detonations, like electric bombs surrendering their fluorescent payloads. And Marietta dangled in the dark, eyes wide amid the tinkling fall of glass and the snap of red emergency lights. She reached for her radio, fumbling for the mic. “C-Central, Central, this is Drevosa. Silo five. I’ve got... Main power is out, and some kind of alarm is going off in Down Below. Please advise.”

There was no answer, only - far above her - the distant creak of metal settling, and then a galvanic scriiiing. Marietta scrabbled at the pipe’s sweat-slicked surface as the line fixing her to the ceiling went slack. But her fingers slipped over the rounded tube, and she fell into red-lit darkness.

Marietta jolted awake in the soft, silver light of the full moon. She blinked rapidly, sapphire gaze peering up through the trees toward the distant sky. “What..?” Pushing herself up, the ranger reached automatically for her weapon belt, buckling it on as she stood, eyes transfixed by the velvet dark overhead. “That, that can’t be right.” The forester wrenched her gaze down to the camp, looking hard at the campfire. What remained was nothing more than banked coals, ready to be built up come breakfast-time.

She looked up again, and then down, and then back up. It didn't make any sense. Marietta knew she had stacked enough wood on the blaze for it to last to the morning.

But she obviously hadn't. After all, who was she to argue with the star-spangled dark overhead?

"Are you afraid you're wrong, or that they won't believe you?"

The half-elf hesitated, frowning up at the serene moon before she forced herself to look around the camp again, to think. Ember. If any of them would believe her, it would be the tiefling. Taking a breath to nerve herself, the ranger padded over to the dancer's bedroll and knelt, then lightly touched the tiefling’s shoulder. “Ember, Ember there’s something wrong.”

They had to know now.

She fed another log into the fire, careful of the sparks that gusted up from the blaze as it bit hungrily into her latest offering. After all these years fire still frightened her, and her left hand rose unbidden to knead along her right shoulder, where a heated brand had kissed her flesh and left its unloving mark. “He always did love his fire,” she commented softly, shaking her head. There was no one around to hear the words though - only her and the spitted haunch of venison roasting over the flame.

With a quiet sigh she kept turning the spit. It was no help for her to remember, and it would be no help for them when they arrived. “Policy before personal,” that brought a grim smile to her lips, before she pushed the past away, at least for the moment.

They had to know, or at the very least suspect. She focused on her work, remaining in the moment, not remembering the past or getting caught in the web of the future. But it was hard. If they were not ready to believe, if they would not see that things here were more than what they seemed…

“You’ll find out soon enough.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 61
12/6/2020 20:06:14   

Salindrel awoke slowly, the events from his dream fading into oblivion as he did. Stretching upwards, he could feel the cool air of evening still surrounding him. It took a few moments to collect his bearings, remember where he was and the mission he was on. He looked around, checking on the others, noting who had risen and who remained asleep. He still felt tired, despite feeling as if he'd had a full night’s rest.

The elf made a quick circuit around the perimeter, checking quickly to see if someone had tripped any of the traps they had placed the previous night, but everything seemed to be just as they had left it. So, at least there had been no incursions from the forest. Nothing had come for them while they rested.

However, that wouldn’t stop them from tearing themselves apart from the inside. He could hear Immeral’s voice resonating in his head, pushing him to be a bridge to the others, that they needed to work as a unit. But that had always been easier for his master than it had ever been for him. He knew he was doing what he could to play his part in this motley assortment of hunters, but if they were actually going to sort this out this mystery, it would take more.

Salindrel sighed as he headed down to the remains of their fire. Perhaps there was more he could do. If only he knew where to start. As Immeral had told him hundreds of times, he would need to keep listening for the signs. And so he focused on the others, hoping that he might hear something with which he might join in, to connect with the others.

< Message edited by superjars -- 12/6/2020 21:44:01 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 62
4/11/2021 13:32:58   

Emily pushed the button for the elevator and did so again after it had failed to light up in response to her touch. It is fine, we have protocols in place, she told herself as she searched the pockets of her pantsuit. By the time I get down there, they’ll be apologizing about the inconvenience. She pulled out a small, silver key and inserted it into the elevator override.

The HR director looked up and caught her pale reflection staring back at her. It displayed the unerring confidence of which she had built a reputation - the mask she wore and maintained each day. She let out a slow breath even as her heart quickened to the continued blare of the two-tone alarm. You are in control, Emily told herself as she turned the key. The elevator door opened with a small ping.

You are in control, she repeated before stepping inside.


Ember jolted awake at the sensation of someone touching her. Her hand lashed out, gripping the transgressor’s arm as her palm burned with viridian flames. An ambush!? The tiefling sneered while pulling herself upright. “You chose your enemy quite poor-”

The threat was cut short as the Cinder Witch came face to face with Marietta who gasped as she clutched onto the tiefling’s arm.

Ember’s eyes grew wide as she relinquished her grip and skidded back from the ranger. The elven figure cradled the burns, light yet not doubt painful. The only sound that escaped Marietta was the sharp breath she took as she set herself against the pain. “Oh Marietta, I’m so sorry,” Ember said as she inched closer, taking care to not intrude if the ranger wished to keep her distance. “You gave me a fright - I should have warned you.” She said soothing words even as she cursed herself for making such an amateur mistake. The Cinder Witch was better than this - but that dream...that dream had shaken her somehow. The dream that even now was fading from her memory.

Ember dispelled any notion of understanding what it meant as she looked to the elf, amber eyes glowing with a soft vibrance in the moonlight. She could not afford to lose what rapport she had built with the ranger - not yet at least. But these matters needed a delicate touch. The dancer paused in her approach and met her gaze with Marietta’s. Upon her face she wore the burden of guilt with a touch of compassion; a mask she had perfected and donned many times before. If she could just salvage this moment...

With a gentle nod, Marietta signaled her consent. Internally, Ember signed in relief before resuming her approach. She did so slowly, tentatively reaching out with the same hand that had burned the ranger. Tongues of fire wreathed around the tiefling’s fingers, but this they shone with a cool cerulean. As her hand touched the ranger’s skin, the flames licked up and over the wound, neutralizing the pain. For now at least.

As Marietta shuddered a sigh of relief, Ember took the moment to take in all of the oddities that plagued her and the rest of the Baron’s search party.

The dreams.

How well-rested she felt.

The fire burned down to ashes.

Her striations having returned from yesterday’s demonstrations.

“Marietta,” Ember said in a low voice, fingers gently rubbing over the burns. “How long were we asleep?”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 63
4/13/2021 10:02:53   

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP

Karen’s eyes flicked open instantly. The light of the moon and the twinkle of the stars above slipped through the foliage of the tree she had propped herself up against, the chill of the night air caressing her skin as her mind raced to figure out where she was. Her hand slipped to the side, reaching for a… sword.

Right, her sword. What else would she have? But… what had she had in that dream? The last vestiges of memory were already slipping from her grasp. Ah, well. She pushed herself to her feet, strapping her blade back to her belt as she did. How long had she been out? It couldn’t have been more than a few hours, and yet… she felt so full of energy. She had always been a morning person anyways (a fact that had brought with it all sorts of troubles on her travels), but it certainly wasn’t morning yet, and she certainly shouldn’t have gotten enough rest to warrant this much vigor.

She glanced about, checking to see who was currently on watch. With such life as she felt now, perhaps she could take a second watch, and leave someone else to their rest. Her eyes caught on the remains of the campfire.


It was strange. Usually, when she camped out while hunting, she or her fellow hunters would keep the blaze running through the night. The fire often lessened some of the more subtle, insectile annoyances of the night, and made for a calming crackle to fall asleep to and some nice heat for those less suited to the cold. Was it different with this crowd, that someone would allow it to dwindle down to such lowly coals?

Karen could see Marietta intently moving over to the sleeping form of one of their companions, as if to wake them. Was something the matter? Karen could see Salindrel as well, his slender form lit by the full moon’s glow as he headed towards the coals of the fire. She cocked her head. Three people, all awake at once, in the middle of the night? Either Salindrel or Marietta had likely been on watch… right?

Still, with such distance between all of their resting spots, each’s own stirring couldn’t have possibly woken another.

Unease crept its way to Karen’s mind as her hand wandered to her blade and she turned back to face the endless expanse of the woods.

Salindrel could check up on Marietta and the fire. She would make sure nothing surprised them while he did.

Something was very wrong here, but she had no idea what it was.

The very thought brought with it dread and annoyance.
Post #: 64
5/21/2021 19:08:07   
Eternal Wanderer

Ember, as it turned out, slept as lightly as Marietta did.

The half-elf had hardly touched her compatriot's shoulder when Ember's eyes snapped open and her slender fingers fastened onto the ranger's wrist. Marietta jerked back and tried to batter the tiefling's hand away as greenish flames flared between them. Instead, the forester wound up clenching the other woman's arm, her words seared away in a blaze of smoldering heat and the sickening stench of charred flesh.

Break her grip. Break her grip!

Fire crackled and hissed behind her, a sinister counterpoint to the soft clinking of the chains that bound her upright between the posts. She could hear him behind her, moving to the brazier, working the bellows.

She would not scream.

She would not scream.

Her mouth was filled with salt and iron; her limbs were leaden, constrained by the heavy fetters as she struggled to stand. No weakness… not… not now.. Her vision was blurred with tears and snapping starbursts.

She would not scream.

“Every great work of art needs its maker’s mark. Wouldn’t you agree rakas?”

Behind her metal rasped on metal and cinders pattered back into the brazier as he lifted the brand. She could feel his smile as she drew in a deep, ragged breath and held, and held, and held. But when the brand kissed her, there was no way to hold back the scream.

Meat crackled and fat popped as she jerked upright, scrabbling away from the fire, eyes wild. “Dead,” she husked through clenched teeth, spitting blood into the dirt near the firepit. A quiet sob escaped her lips as she fetched up against the sturdy trunk of a tree, phantom pain radiating down her arm and across her back. “You’re dead. I looked. I looked and I saw. You and all your grand plans, nothing but ash.”

It was far from a happy memory, but it soothed her nonetheless. She drew a deep breath in, letting it out slowly as she leaned back against the oak’s steady support. “Ground and center,” she whispered, opening tawny eyes to check the haunch on its spit. Leaning forward, she turned it carefully, telling herself the tears stinging her eyes were only a result of the heat.

Ground and center. Here. Now. Those days were dead and gone; it was the living that demanded her attention now. Or would soon enough.

She rose with a sigh, dusting her hands on her trousers as she shuffled toward her little hut. Gloves. That's what you forgot, gloves.

It wouldn't do to put her visitors off when they arrived.

It's me; it's Marietta! The forester wanted to scream the words, to howl them. She fought to spit them free, but another lash of white-hot pain seared them to ash on her tongue. Frantic, Marietta dug her fingers into Ember's arm, as if the pressure of her grip alone could - somehow - convey her identity.

Maybe it worked, for the tiefling blinked. Shock and recognition registered in her gaze as the dancer released her blazing grip. Marietta's own grasp faltered as Ember pulled back, and the half-elf hunched forward, curling over her wounded arm. She shook, sucking in deep breaths through her bared teeth. Don't scream. Anything could be out there. She let go. Don't scream.

Sounds... words - Ember? - fluttered around her, nearly drowned by the pulsing beat of blood roaring in Marietta's ears. But their persistence was enough to drag the ranger's pain-hazed gaze up. There was regret in Ember's golden orbs, concern in her outstretched hand. Why? The half-elf searched the tiefling's face, but the ache made it so hard to think and... didn't she trust Ember?

Show me. The ranger extended her own hand to the dancer's blue-limned grip, and as Ember's delicate fingers curled again over her wrist, the pain was smothered beneath a soothing wave.

"The more you trust her, the deeper she'll drive the knife in."

Marietta winced, a brief pressure - there and gone so quickly she almost wasn't certain it was hurt - spiking through her head. But a moment later her eyes closed and she all but groaned in relief as Ember worked the oddly colored flames into her skin. The forester stayed that way for three or four heartbeats, then looked back toward the dancer - and the firepit beyond. "I..." the half-elf began, hesitated, then continued, voice low and strained, "Ten hours, eight at the very least."
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 65
6/29/2021 0:03:03   

The smell of burning flesh swirled out from near the coals, permeating the air around the elf. The druid paused, hand slipping into his quiver, arrow knocking into the bowstring, his muscles tense as he struggled to make sense of what was happening near him. Pulses shot from his body, heading towards the two figures, trying to determine what was happening. He held himself as still as possible, waiting for the pulses to return, arrow held tightly between his fingers.

He sensed two souls in dichotomy, the closer white and the further black, but that didn’t give him much information. The waiting seemed like an eternity as his magic went out and then returned to him, giving him the full picture of what was happening. He let his bowstring slacken as Marietta and Ember filled his senses, the former hunched in front of the latter, arm held out.

Salindrel let out a low sigh, taking in the rest of the scene. The fire had burnt down to coals, and the others seemed in various stages of waking, the eerie silence of this forest still hanging over the surrounding forest. When the first words he had heard in some time broke through the unnatural quietness, it took him a few moments to come to grips with what was being said.

“Ten hours!” the elf hissed towards the others. “Isn’t it still dark out? How could we have been asleep for ten hours?” He headed towards the fire, moving behind Marietta and putting his hands towards the coals, trying to discern from their remaining heat how long they had been burning, confirming that the timeline seemed to be accurate, despite how farfetched it seemed.

The druid felt a shiver head up his spine as he turned back to the others, his face pulled tight in a grimace.

“We must keep moving,” he whispered to the nearby two. “There’s something not right with this forest.”
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 66
7/20/2021 22:03:38   

“Ten hours, eight at the very least.”

No flicker of emotion betrayed Ember’s face at the revelation. Ten hours… It ran in line with her prediction, but that did not stop the unease rising in her stomach. The pink flames continued to dance along Marietta’s skin, the soft light illuminating her elven features. Judging from the relief across her face, the dancer had salvaged the relationship...for now. Another slip up and the tiefling would find herself on precarious ground with this so-called “team”.

She was almost grateful when the unseeing elf interrupted their little moment. He thrust his hands to the fire, seemingly feeling for the heat of the coals. A shame - digging his fingers through the dying embers would have been quite the fitting punishment for his earlier remarks to the Cinder Witch. But alas, it was not so. Instead, he whispered commands for them to move on.

Biting back her first reply, Ember doused the flames dancing across Marietta’s skin. “The pain will be back. That’s as far as my ‘healing’ will take you.” Ember turned away from the ranger and began to hurriedly pack away her bedroll. She rose her voice for the whole group to hear. “I agree with Salindrel - if we don’t leave, we’ll have uninvited guests soon enough.” The tiefling hesitated and looked up to the others who had been watching the perimeter. “We…don’t have uninvited guests, right?”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 67
7/30/2021 12:33:08   

Their little trip was finished much sooner than Luca had anticipated.

What he’d thought would’ve taken the better part of the afternoon was over and done within the hour. A commendable feat, especially when you considered the number and variety of defences surrounding their camp, though he personally felt that a handful of the rangers’ traps were a bit too close to be of any use as an alarm.

Furthermore, there were some additional deterrents that Luca felt wouldn’t be out of place should their simpler defences fail, but the former general held his tongue. It wasn’t his place to tell either of the foresters how to do their task. Even if he had spoken up, Luca hadn’t the slightest idea how to begin setting up what he envisioned. It might be a surprise to the… less informed, but campsite fortifications were primarily handled by the enlisted ranks and not the COs. The last time Luca tried to set up a trap had probably been… just over a decade ago? With special emphasis on the word ‘tried’.

Still, the elf and the greyskin had been impressively efficient with their work. There may have been a time where Luca would have offered one of them employment, but he had reason to suspect that the offer would be for naught. Neither of the pair seemed especially fit for military duty and though Luca may be willing to stomach the greyskin’s company, he doubted that any of his Alafaelian comrades would be just as amenable. Offering Yondrin a job was akin to housing a lamb amongst hunting hounds.

They arrived in the camp just as the sun began to wane, and Luca bid the pair of trappers farewell before walking over to the well. A source of drinking—not to mention cleaning—water was always welcome on an expedition.

Presuming it was drinkable. The hired arm stared blankly at the raised bucket before him, then glanced towards Marietta. Perhaps the half-elf would know more about that.

Luca’s lips thinned. Despite his lengthy tenure as one of Alafael’s generals, he’d never quite managed to get the knack of reading people to the extent of his fellow commanders. Maps and reports had been more his forte. Sure, he knew how to observe people, but translating their tics and whatnot was beyond him.

But even he didn’t need it in writing to see that something about this well bothered the half-elf. Her reaction upon spotting the weather-worn watering hole had been a break from the sombre ranger that had been at the head of their group. Had she noticed something off about it? Or was there something else? Regardless, the half elf hadn’t said anything about it, but why? What was she hiding?

Maybe she was waiting until the group had properly gathered or for an opportune moment to address everyone, but it was better to get it over and done with. Before the sun set.

He turned in Marietta‘s direction and had barely taken a step forward when his axe shaft struck the well’s bucket, knocking it off the stone ledge with a dull thunk.

Luca blinked, the surge of curiosity fading. He stared at his axe, at the armor-clad hand clamped on its shaft in a death grip. The ex-soldier blinked again and willed himself to relax.

The hand loosened and the weapon sagged in his grip.

He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply through his nose. Maybe now wasn’t the time to address his companion‘s nerves—not while his own were clearly on edge.

Granted, it had been a long day marching. He was probably just tired, though a mere day of marching wouldn’t have been enough to wear him down back in Alafael. Maybe age was catching up to him.

Luca looked towards the half-elf once more, then turned back to the well and started to draw the bucket back up. Drinkable or not, he doubted his axe was going to complain.

“I don’t get it,” the voice on the line sighed. “Computers really aren’t my forte. Could you go over it again? One more time?”

“It would be my pleasure, Mr. Palmers,” Luca replied, glancing at his watch. “But I’m afraid that I have another client waiting on me. It will have to wait until our meeting tomorrow.”

There was a grunt, followed by a blip as the connection cut off. Typical Palmers, pleasant as always.

Luca leant back in his chair, spectacles riding up as he pinched the bridge of his nose. It had been a long and arduous morning, only made worse by the persistent throbbing in the fore of his skull. And yet, the second half of the working day loomed ahead, promising to be just as thrilling as the first.

It had all started when he’d gotten to the subway this morning, only to realise that he’d left his travel pass on the counter at home. After purchasing a day pass, he’d walked on to the platform, only to be greeted by a slew of express cancellations. About an hour or so later, he’d finally arrived at his desk, only to open his briefcase and he’d left both his breakfast and lunch in the refrigerator at home. That left him with two options, if he was still alive, come lunchtime: either starve... or eat out.

And as though to rub it in, the ‘fast acting’ painkillers he’d taken had done nothing for his pounding head.

His phone chirped as a timed notification popped onto its display, reminding him to hydrate.
Luca obliged and sipped from his flask, contemplating the trade-off between hunger pains and an overpriced toastie. Neither seemed particularly appealing, but he probably wouldn’t survive the afternoon without some sustenance. He locked his notebook and then pulled his jacket on as he made for the lifts.

It was still early, so there shouldn’t have been anyone at the elevators. Except one other; a man from the marketing team by the name of... what was it? Calders? His brow knitted in concentration, just as the man in question glanced up from his datapad at the sound of oxfords on ceramic.

“Ah, Mr. Forsythe. Good afternoon,” he greeted, with a slightly hesitant smile. “Or, well, morning, actually. Just for a few more minutes, but…”

Luca nodded as he trailed off. He remembered Calders now. A somewhat anxious fellow that occasionally came by to his colleagues for technical support. Pleasant, but a bit on the slow side, considering the solution was usually ‘have you tried turning it on and off again?’.

He was saved from the effort of replying, as the lift doors dinged and slid open. Both men got in and Calder’s hit the button for the ground floor. The doors rattled shut and Luca’s notably empty stomach lurched as the lift shot downwards.

Click. Click. Click.

None of the men said anything, the silence broken only by the whir of the elevator and the obnoxiously loud clicking of Calder’s virtual keyboard.

Click click clickclickclick click click.

Luca clenched his jaw, his headache unaided by the accompaniment of his colleague’s erratic keystrokes. Of course the man had his haptics on. If he’d known that he was going to be tortured on the way to the cafeteria, he’d have rather stayed at his desk and suffered.

This toastie had better be worth it.

Click click click clickclickclickclickcli—.

He snuck a glance at the glowing screen, curious what could possibly require such fervent datapad abuse, when Calders cursed and smacked the device in disgust.

As though on cue, the clamour of a loud gong crashed through Luca’s ears, smashing through Luca’s headache, bringing a sense of icy relief in its wake. He stumbled back into the lift’s handrail as the sound reverberated through his jaw and ricocheted off the walls in his skull, like a squash ball in an industrial washer.

The ringing sensation dulled to a low hum, fading as Luca willed away the spots clouding his vision. He closed his eyes and inhaled, taking a moment to bask in his newfound relief and clarity, before opening them… only for the lift to stay dark.

Luca frowned. He reached up to his hololenses to turn them on, only to find his fingers grasping empty space.

Drat. Second best alternative, then. Phone.

He pulled the little rectangle out and it lit up at his touch, winking at him in the darkness, showing him four out of five bars of reception. So that was something at least. Now, for Calders. Luca activated the torch and aimed it downwards.

“You alright, Calders?” Luca inquired, offering his hand to the groaning heap.

“Never better,” he huffed, as he took it. “Thanks. What happened?”

“Just as clueless as you are,“ he responded, before shining the light around the floor until he spotted his glasses.

He bent to retrieve them and was rewarded with the squall of a siren from somewhere below them, stabbing at his eardrums. Luca grimaced. Just what the doctor ordered.

“T-That… certainly doesn’t sound like the fire alarm,” Calders stuttered. “Any idea what that means?”

It meant that they were in the wrong place. Being stuck in an elevator several stories up in the middle of a power outage and an emergency was probably not in the evacuation plan. The contractor grimaced and rolled his shoulders. Looks like lunch was going to have to wait. He wedged his hands between the elevator doors and pried them apart, then shone his light through the narrow gap he’d created.

Something silver winked at him from the other side. Luca smiled. At least one thing had gone right today.

“How is your cardio, Calders? Been jogging or to the gym recently?” Luca queried as he pulled the doors further apart, revealing a second set of shutters behind them.

“Uh, no, not recently. Why do… Ah,” Calders fell silent, as the implication dawned on him. With a mutter, he grabbed a door and helped Luca widen the gap.

The two men stepped out from the elevator and onto the floor beyond, which was nearly as dark and empty as the chamber they’d escaped from. A dim sign hung before them, informing them that they were on the 34th floor, its pulsing arrow indicating the direction of the nearest stairwell.

“Might not be a bad idea to start,” Luca grinned. He undid his tie and strode over to the stairwell door, pulling it open and gesturing. “After you.”
AQW Epic  Post #: 68
8/9/2021 15:26:06   

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP

Karen gave a heavy sigh. The night sky was as still as the air, and silence permeated every inch of darkness around the camp.

There was nothing. Nothing. And still she could not feel at ease. It just didn’t make sense! She was wide awake, but it was the middle of the night. How had she awoken so smoothly, when she was certain she had been fast asleep moments before? And how much time had passed?

Karen performed one final sweep of the area around the campsite, finding, still, absolutely nothing of note. Unsatisfied, but unable to find any reason to continue this now meaningless task, she quickly moved back to the campfire to gather with the others, arriving in time to hear Sal whispering something to Marietta and Ember, but unable to make out what exactly he said.

“Good… evening? Night? Whatever. Did everyone sleep as eerily wonderfully as me?”

She poked at the ground with her foot, noticing the gentle flames Ember was applying on Marietta’s burnt arm. An accident? None of her business, Karen supposed. Ember glanced up at her, inquiring as to the state of the camp, and her watch. Karen shook her head, hoping her voice was more confident than how she felt.

“I checked around camp. There’s still nothing. No sounds, no threats, and nothing like that odd wolf we found yesterday.”

She paused, unsure how to continue, before finding her voice again.

“It’s still night, but… it’s time to go. I don’t like how unnatural this all feels...”
Post #: 69
8/15/2021 17:17:20   
Eternal Wanderer

Marietta met Ember’s gaze for a moment, and the half-elf’s lips twitched into a crooked smile. Pain always came back in the end. Even so, though she grit her teeth and took a deep breath, the surging return of hurt was enough to force a quiet hiss from the forester. Her faux-smile flickered, but miraculously remained intact as she foraged one-handed through her pack. Bandages. Bandages and... Marietta swallowed a groan, hand questing along the bottom of the bag until she finally located her tin of burn salve.

Should have brought more, the ranger chided herself. Her fingers trembled, slipping over the canister's lid before finding the purchase to twist it open. Her nose wrinkled at the faint scent of mint, an unwelcome reminder of smoke and char and pain. She should have brought more; she should have done a lot of things differently.

But there was little to be done about that now, so the half-elf worked the salve into her cracked skin, faint lines of strain and tension banding along her jaw. It could be worse.

"Next time, it will be."

The forester winced and fumbled the bandage, catching it just before it could roll away from her. Her eyes squeezed closed and she let out short, focused breaths as she started to wind the gauze over her wound. Salindrel and Ember. If - when - something like that happens between them... Marietta tried not to think about it, steadily wrapping the bandage over her burned wrist. At least they understood now. The half-elf was certain of that. Salindrel and Ember both understood that something was fundamentally wrong in the Piege Forest. It was more than the ranger could say for Yondrin, who was currently absorbed with-

Marietta started as she looked across the camp toward the big orc and let out a quiet, choked noise; the trailing edge of the gauze dropped from nerveless fingers as she shoved instinctively back with her feet, pushing herself further away from the Dakorel hireling.

Yondrin was staring off into the distance, a stricken expression on his face. His mouth moved, but no sound came out, as though whatever he was witnessing had robbed him of the power of speech. He looked... compressed, flattened, like he was not a being of flesh and blood but an illustration on a page cursed with terrible animation. The orc's eyes fluttered, darting back and forth as he jerkily pawed at himself. Fingernails scraped, and then cut into the papery skin of his throat while his gaze roamed feverishly. He wobbled a half-step backward, knees bowing out at obtuse angles.

And then the man began to crumble away.

Grey skin split, peeling back from the muscle beneath like curls of aged parchment. Red muscle unspooled, raveling back to expose bone and sinew, vein and organ. Crimson blood bubbled into a frothing cloud as bones cracked and veins ruptured, thankfully obscuring the remaining dissolution from view as the orc broke down and scattered on an unfelt wind. The entire process took only a handful of thundering heartbeats, and left behind nothing of Yondrin but a faintly damp place where the orc had once stood. Beside the stain sat a wooden box, small and unassuming. The only remnant of the towering orc that had borne it into the forest.

"Y-Yon..." The ranger stared, her thoughts stuttering, reeling as her sapphire gaze fixed on the moistened patch that had - until a moment ago - held the big orc. No. That's not... He couldn't... She flinched, shoulder suddenly knocking against the weathered stone of the well, pack and belongings scattered along her trail of retreat. “He just... came apart.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 70
9/23/2021 21:37:28   

Ember hummed under her breath as she stuffed her bed roll into her travel pack. It was a tried and true method to look composed when all she yearned to do was curse up a storm. And what a storm it would be. The lack of information for the mission was nothing out of the ordinary, but coupling it with the bigot breathing down her neck and the various party members failing at their sole and singular tasks was proving to be quite the strain on her patience.

Her humming and thoughts of burning certain troublesome individuals alive were interrupted by a choking noise. The tiefling glanced towards the source and caught Marietta’s face pale and brimming with panic. She followed the ranger’s gaze to-


Ember was not sure what she saw. It looked like Yondrin but was too flat, like a portrait pulled right off the parchment. His face contorted into a grisly scream, though no sound escaped his lips. Instead, he began to unwind. Skin and muscles peeled off in loose threads as if some invisible puppeteer had grown tired of his plaything. The yarn that was Yondrin finished unraveling itself before whisking away into the still night.

A pounding began in her chest as the gravity of the situation settled in on her.

Yondrin was gone.

A twig snapped as the tiefling took a step forward to where the Dakorel mercenary once stood. With an empty hand, the Cinder Witch reached out. Sparks of azure and emerald wreathed around her wrist before flowing forth to consume the tree nearest to the wicked anomaly in a writhing blaze. The fire burned bright as it bloomed among the branches and leaves, its light casting twisting shadows in every direction. Ember’s chest rose and fell as her eyes scanned the darkness to no avail.

She brought to this mission two sets of skills: persuasion and incineration. And whatever lurked in this forest did not seem keen on the former.

With anticipation coiled tightly around her heart, the dancer crossed the short distance to the muttering Marietta. A soft hand touched the ranger’s shoulder. Gentle. Reassuring. Guiding.

“Pains me to say, but leadership now falls upon you,” Ember lied with steady words. “How should we proceed?”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 71
10/13/2021 9:59:54   

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP

Karen retched, her empty stomach thankfully expelling nothing as she stopped herself from toppling to her hands and knees. She was no stranger to blood and guts - hunter never could be - but to watch a man unravel, every individual later of their insides falling away bit by bit… it was horrifying.

She had hardly finished steadying herself before the crackling sounds of sparks reached her ears. Her head snapped up, eyes locking onto Ember’s outstretched hand. Karen tried to step forwards, an arm extended to stop the mage before she did anything rash. “Wait, don’t-“

She was too slow.

Flames danced in Karen’s eyes as she watched the tree bloom into colored flames. She grimaced, her eyes glancing about whilst she prayed the blaze wouldn’t stretch away from its heart. As she carefully stepped over to Ember and Marietta, her voice raised.

“I appreciate the light, and the hope of removing...” She trailed off, unsure if it would be disrespectful to refer to their so-recently passed ally as what he was now. “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.”

Karen’s tone was harsher than she would have liked, but she supposed her displeasure deserved to be known. Her eyes scanned the dancing shadows, hesitantly yet truly grateful for the light to stave off the mysteries in the dark.
Post #: 72
10/28/2021 21:57:22   

The druid sat still, warming his hands and listening to the others' replies. He found his mind wandering as the others expressed agreement to his sentiments, grasping at some forgotten thread he hoped to pull. His human companion seemed close to something. Why was night still there? He felt he had slept for too long and was too well rested for the current time, even as an elf.

He pushed closer to what remained of their fire, willing the heat deeper into his hands. A sigh forced its way through pursed lips as he did his best to stifle it, not wanting his concerns to affect any of the others. This was a time for positivity, to pull together and face the next step in their journey together.

Forcing himself to stand, Salindrel turned to the others, preparing what he hoped would be encouraging words for the others. As he opened his mouth, he paused, words froze in his throat. He was no leader, no one to be trying to inspire companions he barely knew, especially the one he had so hatefully insulted. The elf swallowed dryly, attempting to force them up and out, but they were stuck.

The gasp from Marietta caught him unawares, thrusting him out of himself and casting his vibrations in all directions, searching for some threat. A horrible tearing emanated back to him through his magic, drawing his attention to a twisting soul, stretched into a distended shape. As he watched, gashes appeared within the orb of black. The sphere distended like someone had taken hold of opposite sides. And then with a ripping sensation, he felt throughout his body, the energy ripped into shreds and dissipated into nothingness.

Salindrel sank to his knees, a choked gurgle pushing its way through the knot in his throat. Tears trickled down his face, falling into the dirt at his feet. He had only a few moments to grieve as the silence of the forest was soon shattered by an explosion near where the soul had disappeared. Sal rose to a standing position, shocked out of his pitiful state by Ember's actions.

"What was that?" The druid choked out through clenched teeth, the words sounding forced. "What is going on in this forest?"
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 73
12/23/2021 11:40:52   

Despite an abnormally active start to his lunch break, Luca found himself enjoying the unexpected lunchtime workout. For a man who was just dashing down countless flights of stairs in a pitch-black fire escape, the salesman was in a strangely jovial mood.

It probably had something to do with his head no longer feeling like it’d just caught a boulder, but even then, he was feeling more cheery than he’d thought. Perhaps it was this spontaneous cardio workout? He never really had time to hit the gym anymore; not with his current schedule. But that was a contractor’s life in sales, afterall. Time was just as scarce as common sense in the modern world.

Judging by the huffing and puffing behind him, Caulders had spent even less time on the elliptical bike than Luca. Which was a shame, since the sound of shoes on concrete and the blaring alarm had grown repetitive several minutes ago. Luca wouldn’t have said no to a bit of conversation, though that seemed beyond his coworker, who sounded like he was about to drop and tumble down the stairs at any moment.

It made you wonder what would’ve happened if it’d been a more urgent emergency and there’d been a bit more light in the fire escape. Would they have descended faster or was this Caulders’ fastest pace?

There was a muttered curse from behind him, followed immediately by a heavy shove in between Luca’s shoulderblades.

A resounding oh echoed in the salesman’s head as the concrete wall came rushing up to meet him and he plunged face-first towards a broken neck. He threw an arm out in vain and Luca clenched his eyes shut, ready for the bone-breaking impact—

—only to be met instead with the chilled, midnight air.


The ex-general blinked, breathing heavily, his heart thumping in his ears as he gathered his bearings and his brain processed what his eyes were feeding it.

A tall, thickset humanoid, silhouetted against the moonlight, its features lost in shadow.

An orc.

Luca was on one knee before he knew it, greataxe in hand, on the verge of lunging up as the beast spasmed and tore itself apart. He froze, breath catching and muscles tensed as the scene—and foe—unfolded in front of him, shredding itself into non-existence.

Well, that was…. unpleasant. ‘Unpleasant’ was an understatement, semantics were the least of their issues. He pulled his eyes away from the bloody spot, scanning what little he could see—why was it so dark? What had happened to their fire? Who’d been on duty? The half-elf? The orc?

Orc. The orc, Yondrin.


The realisation hit him as Luca’s breath caught again, his eyes flitting back to what had formerly been their leader, the gory pile hidden by the dark of night—

—until one of the trees in the clearing erupted, consumed by a serpent of flame, and erupting into a blazing pillar of light.

The tiefling.

Eyes narrowing, Luca shot the flame witch a sidewards look, but the demonspawn’s attention was directed elsewhere, towards the light source she’d just made.

Which was probably where his should’ve been as well. He turned to the newly-wrought pyre, eyes scanning the illuminated flora, but with no success. Whoever or whatever had killed Yondrin was gone. There was a chance that it hadn’t been a person or creature, but rather something more underhanded—a curse or perhaps even poison, but Luca somehow doubted the latter.

And now wasn’t the time to be speculating. At least, he certainly hoped it wasn’t going to be.

A grim smile on his lips, Luca glanced at the half-elf and gave her a single nod.

“What would you have us do, Ms. Drevosa?”
AQW Epic  Post #: 74
1/13/2022 23:31:19   
Eternal Wanderer

Marietta drew in a ragged breath and squeezed her eyes closed. She counted, slowly, to five and then opened them again. Nothing changed. Yondrin was still gone, still... undone. But that... He can't... Bodies - people - didn't do that. They didn't come apart like ice-sheets breaking up in spring.

The forester took another breath, suppressing a shudder as she forced her gaze up and away from the spot where Yondrin had stood. Above, the silent moon returned her regard impassively, until its silver radiance was dimmed by a crackling snarl. Ember’s blue-green flames swirled, chewing into dry wood with a rising roar and spilling their strange light through the clearing.

Marietta’s fingers clenched reflexively - a vice of agony bearing down on her wounded arm - as the heat beat against her face, but the hurt was good. The half-elf welcomed it, grated it purposefully across her senses as she clawed her thoughts away from the hideous scene. Panting, drenched in sweat, the ranger swallowed hard and carefully eased up on her grip, a quiet hiss of pain slipping through her teeth as she finished securing the bandage at her wrist. It will have to be good enough.

The tiefling's touch drew Marietta's gaze, and her words sent a roil of nausea through the ranger's gut. Her, Marietta, command? “Oh my, what a farce.” The ranger bit her lip, squeezing her eyes closed again for a moment. Do your job. Her job. Ember was right. Marietta knew this forest, and none of the others did. She was Yondrin's second, and the orc was gone. It didn't matter that she didn't want it, that she hadn't asked for it. This was her job now. "Right," she exhaled softly, voice a whisper as she reached up and lightly squeezed Ember's fingers, "I'll need your help."

Marietta flashed the tiefling a grateful smile as Ember helped her to her feet. First things first: Get organized. Distantly, she was aware of the others speaking, but Marietta's eyes flicked by them, moving methodically over the camp as she gathered her belongings and ordered her thoughts.

They had to move, to put this place behind them, to get some distance between them and whatever had withered Yondrin away like a leaf decaying in autumn- The forester grunted, hitched her pack up onto her shoulder, and picked up her bowstave. Panic later. Lead now.

“Luca, get that… box Yondrin dropped. Ember, please put that fire out before it spreads. Salindrel, Karen, you’ll be watching our flanks again today. I’ll take point; Luca will watch our rear.” She paused for a moment, looking up at the starry sky above. “Get your things in order; we leave in five minutes.”

It had to be her imagination, but Marietta could swear the moon was getting larger.

The group had been hiking for hours - five hours, she thought, or perhaps six? It was hard to tell in the weird werelight of the moon above - and the ranger’s gaze had been drawn, again and again, up to that silent watcher. Marietta had debated the evidence of her eyes for a while, but she was reasonably certain now that it wasn’t moving either.

That was impossible, of course. As the night - the day? - wore on, the moon would move toward the horizon, that was… well that was what the moon did. But this moon, whose shadows and hollows seemed ever so slightly off, was not moving. Which had to be wrong. Sure, and you definitely put enough wood on the fire to last all night.

She frowned within the shelter of her hood. Should she say something, ask one of the others about it? The situation just seemed so... ridiculous. You’re in charge now. You have to- Marietta’s grip on her bow tightened as her lips compressed into a thin line. To what? To be confident, certain. Maybe she was simply wrong. After all, the wells had vanished - or aged into near ruins. Everything was so strange here that she could be mistaken, or mad, or… something else. But you’re not. You’re right, and you know it. So why is it so hard to say it?

Marietta took a deep breath, glancing over her shoulder toward Ember and Luca, only for a faint scent in the air to draw her attention back to the path ahead. “Does anyone… smell venison?”

A few minutes further down the path, the logging road spilled into a larger clearing - one the forester knew had never been there any of the other times she had tread this course. There was a homely little cabin of squared off logs, chinked with clay and completed with a smartly thatched roof. Its storm shutters - painted in curiously wavy stripes of orange and black - were latched closed on the single window visible from the path; likewise, the door, whose paint had once perhaps been red, was pulled shut. Seems like no one is home. But there was smoke coiling up from the cabin’s chimney, and a well-banked fire out in the tamped-dirt yard was searing a haunch of venison upon a spit.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 75
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