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 [RP] Guile and Intuition

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Tzar
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Registration Date : 2015-08-02

PostSubject: [RP] Guile and Intuition   2015-08-25, 10:46

by Kareeah Indaga

Smoke from the fireplace wafted about the room, framing her face with wisps of silver. It was a quiet evening for the Silver Mug inn; the innkeeper and his staff were largely alone save for her—and Oros paid the handful of ragtag travelers little mind. He had not come to socialize; his lady’s quiet radiance was company enough.

The scholar pushed back the hood of his cloak and smiled at her from the inn’s entrance. She smiled back and motioned for him to join her at her table. He did so, his unremarkable gray eyes sparkling with quiet joy.

“It’s good to see you again,” he murmured, taking her hand and kissing it. She colored slightly, gazing up at him through her golden locks, her expression both touched and amused at his chivalrous tone.

“And you,” she responded quietly, still smiling. Then a chance glimpse at the hand that held hers shaded her expression with concern. She drew it towards her, dismayed.
“You haven’t been eating well,” she observed, turning the scholar’s pale hand carefully to examine it. The skin was cool and smooth, without scar or blemish, but hung loosely on the bone.

“I’m fine, Gem,” he responded. His tone conveyed genuine unconcern, and he pulled his hand back with another smile. “But if you insist…Innkeeper!” his tone was strong, gracious but commanding. “Food and wine for my companion and I, if you would be so kind.” He pushed a few coins to the edge of the table to accentuate his request.

The innkeeper motioned to one of the serving girls to see to their needs. The pair chatted companionably while they waited, enjoying the relative quiet of the nearly empty inn.

“So how have you been?” he asked.

“Quite well, all things considered,” she replied seriously, “The campaign has been going badly, but you’ve probably already heard about that.”

“I have, and I’m sorry to hear it.” There was an odd glint in his eyes as he answered. They were distant, and brought to mind cool glass. But the look passed swiftly into a slight frown as he queried, “You’re not still traveling with those three miscreants, are you?”

Gem sighed, disappointed that this had come up again. “I’m sorry you don’t like them, Oros, but they are my friends and allies; I would trust them with my life.”

“Even that Crag Hack—” he bit down on the word savage, knowing she would disapprove, but she knew him well enough to catch the word unspoken, anyway.

“Yes, even Crag.” She reached over and squeezed his hand reassuringly. “Besides, he’s been positively brotherly since Gelu threatened to shoot him the last time he made an advance on me.”

“And Gelu hasn’t tried any—“

She laughed aloud before he could say another word and despite himself he smiled, for the sound was wondrous, coming from her. “Oros, do be kind! He’s not even twelve years old! He won’t be thinking of such things for some time, and he’s far too serious for me in any case.” She trailed a hand lovingly through his short, gray-brown hair and smiled again. “Not like you.”

He smiled back, and took her hand in his. They shared a brief, quiet moment where no words were spoken and the rest of the universe seemed to fade away into nonexistence, leaving only themselves.

“My love,” the scholar said at last, his tone repentant, “I still can’t help but fear for your safety. A child, a savage, and a failed wizard—”

“Yog is a very competent fighter, Oros,” she reassured him. And quickly headed off the next question before he could ask it. “And quite respectful of my virtue. I met him in Enroth, before he came here to study, and his battlefield skills have only improved.”

“Of course, my dear. I’m sorry.”

Gem’s face lit with sudden mischief. “I think you’re jealous.”

“Yes, my love,” he admitted solemnly, not entirely displeased by the observation—it was true, after all. “I’m very jealous. I’d like nothing more than to take you away with me and keep you to myself for the rest of time.” His expression grew more serious. “But I also can’t help but worry for you. There are monsters about, and brigands—”

“—and Necromancers.” The lady druid’s gaze dropped to the surface of the table, her expression swiftly becoming dark and angry as she drifted off into stormy thought. Oros felt sudden sorrow, for it pained him to see her so. The two fell silent, Gem brooding and her companion uncertain how to break her sudden foul mood.

The serving girl had been hovering off to the side during this impassioned exchange, not wanting to get caught up in such a personal conversation. She took the sudden pause as opportunity and awkwardly maneuvered soup, cheese, and wine off the tray she held and placed them onto the table before shyly skittering off, hardly remembering to take the proffered coins before she went. Oros let her leave before pressing a wedge of cheese into Gem’s empty hands.

“Here,” he said. “Eat. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Gem seemed to remember his presence and looked up, smiling somewhat awkwardly. They ate in silence for several moments, and in the evening quiet her eyes fell again to her dinner companion’s pale, emaciated hands. She had to admit, even if only to herself, that this new facet of his appearance scared her. It brought back memories…



It was a chill morning. The sun had only begun to rise and already it was obscured, letting only bleak sunlight reach above the clouds. Her soldiers were just beginning to pack up the encampment; tents were being torn down and fires extinguished, equipment packed away and horses saddled for the day’s ride. But a shifting in the picket lines stole her attention briefly, and its cause became clear as the all-to-familiar scents of rot and old blood came to her on a breath of morning air.

It was coming from the south.

Gem hastily gave the order to form ranks, and no sooner had her lines pulled together then the first of the undead abominations come into sight. The first to appear were skeletons, hordes of them, their wasted limbs trailing bits of cloth and rotted leather. Behind them, sticking to the early morning shadows, wispy figures shifted among the darkness, their ghostly forms keeping out of the light. And off to the east, Gem could dimly make out shuffling corpses wrapped in old linen, the stained cloths fluttering faintly like dry, flattened snakes.

A trumpet sounded off to her right. Battle was engaged on the western front.

The air was swiftly filled with the sounds of recoiling bowstrings and dry, clattering bones. Wailing spirits charged the northern line of dwarven infantry, their clawing intangible fingers draining life and courage before the keen dwarven axes hacked apart the foul magics chaining them to unlife. An explosion of poisonous spell-smoke ripped through a swarm of sprites, dropping the tiny winged people like the insects they vaguely resembled. A hail of elven arrows responded, and the shafts liberally feathered the ranks of the dozen or so liches whose magic had done the deed.

Soon after the lines dissolved into enough chaos that it was no longer possible to find where one force ended and the other began. Gem found herself on the edge of the mayhem, undead pressing in on both sides and a faltering line behind her. With a loud rallying cry, she brought her soldiers together and lead a furious charge into the host of undead.

She fought as a woman possessed, not by spirits or demons, but by sheer unstoppable hatred. Fire and lightning flew from her hands with crazed single-mindedness, smashing though magical wards and charring undead bones.

The last of the lich sorcerers was blasted apart by her furious spellwork, sending bone shards and dust flying in all directions. She knew, as did those under her, that even the powerful magic that allowed a lich its near-eternal half-life would be broken if the vessel it bound were sundered thoroughly enough. And so she gave the command to a half dozen soldiers to remain behind and smash the remains before she and the others pressed on.

But no sooner had they set out to rejoin the fray when a cold shadow swept by overhead.

A huge, half-transparent form in smoky gray—barely more than an impression of wings and tattered flesh at its speed—dove from the sky into the midst of her soldiers. Warriors scattered left and right, trying to avoid the life-draining claws or land a solid blow on the half-tangible monster. Gem spun around and furiously tried to press towards the beast, back the way she came. But she was no more than twenty paces away when the beast launched itself back into the early morning sky, carrying a figure in its jaws whose screams identified him as her second in command…

Gem shrieked in outrage and began furious spellcasting to bring the ghostly dragon back down, or at least slow it, but it swiftly flew out of reach of her spells. Its translucent form sailed erratically away, her lieutenant’s swiftly fading screams mocking her. Then the dragon tossed its head and opened its jaws, sending its unwilling cargo plummeting, and Gem had to swiftly re-work her spells to catch the falling form before he impacted with the ground.  

But she was too late, she soon saw. The body that now floated slowly to the ground was eerily still and silent; not even his ribs moved. There wasn’t even a fatal wound, though the dragon’s teeth had been solid enough to leave the odd, bleeding bruises typical of spectral attacks. His life energies had been sucked completely out of him; his hair had been drained from healthy black to deathly white, his skin was newly wrinkled and worn with age, and his eyes were glazed with death. Gem felt her breath catch. What a horrible way to die.

A slow, irregular thudding noise brought her attention back to her immediate surroundings. A pair of zombies was clubbing to death one of her elven archers. Fresh horror kindled eagerly into fury and was consumed by bloodlust as she fried the skull of one walking carcass cleanly off with a fire spell; the other abandoned its prone target and dragged toward her, as heedless of its companion’s destruction as it was of the maggots wriggling in its rotting flesh. A gurgling noise issued from its ruined undead throat, the effort spraying bits of spoiled meat out between its blacked teeth.

But before it had taken more than a few shambling steps, a loud neigh sounded from her right and golden hooves smashed the rotted ribcage, trampling the walking corpse into the ground. The unicorn and two of its brethren pounded over the fallen undead as they charged its fellows, and Gem turned to join them as a handful of elven archers pulled their fallen friend away.

It was then that she saw the Necromancer.

The man across the shadowy field seemed to spot her the same moment she spotted him. He wore dark red robes with Archibald’s coat-of-arms embroidered on the shoulders, and his face was half-rotted away. Perhaps he recognized her standard, because he seemed to realize she was the leader. He grinned at her, yellow teeth contrasting oddly with their white, still-living counterparts on the right side of his face. A boney, but still mostly-living hand gestured, and fire leapt towards her, forcing her to roll sideways before she counterattacked with a bolt of white lightning.

They traded offensive spells for a few blurred moments, exploding projectiles of fire following dark shrapmetal, bright falling stars raining off of a magical shield of air. Each casting whirled into the next, each spell rebounded, dimmed, or was nullified by magical protections. Finally his conjured blades spell ricocheted off at a wide angle and took one of her druids in the stomach, just out of the corner of Gem’s vision. He laughed at the horrified look on her face and casually lobbed a blast of ice in her direction.

Missed.

And, in the brief instant before he could recover and counterattack, she struck.

Acid sprayed over and through his shoulder, its hiss almost drowning out the Necromancer’s scream. He fell down on his rump and went to clutch what was now only a smoking stub of acid-burned bone and muscle, but his hand drew back as his fingers brushed the still acidic flesh. His booted feet kicked at the ground in vain as he tried to back away from the enraged woman.

The angry glow in Gem’s eyes was not entirely magically inspired as her hands rose above her head. She called lightning. The last thing the red-robed dark mage saw was her angelic face, twisted with fury, and a searing bolt of light summoned down from the sky…




The pair shared the remainder of the meal in relative silence, and parted ways afterwards, Gem making Oros promise not to starve himself and Oros extracting a similar promise from her to be careful in her travels. She retrieved her horse from the inn’s stable and returned to her army’s encampment. So she didn’t see him leave by the inn’s back door; if she had, she might have seen the scholar travel in the opposite direction, to a dark fortress with tall gray spires and an unholy aura...



On the road to Shroudkeep, Oros changed his gait, shifting seamlessly from the unobtrusive step of a harmless scholar to the powerful, confident stride of an accomplished spellcaster. Those traveling to and from the dark citadel who had the wit to do so gave him wide berth, and he remained unchallenged until he reached the great gate of the dark citadel.

“You there! Hold it, you.” The gatekeeper’s fangs gleamed in the faint light of the gate’s torches. A vampire. The unobtrusive-seeming man sneered, unimpressed by the bloodsucker’s attempt at intimidation.

“You don’t belong here. You want to get in, you have to pay the entrance fee.” His jaws widened and he reached for the scholar’s shoulder.

The gatekeeper had no sooner taken a step forward when ‘Oros’ lifted him up by the throat and slammed him into the wall.

The force of the maneuver was enough to break the ribs of a living man. It easily knocked the wind out of the surprised vampire—or perhaps it was the sight of the man’s disguise melting away that so stole his breath. The scholar’s eyes shriveled and were set aflame with brilliant ruby light, while magically conjured flesh rotted and fell away. Brown and scarlet wool darkened to expensive Karigor cotton, dyed an even midnight blue.

“What was that?” The lich snarled, malicious delight flaring in his burning crimson eyes.

“M-master Sandro!” the vampire choked. The lich waved a boney, now-fleshless hand, and a length of wood—probably from a support beam destroyed in the last siege—floated into the air, glowing with Earth magic, and positioned itself threateningly over the ribs of the unfortunate gatekeeper.

“You wanted to inconvenience me?”

“N-n-no, Master Sandro!”

“Then I will be passing though now.”

“Of c-course. Go right in, m-my lord.”

Sandro dropped both vampire and giant stake without a backward glance. The falling spar tripped several of the mindless zombies shuffling up the slope, but he feigned to pay no notice, instead sweeping up the road to Shroudkeep proper, laughing darkly.



Back in his private quarters, Sandro discarded his staff and cloak with a sense of self-satisfaction. Wraiths placed both items on their racks, and a zombie servitor brought him an old tomb and a glass of Deyjan Gold—far superior to the dry white wine he’d shared at the Silver Mug.

But he touched neither wine nor book, instead turning his thoughts to the lovely young woman whose company he had so recently shared.

Even here, on the edge of a war and surrounded by dangerous rivals, the mere thought of her gave him a sense of inner peace and calm. He had known lust once, before he undertook the Ritual of Endless Night and became a lich. But this was about as far removed from lust as the moon was from the world. The image of her sparkling eyes allowed him to reign in even his most violent waves of temper—and he thought with sad amusement that she would disapprove of how many of his undead minions her charming gaze had spared.

That was the one flaw in the whole situation; she despised necromancy and all who practiced it. In anyone else, he would have found it a foolish weakness to be exploited; in her, he found the bias…unfathomable.

Part of it, he was sure, was his own doing, thanks to his quest to recover the pieces of the Cloak of the Undead King. He regretted that now, vaguely; had he realized then the passion she inspired in him, he could have easily found a more suitable pawn and would likely have been spared the difficulty of protecting her from his own armies while simultaneously conquering the continent. And he was certain some of it had to do with that trouble over in Enroth several years ago, when that upstart pup Archibald had tried to take the Enrothian throne.

But he also knew she feared death, and more than most. Most individuals were content to live out their worthless little lives as long as they could before dying and becoming fodder for his dark spells of reanimation. But not his lovely lady druid. She had persevered in finding some alternate way of extending her natural lifespan, and while he was uncertain by how much, he knew she was much older than she looked—by several decades, at least.

He had also seen that her current methods were imperfect; small signs of aging had appeared in the few years since he had first met her—slight frown lines, a gray hair or two. Nothing serious. Most wouldn’t even notice.

But he did, and it baffled him as to why she continued to depend on temporary, inferior methods of prolonging her life when lichdom was a superior alternative in all respects! She would never hunger, never age, and never need to put up with the base needs of whole life again. And the power! All the weakening frailties of life washed away in a tide of darkness and undeath! She was already an accomplished spellcaster; as lich she would be even more formidable…

He had never considered taking a consort before, but when he imagined what Gem would look like as a lich…stripped down to her graceful bones, wrapped in the heavy chainmail robe that was typical lich attire, her frail human eyes replaced with brilliant pinpricks of light…

The idea almost seemed appealing.

Pity she’d never accept it.

He was certain he could bring her around, of course. He could be very persuasive when he wished. It would simply take time, time and leverage, although it was leverage that he did not have—yet. But it wouldn’t be long, and he was ready for when the time came.

His thoughts wandered again, this time to a dark, shadowy corner of one of his most secure vaults. There, shrouded with protections and glowing with enchantments against theft and destruction, a robe of silver-washed chainmail lay folded, waiting for its future mistress. Over it lay a jeweled circulet, slightly smaller than his own, and a head cloth in the style favored by most liches but in what he judged to be more feminine colors. An empty soul jar sat behind it all, shrouded in dark magical silk for concealment.

Yes, she would come around eventually. With the right…persuasion.

Had he still possessed lips, he would have smiled.

Soon, my love. Very soon.


End
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[RP] Guile and Intuition
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