An End to this Rainbow.
Auxi and Rabbit approach a small glade in the woods. Once within, Rabbit gestures for Auxi to take a knee, and explains what he’ll be doing.
“So, this is your first Hunt. All you have to do is beseech our Matron, tell her what it is you seek, and go find it.”
Auxi takes both knees before Rabbit and exhales. He thinks in his mind, and focuses on the image of a strong, stout stag, proclaiming he will find it to Luna. Knowing immediately that he has Lunas blessing, Auxi stalks off, beginning his first Ritual Hunt. Hours go by, and he does not see a deer. Finally, after five or six hours, he finds one, a Doe. He follows it, trailing it back to its pack, his newfound Lunar abilities making him as stealthy as the deer themselves can be, if not more so.
Finally, she sees it, a large Stag, clearly the Alpha of the group, with a scar over one eye. She sneaks up on it from the bushes, leaping onto it’s back and bringing it to the ground, finding that her strength is enormous compared to just six months ago, able to wrestle this stag down with her bare hands. She does finally end the deer, the life fading from his eyes as she apologizes for taking its life. Finally, it passes, and she removes its heart, drinking of its heartsblood. As the blood passes over his lips and into his body, he feels the change as he gains the ability to use the creatures form.
He cleans and skins the creature, deciding what to do with all the various parts, as is custom. Holding on to certain things and leaving others that he can’t make adequate use of, he thanks Luna, and returns to Rabbit. He puts a hand on Auxi’s shoulder, saying, “You are now blooded.”
For a time longer, they continue travelling, meeting a couple strange fellows along the way, but mostly keeping to themselves. Until finally…
As they stood around the corner of the building watching, Auxi was puzzled. Of all the things in the scene that weren’t adding up, his own behavior was the one that troubled him the most. Firstly, a group of clearly organized soldiers terrorizing one girl was odd. Odder still that she was holding a rather large chest, and odder still that when she was struck and the chest fell to the ground, it was full of silver. Even odder, no one stole a single piece… And yet odder still, was that when she was struck to the ground, she did not seem to get dirty, her clothes did not get wrinkled… Auxi wasn’t even entirely sure she actually hit the ground. But oddest of all to him was why he felt compelled to stop them, the ones who struck this woman. He’d always been compassionate and kind, but never one to step between someone and an attacker, rather usually one for coming up from behind on them and sending them running scared. But he’d felt the impulse to get between the woman and the man.
But odd as it was, his behavior, he had time to examine that in greater detail whenever he wanted. The woman, and why she didn’t get dirty, that intrigued him. With Rabbit needing to make a stop and visit someone here in Mejhija, that left Auxi to pursue his curiosity. Shadowing the woman into the local pub, she found her there with some rather odd company… A trio of men, and the woman, congregated at a table, seeming to discuss business. Sneaking close, he approaches the group, eager to see what’s
really in that chest of the womans; You don’t spill a chest full of silver without someone stealing at least a single piece. As he stretched his essence through his fingertips into the chest though, he realizes that it is actually full of silver. Apparently, this woman is very lucky. And very rich. Auxi’s sticky fingers twitch and close into a fist as the drunkard at the table catches him with his hand on the chest. Apologizing and making himself look to be a fool, he returns to his table, curious as to what could be going on with that woman. And the man she was talking with, the one in the large suit of armor, he looked… Strong.
After they leave, Auxi sits a spell, not in a hurry to shadow the mark, figuring they may very well be leaving town. Without Rabbit, his pursuit wouldn’t mean much right now, so he sits it out and hope they stick around, eager to begin shadowing them again after some time passes. While a woman hits on him and sends some sour attention his way in the form of one of the local town guards, Auxi wonders what Rabbit could be doing that he wouldn’t bring him along. Since Rabbit had found him, Auxi hasn’t spent time alone, and has gotten used to having Rabbit around for guidance.
As he wonders what his next step should be and where Rabbit is, Auxi happens across an unusual scene. That same man from before, with the armor, as well as the woman, and a fire-haired man, all stand near the edge of town. Off in the distance sit two other figures, Auxi’s predatory-sharp eyes able to pick out the forms even from a distance.
Finding a bush, he approaches, hiding and listening, his Lunar senses far keener than that of most any individual and his in particular fairly strong even amongst other Lunars. The fire-haired man appears to be morbidly taunting the armored one, which to Auxi’s eyes seems hardly a wise idea. She’s much better armed and the ones who appear to be his comrades are sitting quite a distance away.
When the rabbit next to Auxi seemed to bubble and writhe with Essence however, he realized something was very off.
“Now, excuse me, but whatever you’re doin’ back there, you need’ta stop.”
Now all eyes were on him as he stepped out of the bushes and made his bold announcement.
“My my, but whatever do you mean,” asked the fiery-haired jester-fellow, who danced around with glee as he taunted the armored man.
Auxi nodded his head towards the lady in the finery standing down the trail, “Whatever your friend back there is doin’ to the critters. Dunno what she’s doin’ or why she’s controllin’ ‘em, but I can’t imagine it’s friendly.”
“And what does it matter to you anyway,” the jester fellow asks him.
“Well, I just prefer a fair fight, that’s all.”
The conversation continued on a moment longer, the lady trying to end this on somewhat peaceful terms, the fire-haired fool saying no, the fight beginning.
The fire-haired one broke and ran nearly immediately. Something of a coward for all the taunting, Auxi thought as he turned his focus on the other two and the critters now crawling out of the bushes. Unaware of what the critters would do, and not sure of how to handle his first taste of real combat, Auxi waited. As the woman furthest back conjured snakes to rain from the sky near them, the other woman, who appeared to be wielding a heavy-looking wooden door, dashed forward with incredible speed, knocking the armored one clear through the front wall of a nearby building.
Auxi, seeing this and fearing for the mans safety, approaches the Door-Wielding woman, swinging his spear at her with minimal effect. She leaps back, and as she does, Auxi sees the woman, apparently holding up a stand up bushes with a pair of flamepieces, but Auxi’s ears could hear the wimpering of the fire-haired one coming from within. She comes to a stop again, and charges forward with blinding speed, swinging her arm out and up as she closes to Auxi, arcing him up and into the air, only to come down through the roof of a nearby building. Upon landing, a familiar, long-eared figure looms over him, commenting on his odd state of entry, as well as health.
At this point, the battlefield is a glorious show of Celestial Power. The banners of the armored man, the female opponent furthest back, and Auxi all lighting up the area around them in the dark of the wee morning hours. Auxi had missed the armored one’s banner, but seen the banner of the second female, the mere silhouette of a hornet.
“Rabbit, Black Hornet.” The only thing Auxi can think to say before rushing back into the fray. Surprised, emboldened, and kinda pissed about being hurled through a roof, Auxi stalks back out of the building after the Door-Wielding Woman. He approaches, bashing her twice more with his spear as the fire-haired one surrenders, and the Black Hornet woman, with Rabbits aid, is forced to flee, dissolving into a swarm of Hornets and observing the close of the battle from a safe distance.
The part Auxi isn’t entirely clear on is the appearance of the “Shadow Man,” as he calls him. As the Door-Wielding Woman approached the armored one after knocking him away, what appeared to be a Living Shadow stepped out of her shadow, holding a Diamond Spear. This creature, whatever it was, simply laid his hand on the armored ones forehead, and it then seemed as if he could put up almost no struggle against the Shadow Man. While this part of the combat is clear, certain things are not…
Auxi has memories from this point in time, of waiting for the mercenaries that the Armored Man commanded to join them for reinforcements, and of them arriving on the field, only to be blown up. There was no recollection of a bomb being mentioned, or anyone doing anything about it, but suddenly, he’d known a bomb was in the field where the Mercenaries would cross and they would all die.
The problem is, a little while later, Auxi remembers the opposite. He remembers them arriving after the fight, checking on their Captain, seemingly fine. Not a one of them has a memory of this, but Auxi, the armored one, and possibly the strange woman and her mysterious counterpart all do. The bomb was never there, that memory, whatever it was, seeming to be false. But these two memories existing in the same space perturbs Auxi deeply, and had the Shadow Man not suddenly just… Disappeared. He would’ve appreciated the opportunity to ask him a few things before killing him. Certainly, this was the Fae that Rabbit had come to hunt, and the reason why Auxi was with him.
Unfortunately, after creating the false events, or whatever they were, he just vanished. The odd woman seems to have an inkling as to why, and seems satisfied enough with the answer to put Auxi at ease for now, however. But at this point, he’s in over his head, and seeking guidance from his Mentor, he returns to Rabbit.
They speak on the black snakes the woman unleashed, and kill them with great prejudice, Rabbit stating that it must be done. Afterwards, Auxi suggests that if they want to know more about what that Shadow Man was, as it was no Fae like any they’d heard of or seen, that they should probably follow the Armored Man and the odd Woman. Rabbit, agreeing, sprouts a pair of leathery wings from his shoulders, tells Auxi to keep gathering information, to learn to read, and that he needs to learn Claw Speak. Without so much as a goodbye, or an understanding of how they’ll get in touch again, Rabbit leaves Auxi. Suddenly, the advice he’d been hoping to collect seemed moot now, as he had other problems to worry about…
As they begun to question the captured fire-haired one, Auxi learned very quickly that Joccara, the Odd Woman, seemed to take issue with his kind, Lunars, in particular. The Armored one, Grei, seems to be a Solar, in command of a small band of mercenaries, a lush by the name of Volya being her Executive Officer, but a medicine man of some kind by the name of Temir seeming to be the hand Grei trusts more. Auxi assumes he’s a Thaumaturge and not simply a Doctor, as there are many methods for healing or medicine in Creation, from magic to science.
As the questioning continues and Joccara appears to be pressing closer and closer to home with her questions, the fire-haired one, Milos as he’s called, suddenly had a strange flux of essence within his body, something controlling him and preventing him from acting against the wishes of whomever controlled him. Through Joccara’s quick thinking, Auxi’s foraging and suvival ability, and Grei’s command of talented individuals, they were able to stabilize Milos, flushing a great many bees out of his system, clearly the trademark of a certain Lunar with a Black Hornet banner…
But it was not enough. The smoke tent, the aerosolized opiates he’d collected from the surrounding lands, Joccara’s planning, even Temir’s expertise were all for naught against the control exerted on him. They decided to press onward after finishing some business in the town. Auxi heard Gret and Joccara saying something about the local Gods, and Grei seems to value the town of Mejhija to some small degree, enough to possibly want to meet with the towns local gods and possibly support them in exchange for their support. Auxi isn’t entirely sure, as rather than worry about Grei and Joccara, Auxi was more worried about getting information out of Milos, and stayed near the camp to keep and eye on him and see if his condition would improve.
It didn’t, and the party was forced to move, taking Milos to the nearby city of Mishaka.
Some days later, the three Exalts, Grei’s men, and their prisoner, arrived in Mishaka. Upon approaching the city, checkpoints are set up at the gates, registering every coming and going individual. Joccara, using some strange trickery of hers, pushed the party through the gates fairly quickly, getting all the Exalts inside the city, with Grei’s men having to do the full registration process. Once inside, they began seeking a way to locate a cure for Milos’ coma, two weeks deep at this point.
Auxi, having come to terms with Joccara before leaving Mejhija, and even getting her to teach him how to read, played into her plans with ease and appreciation. While she was obviously very suspicious to him, as far as he could tell, she was just trying to do her job, and maybe help a soul or two along the way. What her job is exactly, Auxi doesn’t know for sure beyond Joccara is supposed to keep an eye on, and protect, Grei. To Auxi’s eyes, Grei is the far more fit of the two for protecting himself, but Joccara’s sharp wit, intellect, and silver tongue have already smoothed over various problems for the group, so Auxi trusts her… For now.
And he trusts Grei too. Or that’s what he thought. Auxi had never personally met a Solar, and realized it, before meeting Grei. He had met one before, a man by the name of Humble Rock, but he hadn’t known at the time.
As Auxi traversed the town in her fairer form, stirring up the various pubs and brothels for rumors regarding a big to-do about someone at the gate, hoping to attract attention to Milos so that the party might find someone to get some answers from, and continued guarding Milos, Grei was visited by a strange old man. Auxi would only learn of this later, hours and hours later in fact, after returning to her post guarding Milos, and not being relieved. Sick of waiting for Grei to repost his guard, she returns to the Sleeping House the three of them had holed up in; This quarter of the town had no normal inns… Upon returning to the inn, however, the only people to be found were Joccara and Volya, along with a note.
“There’s a plague here. I’m taking Aiden and leaving.”
“I… He…. Wha?” Auxi mutters confusedly as Joccara reads the note.
Volya begins muttering hysterically. He had found the note before anyone else, and as far as he was concerned, Grei had given him purpose in life. However, he was a drunk and a fool, and often couldn’t be found at his post, so Grei had simply left him. Auxi thought that a little cold, as Volya was the only person sharp enough to spot him yet. “He may be a lush,” Auxi thought, “But I’m bettin’ there’s a reason for it.” Volya rambles about how he has nothing now, that he can’t believe Grei left him.
“What’re we gonna do?” Auxi asks Joccara.
Joccara calms down from her neurotic rant, instigated by Grei leaving, making her job more difficult and wrecking all of her plans. She turns to Auxi and says as much, that now they need to try and move things along, and the way they were gonna do it was easy enough, if inconvenient.
“We need to find a cure for this guy so we can question him and maybe find out who’s after Grei, so-”
“Oh, oh!” Volya interrupts “I saw Grei talking to some old guy who came by earlier, I followed them out and he said that the plague in this city can cure this guy,” he says pointing at Milos.
Auxi and Joccara turn to Volya. Auxi’s jaw just jars slightly at Volya. This isn’t the first time he’s seen the lush being particularly useful. Matter of fact, their first meeting, if not for Volya, Auxi might’ve well been tempted to steal a hefty chest full of silver. He remembers his time spent begging and stealing on the streets of Great Forks, and while he was only there a mere 3 weeks before Rabbit found him and uplifted him again, that time in his life sits poorly with him. The idea that he had had more power than he could have even dreamed of, but was still somehow just as powerless irked him. Volya’s current state reminded him of that, crushed and seemingly completely sobered by Grei’s abandonment.
As Joccara praised Volya, Auxi just stared at him, honestly wondering why the hell Grei left this guy. Yes, he’s a lush, but he’s the sharpest damn lush Auxi’d ever met, and growing up in Great Forks, you meet more than a few. And for Auxi to call someone sharp was no small praise; Since her Exaltation, Auxi found that her already sharp senses had grown exponentially. She could hear pins drop from across towns on a quiet day, and people could speak as if standing next to her from 50 yards away with no trouble. She could examine a mouse from high up on the clouds like a hawk if he wanted to, and that’s without actually becoming a hawk. She could pick up scents on the wind that even the sharpest of bloodhounds would miss, and feel changes in air pressure so subtle that even from 15 feet she can feel someone approach. And she’s nearly stealthy enough to avoid herself, so she knew Volya was either very good, or very lucky… And honestly, either was valid to Auxi.
Joccara sets up the plan; They recover Milos with a bang to draw some attention, take him over the wall into Mishaka’s Quarter of Uppers, which is currently quarantined, find a source of the plague, and give it to Milos. As the plan was set, Auxi shifted back into a guy.
“HOLY SHIT IT’S YOU!” Volya cried out in shock at Auxi’s sudden change in gender and stature. In coming to an understanding about their relationship in Mejhija, Auxi had already revealed his ability to switch genders in front of Joccara, so she was not phased. Auxi furrowed his brow at Volya, but then remembered why the confusion. He paid it no mind, and they set out to recover the Fire-Haired, Comatose Dragonblood, cure him, and catch up to Grei. Bringing Volya along, they broke into the workplace of the Doctor they had left Milos with, and recovered him, needing to move quickly and be able to do so with as little explanation as possible, since they had little way of hiding Milos’ identity at this point.
After recovering Milos, they approached the wall of the quarantine quarter. Guard patrols were light, since it wasn’t exactly hard to incentivize people to stay away from the zone of pure death as Auxi figured. Likewise, Patrols at the gates appeared to be nearly quadruple strength however. Entry
was allowed into the Quarter of Uppers, despite the Plague, if you had proper paperwork authorizing it. What Auxi wishes they’d realized sooner is those seen as having Second Breath, also known as Exalted, were allowed to pass freely through the Plague District, as they were immune. This did not, however, help their friend Volya, and Auxi worried about what he would need to do next…
But first, the wall. He could think of no way to scale it easily, but Volya, through sheer force of will, somehow, crazed and just wanting to somehow be useful again, insisted Auxi and Joccara load the comatose Dragonblood onto his back and he would simply scale the wall…
Auxi Untied the Hidden Knot on his chain, and threw his Harpoon up to Volya, making sure it would be light enough when he grabbed it to not pull him back down the wall. There the chain hung, and Joccara was next to climb. Failing miserably, she protested strongly when Auxi hoisted her onto his shoulder and began to climb. Before he could really start though, he was interrupted.
Jumping up and grabbing the chain with one hand, reaching up to start climbing with the other, a familiar voice rings out behind Auxi, sending a slight shiver down his spine.
“Ahhh, my my, ‘tis quite a sight we ’ave ’ere, idn’t it? ‘Ow amusin’. Mind tellin’ me why ya happen to be doin’ such strange things mi friend?”
Humble Rock. Lovely. The last person he’d needed to see right now. Rabbit had seemed perturbed by this man, and his ideas about potentially negotiating with the Fae Folk. Auxi had been warned off this man to some small extent, and he took Rabbit’s advice very seriously.
Auxi declined to tell him, trying to be amicable about his business, assuring Humble Rock it was for altruistic reasons… In the end, Joccara, sliding down off his shoulder, actually ended up travelling into the Plague District with him through the gate, while Auxi and Volya, who still had the unconscious corpse of Milos to deal with, continued along their chosen route. Or that’s what Auxi wanted to say.
“Volya. This is as far as you go friend, you can’t cross this wall,” Auxi says, putting a hand on Volya’s shoulder.
“It’s a plague, Volya. You’ll die if you go any further!”
Rob: *Laughingly No he won’t but you don’t know that so that’s valid.
*Me: Wait? What? He won’t? Seriously?
“N- I- M-… No, fuck it, FUCK IT, I’m going, I’m GOING!”
“Whoa, hey, jeez, Volya.”
“No, no, you know what, I’m GOING! You guys are right! You’re totally right! I don’t need Grei! I’ve got you guys! And I’m not gonna leave you guys!”
“Well… Jeez Volya then… I guess I can’t stop ya, but… At least let me help ya down.”
“What?! Why?! Can’t do it myself, you think I-”
“Volya, jeezus, look at your hands!”
He looks. “Oh, oh Gods! Oh… No, no, shut up, it’s fine, I can get down just fine!” He protests, slamming his hands against the banister and beginning to climb over it and climb down.
“Jeezus, no Volya, my chain! Let’s just… Let me at least put the chain down for us. That’ll be easier to climb than the damn wall…”
“….Oh…. Oh shit! That’s right! Oh, yeah, no…” Takes a deep breath “Okay… Let’s use the chain.”
Meeting Joccara and Humble Rock on the other side, they proceed to aptly lose him, and move on with their plans in peace. Auxi hasn’t decided if he thinks Humble Rock is a bad person or not, but from how Rabbit feels about him, he’d rather err on the side of caution. Once Joccara and Volya had disappeared, leaving him alone with the Solar, Auxi immediately began looking for a way out. Grei hadn’t just left Volya, he’d left Auxi and Joccara and not in a great spot. While Auxi personally held no grudge, he did still feel it was silly of Grei to do that and not at least leave
someone to lead them back to him. Auxi was beginning to see Grei in a new light, and not a fond one. But, it was for Aiden, who as Joccara had told him was Grei’s son, and so Auxi was still prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Travelling deeper into the Quarantine, they happened across a Plague victim, whom Joccara kindly killed… And then promptly flayed, mushed, blended and stewed it, and shoved the concoction down Milos throat… Much to Auxi’s disgust. But he wasn’t about to protest, he had no idea what to even try. Joccara at least seemed confident that this was the answer. And after some time, Milos did seem to begin improving. But before they could wait for him to wake up and finish questioning him, they did need to try and find Grei’s trail, figure out where he might have gone. Joccara had business still left in Mishaka, so she would stay behind with Volya and Milos. Auxi would, meanwhile, circle around Mishaka, to the outlying villages, and see if anyone had caught sight of Grei, his men… Or heard of a talking horse. According to Joccara, Grei would talk about that horse no matter where he went for some reason, something to do with a little trick Joccara had, and it would essentially lead us to him. But first, the escape.
Having blown their chance at leaving the district peacefully through their rushed state and lack of foresight, they now had to find alternate solutions for getting over the wall. Auxi was simply content to use his chain again, but Joccara couldn’t make the climb and refused to be carried. So, Auxi offered a solution.
“Okay, well… Uhh… What if I just… Toss you up there?”
“Onto the wall. Me. Toss you up? I can do it ya know.” (He totally can, it’s awesome.)
Joccara considers this for a moment… Perhaps a moment longer than she should have, for her answer was yes.
To the wall they went. On his hands she stood. With great force, he flung… With… GREAT…. Force… He realized it as soon as she left his hands. That was far too hard. And it confirms a theory of his. With the escape complete, they set their plan in motion.
After some days of circling around the city to the outlying villages, looking for word of a Mercenary Band or a Talking Horse, Auxi happened across an odd sight indeed.
In one of the outlying villages, on the outskirts, sat a hanging cage. Within sat a man, stark naked, save for a strange mask on his face that seemed to display whatever emotion he was trying to convey. It would turn into a question mark when he asked a question, cock a brow at an odd remark, or smile weakly in an attempt to get Auxi to let him free. Without really telling him why he was imprisoned, but convincing Auxi that it was for no reason worth imprisonment, Auxi released him, simply picking the lock on the cage and letting him out.
It was about that time he called his friend out of hiding.
As she approached, Auxi immediately noticed
many things about her. First, her hair was unusually dark, like his. Most of the people from around Great Forks, Nexus, and the Ranges have lighter hair. Auxi’s hair was just an oddity in breeding, but her hair was unnaturally dark, not black, seemingly a deep purple, so dark it seemed to feed on the light around it. What stood out the most was her scent, however.
As the smell of gravedirt wafted his way, Auxi got a strange sensation, like something wasn’t quite right with her. Her eyes and their lack of pupils stood out next, as well as her oddly pale skin. Auxi was somewhat pale from living a semi-sheltered life as a youngling aristocrat, but nothing like this girl was. And six months on the road with Rabbit had darkened his complexion quite a bit anyway.
Auxi was dubious, going for his weapon, but not striking. Once it was clear they meant no ill intent, he relaxed somewhat. But her odd status as seeming… Dead was… Well, odd to him. It only got stranger, however, as for some reason he couldn’t fathom, the Deathly Woman, Mykas, began to insult, berate, and taunt her apparent companion Kukupa (Or some bullshit like that, fuck me with his name) to the point of tears… Actual tears. Auxi couldn’t handle her insults, or her insanity, any longer, and went about his merry way. Or was about to before suddenly realizing something.
Turning back to them, he stopped. Having asked them if they’d seen anything unusual, perhaps a band of mercenaries, or a talking horse… It hadn’t clicked with him at the time, not being as used to the culture of the Marukani Ranges as he should’ve been, but Auxi had heard Kuku say something that might have dire consequences for them. He had to be sure.
“Now hold on a minute,” Auxi says, turning on his heel to face the two again. “Now, didn’t you say something about Horsemen earlier?”
The two break from their morbid dance of torture, and Kuku, from his fetal position on the ground says, “Uh-huh, yes, I did. Sniff I saw a group of horsemen being taken through here in chains, by the ones who put me in the cage.”
Auxi turns his head and glances sidelong at the man. “Horsemen, you say? Huh… Thanks…” He stalks off towards the nearest thicket, as soon as he’s out of sight, changing into his Stag form and making as fast a pace as possible back to the rendezvous.
As he approached the meeting, he found two sights he did not expect, yet again. First, and slightly worrying to him, Humble Rock. Auxi had gone to great lengths to avoid him. But it seemed he was now unavoidable. The second was by the far more unexpected of the two, however.
Earlier, on the road to Mishaka, before the sudden disappearance of Grei, Auxi had bumped into a man by the name Coulet. Cu Coulet, (Count Coulet, essentially) was also a practitioner of the spear, and Auxi had audited the mans brain in the use of creating a way of using his Harpoon effectively in combat. It had resulted in the charm he’d used to extend his chain, allowing himself and his party to climb the walls into the plague district.
The man had had an odd way of deflecting his blows… As a matter of fact, he didn’t deflect them at all, it just seemed that the universe itself opposed the idea of Auxi striking him when they had sparred. The flash his Essence created only served to confirm the thought, he was essentially hitting a barrier composed of raw potential and probability. Rather than a bubble however, it was more like a rising draft, tendrils of air licking out randomly to stop his weapon and create a new reality. As he struck, the very grass beneath his feet writhed, the whole turf beneath his feet seeming to heave like a wave and floor even the amazingly lithe Auxi. Auxi requested a second attempt, seeing the flash as an unusually sharp gust of wind just happened to push his spear off-target, slamming into the ground next to Coulet’s feet.
Best to hide the fact he knew that, Auxi thought. He took the idea that Coulet had given him from the shop, and the information of what he was, and left without pressing the issue. He was alone out there, he wasn’t about to pick a fight with something like that on his own without knowing a lot more about it first. More importantly, he did feel a little embarrassed by the spectacle, despite being alone with the man.
He parted ways, refusing the offer of guidance through the Mishakan provinces from Coulet and returning to his task at the time.
But now, there he sat, at the table they’d all agreed to meet at. The little inn on the outskirts was empty, the appearance of two heavily armored individuals and a strange woman prompting everyone within to leave. Without bothering to change from his Deer form, he approached the table. Honestly, the jacket he was still wearing should’ve been a dead giveaway. Auxi’s Buffjacket was mostly nothing special, except for the moonsilver plates and the occasional thread strung through it. The Moonsilver in and on his jacket was all attuned to him, allowing the jacket to change with his shape, a basic trick for most Moonsilver Smiths. But the spear on his back really was way too obvious to miss. Coulet was so taken by the fact that this rather rugged-looking stag had walked right up to them that he completely missed the signs however.
“Oh, are ya part of the party too?”
Coulet furrows his brow. “Hehe, it almost seems like you understand what I’m saying.”
Auxi tilts his head, leans it in slightly, and nods slowly, as if to say, “But I do… Understand you.”
Coulet shrugs it off, going back to the conversation between Joccara, himself, and Humble Rock.
But it’s at this point Joccara asks him to report. Auxi changes back into his Human form. Coulet is completely taken aback by this, suddenly realizing that the Deer and Auxi are the same person… Thing… Auxi contemplates the nature of his existence briefly before making his report.
“I called it, just sayin’ now.”
“Found a… Yeah, that’s a story in and of itself actually, but the important stuff first… I found Grei’s trail, and I called it.”
“Well, someone saw a group of Horsemen, maybe ten to twelve individuals, being taken in chains by a much larger group of individuals, apparently in uniform. Now, I dunno about you, but in these last six months, I’ve done a lot of travelling, most of it through the Ranges, and lemme tell ya, ya don’t see horsemen in chains in Marukani… Ever.”
Joccara considers this for a moment. “Yeah… Sounds like Grei’s found some big trouble… Or it’s found him.”
Auxi considers the implications of that statement. The Wyld Hunt is the last thing he wants to meet right now.
They hand over Milos to Humble Rock, who has superiors in Lookshy to inform of the new threat to their sovereignty. He’ll take Milos and hopefully get him questioned, and possibly get some answers about the Jens Marui, one of the lost Dragonblood noble houses, as Auxi understands it. Auxi is sure both he and Joccara are equally in the dark about the importance of the Jens Marui in all this, and as much as he dislikes the thought, Humble Rock will likely turn Milos over to the Immaculate Order, and they’ve likely the best chance of tracking down any leads Milos may be able to provide as to his benefactor in all this. Along the way, some information about the Jens Marui might also come to light, though whether it matters or not is still yet to be seen…
With Grei likely captured by the Wyld Hunt, Auxi and Joccara lacked the time to deal with him properly anyway. Taking Coulet and Volya, they proceed forward, hoping to run into Grei and his captors.
In their pursuit however, they’re greeted by one last odd sight for the day. One too many for Auxi. Still sitting out there, now nearly dusk, are Kuku and Mykas, her abuse of the man continuing. She’d spent the money he’d given her for a cloak to put on Kuku on Smoked Cheese instead… And it smelled delicious. Thoughts of food put aside with the sudden insults of Mykas, Joccara diffused the situation and left Auxi to Kuku’s care.
They learned much of these two. Kuku had had more names than he could remember, and the mask was more his real face than his face was. It’s not that he’s ugly, maimed, or deformed in any way. Willing to oblige Joccara in peeking under the mask, which he’d refused to remove for the hunt, prompting in small part his incarceration, he looked perfectly average, honestly. He’d just lived so many different lives that to him, the lack of a face was a truer identity than any he’d ever worn. But for nearly all intents and purposes, he was a mortal… Nearly…
Somehow, he’d acquired the odd knack of… As best Auxi could tell… Stealing food… From his future self… Why? Auxi has no clue. He doesn’t even know how to ask the question. Except to say ‘How do you even do that?’ To which he simply replies, ‘Do what?’
As Joccara wandered off that morning, as she was so often prone to do, Auxi took the time to relax at camp and try and get some thinking done. They were on the scent now, they’d found the direction Grei had headed in. Likely captured by the Wyld Hunt, the risk of trying to rescue him would be extremely high, and Auxi-
He’s broken from his reverie when the sound of the bushes rustling behind him grabs his attention. Were it anyone else, they may not have noticed, but Auxi could hear for a quarter mile in most places, half a mile on open ground on a calm day… Fifteen miles underwater, 500 if he would acquire some type of aquatic Heartsblood… And there were 45 seconds during Calibration back in Mishaka where he literally had heard the entire world, but he didn’t think that counted, since it was Calibration, and like Joccara had said about Cailbration; “When you get goat eyes, you really want your family around for that.” There was no way he’d miss rustling just a few feet off.
“Who’s there?” Auxi shouts, grabbing his spear. The rustling promptly stops. He quiets for a moment before hearing the rustling again.
“Alright, come out here,
right now.” Suddenly, a figure bolts from the bush nearby, leaping an incredible distance horizontally away. Auxi immediately made chase, and as he caught on the runner, the runner would suddenly leap ahead. Not figuratively, literally, she would leap forward nearly 40 feet, and as Auxi would close the distance again, she’d leap again. Leaping high into a tree, she stopped. Nearly 30 feet up, she seemed to believe she was safe. That wasn’t terribly far for Auxi though.
He leapt to the branch she was perched on, trying to keep some distance between them in case she leapt to attack. And lately, talking had been working for them a lot better than fighting had the one time, so Auxi was doing his best to be clearly non-violent. But his weight, and more accurately the massive weight of his Harpoon and Armor, caused the branch to snap, dropping them both to the ground. Snapping his chain to the tree and swinging down, he tries to catch the Dragonblood, only just missing. As she falls, however, she seems to be just fine. “Air Aspect?” Auxi pondered, still very unfamiliar with Dragonbloods as a grand whole, having only recently met any, and now that he was a Lunar, that meant meeting Dragonbloods was almost universally bound to end poorly for him.
As Auxi drops down to confront the spy again, she bolts once more, leaping great distances across the ground and trees, not seeming to realize that height wasn’t going to make a difference.
Tiring of this idiocy, Auxi grabs the chain of his Harpoon, and pretending to undo a slip-knot, yanks the chain, throwing it for the sneaks foot with inhuman accuracy, the chain itself seeming to twist and arc unnaturally in order to reach its target.
The chain catches the woman, whom Auxi approaches as he takes up the slack of the chain around his shoulder. As he gets up to her, looking terrified, he realizes that killing her right now would be both easy, and incredibly stupid. She’s clearly Chosen, Auxi can see that, and if she
is Dragonblood, it’s likely she’s not alone…
“Wait,” Auxi thought to himself, “She shouldn’t be alone…”
“Who are you and what do you want with us?”
The woman speaks in a language Auxi can’t understand.
Auxi unties the woman’s ankle, wrapping the chain instead around her torso and leading her like a hostage back to camp. Upon arriving, undoing the chain, he puts a hand on her shoulder and looks her square in the eye, pointing to the ground, and like a dog, telling her, “Stay.”
“Great,” Auxi thinks. “I don’t speak her language, not sure any of us do, she’s clearly a Dragonblood, and she’s probably got friends nearby.” Auxi stares coldly at the woman sitting next to him at the center of camp.
“Well, our camps liable to become a caravan if we’re not careful. Who’s your new friend Auxi?” Joccara asks, returning from her ritual morning stroll to a place where she won’t be heard or seen. Auxi could tell well enough when he shouldn’t pry, and with Joccara in particular, there were many odd things that had happened.
“I found her snoopin’ around outside the camp, spyin’ on us. And I don’t know who she is, I can’t understand her. Language Barrier.”
Joccara seems able to piece together some crude form of speech with the Dragonblood. How, Auxi is not entirely sure, but his ears are sharp enough to know that Joccara isn’t confident in what exactly she’s saying, giving just a hairs-breadth more thought before saying every word than she usually would. But she is confident enough that they’re actually having a dialogue.
After a short chat however, they decide that they need to be able to transport her as a hostage without fear of her escaping. Auxi was rather reluctant to have to lead her by his chain the whole way, and so, Joccara using her unique talent to seemingly pass off her inebriation onto other people, began drinking heavily with Volya, and as she drank, the Dragonblood Scout became more and more drunk. Once she was sufficiently stupid, Joccara requested Auxi go find… Well, to go find any psychedelic’s or hallucinogenics he could possibly find. Auxi, with a fairly broad understanding of survival, was well versed in foraging, and knew what to look for to eat, to drink, to kill… And yes, to trip balls too.
Unfortunately, what Joccara wanted precisely wasn’t available. In case they couldn’t find something more refined in Harborhead however, Auxi did manage to snag nearly four pounds of magic mushrooms, fairly potent ones at that, but not of the calibre that either of them had been hoping for.
Auxi, hiding a few of the mushrooms away for himself for later, maybe for a Ritual Hunt, hands the vast majority of them over to Joccara. While Auxi was not a temperate man and would easily give in to his vices, he was also a lightweight, and still had the human mentality of needing to take care of his body. While he does still need to take care of it, adapting to the increased attributes that come with being Chosen has been a learning experience for him.
With that, the party traveled for Harborhead, the next largest town between here and Chiaroscuro, their eventual target. Many strange things had been going on down there, news of Anathema, a brewing war, and the famously destroyed Towers of Chiaroscuro returned to existence for several hours during Calibration. Many of the locals from the city and surrounding areas believe it is an ill omen, a sign of war soon to come. Auxi feared they may be right. He’d been learning a lot about how crazy the world was in the last 7 months, and it was only getting worse by his account.
Upon arriving in Harborhead and finding a quiet alley to dump their drugged up captive in, the five of them, Auxi, Joccara, Coulet, Mykas, and Kuku, proceed to a nearby tavern to stop and plan their next step, as well as set up a temporary base of operations as they searched for trippier drugs. Or they would have, had they not been accosted along the way. A fairly tall woman, clad in armor and carrying what looked more like a bow designed for a 17-foot tall man strapped to her back, approached Kuku, demanding to know who had released ‘this garbage.’
Auxi, feeling responsible for his release, and thus in some way his safety, immediately and without thinking, stepped between the two.
“I released him,” he said tersely. “Can I help you?”
The woman examines Auxi up and down, taking particular interest in his armor and weapon.
“Well, maybe you can…… That’s some interesting equipment you’re carrying.”
“Yeah? What of it?”
“Nothing. Why did you release this trash?”
“Well, I dunno about you, but I tend ta feel leavin’ a man naked, in a cage, in the blisterin’ sun to rot, kinda seems a little harsh, don’t chya think?”
The woman glares daggers at Auxi, who’s clearly challenging her authority.
“Well, how about this. We sent out a forward scout this morning who never came back. Looked kinda like us, lighter hair, shorter, carrying one of these?” She hefts the small chakram-knife from her belt, seemingly a standard piece of equipment amongst this group.
Auxi immediately recognized it. She had dropped it when the branch had broken beneath them and she fell. She’d drawn it in defense before he’d jumped up there with her.
“Looked like you ya say? White hair like you too?”
“How did you know that?”
“….I was… Asking you if…”
“If she had white hair like yours, because if she did, I think I’d remember
Clearly getting frustrated now, and not entirely buying his lie, she presses him harder.
“And by what authority did you free this man?!”
“By what authority,” asks Joccara angrily, “Did you imprison him?”
The woman shifts her gaze to Joccara. “And who are you?”
“Well, I’m his daughter,” she says, pointing to Kuku, “And I’m a little upset about how he was treated.”
“Oh really,” the Dragonblood asks with great interest, “your father?”
“Listen, there’s something you seem to not be understanding, and I would like to talk this over. What would you say to dinner?”
Suddenly, the Dragonblood, not wanting to lose her line of questioning, shifts her attention back to Auxi, but before she can speak, Auxi, gritting his teeth and resisting the urge to beat the living hell out of this cruel woman, stepped down and mirrored the suggestion, being as polite as possible.
Auxi’s still not sure why, as it was never explained to him, but Dragonbloods love food. As far as Auxi can tell, Dragonbloods can, and enjoy, consuming massive amounts of food, apparently always hungry.
As tempting as the offer of food was though, it did not sway the Dragonblood, Auxi could see. What got the rise from her was the offer of a civil meeting. Taking her aback, she initially refused, but after more prodding, and subsequent peer pressure from her hungry friends, she accepted.
Finally arriving at the inn, they all sit down for dinner. During the walk, it finally dawned on Auxi, as they passed the other 120 members of the group, that this must be the Wyld Hunt, and they must be the ones who have Grei. Auxi sees that Joccara recognizes this fact, and they both silently agree to get the hell out of this situation.
Auxi quietly and politely eats his dinner, immediately deflecting the first question directed at him to Joccara, saying, “Don’t ask me about him, I’m just paid to protect the guy.”
Joccara fabricates a story about Kuku and Mykas having the same condition with different manifestations, and tells the Dragonblood Ensign, which makes Auxi laugh internally like there’s no tomorrow when he finds out she’s just a rank-and-filer, that Kuku couldn’t remove the mask even if he wanted to, and it’s for his own good as much as those around him. Mykas had no problem corroborating this false story, leaping at the opportunity to say Kuku’s face was horrible and awful. Truth be told he was quite average, having shown them his face already.
She goes around the table, collecting stories, very intentionally not seeming to question Auxi too hard on his. Auxi took this as a sign of weakness on her part, realizing that she pressed him least because she was afraid of him most. Meanwhile, during this conversation, and Auxi having left his Harpoon at the door, playing the part of purely civilized body-guard, the other Dragonbloods amongst the group were running around with pad and pen, doing calculations on something.
She asks Coulet about his Spear, appearing to be Diamond. Clearly wearing the armor of the Jannisaries however, it piqued her curiosity that his spear was not Iron, as was their tradition.
“Ehhh, well, you see… Well, it’s… What… What if I told you, it actually was Iron? And that it changed, adapted to my needs, I think.”
She seems baffled by this, but fairly willing to try and keep an open mind about that. Auxi wishes he could’ve come up with something that would’ve shrugged that kind of attention off of him.
Joccara presses that the Dragonblood, in imprisoning Kuku without a trial and in accosting them and harassing them without due cause, has been neglecting her duty to the Realm; “I heard that they value duty and honor above all else in the realm… Especially the Realm Military.”
“You know what I heard about the realm military,” asks Auxi. “Their motto is, ‘Never miss a chance to eat, sleep, or pee.’ Words to live by, those.”
She’s utterly aghast at Auxi’s comment, jaw agape and looking at him like he’s truly an idiot, but that special kind of unfathomable idiot. Joccara elbows Auxi’s ribs roughly, threatening his feax job should he not calm down and civilize himself.
Finally, dinner comes to an end, the Dragonblood apparently just no longer willing to deal with the insanity of this group.
She parts with a warning.
“I don’t know who you are or what game you’re playing at, but I know you’re lying. I don’t know about what, or why, and I’m really not sure I care. But if I find out you had anything to do with the scout I just found unconscious in an alleyway, I will find you….”
“I understand,” Joccara says sincerely. “I wish we could’ve met under better circumstances then.”
The Dragonblood gives her a short glare before collecting her group and leaving. After a few moments, Auxi begins stepping outside to grab his Harpoon, poking his head out and checking around to see if any of the soldiers remained. None did, and at that moment, they began planning… Well, almost at that moment. Coulet had made a comment, when playing up the competing body-guards bit, playing into the farce he and Joccara had practiced so many times up to that point, about Auxi’s Harpoon being meant to overcompensate for something. While Auxi took no real offense at the comment, it did bring into stark relief for him that he’d been away from his weapon, and not by his own choice…
“Look, I just don’t like people messing with my weapon. It’s
mine, it’s important to me, okay?” Rabbit bequeathed that Harpoon on him, and for Auxi, it was a symbol of his newfound power to try and help correct the wrongs he’d committed in his life. It was precious to him, and being forcibly separated from it had upset him somewhat.
“Okay, well, we need to get out of here I think,” suggest Joccara wisely.
She doesn’t find any complaint amongst the party short of being in a hurry and not having enough transportation for everyone. Auxi was perfectly capable of transporting himself, currently possessing a bat and a deer for travel, a Puma for stealth, and even a Giant Tortoise…. What that one was for, he wasn’t sure yet.
But Auxi knew they needed to hurry, and regardless, they were one horse short to be able to carry five people comfortably. Auxi wouldn’t need carrying, leaving Volya, Coulet, Kuku, Mykas, and Joccara, for all of whom they had only Auxi’s Marukani Steed. Most of them had been walking, with only Kuku riding, due to even the bottoms of his feet having been sunburned for the first few days of the journey as he’d healed. Auxi had noticed he’d healed oddly quickly for someone who apparently wasn’t enlightened. But Auxi had suspected otherwise from the start.
Trekking out into the town and finding a healthy pack horse, Auxi takes it, unfortunately being spotted out by an individual as he was leaving, but putting the horse between himself and the passerby so that he might escape unidentified. With that, they figured out seating arrangements. The two horses would carry four, and Auxi offered to carry Joccara on his back since she was not comfortable riding.
Though apparently her real concern was driving the horse, not just riding it, because when Coulet pushed the exceedingly drunken Volya off the back of his horse, Joccara had no problem joining him. She’d mentioned that one of the men at the table had forgotten about being her fiancee due to her unique nature as… Whatever she was. Auxi had seen her literally become a different person back in Mishaka, as had Volya, and he still wasn’t sure what that was. So far, Joccara had shown a fairly unerring sense of right and wrong, and a willingness to try and do right, so regardless of his trepidation over this, Auxi continued to give her the benefit of the doubt, and still does.
Volya drunkenly thought everyone was joking when they asked if he wanted to ride the stag. Auxi laid down so he might mount without too much trouble, and then setting the pace, took the lead towards Chiaroscuro at brisk speed, Volya holding on to his antlers, thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to ride a stag, and in a fairly good hurry to get the hell away from Harborhead, as well as the Wyld Hunt…
While that would take them further away from Grei, they knew Grei would be coming to them eventually. The idea had never been to catch up. It’d always been to get ahead. And now they were. Now they might have a chance…
As Joccara and Auxi walk into the city of Chiaroscuro, they are welcomed by the strangest of sights… A pillar a light and fire, a golden orb swimming into the bay onto a boat, an exploding castle, and an exploding aft-section of a boat, not to mention a wagon that appears to have been used with ballistic intent.
After inspecting the market, Joccara, Auxi, and their companions, inspecting the docks, see a boat leaving port, seeming to make way towards the exploded, now slowly sinking ship. The upper aft section had been destroyed, compromising the structural integrity and the boat was slowly taking on water. It would take hours to sink, but it was sinking.
“Stop that boat Auxi! We need to buy a ride!”
Auxi rushes to the dock and grabs one of the remaining lines before the sailor on deck can pull it in. He tugs on the line, shouting for them to wait, that they want to buy passage. The line is yanked, Auxi along with it, and the next thing he knows, he’s being held like a Marlin on a line by a 9-foot tall, huge man.
“You want ride? Get on.”
Auxi, recovering from his shock, “Actually, I’m not the only one who needs a ride.”
The man shouts back, “No time, grab line and get on! I’ll pull you on board!”
All except Mykas get aboard in this fashion, her staring blankly at them from the dock.
They approach the boat, Auxi learning the Captain’s name, Tree. They come upon the realm ship and like in Mishaka, Auxi tosses Joccara up on deck, Coulet following her, and Auxi leaping up behind. Tree had already leapt high into the air and came crashing down onto the deck of the other ship, the rest unable to see up onto the deck before leaping… They fell into the hole in the deck created by Tree’s landing, save Coulet, who when tossed, felt half as heavy to Auxi as he should have, and flew maybe 100 feet into the air, coming down into the water far on the other side of the boat. Auxi hesitating a moment as he watches Coulet go flying off, then jumps up onto the deck of the boat, also falling into the hole created by Tree’s landing. Joccara, splayed across his shoulders, simply reaches out, gets on the deck, and stands up. Auxi, having landed, falling only slightly further than he’d expected, jumped up onto the top deck with Joccara, Tree’s 9-foot tall self poking out the hole created by his landing.
Meanwhile, Grei had been fighting his way through the ship, looking for his son. He reached the top of the stairs and began engaging the Dragonbloods of the Wyld Hunt and their men, but not before tripping, giving them opportunity to strike at him, to little avail, sadly for them.
After recovering from their mis-steps, Joccara managed to talk the Dragonblood Ensign into surrendering, since it would be far better than having Joccara shoot her through the throat. She had closed the distance, approaching to negotiate. The Dragonblood opened fire on Coulet, who, foolishly, thought that the giant bow she wielded was actually just for show, and she used it more like a bat. Turning his back on her, she opened fire at the back of his head, nailing him squarely, smashing him to the deck with a harsh thump that Auxi felt all the way up to his ribs. It barely scratched his skin, and he merely complained about the impoliteness of the whole thing. When the Dragonblood fired, Joccara drew.
Now held at gunpoint, the Dragonblood surrendered, knowing that with the forces arrayed against her, even with the three Dragonbloods and the Mortals aboard the vessel, they would not win. Joccara convinced them to let Grei hide his anima, which was making them a target for the blockade in the bay, and surrender unconditionally, the mortal crew being dumped at shore and the two Dragonbloods who remained, the Sorcerer of the group fleeing at the last moment, would become their captives, the vessel and it’s property Tree’s property. And what did Auxi get out of all this?
He got to see Coulet be the fool. The constant jabs made Tree’s treatment of Coulet quite cathartic. Joccara wanted Coulet to shake Tree’s hand, giving him the Jannisary test to see if he is Fey or not. Tree teased Coulet mercilessly, giving Auxi a reason to laugh out loud. Coulet said that he seemed fine in the end.
However, when Tree decided they should beach the Realm vessel, waiting until such a time as he can fix it up proper and make it look less like a Realm ship, he simply pulled the ship onto the shore, slightly upriver from the coast. By himself. Joccara and Auxi were fairly certain his test had somehow failed, as Joccara’s own test was counter-confirming his. Auxi’s test could only tell that Tree was using some sort of strong illusion, somehow obfuscating himself from proper observation. His appearance was somehow an illusion. Auxi just wasn’t sure how.
After beaching the ship, they sailed back to Chiaroscuro, and with everyone formally introduced, it was now time to decide what their next move would be.
It had suddenly occurred to Grei that his men would need their horses. Luckily, the Wyld Hunt had taken them aboard the vessel, but that left the unique problem of transporting them. Tree Borne by the Sea’s Junk would never hold that many men and horses, and the Realm’s Ironclad was too damaged and too conspicuous to take out onto open waters.
Beaching the vessel, the group gets some minor details out of the way first, Auxi having two horses that he wanted to retrieve, and not having a particularly good way to retrieve them himself, with Grei’s help and suggestions, they are able to save time.
Auxi turns into a giant tortoise, large enough to comfortably seat 3 or 4 normal people. He figured with his strength he could carry Grei and Tree. Grei had suggested that if only they could somehow carry the horses atop another mount, because he could enhance that mount to save time getting to Chiaroscuro and back. Auxi, with his tortoise Heartsblood, was able to oblige. A giant, silver-shelled, leather clad, mounted by a Mercenary and a 9-foot tall man, ran, stomping the ground furiously, producing a shocking pace of 40 MPH, able to complete the trip to Chiaroscuro and back within a single day. Tree, with his massive form and strength, simply carried the horses back on his shoulders. Auxi felt a slight sense of pride at being able to be the mount for those he’d used as mounts up to this point. He then pondered exactly why he felt that way, confused by the odd line of thought.
After returning, they quickly decided the the next course of action would be to acquire more ships somehow, in order to transport everyone. They devised the plan, at first, to wait at the mouth of the river where they’d sailed the Realm vessel upstream and beached it. Auxi supposed that a shallow-bottomed river-ship wouldn’t serve their purposes though, or Tree’s in particular for that matter, being that the ships likely to come out would not be sea-worthy. The other option? Attack the Chiaroscuro Bay Blockade, which they had already narrowly avoided once already, but now they would have the element of surprise.
“Alright, here’s what I’m thinkin’, is we sail the ship downstream, let it keep lookin’ really banged up, like you couldn’t fix it up and stuff on your own power Tree. We hide our men aboard, and when they come aboard to inspect and reclaim the ship, we ambush them,” Auxi says. Tree suggests that Auxi fly about if he is able to, to scout out for enemies and possibly help with the surprise attack on the enemy ship, since he’ll be able to attack without being noticed or sneak aboard and wreak havoc.
Meanwhile, Tree took on the form of the Dragonblooded Ensign from the Wyld Hunt, who had formerly been in command of the ship, somehow mimicking her appearance in a way Auxi still couldn’t discern. They tied him to the mast and sailed the boat out, appearing empty, whilst Auxi flew overhead.
Some men boarded and enemies were approaching, but Auxi was beginning to get nervous from his vantage point in the sky. Using his Instinctive Essence Prediction, sensing something was afoot, he located a sorcerer pulling Prayer Strings, each one conjuring a small air elemental; Truly fierce magic, since most Elementals usually require hours of casting time and preparation. This Dragonblood was quite clever.
Auxi hovered directly abover her, remembering she had been the one to escape on the flying cloud when their group had initially commandeered the Realm Ironclad. He changed into a Giant Tortoise, and then simply let gravity do most of the work, falling from about 100 feet up. She survived his massive impact, but was unable to dodge it, to Auxi’s good fortune having not noticed him whistling through the air towards her.
Auxi leaps into action immediately after landing. The sorceress beneath him, he has no trouble pinning her to the deck, drawing a knife from his belt and stabbing her hand to the deck. Meanwhile, below decks, Grei and his men, as well as Coulet, Mykos, and Volya, are being accosted by what seem to be living twigs. Essence-fueled and incredibly durable, even Grei’s Solar strength is not enough to snap one of them. Mykos and Coulet attempt to coordinate an attack against the twigs (Minor Wood Elementals), and Coulet swings wide, accidentally blowing a hole in the ceiling, revealing them to the upper deck, the soft moonlight spilling in through the new hole. As Coulet and Mykos are coordinating their attack, Tree, still feigning his appearance as the Dragoonblooded Ensign, Haacha, barks at the two men approaching him to cut him down. The greener of the two who approached Tree is so thouroughly horrified by Auxi’s dramatic entrance that the order completely espaces his purview. The second, taken with the sudden chaos, beings barking orders. A small woman in a cage barks to be released, reaching for her bladed club outside the bars of her cage. What appears to be a crew-hand, wielding a mop, also engages the Realm crewmembers, apparently having mutinied. Auxi, seeing that the Sorceress beneath him is mostly incapable of defending herself ends her life quickly, and leaps towards the woman in the cage grasping for the club, rushing to release her. As he crosses the deck, he sees the mop-wielding crew hand crack a man wielding a Tower shield in one hand and a Kite shield in the other across the back of his head, smacking him hard enough to knock out some of his teeth. Mr. Tower-and-Kite wheels around to defend against the new attacker as Auxi, seeing that the defender seems reasonably confident in his ability to face off against the Shield-Wielder, bee-lines towards the cage, and attempts to open it, doing his best to pry open the heavy lock, slipping at the last moment.
Tree leaps across to the farthest ship, and the mortal crewmembers aboard seem to simply collapse around him, appearing to be crushed and dying. A Dragonblood with a sling projects a stone towards them that explodes into a brilliant shockwave above the deck, seeming to knock her fellow crewmembers unconscious. A mercy.
Grei and the others continue fighting below and Mykos and Coulet come up to the top deck, and Coulet helps Volya up as well. An archer fires an arrow from the bow of the ship across to the aft where Auxi has just picked the cage-lock, releasing the small woman to wield her club against the Realm crewmen. He turns and puts up his defenses just in time to deflect her attack, a pot with an explosive strapped to it, fired from a massive bow. He was using Essence to manipulate mundane objects into being easily fired from his Greatbow. The shrapnel is deflected by Auxi’s armor, but the look he draws from the Archer at being able to parry the shot is telling; That was no small feat he’d just accomplished.
Grei and his men, with the Sorceress dead, are able to quickly clean up the Elementals; Without anyone to control them, their cohesion quickly fell apart, and despite their magical durability, they couldn’t hold up at all against Grei’s men, leadership still intact. They rush above-decks, beginning to engage the other fighters on the ship.
Auxi zero’s on the Archer, the Sling-Wielding woman standing between them. Dashing at full tilt towards her, he takes a running step off her head, leaping towards the archer, charging his spear at the Greatbow Man with the speed and ferocity of a charging Calvaryman. The Archer’s skill are sharp however, and despite the accuracy and punch behind Auxi’s blow, he’s able to evade most of the damage. The gouge on his cheek however is enough for him to begin to lose his cool, and as he goes to nock another piece of generalized ammunition, likely strapped with more explosives, he mis-strings it, the explosive-laden arrow falling to the ground at his feet. He takes some wounds, but his armor absorbs most of the blow, now incredibly chewed up and degraded.
Auxi, in close proximity, whips the end of his chain around the Bowman’s foot, somehow still standing after the blast, and suddenly it’s as if the ship beneath that one individual just bucks, and he’s knocked prone to the ground. He then proceeds to skewer the man against the deck, essentially using the body of the ship itself as a way to do a braced thrust against the Bowman. He’s successful, and he lies dead with a hole in his chest when suddenly, a familiar figure falls from the sky.
The Dragonblooded Ensign, Haacha, lands on the deck, and proclaims to the Realm crewmembers, “Are you idiots? Don’t you all know what you should be doing right now? You should be surrendering!” Joccara appears in short order as well. While Auxi had been fighting the Archer and the Sorceress, Tree had subdued the mortal crew of the furthest ship, and then proceeded to chase down an Artillery-Wielding woman, who was attempting to blow holes in all the ships and do what she could to make the irrecoverable. Once the surrender goes out, Tree immediately jumps into the water, and begins ferrying the still salvagable Ironclad towards shore, grabbing the anchor and pulling it, quite literally. He makes excellent time, too.
Upon seeing his Anima Banner however, Joccara’s mood turns sour quick, and she begins berating Auxi and Grei for working with an Infernal, an agent of the Yozi’s. Auxi and Grei defend themselves, and Grei, still unable to remember his past association with Joccara, is naturally very brusque and untrusting of her. Which brings up even more points of contention for Auxi, as he attempts to understand better
what exactly Joccara is. Now, however, learning of Tree’s association with Yozi’s, understanding very little of the motivations behind Joccara’s objectives, and understanding little about Exaltation and Creation as a grand whole, he bites back, demanding answers but only receiving the same rhetoric as always about her being a ‘Protector of Creation, like you.’ While Auxi does trust her, this is certainly a strain, and that she’s so set on killing Tree worries him somewhat. Auxi, having grown up in Great Forks, has seen Fey that cooperate and even live peacefully amongst the living, despite their natures and reputations. Believing in the duality of the world, Auxi, while confused and strained, is not yet willing to pass any absolute judgement on Tree. That Joccara is so willing to worries him to some extent.
Meanwhile, somehow Tree and his crew are able to launch an attack on their vessel from Tree’s Junk, ripping a chunk out of the bottom of the hull on the port side. Auxi shouts that they’re taking on water as they decide how to handle Tree. Auxi tells Joccara, “This isn’t a fight we’re going to win,” so she proceeds to do her best to cripple Tree’s ship. Their partnership strained by the events of the night, they begrudgingly return to shore to sort out a plan of action.
After pulling into port, Grei disappears once again, forcing Joccara to simply resign that he won’t be able to manipulate Grei. Having taken Aiden, Grei’s son, into her custody, she attempts to use that as a method to essentially indenture Grei to her, so that she can do her job of protecting him and keeping an eye on Him. She reluctantly accepts that they need to go after Grei, who seems to have gone after Tree, and return Aiden to him. Auxi is also interested to talk to Tree. Something about him doesn’t add up to Auxi, and he’s determined to find out what. He understand the inherent danger in his curiosity however, and will not lightly walk into any situation where Tree is present in the future.
In the wee hours before dawn, they make for the Chiaroscuro plaza, where 1,001 ghosts litter the street at night. Upon entering the plaza, Auxi is immediately defensive and paranoid; Growing up in Great Forks, he’d learned to hate Ghosts and other Undead, hence the major disagreement between Great Forks and Sijan. Sijan, the City of the Dead, is trusted far and wide across Creation to handle Funerary right for hundreds-of-thousands of individuals. Great Forks, the City of Temples, is also known for it’s Funerary Rights, though not on the same level as Sijan. Their disagreements over the treatment, even the tolerance of Undead has left Auxi with a strong Paranoia while they’re here, and he does his best to simply follow Joccara’s lead, as she speaks with an Elder Spirit for guidance about the bats that exploded from the ground outside the town near them, and were now flocking above them, following them.
The bats fly off to the north-east as dawn approaches, and Auxi begrudgingly listens to Joccara’s advice, and after making a quick stop in the market to replace the knives he lost on the Sorceress’ body, retires to an inn, where he rests and recuperates.
Joccara walks into the inn. After two days, and a report of a Lunar attacking a forward operating post of the Bureau of Destiny, she wasn’t happy.
She enters the room to find a sight she doesn’t much care for. Auxi, passed out on the floor, Couleigh sitting quietly in a corner of the room, but two unidentified individuals also camped out in the room. In one corner, the Dragonblood, Faros, in the bed, the strange one named Shuku that Auxi had found. She quietly asks for Couleigh to come outside, and they discuss their next move briefly before asking him to wait in the common room of the inn.
Joccara quietly sneaks into the room, and unholstering one of her flamepieces, takes the hilt of the pistol to Auxi’s head.
“OW! The fu-”
“Do you have ANY idea what you’ve done,” she exclaims, pointing the gun to Auxi’s face. “I should shoot you right now, matter of fact, I’m legally OBLIGATED to shoot you right now, unless you give me a good reason not to.”
“Jeezus, I know you’re mad but what the hell? I thought we already-… Wait, what the hell are you even talking about? Joccara, why don’t you explain to me what that even means, you bein’ legally obligated to shoot me.”
“You attacked a forward outpost of the Bureau of Destiny.”
“….The-…. The Bureau of Destiny? The hell is that?”
Joccara cocks a brow. “It doesn’t matter, not to you, not now, because-”
“Joccara,” Auxi interrupts, “I don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about. I’ve been TRYIN’ to keep my head low, and get some rest, you’re the one who told me to.”
“….And you LISTENED?!” Joccara asks, genuinely in disbelief.
“Of course I listened! I hadn’t slept in three days, been in two major fights, was tired as hell… Joccara, I couldn’t attack a forward base of this supposed Bureau even if I wanted to… BECAUSE I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE EVEN TALKING ABOUT!”
“Then how did you-”
“Oh, what,” Auxi gestures to himself, “This? Some asshole attacked
ME yesterday, beat me half to death, damn near killed me, but didn’t. Joccara, I haven’t had time to do anything like attackin’ some Bureau, because I was too busy handlin’ these two,” he gestures to the strays, “And tryin’ my damnedest to NOT die.”
Joccara glares at Auxi, trying to ascertain if he’s lying or not. In short order, she’s able to identify that Auxi is telling the truth, that it not only was it not him who attacked the Bureau, but it couldn’t have been in the first place; Auxi’s just too naive to even know what to look for.
“Well then,” she says, holstering her pistol again, “I… Think I owe you an apology.”
“Yeah, fine, apology accepted, but we’re gonna have words about this at some point Joccara.”
“Meet me in the common-room.”
He goes downstairs, rubbing his forehead. As if he needed more bruises. His anger was boiling now though. Auxi had decided they would have to come to some kind of an understanding here soon, and if they didn’t… Well…
They begin discussing their next move, the three of them, planning on ditching the two Dragonbloods in the room. When asked about them, Auxi simply tells him what he knows. “The one is a high-born Dragonblood not tied to the Realm, she can leave, I don’t wanna deal with her thinkin’ I’m her vassal. The other…” Auxi’s gaze shifts back as the door to their room opens, and Shuku stumbles out, bleary-eyed and rubbing her eyes. Not paying attention to what she’s doing or where she’s going, she tumbles over the edge of the railing.
“Joccara, she’s… She’s practically a child.”
“She’s obviously not a child, she’ll be-”
“No, you don’t understand, I mean she’s been in a cage her whole life, Joccara, she doesn’t know how to deal with people, she’s naive like a child.”
“I’m not taking her with us.”
Auxi’s jaw sets. “Fine, if you won’t, then I will. She can stay with me, and I’ll take responsibility for ’er.”
Auxi growls, “Yeah, maybe I’m not, but you said it yerself, we’ve gotta learn, and learn fast, right?”
Joccara glares at him. “Fine, no skin off my back. Go get her, now, we’re leaving.”
Auxi goes and picks up Shuku, slinging her across his shoulders. With no complaint at all from her, the four exit the inn, and are greeted once more by the sinister bats of the night after the battle against the realm fleet.
Joccara, agitated beyond all recourse, simply stops, turns, and attempts to introduce herself to the bats… Who seem confused by her introduction.
“Maybe,” Auxi says, agitation apparent in his own voice, “It’s a communication issue Joccara; I been havin’ lots of those without you here.”
Trying in a language Auxi understands this time, she attempts again to introduce herself, and the bats seem to respond, though not with words. After some engagement, and the obviously apparent attempt of the bats to get the group to follow them, Joccara simply stalks off, looking for Tree. She’d said that she had gotten orders to ‘be nice,’ to him, much to Auxi’s surprise. It turned out, he’d get the talk he wanted with Tree after all.
The bats eventually lost interest in the group however and left. Heading towards the Infernal’s ship themselves, they arrive ahead of Auxi and Joccara, and Tree, his ship in tatters and requiring aid in general, offers the bats a job, working as eyes for his ship. They, oddly enough, acquiesce. Unfortunately for everyone, they completely refuse to inform Tree of the approaching party.
Tossing Joccara up onto the deck of the beached ship and then tucking Shuku under an arm and jumping up himself, they arrive on Trees ship, hearing work going on below-decks as Tree and a local cobbler do their best to patch the damage Joccara had done to the hull. Approaching him, a discussion ensues as to what Joccara requires of Tree; In exchange for acquiring three ships of greater power and stature for him, he would aid her in tracking down the source of some kind of attacks that were changing people beneath the city of Chiaroscuro, in a section known simply as the Undercity. Auxi seemed disinterested in the conversation… As she turns to leave, she sees two things.
First, Auxi, just off her shoulder, glaring at her extremely dubiously. Then, she doesn’t so much see as bump into a man of thin stature and great beauty, seeming to have a grace beyond that of humans, and a mind for stealth to go with it. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying what appears to be an instrument case of some kind, he tips his hat and ambiguously states, “I might be able to help you.” All turn to face the newcomer.
They all take a moment to take her in, Joccara using her Essence Sense to try and understand the person before them, Auxi simply observing with quietly bubbling rage,
Taken aback and put on the defensive immediately, Joccara declines. “Thank you, but I see no reason to share my goals here with you, whoever you are.”
“Joccara, damnit,” Auxi starts in, “Now, I don’t know what the hell your problem is, but in case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been in way over our head here, I’m certainly in over mine. How about for once, just for once, you listen to me, and we take this nice mans help?” He turns to the new arrival. “My name is Auxi Desis, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” he says, extending his arm to the man.
The man gazes at his hand for a moment before extending his own, awkwardly and as if he’s unfamiliar with the gesture of a hand-shake, then says, “I am called the Dirge Singer.”
Auxi grins a little, “Dirge Singer? That’s an interesting name!” He reaches out, clasping his hand confidently and shaking it somewhat before releasing it. Dirge Singer is taken aback by the gesture, not seeming put off or offended, but genuinely surprised.
Joccara, after this exchange, seeming to have ignored Auxi entirely, asks what the Dirge Singer might be able to offer them.
“I can guide you through the Undercity.”
Auxi claps his hands together and turns to Joccara, “See, Joccara, now we have a guide through the Undercity, that’s somethin’ useful, right?”
Joccara declines one last time, “I don’t think sharing our motives with a perfect stranger is a good idea.”
“I understand, and I can’t say I blame-,” the Dirge Singer says before Auxi cuts him off.
“No, no, hold on a second there Mr. Dirge Singer, because I have a problem with this.” Auxi’s anger and mistrust finally beginning to get the better of him, he turns to Joccara, the stress of the last weeks travels finally having caught up with him. Unwilling to back down, he protests.
“Now listen here Joccara, I’m tryin’ to trust you. When we first met, I told you that I needed to trust you to work with you, and I’ve been tryin’, but damnit Joccara, you haven’t given me anything! I don’t know what the hell is goin’ on-”
“Well if you weren’t so damn irresponsible, and I hardly think you have any room to say what’s best.”
Auxi draws in a deep breath, his eyes going wide, his nose flaring. A grimace becomes his visage, and his hands curl up into fists for a moment, his knuckles going white immediately. He wrestles internally with his anger, his rage boiling up, threatening to overtake him. Wrestling it into the pit of his stomach, he controls it, but he refuses to back down now. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know what to say, blinded by his own rage. He sputters, a moment before getting his mind again.
“Joccara, you know what? FUCK YOU! I’m DONE! All this ARBITRARY, WISHY-WASHY BULLSHIT! I’ve HAD it!” And turning to Tree, “And YOU Tree,” he says, pointing at him, glaring daggers, but again failing to find the words to express his anger, instead reaching for a substitute, “You’re on my shitlist too right now. Forget it, I’m done.” Auxi storms off, stomping up the stairs to the top deck and jumping clean off the boat, turning into a deer and making for Chiaroscuro as quickly as possible.
As he arrives on the outskirts of town, he finds a pool of water, smoke seeming to bubble out of it. Taking his interest, he grabs a stick and puts it into the pool, testing it. The stick comes out wet, cold, and utterly unharmed. He tests with his hand, wet and cold but unharmed. He puts his face into the pool and looks down. Below, he sees what appears to be a narrow tunnel, man-height, with oil lanterns burning, the source of the smoke, at the end of a bend at the bottom of the pool where the landscape sloped back up. Only maybe 10 feet down, Auxi grabs his spear and points it tip down, willing it to be heavy, and jumps in, falling effortlessly to the bottom and then making his way to the tunnel.
Shuku follows, grabbing a large rock to perform the same feat, lacking an Artifact Weapon like Auxi’s to use the way he had. She tagged along, and Auxi doesn’t mind. Really, he fails to notice her presence at all, only caring for who or what might get in his way. As long as she could do that, he didn’t care, if she can take care of herself at all be damned.
And thus, Auxi had located a little-used entrance to the Undercity. Flooded, no one had come this way in quite some time. Committing its location to memory, he proceeds. He finds the most luxurious teahouse in the Undercity, and then an abandoned alley-way, changing into the blonde-haired woman he had bought the dress for, and removing her armor for it, proceeded into the teahouse, spear perfectly in view and tow. Shuku also changed her appearance, into that of a man wearing a chainmail dress, and followed.
She entered, immediately approaching the Master of the house. “‘Scuse me honey, but maybe you can help a lady out, I’m lookin’ for news of strange goin’s on down here, maybe somethin’ bout a fight that might be found…?”
The man just gawks at her slightly for a moment, taken aback by her sudden approach. Impatient and pissed the hell off, she tries again.
“Maybe you didn’t hear me,” she says, an edge of agitation in her voice. Unslinging her Harpoon and putting the pommel on the ground, she asked again. “I said I’m lookin’ for a fight of some kind, someone doin’ things they shouldn’t be, what needs ta be stopped, or perhaps just a made match; You wouldn’t know anythin’ ‘bout that, would you darlin’?”
The man was too afraid to say anything at this point. Apparently more learned of things than Auxi’d given him credit for, the man recognized an Artifact when he saw one, and he knew what that meant… He was staring at an Essence User. The guards approached tentatively, asking her to leave, and rolling her eyes, seeing she wasn’t getting anywhere, she did. Finding another empty alley, she changed back into his usual self, and changed back into his regular clothes, going around the town simply looking for rumors of any strange happenings.
After some wandering, she happened across an interesting sight indeed. Volya, stumbling out of a bar, drunk as a skunk once again. He stumbled out, muttering curses about Grei leaving him, and now Joccara too. Auxi asked if he’d heard about anything strange going on in the Undercity, and he drunkenly mumbled some nonsense before complaining about Joccara more. Auxi informed him she was back, and proceeded to go find more rumors.
He was pointed towards an explosives maker, something about bombs made of hair clippings and shaving creme or some such, but she’d been disinterested in his story. Something about rats that repair objects left on their ‘Shelves,’ the streets, and him ‘stealing the objects back from their shelves, angering them.’ He left, becoming more and more frustrated with the situation at hand, but on his way back…
He stumbled across Volya again. Naturally, he’d passed out in the street outside the bar… Or so it seemed at first…
Cuts, tiny cuts, were all over his body, and on closer examination, using his impressively sharp senses, Auxi could see that it almost looked like they had come… From the inside?
“What the hell?” He leaned down over Volyas body. His hair was straighter, having lost some of its natural curl. His skin was pale and clammy. Auxi slapped his face lightly, “Hey, Volya… Volya! VOLYA!” No response, but Auxi saw something new now, something only he would see… His body, Volya’s entire body, was twitching lightly. He was moving, no breathing, no pulse, tiny cuts that came from the INSIDE…
“What the hell is goin’ on?!”
Shuku leaned in and opened Volya’s eyes, Auxi realized to see if his pupils would react to light. When his eyes opened however, there were no pupils with which to react. That’s when the smell suddenly hit him. He didn’t realize how he hadn’t noticed it before. It smelled dirty… Like, decay… And a hint of… Gravedirt.
Auxi leaned in and slung Volya over his shoulder, finding a more mundane exit from the Undercity by asking around. He made a trek towards the outskirts of Chiaroscuro once more, Volya and Shuku in tow. He’d finally found the leverage by which to have words with Joccara. She’d chided him about responsibility and such, but she had taken Volya under her wing, her employ. And now he was… Changing. Because she’d not kept her eye on him like she probably
knew she should’ve. And who knows what else she can do, she might’ve done something to inadvertently cause this; Auxi had seen her completely change identities once, who’s to say she couldn’t affect identity to do it?
They would have words at last.
“JOCARRA,” Auxi bellowed. His rage became him once more, and he approached the group. Dropping Volya at their feet, he named him as a key example of Joccara’s own failure to be responsible. Truth be told however, in his rage, he didn’t think through his arguments, and floundered for traction with her.
Remarkably, though, he found some, despite this. As Tree coyly threatened to kill Volya and end the problem, and Auxi found himself on the verge of making the incredibly poor decision to engage him, Joccara rested a hand on his shoulder. She ceded the point to him. Auxi felt it clear that she’d no reason to do this, at least not one he’d prompted; He’d felt his arguments lacked direction. Still, she gave in. She was trying to calm him.
It worked. Her concern for his well-being, his very pride, let her swallow her own, and Auxi felt his mind clear. He was still upset, but his mistrust and anger no longer defined him. He’d still want to understand her better, but Joccara had yet again shown a level of unconditional caring that Auxi couldn’t help but respect. He begrudgingly reeled himself in, and finding himself somewhat tired from the experience, quieted and retreated into himself once more, his natural introversion taking hold and forcing him to consider some things about himself in quiet introspection; And he disliked that.
After accruing some information about what happened from Shuku, Joccara put her mind to work and a plan into motion, and the five headed into the Undercity. Arriving in the same slum area where Auxi had found Volya previously, they approached a bar, and with a little help to make herself look not quite so high-borne, they set a plan into motion; To draw out bait for the masked man Shuku had seen, and in doing so draw out the masked man as well. They played their game well, Auxi nearly coming to blows with the individual Joccara had picked as her mark, but both leaving the scene before things could escalate, leaving the man feeling quite small in the face of Auxi, and Joccara’s rebuff of him. Hopefully, the stage would be set. Now, they only had to wait.