Private Tales Scorched Earth

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Raigryn Vayd

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What started off as a test of balance became stamina draining work. They had to keep moving upwards and as strength was sapped it became harder for them to keep out of the water.

Several of them were wet through when the terrain levelled out. A small waterfall and pool seemed to be the end of the route. Nervous that the girl that joined them would sprint through over the last stretch they kept up the pace, jostling for position.

The shield, it turned out, was waiting for the.. It was leaning against a rock. It was battered and covered in dents. On top of that rock was a pile of coins, some lumps of ore and a small length of metal chain.
 
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Fife

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The climb got harder and the kids ahead of her started feeling the pressure of her constant presence behind them. There wasn’t a chance at her beating the ones in the front, having never traversed these rocks before, but the ones at the tail end hardly kept in front of her. Hanging onto the rocks and waiting for them to get their asses up and out of her way made the going that much more challenging.

Her hands and feet were slippery and cold. Her body ached and it was painfully apparent that the most workout she had had for a while was on back. Chagrined, Fife only slipped a few times and managed to keep herself out of the water. Mostly. As her shoulders began to burn and her digits were all raw, her patience grew thin and she only had to shove one kid from falling back on top of her.

There was a specific kind of relief to making it to the level water of the pool above. Fife swiped her hair out of her face and hung back to finally have a look at this shield.

And it was just a shield patiently waiting. Fife didn’t know why she'd still expected something else, but her earlier assumption had been correct. The task was self-explanatory. Nevertheless, she brought up the tail of the group and looked expectantly at the older girls to await instruction.
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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The order used all kind of magic to carry out their contracts, but there was one kind common among them. Learning the ability to manipulate metal with magic was difficult.

Iron was particularly resistent to the chaotic nature of magic. Their spells stretched from drawing something as small as a coin to the hand, to using the chains as Fife has seen before, and even to the contractual magic they etched into steel coins.

"You, pick up the shield and cover yourself."

Fife was 'you' to the two trainers for now. It was clear what was coming now. The others lined up in the order they had reached the edge of the stream. They were weighing up which objects they were going to try and throw at the shield.
 
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Fife

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She nodded. Right again. Hold a shield and take a walloping. She immediately recalled her lessons with Raigryn, testing her Avarice planes. It made her stomach twist, her breath shallow and heavy. The namelessness, the unpleasant tasks that were surely only just beginning, the competitive environment she was going to have to make her way in -- these didn’t bother her. Recalling a man's reassuring smile did.

As soon as the thought came, she chased it away. Now wasn't a good time to be getting sentimental, but it shored up her resolve.

Taking a deep breath, Fife marched over to the shield and hoisted it up. It was heavy, her thin little arms through the enarmes. Not any larger than the children who would be throwing rocks at her, it more or less covered her. Enough of her, at least. She was ready to get this over with.
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"What do you want?"

Raigryn looked up at Lawrence, seemingly confused by the question. He grasped at the heart of his desire but it kept flitting out of reach.

"Fife..." He said finally. "I want to talk to Fife."

"Not today, maybe tomorrow."

"Tomorrow..." Raigryn replied, trailing off. He looked back down at his own boots and fell silent. Lawrence carefully closed the door.

"Make sure he eats," Lawrence told the guard. "It is working, but it works too well. If he loses the will to do anything at all inform me. We may need to force feed him and reduce the dose if that happens."



"Poor, Sheylan step aside."

The coin had bounced off Fife's shield but it barely made a sound.

The next boy stepped up and placed a rough chunk of ore in the palm of his hand. It did nothing for three whole seconds and then shot out with enough velocity to send a shock right to Fife's shoulders.
 
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Fife

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The only surprise was that they weren’t throwing them, instead using magic to fling them forward to turn simple rocks and coins into far more dangerous projectiles. Fife ventured to peer over the rim of her shield, watching the girl send the coin with a small jump of surprise. After that there was no more mystery.

And, seeing the boy with the ore, she wisely ducked back behind cover. When his hit, it rattled the whole shield. Her shoulder was still vibrating as the next kid stepped up.

One day of punishment to learn the ropes, she reminded herself as she curled her hand around the worn leather loop. Tomorrow would be different. She could handle a numb arm, but she couldn’t handle looking stupid to children.
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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The training went on in this way for some time. Eventually Sheylan failed so miserably that she had to take the shield from Fife.

The instructors had Fife sit on the side and observe. Occasionally they would explain to her what the trainees were doing or why they failed. Apparently to manipulate metal one had to be just as stubborn as the material itself.

Those using chains soon swapped to metal ore, and those who had started on coins soon lost focus and had to step away.

"That is enough now. You will be glad to know we have found a way to repeat your rope training out here," called an instructor.

They did not seem glad.

"Take Fife to your dormitories and get lunch. We will collect you."
 
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Fife

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She was eventually spared the task of holding the shield, but she was not added to the others to participate. Instead, Fife was afforded a chance to observe and learn. Their instructors did not say much, but they gave her enough to understand what was happening and what she would most likely be expected to do in the future.

Fife watched, but she felt a shred of uncertainty creeping in. She had not ever done magic that was not Empathy. Was this something everyone could learn, or had they picked these kids because they had the natural potential for it? There was surely more to it than sheer stubbornness. Was she going to be expected to do the same?

Unable to ask her questions, she simply watched. The lesson came to an end with the allusion to some other lesson. They didn’t look excited, so it was safe to assume she wouldn’t be.

A few days ago, the promise of food would have been a welcome reprieve. Today, it settled like one of those lumps of ore in the pit of her stomach. She wasn’t hungry. She especially didn’t like the sound of dormitories. It had been years since she had slept near another person that wasn’t Raigryn.

Another pang twisted in her chest. Fife swallowed it back and silently followed the teens.
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Dormitory was an exaggeration. A long cave had two alchemical, smokeless lamps fixed to the walls and eight single beds set down. They had not been separated by gender.

"That one is free," one of the oldest of the group said to her, pointing to the one closest to the entrance. Apparently it was the position none of them wanted.

They didn't head straight for food, instead taking the time to strike up some conversations amongst themselves perched on their beds. The main topic of conversation was the dragon that had fallen into the city, shattering Elbion itself.
 
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Fife

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The room they arrived at was, more or less, a dormitory. Fife filed in with a glance back through the door. Standing just inside the door and taking stock of the place, she looked uncertain. But her eyes traced the walls, noted who sat where, and the place that had been designated for her. At least she could presume the bed by the door was hers.

Wise enough not to squander a spot of rest, she sat down to wait until the gaggle of teens decided to move on to wherever lunch was. Her ears were alert, but she loosely laced her fingers in her lap and stared down at her feet. It wasn’t like she could talk to them; Fife was well adjusted to being excluded by default. She listened to them prattle away, their voices giving her something better to think on than the ugly subjects turning in her mind like a maypole dance.

Anything else was better.

It wasn’t the worst thing to listen to. From the sound of it, some of them had been there when the dragon had been defeated and the city had been shattered and set adrift on magic. If it did her nothing else, their conversation was stirring up a myriad of emotions.

Fife realized then and there that being housed with this lot could be a blessing in disguise. Teenagers. They were going to be a veritable font for her brand of magic.
 

Raigryn Vayd

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They went to lunch within the space of half an hour. Just one question was thrown in Fife's direction: did that fine sword belong to her?

It was actually posed in quite a friendly manner. Even if they had all decided to absolutely despise, which they hadn't yet, they wouldn't give such information away.

What they didn't do was give anything away about the rope training. Still unsure if they were supposed to be competing with Fife, they avoided the subject entirely.

Lunch would be buried before they were collected and led deeper into the rocks. Until there was no light other than the lamps they were told to carry.
 
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Fife

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They only asked one thing: was the sword hers? Fife felt the twining of pride and sorrow. Her hand idly touched the belt across her chest. She nodded yes, but could offer nothing more. Thankfully her answer seemed to suffice and their interests returned to their own conversations.

They walked to lunch -- an affair as simple as she had expected it to be. She sat aside, still half listening to their gossip because it was better than dwelling in her own mind. She also took the opportunity to begin replenishing her Aspects. A little here or there from the smattering of people present; Fife was careful not to take too much from any one person. It would be a slow process, but one she had practiced often with Raigryn.

Lunch was brief and the older girls soon returned to collect them. As before, Fife kept herself comfortably behind the others, allowing them to lead the way by example.

Fife had never been particularly fond of underground spaces. She couldn't shake the itching discomfort of imagined dirt in her collar, the phantom scent of rot mingling with the earthy smells. She glanced around through the darkness as if the werewolf was waiting here as it had been in the Indretar caves.

All thoughts she summarily buried as she tried to focus on the present.
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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In the silence the sounds ahead of them were easy to pick out.

Plink, plink, plink.

The corridor flattened out and then widened into a much larger chamber. The lights would just reach the daggers hanging from the ceiling above. Stalactite formations covering the entire surface of the ceiling above. The drops fell from the sharp tips, the source of the sound that had greeted them on the way down.

The quality of that sound revealed the underground lake long before their lamplights touched to surface.

Ropework apparently referred to a single taut rope that ran from one end of the cave to the other. Some unfortunate soul had dragged some hay bails down and placed them around the dry ground.

"Other side and back, two knives from the rope."

There was a collective sigh. Especially give the temperature everyone expected of the water. Walking a rope was hard work. Throwing knives from one even harder. Someone was going in.

"Fife, come here."

As the others began one of the instructors took her aside to show her how to fling the weighted knives.
 
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Fife

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Once again, the task at hand seemed fairly straightforward. She eyed the water, wondering how deep it was. In the event that she failed, she would be getting a secondary lesson in swimming. Not exactly a lesson she wanted to have in the chilly cavern air.

Fife was pulled aside and given separate instruction on throwing the knives. Already familiar with blades and always a good student (even here), she took to it quickly. The irony was not lost on her that she had wanted to leave Indretar to avoid being trained like this, yet here she was. Except this time, Raigryn wouldn’t be waiting for her in a tent that felt like home.

There was some catharsis in the weight of the knife leaving her hand and burying in one of the bales.
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Most of the group fell into the shallow water at least once during the practise. Keeping balance during a throw was an exceptionally difficult task. It made the walk up the slippery slope all the more miserable. They were a distinctly unhappy and sullen group on the way back.

They had time to practise whatever they pleased after that. Most of them headed outside. It was an opportunity to improve, not room for slacking. They ate well at dinner and only then did they retire and relax.

There were two spare beds in the room because once silence had fallen beyond that cave two of them shared. They were not particularly subtle about it either.

The cycle continued for a few days. All questions about seeing Raigryn were dismissed with excuses. The idemni had taught her to fight, but they wanted her to kill. Strikes that put an enemy down before they could fight. How to apply poison to a blade and remove it safely.

On the fourth morning she was woken early. Lawrence and two strangely dressed men at her bedside.

"We think we have found him."
 
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Fife

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Fife did her best. She still joined those in the shallows, soaked from the navel down. She was cold and damp all afternoon as a result. When they were afforded time in the afternoon to build their own skills, Fife followed the majority outside. They went about their independent exercises, and she did the same. She tailed a pair that went for a jog, her eyes sweeping around to spot the splotches of emotions that marked sentinels and guards around the complex. Though she had no one to spar with, she found comfort in going through the motions of her sword practice. Aretta's voice echoed in her head, level and firm.

She was dry by dinner. When the quiet finally settled around her, however, she had nothing left to distract her thoughts. Arms curled around her sword to be sure it was safe while she slept, she closed her eyes and pressed her face against the cool leather sheath. Pushing out everything else, Fife found the room she had built in her mind.

It was warm, familiar, safe. A breeze lifted the canvas ceiling as she drew a long, deep breath. She hadn't spent the time refining it, but she went through the motions of settling, balancing. She set her day's feelings on their pedestals and when she exhaled out again, she let it settle.

Fife slept little but worked hard. She rose early each morning, going out before lessons to work on her own. Empathy, the sword, running like she could outrun the anger and misery hanging around her like a haze -- every moment was crammed full. When their group lessons came, Fife abandoned her first day's observation and reservation. Most of her rivals were children; they were not difficult to outclass. She ran more. She gathered Aspects. She practiced throwing knives and swinging her sword.

She only asked Lawrence twice to see Raigryn. She laid in the dark building a mind palace to escape the pressing silence.

It had only been four days, but after the initial start of waking up, she was somewhat relieved to see Lawrence. Fife uncoiled, pulled on her boots, and strapped on her sword. While she could say nothing, she stood to follow and that voiced her eagerness well enough.
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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It was the reaction he was hoping for. That desire to step forwards was what he needed. The chance that she might leap before she looked. Some of the others might have been genuinely interested in getting the Empath contract tidied away, but he had further reaching goals.

A subtle type of magic, outlawed for decades across most of the human world. He wanted one of the last of its wielders under his command.

Raigryn had told him the ability was more hereditary than learned and that made Lawrence even more determined. It also explained why they had gone into hiding so quickly.

"Follow."

He led them to the chamber she had been brought to with Raigryn on their first day. He unwrapped a leather pouch of crossbow bolts.

"Coated with a paralysing oil. Do not cut yourself with the tips. If you can get close enough then you can make the shot, wait til they're down and then...finish the job."
 
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Fife

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They brought her to the same room as before. At least this time there were no extra guards. Still, Fife threw a backward glance at the other two as Lawrence unwrapped a parcel on the table.

He said it like it would be so easy. Though she didn't sit, she came to the table and carefully picked up one of the bolts. Paralysis wasn't going to stop an Empath's mind, but it was enough to give her an advantage if he was as good as they said he was.

Doubt flickered in the back of her mind. She set the thought aside and set down the bolt she had been inspecting. Fife pulled over the writing implements and sat down to write. A moment later, she turned it to Lawrence and laid down the quill.

Where is he?
 

Raigryn Vayd

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"A small village. If we ride hard we can make it by nightfall. Even then it might be too late. Normally he drains these places dry of all emotion, leaving behind unfeeling husks of people."

The man staying at the Horseshoe House was not an empath. Arrol Barr was another contract they had. A powerful mage, but his gambling problem had given him even more powerful enemies. Apparently he was taking his research to Vel Anir.

Something which had collected even more enemies. Enough to afford a Steel Coin in his name.
 
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Fife

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Today. They could make it there today. Fife felt a knot settle in her stomach like a fist. This was very abrupt. Four days of half-assed training surely hadn't been enough to prove she was more capable than she had first seemed. If anything, she had made a point to keep her personal practices more private. Or was it his proximity that had them willing to risk her failing?

She was full of questions she couldn't ask and didn't try. Regardless of his answers, she could finish this by the end of the night. She could see Raigrhn again. They could go.

It was on that hope she began to write again. Tell me details on the ride? Fife stood as he read it. She wasn't going to waste time -- not when so much was riding on her success.
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Lawrence explained away, even if much of it was fabrication on the long ride. A group of four other assassins had joined them. Some she would recognise from the group that had picked them up on the road.

He told Fife that the Empath had been seen practising his magic by a farmer outside the small village. On a travelled road, they had an informant there who updated them. He did not specify how.

He told Fife that the Empath had arrived at the local Inn and paid for three nights. It all led to one question as the approached the outskirts of the village with the sun kissing the horizon at their backs.

"We can wait beyond the village and ambush him on the road, but by then he might have drained the entire village. At least then we can choose the terms of how we try and bring him down."

Much as they had with Raigryn and Fife.

"Or we can try and catch him off guard in the village. Which would you go for? The first or the second?"
 
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Fife

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The detail that accompanied them was small, but she did recognize a few of them as those who had been present to take her and Raigryn into their custody. She had a passing thought to wonder if they were there to help or to keep an eye on her. It was quickly replaced by the rational consideration of their skills. They had the discipline to subdue their emotions in her presence -- an ability as sturdy as a shield against this brand of magic.

Fife soaked up the information he gave her. No detail could be too small. When it came time to make the call on how to proceed, however, she turned to look at Lawrence. Her momentary hesitation told her a lot more about herself that she had wanted to dwell on for a while. Shame aside, she spent a moment making up her mind.

Finally, she raised two fingers to indicate the second option: surprise. She preferred to be proactive, and there was no sense in changing that now. Especially when what little moral compass she had pointed her toward the option that spared lives.
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Lawrence gave a firm nod and they rod on through the outskirts. Her travels would make the layout fairly recognisable. As Raigryn had explained this small villages tended to grow up around a crossroad where a few inns would start up business.

The centre of the town had a three-story inn and large stables. Dark clouds had followed them on the road and there was the scent of rain on the air. Flickering light against the windows revealed a bright fire. There was a soft hubbub of a crowded bar.

"Would he be able to sense you as an Empath up close?" Lawrence asked, if only to continue the facade. "If not we'll go inside and look for him. Try not to draw attentions to your weapons."
 
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Fife

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The village was unremarkable from most others they had seen on their travels. An inn at a crossroads. A well. A crop of businesses and a stable and all the essentials to be a viable waypoint. Different yet familiar. By old habit, her eyes sought street and alley, mapping the layout of what she could see. Walls, building height, dead ends. She scanned the side of the inn, taking note of the structure, any ledges, its relation to other buildings and the street below.

Fife looked at Lawrence when he spoke. She paused, then shook her head, unable to provide anything more to elaborate. No. He wouldn't be able to detect her as long her mind was open and she refrained from the use of Empathy. Things she couldn't explain, but measures she prepared nonetheless. The Aspects she could use had been quickly replenished by the teens and other Steel Coin assassins; she was as ready as she could be.

She took a deep breath as they dismounted. She imagined her room, safe and hot and dry. The rumble of thunder and the bustling townsfolk hurrying about their business before the storm reminded her that she was far away from the desert oasis. Still, Fife found her calm center and swung down from the tall horse after them.
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Two of them took the horses to the stables. The others vanished into the night around the inn. They were keeping their distance whilst readying themselves for a fight.

Whilst the man they chased wasn't the deadly, out of control empath he had access to a range of deadly spells.

The first drops of rain pattered against Lawrence's leather coat right before they stepped inside. The brightest of the two moons slipped behind an even thicker bank of cloud, deepening the shadows.

The wall of warmth hit them before the sound of conversations. There were just four tables of people. Obvious locals near the bar, the man behind it leaning forwards to engage them in conversation in a familiar way. A table of travelling merchants, one guard at the table with his sword leaning against it. A pair of elves, sitting quietly near the window. The man they were after on his own, leaning over a bowl of stew.

Lawrence took it all in without even looking around as he made for the bar.

"Good timing," he said, as the barman prised himself from his conversation.

"Just started raining?"

"Indeed. I don't suppose you have any rooms left?" Lawrence asked.

"Just the one."

"Excellent, why don't you sit down dear," he said to Fife.

"Food and beer?"

"Please."
 
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