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    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...

    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...

    ((Continued from here.))

    Gustella, Eliona & Commander Filip Ryth



    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...



    Eventually, Ryth and the Astralian sisters arrive at the only source of noise within the embassy. They crouch outside of an open doorway that leads to a main gathering hall. Voices can be heard within. Ryth peeks around the door frame. Whatever confidence and courage he brought into this place seems to evaporate as he sees those within the large chamber.

    The meeting hall is big, meant to hold an assembly of dozens. Much of the furniture has been overturned. There are many runes and arcane symbols painted on the walls and floor. Ryth may not be an expert, but he can recognize enough to know these runes are a part of a spell that will allow one person to teleport into Dayena. The symbol of the Taroc Guild Master is worked into the runes. They're expecting LeCavalier to come to Astral. He'll arrive here in this chamber.

    Occupying the chamber is a gathering of well armed soldiers. Ryth doesn't recognize them. Their uniforms look Taroc, but the red has been replaced with black, and grey substitutes the gold. They wear a symbol on their right bicep, it's the symbol of Taroc inside of a red circle.

    Standing among this gathering of soldiers is Sebastian. The potential Guild Master wears a full suit of black platemail armor. The design of this armor looks almost Maginus, but with many modifications. Ryth guesses this is armor was scavenged off of a fallen Maginus Knight during the War. Over the decades someone has worked to restore and improve the mystical power of the armor. Whatever power the armor holds, added with Sebastian's inhuman strength and speed, makes this man nigh-invincible.

    Ryth immediately understands he is looking at an ambush point. Sebastian is here to kill LeCavalier. The other soldiers are here to slay any that accompanies the Guild Master. Ryth listens as Sebastian instructs the soldiers to position themselves around the room, and ready their weapons to open fire on any that might appear in the center of the chamber. Sebastian grips a Taroc Guild badge in his gauntlet sheathed hand. One of these runes must allow him to use that badge to contact the outside world. He'll call LeCavalier and lure him here.

    Ryth squints his eyes and focuses on the badge Sebastian holds. It's Verona's. Or maybe a copy of it. If LeCavalier thinks Sebastian is using Verona's badge he might think she's in danger. Alain will run right into this trap. Blind, stupid, and without an ounce of his combat sense to save him this time.

    Ryth looks around the room. He's running the calculations. There's no chance that he can take out all of these soldiers. Ryth also has to admit that he has no hope of surviving another fight with Sebastian. This is a hopeless situation, but Ryth needs to do something. He can't let them kill Alain.

    The old soldier remembers he is towing a couple civilians along with him. If he's going to do something stupid and sacrifice his life for a bastard that doesn't deserve it, he should cut these two women free, and send them far away from here. He turns around to see Gustella and Eliona standing with their hands held up. A trio of soldiers in black uniforms stand around the sisters. Storm pistols are aimed at the women and at Ryth.

    Any notions of battle plans evaporates from Ryth's mind. Civilians are now at risk. He has no choice. Ryth surrenders his gun to the nearest soldier and raises his hands. The soldiers take their captives into the meeting hall.

    Sebastian glares at Ryth as he is brought into the chamber.


    "You're not supposed to be here," Sebastian tells the older soldier.

  2. #2
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    Gustella, Eliona, Commander Filip Ryth & Sebastian Aether



    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...



    "No $#(%," Ryth retorts. "I'm supposed to be getting drunk in the only halfway decent bar in this city."

    "Your presence wasn't foretold," Sebastian tells Ryth. There's a great deal of frustration in his tone.

    "Sure, kid," Ryth dismissively tells Sebastian. He then looks to Gustella and Eliona. They're looking back at Ryth, unsure of who these people are or what is going on. "Listen, Sebastian, let these two go. They've got nothing to do with anything. Send them out of here."

    "Yes, let us go," Eliona agrees with Ryth.

    "Shut up," Sebastian snaps. He takes a moment to silently ponder this situation. Ryth recognizes his expression, Sebastian is working his way through all of the possible strategies. The older soldier knows he can't let him figure out all of the possible paths. He needs to try to force Sebastian down whatever avenue will keep Gustella and Eliona safe.

    "They don't know what's going on here," Ryth tells the other man. "Let them go. They're civilians. You have no reason to hurt them."

    "Oh, I have no intention of hurting them," Sebastian corrects Ryth. "There can't be any sign of Taroc soldiers killing any Astral citizens. No, only the Grimal can kill the Astralians."

    Ryth can't hide the surprise in his features. Sebastian knows the name 'Grimal'. He shouldn't know it. Only Ryth, LeCavalier, Olivia, and Doraen would know that name.

    "You summoned them here," Gustella completes the deductions that Ryth is still working his way through. "You're using them to get revenge, so that way Taroc can't be blamed. You're planning on getting away with murdering innocent civilians."

    "Silence, Astral whore," Sebastian snarls at the student. Since the massacre of Taroc troops, Sebastian has had no patience when dealing with people of Astral. If he could he would show these two women what the rage of Taroc is like, but he can't. If their plan is going to succeed there can't be any evidence of any Astral people being harmed by Taroc.

    "You can't talk to my sister that way," Eliona snaps right back, as she steps towards Sebastian. The dark uniformed soldiers raise their guns at this Astral woman, but she shows no reaction to the weapons being aimed at her.

    "Stop, you'll get yourself hurt," Ryth implores Eliona.

    "No, I won't get hurt," Eliona playfully reminds Ryth. "He just said they can't hurt me."

    There's a flash of violet light in Eliona's eyes. Ryth's brow furrows as he tries to puzzle out what this woman is up to.

    "What is the meaning of this?" Alain LeCavalier demands as he steps into the room. Following behind Alain are half a dozen armed Taroc soldiers. All eyes turn to look towards the Guild Master and his troops as they march their way towards Sebastian. All eyes except for Eliona and Ryth. They stare at each other, and share a smile with one another.

    "Take out the soldiers, I'll get Alain!" Sebastian shouts to his own troops as he draws his sword. He leaps into battle. The black uniformed troops turn to aim their weapons at the approaching soldiers.

    Ryth reaches out for the nearest man in black, and grabs him by the back of his tunic. Ryth lifts the man up off of the floor. He then slams the man onto the floor, while also taking his storm pistol away from him. Being slammed into the floor knocks the wind out of the soldier, and Ryth's boot smashing down on his head relieves him of consciousness. Ryth crouches down beside the dark soldier, and begins checking his belt pouches for anything useful.

    Gustella moves towards Eliona. Sebastian and his troops are too focused on Alain and the Taroc soldiers, and so the movements of their prisoners escape their notice. The younger sister has finally worked out what is going on, and she looks upon her sister with absolute amazement.

    Sebastian rushes at Alain, and swings his long sword at the Guild Master. The attack hits Alain, severing his head from his body. The head drops to the floor at Sebastian's feet. Sebastian's troops then open fire on the Taroc soldiers. Elemental bullets burst forth in the form of fire, lightning, ice, and shards of stone. The dark soldiers gun down all of the Taroc troops.

    Sebastian laughs in perfect triumph. At long last Alain LeCavalier is dead.

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    Gustella, Eliona, Commander Filip Ryth & Sebastian Aether



    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...



    "Hey, Sebastian, nice broom on your helmet," Alain's severed head says with a laugh. "Does the armor also come with a dustpan?"

    Sebastian steps away from the head. His features are warped by intense shock. This isn't Alain. The thought is confirmed as the Taroc troops, and both Alain's head and body evaporate in a cloud of violet colored mist.

    "An illusion!" Sebastian cries out as he turns around to look for his trio of prisoners. Instead he sees Ryth and the Astral women running out of the room, and an elementally charged grenade landing a few yards away from Sebastian and his soldiers. An instant later the grenade explodes, and the meeting chamber is filled up with the full fury of a tornado. All of the runes that would allow the real Alain LeCavalier to teleport to this place, as well as most of the room and those occupying it are caught in the full destructive force of the cyclone.

    Down several halls, Ryth and the sisters run. The embassy around them shakes and rumbles as a tornado rages within the center of the structure.


    "That was amazing!" Gustella cheers Eliona's plan to distract Sebastian and his soldiers. The older sister had been an expert weaver of illusions, and it seems her talents are still potent enough to save their lives.

    "Alright, ladies, let's get you two out of here," Ryth tells them, as he leads the way towards the main entrance of the embassy.

    "What?" Gustella asks. She's surprised that the man would want to get rid of them just as they're starting to prove their usefulness. "Shouldn't we stick together?"

    "If you stick with me you'll end up dead," Ryth warns them as they rush towards the main doors of the embassy. "I've gotta deal with Sebastian alone. He's doing the same thing Grimal did in the War. He's using the same spell. Or parts of spells. Grimal had his spell broken in half in some way. Part was inside of himself, giving him control of the monsters. The other half was hidden away in the place he attacked. I don't know why."

    "Deal with him?" Eliona asks as she pauses by the door leading out into the rain. "You hit him with a tornado bomb, or whatever that was. Isn't he dealt wi-"

    Eliona's question is lost as a nearby walls explodes and Sebastian bursts forth. Shattered brick and wood showers out over Ryth and the Astral women, knocking them back and out through the main doors. Eliona is stunned. Gustella rolls down the stairs and into the rain. Ryth smashes partway through a glass door, and finds himself momentarily stuck the mess of broken wood and glass shards.

    Sebastian storms up to Ryth, as the older soldier struggles to try to free himself and to draw his pistol. The armored man kicks Ryth in the side. Ryth and the door he's trapped in are knocked away by the kick and tumble down the stairs. The door shatters. Ryth is bleeding from so many cuts. He discovers his pistol is now in his hand. He raises the weapon and tries to aim it. Sebastian vanishes from the spot Ryth points his weapon to, and is suddenly standing beside the soldier. The armored man takes hold of the forearm of Ryth's gun hand. He squeezes the arm and with a loud snap he breaks Ryth's arm. Ryth cries out a pained string of curse words that don't quite achieve full coherency.

    Gustella rises to her feet. Sebastian's back is to her. She's meaningless to the man. Only hurting, and possibly killing Ryth matters to him. Gustella pulls out the chilly hatchet from the inside of her coat, and runs at the armored man. She swings her weapon and strikes Sebastian right in the armor plating between his neck and his shoulder. The point of impact explodes in a white-blue light and ice covers the man's shoulder, upper chest, neck, and part of his head.

    Sebastian yells in pain and annoyance as he releases Ryth's arm and stumbles away. He's tearing away at the ice that covers part of him, trying to free himself from the agonizing cold.

    Ryth falls to his knees. He's struggling to take the gun out of the hand of his broken arm. The hand stubbornly refuses to give up the weapon, and his other hand is starting to shake too much to be useful. The pain is nearly unbearable.

    Gustella reaches out to try to help the man up.


    "Gustella!" Eliona screams. The younger sister looks up to Eliona. Gustella sees absolute horror on her siblings face. Eliona isn't looking at Gustella, but right behind her. Gustella turns to see one of the Grimal beasts running by. A moment later Gustella is pulled away from Ryth by the unseen limbs of the sprinting cat-like creature. Gustella is pulled away with such force that the hatchet in her hands slips out of her grasp and clatters to the ground beside Ryth. She tries to scream out, but once captured by the beast she finds she can't make any noise.

    The beast sprints away. Its captured prey is carried in its wake.

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    Gustella, Eliona, Commander Filip Ryth & Sebastian Aether



    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...



    Eliona, recalling the warnings Ryth had shared with them, leaps down the embassy steps and runs after her sister and the beast that has captured her. As long as she can see Gustella and the beast her sister will be safe. She sprints with every bit of speed she can push out of her muscles. The monster is getting further and further ahead. Eliona tears at the clasp of her rain drenched cloak. The garment is discarded, it is only slowing her down.

    The Grimal bounds over dead vehicles and debris. It's slipping further and further away.

    Eliona stretches out a hand, and illusions of walls, people, and columns manifest in front of the fleeing monster. The beast leaps, swerves, and dodges these false obstacles. The illusions slow the Grimal only slightly. But it gives Eliona hope. All she needs to do is create something that will make this beast stop. If only-

    Another Grimal drops down from a roof and lands directly in front of Eliona. Something, or many something's, ensnares her. This new monster has captured her. She tries to shout and curse, but no sound comes out. These unseen limbs pull the woman towards the crystal sphere head of the creature.

    Eliona tries to look past her captor. Tries to see Gustella. She can't.

    Eliona reaches out with both of her hands, and a glacier manifests around the Grimal that holds her. The beast vanishes from the mass of ice, and appears half a dozen yards away. It felt cold, intense cold, but it didn't hurt like other kinds of cold. It felt off. Not right. And so the beast did not flee entirely back to its home realm.

    The illusion of the glacier wasn't enough to fully banish the monster, but it is enough to free Eliona. She reshapes the illusion of a glacier into a wall of snow and ice, which separates her from the Grimal.

    Eliona then continues her pursuit of her sister. She can't see Gustella or the Grimal anywhere. Eliona screams out her sister's name. Her power takes hold of her voice and sends it out like booming thunder. The city will hear her cries for Gustella.

    Then there's a scream in response. It's Gustella's voice. Eliona whips around, it's coming from behind a row of shops in the market she has run into. She speeds towards the sound. The screaming is gone now, but it was enough to let Eliona know where to go. She slips between the shops, and into the alley behind them.

    There in the dim alley stands the Grimal, fresh blood dripping from its spherical head. Blood of a fresh kill.

    Eliona falls to a dead stop. Her cries of anguish ring out to the city. Rain weeps from the skies, and thunder mournfully rumbles.

    Gustella was all she had left.

    The Grimal stalks towards this weeping woman. An easy kill.

    A savage roar rattles through the alley, and Ryth's entire body slams into the stalking Grimal. The beast lands hard onto the rain drenched gravel, Ryth is on top of it. He raises a steel hatchet high above him. He brings the weapon down into the hide of the monster. He's shouting at the thing. Cursing, yelling, raging. His face is twisted with hate and slaughter. His eyes blaze with a fury that was the last thing many Maginus soldiers saw moments before they were mercilessly killed.

    All Ryth knows is a clever Astral girl that only wanted to help her people was killed by this beast. This horrible monster that has no right to exist in this reality. It should not be, and Ryth hacks away at its bloodied carcass, seeking to destroy every part of it. He's covered in its greasy soot-colored blood and the foaming mess that its cut and broken bones, skin, and tissue is slowly melting away into.

    He'll kill this beast. He'll kill every beast in this city. He'll kill Sebastian. He'll kill Sebastian's men. He'll kill the Circle. They all die. Every one of them. He'll burn them, shoot them, cut them, stab them, beat them, choke them, drown them-

    Ryth is lifted out of the mess that was a Grimal, and hurled into the back wall of a shop. He bounces off of the wall and collapses onto the ground.

    Eliona had watched it all in horror. Ryth savagely murdering the beast, hacking away at its corpse, Sebastian walking up to the rage-lost soldier, picking him up, and tossing him away. This is a nightmare. A world of nightmares, populated by monsters. Monsters that look like monsters, and monsters that look like men. She feels ill. So ill it hurts. So overcome with misery, terror, and loss that she wants to shrivel up and die.

    Sebastian looks down at her. There's a hint of something in his red eyes. Pity? Remorse?

    Was there ever anything human in this dark armored monster?

    Eliona turns as she hears splashing down the alley. From both ends of the alley. She turns one way and then the other. There are dozens of Grimal beasts creeping down both ends of the alley. They're moving towards Eliona, Ryth, and Sebastian. Eliona feels a moment of panic, as she realizes that there's too many beasts to escape or fight. They're all dead.

    The moment of panic fades. Eliona accepts this fate. Her pain will be over soon, and these monstrous men of Taroc will be taken out of this world as well. This conflict of theirs will be removed from Astral.

    Several of the Grimals move to stand beside Sebastian, as if they were loyal pets and Sebastian is their master. Eliona stares at it. The Grimal's won't kill this man. They serve him. He somehow controls them. They only act because he allows it.

    He killed Gustella.

    Eliona now understands Ryth's rage. She understands wanting to eradicate every part of something from this reality.

    Ryth stirs. He had been stunned, but some part of his battered form refuses to give up so soon. His body can still take plenty of a beating, so why not be awake to take it. He rises onto his hands and knees, and looks around at Eliona, Sebastian, and the many Grimal beasts. Much of his anger was knocked out of him by the concussion that hitting a wall inflicted. Now his thoughts focus on Eliona. He needs to save her. Civilian. She's a civilian. Protect.

    Ryth lunges forward, he reaches out to take hold of something and tear it apart. His attempt is deflected when Sebastian backhands him and knocks Ryth to the ground.


    "Alain doesn't deserve this loyalty," Sebastian tells Ryth.

    "No, he doesn't," Ryth coughs. "But you definitely deserve to die..."

    Sebastian lifts up his foot and lowers if down onto Ryth's throat. Ryth takes hold of the other man's boot, and tried to lift it, but Sebastian is too strong to budge. He presses his foot down on Ryth's throat, choking the old soldier.

    Eliona rises from the alley. Her hands balled up into fists. Violet mists swirl around her hands. Flashes of white crackle violently within those purple clouds. Power that should bring deception and healing now desire only destruction and death.

    Eliona doesn't get a chance to strike, as she is suddenly seized by the unseen limbs of several Grimal beasts. They hold her and begins pulling her in many different directions. She screams out in pain, but once again the hold of the beasts silences her voice. It feels like they're going to tear her apart.

    And in these final moments, Eliona realizes she has finally lost her sanity, as she hears the crowing of a rooster. First the crowing, followed immediately after by that rooster, which is easily larger than a horse, leaps into the alley. The huge bird is saddled, with a bearded man riding on it.

    This is what madness is like. Eliona is sure of that.

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    Eliona, Commander Filip Ryth, Sebastian Aether & Doctor Doraen



    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...


    Doraen basically knew where he needed to go. Dayena.

    However, he couldn't teleport or use portals. Most mystically powered vehicles would also die at the city limits. No matter what method of travel he chose, Doraen would only get to just outside of the city.

    As a middle aged doctor with a limp, he knew he would need some other method of travelling through the city. He needed mobility, speed, and reliability.

    Of course he chose the giant rooster.

    Da'Jinn, fifteen years ago, Doraen won the creature from a magician. He and several magicians were drinking and gambling in an oasis. The doctor had a wondrous hand of cards. He was almost certain he would win the game, that is if he was remembering the rules of this Da'Jinn game correctly. If he won, he would get all sorts of forbidden treasures. If he lost, they would skin him alive and harvest his soul.

    Long story short, Doraen did remember the rules of the game correctly, but the magicians he played against were masterful cheaters. He lost that hand. Fortunately, he was able to cast a hex on the nearby campfire, which summoned some kind of magma imp. While the magma imp was setting fire to everything, Doraen began gunning the magicians down. There was a fight. Everyone died. Everything burned down. The oasis vanished. All was lost except Doraen and this giant rooster that had been the pet of one of the sorcerers.

    Now, Doraen rides atop the massive bird as it leaps into the middle of the alley. The rooster pecks at Sebastian's chest plate with the force of a mule's kick. The plate is dented in the middle and the armored man is knocked back into a pile of discarded wooden crates. The many Grimal scatter, as they have never encountered anything like a man riding atop a giant rooster before. They are understandably confused by this.

    Doraen does not give the beasts a chance to recover, as he reaches into his doctor's bag and recovers several bottles, which he throws at the Grimal. The bottles hit the beasts and floor, and explode in bursts of colors, rainbows, fire, and clouds. Doraen wasn't sure what potions he just threw at the creatures, but the effects hurts many of them, and sends the others scampering off.


    "What in all of the hells?!" Sebastian yells as he looks upon Doraen. Verona had told Sebastian stories about the old doctor, but he always assumed they were tall tales. Surely no one in all of Taroc could be as bizarre as the stories would have you believe. But now Sebastian is looking upon Doraen in all of the doctor's weird glory.

    Doraen remembers the armored man is still here, and tosses a few bottles his way. Sebastian draws his sword and swings at the bottles. The bottles break. A full sized octopus bursts out of one of the broken bottles. The other bottle breaks open into a song. Neither the octopus nor the song slows Sebastian down as he storms towards Doraen and his rooster.


    "I really should label those bottles," Doraen mutters.

    While Doraen digs through his bag, seeking another potion, Sebastian raises his sword. Before that sword can come down and slice through man and fowl, Ryth recovers his hatchet and swings it into Sebastian's chest plate. The blade strikes in the exact spot the rooster had dented the armor, and pierces through the weakened spot in the metal. The blow from the weapon, and the charge of elemental cold that bursts inside of the armor, knocks Sebastian back and onto his knees. Sebastian struggles with the agonizing cold that claims his torso. The freezing cold makes it nearly impossible to move or breath.

    Doraen looks around the alley, and notices that more and more Grimal are gathering around them. There are too many for a random series of potions to scare away.


    "Get on the rooster if you want to live!" Doraen shouts to Ryth and Eliona. Eliona isn't sure what to make of this. Should she listen to this obvious hallucination? Ryth grabs her arm and pulls her onto the back of the rooster, while he also climbs onto the massive animal.

    Doraen tugs on the rooster's reigns and whistles to the giant bird. The rooster immediately leaps up and flaps his massive wings, as if he was going to take flight and fly his passengers off to a land of safety and happiness. Sadly, roosters, even giant ones, cannot fly. Instead the leap and wing flapping only gets them onto the roof of a shop. Doraen steers the bird away from the alley. The bird hops from rooftop to rooftop.

    Gradually, Eliona starts to believe this might be real. She doesn't want it to be real. If it's real, Gustella is dead. Eliona looks to Ryth, who has slipped out of consciousness. She wraps her arms around him. He's trembling, and feels cold.


    "He's going into shock," she cries out to Doraen. The doctor looks down at Eliona and Ryth.

    "We need to get somewhere safe, so I can treat his wounds," Doraen tells her.

    "Home," Eliona mutters to this bizarre man. "My house will be safe enough."

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    Eliona, Commander Filip Ryth & Doctor Doraen



    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...


    After some directions, Doraen is able to get them to Eliona's mansion.

    The rooster is taken to the garden to rest. A sheet is placed over the bird. The darkness under the sheet tricks the bird into thinking it is night, and so the giant animal goes to sleep. Of course it does, it's night.

    Doraen and Eliona carry Ryth into the mansion. They set him down on the kitchen table. Many bottles and glasses have to be knocked out of the way to give Ryth enough space to lie down.

    As Doraen begins gathering the supplied he'll need to work out of his bag, Eliona sprints out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Doraen doesn't pay attention to her. His focus is on Ryth.

    Diagnostic runes are cast over Ryth. These floating symbols of colored light hover over various injuries. The color of each rune changes to indicate the severity of each injury. Doraen is able to fully diagnose Ryth's condition and wounds with a single glance. A plan is quickly made, and more healing supplies are taken out of the bag.

    Eliona returns with a blanket and much of her own healing supplies. She puts the blanket over Ryth, and adds her own supplies to Doraen's collection of healing implements that he has laid out on the table.

    Doraen gives the newly added supplies a curious looking over, before 'Hmmm'-ing and nodding in approval of their quality.

    Doraen and Eliona work together. They pool their resources and expertise and treat Ryth's wounds and heal him up as much as they possibly can. Eliona does not tap into the white light. She doesn't even think she can now. It's been too long. She's lost too much of herself.

    In fact, Eliona maintains the role of assistant for Doctor Doraen. She never did reach the status of a true healer. She dropped out of training before becoming an official healer of the white towers.

    However, her training is more than sufficient to aid the doctor in treating Ryth's many injuries. Broken bones are set. Cuts are cleaned and stitched. Pain is dulled. Life is preserved. Eventually, their work is done.

    Eliona is at the kitchen basin, washing the blood off of her hands, while Doraen packs away his healing supplies. Ryth is asleep on the table.


    "You studied at the White Towers?" Doraen asks. He recognizes the woman's skills in the healing arts from his own researches into the light of healing.

    "I did," Eliona replies sadly, distantly.

    "Do you possess the white light?"

    "Once,"

    "Ah," Doraen replies with a voice that mourns someone losing a gift he has coveted his whole life. "I'm sorry. I can't imagine- "

    "It's fine," Eliona accepts the man's attempt at sympathy. She then notices Doraen's attention focusing on the medallion she wears. She looks down at it.

    "It's- I was told it's Maginus," Eliona mutters. "A charm against the monsters. I don't think it works."

    "That's not Maginus," Doraen replies, as he takes hold of the charm and takes a closer look at it. "These runes are ancient Taroc. But it's an unfinished spell. See here where the runes end before the pattern can play out. It's half a spell."

    Eliona looks down at the face of the medallion. All she knows about it is what Gustella had told her. And Gustella only knew what the old woman had told her about it. Though, that old woman had lied about what the Grimal were. She was no doubt lying about the medallion.

    The old woman that sent Gustella back to Astral. Back with this half a spell. Back at the embassy, Ryth spoke of a half spell. He-


    "Skiing!" Ryth shouts out as he rises from the table. Both Doraen and Eliona are startled by the injured man's sudden recovery of consciousness. The healers look upon the solder. Doraen reaches for his old friend, takes him by the shoulders, and tries to get Ryth to lay down.

    "Skiing?" Eliona finally asks.

    Doraen gets Ryth to lie down again. Ryth mutters and whispers to Eliona,
    "Skiing. You Astrals have a ritual to make it snow, so you can ski."

    "Um- Okay?" Doraen replies, while preparing himself for dealing with whatever nonsense Ryth, under the influence of a head wound, might speak of.

    "Yes?" Eliona asks, unsure of why Ryth is talking about this. After a moment of uncertainty, a flash of understanding overtakes her features. "We could cast that ritual over the city. When it snows, the temperature will fall, and the Grimal will be driven away!"

    "Where do we get such a ritual?" Doraen, now understanding the idea, aks with great excitement.

    "I have a copy of it in my library," Eliona replies. "I was once quite the sorceress... I'll go get the book."

    Eliona retreats out of the kitchen and runs off to seek the book they need.

    Meanwhile, Doraen and Ryth are left alone. Suddenly, a great chasm can be felt between them. Doraen knows that Ryth has abandoned LeCavalier and Taroc. Ryth can sense the doctor knows more than Ryth wants to discuss. Doraen always seems to know too much.


    "What are you doing here, doc?" Ryth mutters.

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    Eliona, Commander Filip Ryth & Doctor Doraen



    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...


    "Zinna is the head of the Circle," Doraen sighs. Ryth looks towards his friend, but looks away as he feels the full impact of the statement. Zinna is Doraen's beloved grandmother. She's also the mightiest seer in Taroc history. "Islene brought Zinna to me. Zinna was dying. Something she saw in a vision was killing her. I managed to save her. While I was working, Islene confessed many things to me. She told me about this attack on Dayenna."

    "It's a trap for LeCavalier," Ryth whispers. He's still trying to process everything Doraen has told him. "I managed to blow up the access point that LeCavalier was meant to arrive in, but Sebastian could still have a way to contact him, and lure him here."

    "No, I'm jamming all Guild Badge communication," Doraen informs Ryth.

    Ryth nods in approval of Doraen's actions. The Guild badges would be useless to everyone except Sebastian, who could use his control over the Grimal to open a path to contact LeCavalier. Now even Sebastian is cut off from the outside world. If they can summon a snow storm over the city they can banish the Grimal and take away Sebastian's only advantage. Well, his only advantage besides super powers and magical armor.

    Ryth slides himself off of the table. He looks himself over, assessing how functional Doraen and Eliona's work has left him.


    "How long are you going to hide away from him?" Doraen reluctantly asks.

    "Hopefully, until the Grimal are all gone," Ryth mutters.

    "No, not Sebastian. How long are you going to hide from LeCavalier?"

    Ryth looks up at the doctor, trying to determine how much the other man knows.

    "I know everything," Doraen informs his friend. "I probably knew before LeCavalier and Nalia did. That's the thing about being able to see and predict so much about my patients, sometimes I can know too much."

    "You predicted this, and you did nothing?!" Ryth roars.

    "What could I do? Even I can't cure love."

    "Don't give me any of that sentimental $#*%!" Ryth growls as he takes hold of Doraen's coat and glares at the too calm doctor. "You should have stopped it!"

    "This Grimal trap can be stopped. It is a destined event, but one forged of the will and inginuity of a prophet. With strength, wisdom, and the aid of powers and destinies greater than ours we can break it.

    "LeCavalier's love is a destiny written by souls and stars. It was forged long before light shined in our universe, and it is of a will beyond mortal understanding. I could not stop it any more than you can stop the orbit of the moons in the sky."

    Ryth releases Doraen. He doesn't like the doctor's explanation, but deep down he knows he's probably right. Living in Taroc teaches one all about the many kinds of destinies that play out every day in the world around them. Some can be changed, others cannot.

    However, this doesn't mean Ryth has to like this. In fact, he knows he can't.


    "It's hypocricy," Ryth growls. "All of Lecavalier's talk about honor, oaths, and justice. But this entire time he's breaking laws and oaths and dishonoring everything he said he would protect."

    "He's only human," Doraen reminds Ryth.

    Ryth growls back, refusing to accept that Alain LeCavalier is human. However, he says nothing else. He can't, Ryth can hear footsteps from the stairs outside of the kitchen. He looks over to see Eliona returning. She holds a dusty, old tome in her hands. The book is open, and the woman is reading through the aged pages.

    "I found the ritual, but I don't have most of these components," Eliona informs the men, as she enters the room. She looks up from the book and notices Ryth is standing. For a moment she worries about the battered man being on his feet so soon, but he stands himself up a little straighter in order to show that he's strong enough to be up and about. She rewards him with a soft, appreciative smile, which doesn't last very long at all. She then turns her attention back to the ritual. "I've never had to cast weather magic before. I'm not sure if I can get this to work."

    Doraen approaches Eliona. His eyes are on the spell she has been reading. She holds out the book for the doctor to read the text. He scans the ritual's instructions.

    "I have a lot of this in my bag," Doraen says. "What I don't have, we should be able to substitute with other components. I'm sure I can perform this ritual."

    "Good," Ryth mutters as he checks his belt holster. To his great dissappointment and frustration he finds his storm pistol is missing. It, along with the hatchet, had been lost in battle. "You cast the ritual on the roof. I'll hold the ground floor, just in case Sebastian or his beasts find us."

    Ryth thinks of the hatchet, and the spirited young girl he had trusted it to. A girl lost to monsters. She was under his protection, and now she's dead.

    He looks up, wanting to seek out Eliona, wanting to apologize to the woman for failing her. Instead he sees an ivory handle of a storm pistol being held out to him. Ryth looks up from the offered weapon and at Doraen, the man holding out the gun.


    "I can't," Ryth tells Doraen, while shaking his head at the notion of taking the gun.

    "You need a gun," Doraen assures Ryth, while holding the handle of the weapon out even closer to Ryth. Reluctantly, Ryth takes the weapon. Doraen maintains his grasp on the gun, as if suddenly unsure if he truly wants to let it go. "Just give her back to me in one piece."

    Ryth smiles and nods. A silent promise passes between the two men. Doraen finally releases the pistol, and Ryth takes it. He opens the chamber, checking that the gun is fully loaded, and then holsters it. Doraen watches the pistol, as if observing his child being welcomed into the care of another for the first time. Both men are suddenly aware of Eliona staring at their odd behavior over a gun, and quickly and uncomfortably refocus on their assigned tasks.

    "I should start this ritual," Doraen says with a slight bow, before taking Eliona's spell book and retreating out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Ryth makes his way out of the kitchen and into the living room. He's studying the mansion, trying to get an idea of the layout and how to move through, or defend, this place.

    "Her?" Eliona asks as she follows Ryth. "His gun is a 'her'?"

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    Eliona, Commander Filip Ryth & Doctor Doraen



    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...


    "Betsy," Ryth awkwardly tries to explain. However, the name of the pistol only furthers Eliona's confusion. "Doraen named his gun when we first gave it to him in the War. He said it's an olden times tradition for warriors to name their weapons. Really, we all thought he was being a little crazy. He's still really protective of it. But it's the surest gun I've ever seen. Over twenty years of being dragged through the worst of it, and Betsy never failed him. Never jammed, or misfired."

    Ryth eventually decides his course of action. He begins sliding and overturning various pieces of furniture. He's positioning couches, chairs, and tables in front of the many doors of the ground level. With some effort he begins to hastily block and fortify any access point into the luxurious house. Eliona, realizing what the man is trying to do, immediately begins helping him to move the furniture.

    "It's not crazy," Eliona says, while trying to restore some seriousness to her features. "Gustella has done quite a bit of research on pre-War folklore and she- "

    Eliona's worlds fade from her mouth. It's as if her train of thought has impacted a wall she had hoped she could avoid. There's a moment of deep pain, then she struggles to recover.

    "She had done... research... She- " Eliona softly stammers. In all of the chaos since Doraen's timely arrival and the retreat back here, Eliona has not allowed herself to dwell on the loss of her sister.

    "I'm sorry," Ryth tells her. His tone is soft and full of pain, as if whatever aggressive shell he typically casts over every word has been shattered and shed away. He pauses his work to move furniture and looks to Eliona. "I shouldn't have brought the two of you with me. It's my fault."

    Eliona isn't looking at him. She's not entirely here.

    "There was no saving her," Eliona distantly replies. It's as if something deep inside were dragging her away from this rain-soaked world of monsters and warriors, and off to a place of true misery and pain. "Nothing could be done. No matter how hard I tried, she died anyway."

    "Don't blame yourself. You two were civilians, I was a fool to drag you along with me."

    Eliona shakes her head.

    "When we were young, just after the War, our parents travelled all over Rekōdo. They were merchants. Trading with every province. They brought us with. Showing us the wonders of our world.

    "One day, while in Taroc, we were in a market. 'Stella was looking at old story books. I was looking at antique jewelry... An old woman spoke to me. She- She told me I was destined for greatness. She said I would only achieve this greatness after the last of my family was laid to rest.

    "Then she was gone. Like she had never been there."

    Ryth's features fall. He sits against an overturned table and silently listens. He recognizes a prophesy as Eliona describes it to him. Having such a grim prophesy thrust upon someone is one of the truest tragedies to be found in Taroc. There's never an escape from it. It's as certain as the stars in the sky.

    "I didn't believe her," Eliona continues. "I was a young student of the White Towers. I was learning to use the power to heal anything. I wasn't going to fear some old woman's words. At the time I was well on my way to being the next Silvyan al'Vatar. I had nothing to fear of death. My light could cast it away.

    "My mother died in a flying cart accident. It was while I was at the Towers. There was nothing I could do.

    "I remembered what the old woman had told me. I realized that my ambition to become the next greatest healer of Astral had doomed my mother. If I continued down that path I would lose the rest of my family. So I quit. I abandoned healing.

    "My father couldn't stand it. He wanted his daughters to live up to their potential. Gustella had a love of legends and history, so he encouraged her to become a brilliant scholar. I had the white light, so he wanted me to become a healer. I appeased him by focusing myself on another avenue of study. I thought if I could apply myself towards illusion casting I could achieve mediocrity, and keep my father from believing I was a complete waste of potential.

    "It turns out I wasn't a mediocre illusionist. Without focusing so much of my energy on healing, I could easily develop my other abilities. In fact, my skills with the white light made it easier to instill some pseudo-life into my illusions. I was amazing.

    "My father died of a rare illness. Something from the wastes of Da'Jinn. I tried to heal him, but it had been too long since I used my light. I- I had missed so much of the training. I could do nothing to save him."

    Eliona wanders over to one of the few cabinets that Ryth had not used as a makeshift barricade. She recovers one of the many emptied bottle of wine from a shelf. She stares at the hollowed out vessel.

    "I gave up everything. No more study. No more learning. No more doing. I drank. I- I became everything outsiders think we Astralians are. A lustful pleasure-seeker that lives a half-life of sex and gluttony. I destroyed myself. I made myself into an idiot. A coward. An unreliable parasite that devoured my inheritance and offered nothing back to anyone.

    "Gustella was ashamed of me. She was right to be. I was horrible to her. She was so brilliant. Learning and discovering so much of history and culture. Of Taroc, and how it bled into our own society. She was discovering things that centuries of scholarly study had missed. I was so proud of her. I read all of her work. Listened to her every story. But- But I couldn't let her know about it. I couldn't say anything. I couldn't let her know how proud I was. I- I had to be the fool. The drunk nothing- I treated her like- I wasted our final years together, and now she'll never know- "

    Eliona can't speak. She trembles. Sad. Angry. Empty. She wants to scream and break the world open. To pull out the forces that have chained her to this cruel fate and make them suffer like she is. No, she wants to curl up and die. This isn't life. It's ashes. It's the cold empty air.

    Ryth is holding her. His arms wrap around her, and Eliona leans into him. Her head rests against his chest. A numbness overtakes Eliona. She wants to just fade away. Existence hurts too much.


    "It was a prophesy," Ryth whispers. He doesn't have anything to say that would fix this, so he reflexively lets the ways of Taroc flow from his lips. "You couldn't have stopped it any more than you can stop the orbit of the moons in the sky."

    Doraen's words. The moment he speaks them, Ryth knows they offer as little comfort to Eliona as they had offered to him.

    Eliona raises her head. There are no tears. Something is holding them back. There's a burning within her anguish scarred eyes. She locks her gaze onto Ryth's eyes.


    "To hell with the prophesy," Eliona whispers. "I don't want greatness. I want my family back. I can't live without them."

    "Sometimes the only way to live with someone's death is to make sure they didn't die for no reason," Ryth whispers back. They're Alain's words now. Perhaps something Harbin had once told Alain. "If they had to die for this 'greatness', are you going to use it for something they would have sacrificed themselves for?"

    Eliona falls silent. She wants to yell and argue against the man's words. To tell him there's nothing they should have died for, but she knows that's not true. Her sister and parents were good people. Noble people, who would have given up their lives to help others. To help Astral and Rekōdo.

    She slips out of Ryth's arms, and walks away from him. Is she still the prisoner of this fate, or has she now become the master of it? Is this much avoided 'greatness' hers to shape? Can she use it to honor those she lost, and do or build something in tribute to them?

    Eliona gazes out of a window, at the rained drenched world. And at the crystal-headed beast that stands outside of her home.

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    Eliona, Commander Filip Ryth & Doctor Doraen



    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...


    Eliona jumps back from the window, moments before the Grimal beast leaps through. The monster falls into the mansion, its form wavers and quakes as some unseen parts of it has been injured by the broken glass of the window. Eliona recalls these beasts cannot see glass and so they easily injure themselves leaping through windows they can't see.

    Eliona flees back to where Ryth stands. The old soldier draws the storm pistol called Betsy.


    "Go up to the roof and help protect Doraen, we need that ritual," Ryth growls at Eliona, while nudging her towards the stairs. Eliona turns and begins running up the stairs. She can hear more windows shattering, and the sound of a door being smashed in.

    There are many Grimal monsters assaulting the house. Sebastian might even be here. Eliona is struck with absolute terror as she speeds her way up the stairs. She reaches the second floor only to run into a Grimal waiting for her.

    She raises a hand and violet fire bursts forth. It's an illusion, but enough to send the beast leaping away. Eliona turns to try to make her way up to the stairs leading up to the roof, but halts when she sees two more beasts on the stairway. She turns about and runs away from the stairs. She'll need to find another way up.

    Eliona sprints into her bedroom, and slams her door shut. She pulls on a dresser with all of her might, and overturns it in front of the door. Soon she can hear the beast's outside smashing against the door, slowly beating it open.

    She pulls on her trio of full length mirrors and positions them so that they face the doors. She then imprints a purple charge of mystical energy into the mirrors. As the Grimal finally smash their way into the room, Eliona has slid out of her window, and is climbing up the ornate architecture and trying to make her way up to the roof.

    The three Grimal push their way past the wrecked door and overturned dresser. They enter the room and are immediately faced with nine other Grimal in the room. These newly arrived creatures stalk around the three originals, and mutter compliments on the appearance of the trio.

    These nine monsters are mirror imps, that emerged from the three full length mirrors in Eliona's bedroom. The mystical charge she infused into the mirrors has allowed for nine imps, in the shape of the monsters, to emerge. Now the real Grimal are faced with fabricated versions of themselves that make no sense to their otherworldly senses. The Grimal are confused, and unsure what to do with these beasts that are like them yet not like them.

    While her trio of attackers are delayed, Eliona climbs onto the roof. Cold rain pours down upon her. The roof of her family home is illuminated by the grey, clouded day and occasional flashes of terrible lightning. Eliona quickly sees Doraen, crouching in a triangle drawn onto the roof, and surrounded by five Grimals.

    Eliona charges at the five beasts. She cries out with her best savage roar, and ten duplicates of herself join in to create a chorus of foolishly brave women rushing towards certain death. The Grimal's turn to face the oncoming group of duplicate women. They begin to leap and pounce upon the attacking group. The unseen limbs of the beasts take hold of duplicates. Multiple versions of Eliona are captured and dragged off by these monsters, as they run off of the roof and down the walls of the home. Soon all of the Grimal are gone, taking all of the Elionas with them. The beasts have gone to feed on their captured prey.

    Doraen is left worrying that he has just witnessed the destruction of one of the better healing assistants he has ever had.


    "How is the ritual coming along?" Eliona asks as she becomes visible next to Doraen. Her sudden arrival sends the man jumping and scampering away. He raises his cane to strike at a ghost, but halts when he realizes that this is a very real and alive woman. "I turned invisible and let them take my illusions. That won't keep them distracted for long. How is the ritual going?"

    "It's almost finished," Doraen replies as he looks down upon the triangle that he's drawn onto the roof. The triangle is surrounded by ancient Astralian runes. There's a bottle of sacred spell components, and a few substituted components, mixed together. All that's left is reciting the words, and smashing the bottle.

    Both Doraen and Eliona turn their attention to the sound of an explosion and the front of the house blasting out onto the front lawn. Eliona rushes over to the edge of the roof and looks down. A bloodied and battered Ryth lies on the front lawn amidst wreckage. Eight Grimal corpses lie around him, frozen and fading away. Out from the blasted opened house, Sebastian walks out. Apparently, Sebastian and the now dead Grimals had been battling Ryth on the first floor of the mansion.

    Now a badly wounded Ryth is trying to pull himself up from the ground, as an uninjured Sebastian confidently approaches the older soldier.

    Eliona realizes that Ryth is going to die.

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    Eliona, Commander Filip Ryth, Sebastian Aether & Doctor Doraen



    The Province of Astral, Dayena City...


    Eliona turns to Doraen, who has pulled a knife out of his bag and looks ready to leap into action to save his old friend. Eliona places a hand on him, and Doraen is then enshrouded by an invisibility illusion.

    "Finish the ritual, or everyone in the city is dead," she whispers to the doctor. "The Grimal won't be able to see you. Do what needs to be done, and I'll go help Ryth."

    Without giving Doraen a chance to argue, Eliona leaps off of the roof. She falls through a cloud of purple vapor, which she summoned with partial substantiality, so that it slows her fall. She drops out of the clouds and lands behind Sebastian.

    The armored man turns to look at the landing woman. The Astralian woman. Besides illusions, she is no threat. His eyes blaze with red light. And two dozen Grimal beasts surround them.

    Eliona looks into the armored man's glowing eyes. She recalls Ryth speaking of the half a spell that is infused into the man that controls the monsters. Half a spell in the man controlling, and the other half hidden away in the place the Grimal beasts are summoned to.

    The medallion!

    Eliona doesn't get the chance to explore this revelation as one of the Grimal beasts lunges at her. Eliona is captured by its unseen limbs. The monster then rushes off and into the house, seeking a private place to feast upon its prey without any eyes seeing it.

    Ryth recovers enough to stagger back onto his feet. He lifts Betsey and aims. He fires a freezing bullet at the fleeing Grimal, but Sebastian catches the bullet in a gauntlet-covered hand. His own training allows him to will away the frozen charge of the elemental bullet. He then swings his fist around and backhands Ryth, sending the older man falling back onto the ground. Ryth struggles to get back up. He has to rise. Has to save Eliona. Has to-

    Sebastian slams his boot into Ryth's head, knocking the man down onto the ground. The world spins away from Ryth. He fights against it. He tries to get back up.

    Inside of the mansion, the muted Eliona is dragged off into the dining room. The unseen limbs shoves her onto the floor. The Grimal stands over her. A swirl begins to play across the surface of the once smooth crystal ball that makes up the monster's head. Eliona can feel the swirl inside of her bones. Warping the core of her being, stretching, and-

    The sound of smashing glass and a spray of orange juice greets Eliona back to reality as a bottle of orange juice is thrown into the spherical head of the Grimal. Both Eliona and the beast turn to see Hector, the faithful elderly servant of Eliona's family, return to the ruined mansion. He had been sent out this morning to bring back a bottle of orange juice, so that Eliona could treat herself to her favorite morning cocktail. Now the elderly man limps into the mansion. One of his arms is bleeding from a wound he suffered out in the monster infested city. His other hand holds a spear he recovered from a fallen legionnaire he found on his way back to the mansion.

    Eliona wants to cry out and tell the man, who has served her family for as long as she can remember, to run away and save himself, but her voice is still muted. She wants to warn him about the second Grimal that stalks behind him. But all she can do is look on in horror as the second beast lunges for Hector.

    Hector spins around, and with reflexed honed in the gladiator arena he fought on years before becoming a family servant, he swings the legionnaire's speak and slices out the belly of the lunging beast, while also sidestepping the Grimal's attack. A moment later, with more speed and grace than Eliona has ever seen the man utilize before, he twirls around again and hurls the bloody spear at the beast standing over Eliona. The spear strikes the crystal head, which shatters under the impact. instantly the beast and its broken head are gone.

    Eliona scrambles up off of the floor and onto her feet. She looks around. The two slain monsters are gone, and her elderly servant leans against a wall and holds his now aching back. Hector does have a bad back.


    "Sorry, I failed to bring you your orange juice, young ma'am," Hector breathlessly apologizes. Eliona rushes up to the man and hugs him. He raises his unbloodied arm and hugs her back. He grins as he is sure the woman is safe.

    Eliona's parents had hired him from the gladiator games so that he could pose as their family servant, but secretly protect their children from rivals of the family business. By the time the parents died, and the threat of business rivals passed away with them, Hector had come to care for the sisters. He was a part of their lives, and they were his life. So he stayed with them, and continued to play the part of servant.

    The reunion is cut short, as Eliona hears the sound of fighting outside. She remembers Ryth, and has to slip away from Hector.


    "Find somewhere to hide," she tells her guardian-servant, as she rushes back out of the mansion. Hector sighs, and tries to follow after her as best as his aching back will allow him to hobble.

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