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    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Default Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Introduction;
    I am currently playing this amazing campaign, Way of the Wicked by Fire Mountain Games, having started the adventure two years ago. I have always enjoyed writing journal's of our group's exploits, but this campaign really caught me off guard, it has to be my favourite so far. Kudos to Fire Mountain Games. If you haven't played this campaign, i'd highly recommend it.
    The journal contains MAJOR spoilers for the campaign, so if you plan on playing it, don't read passed the prologue.

    The journal is written through the eyes of my Pathfinder character, Willow Monteguard, an Unchained Rogue Knife Master. It follows her story, including i guess what you would call "side missions" of her own, delving into her backstory and personal development.
    I get a little more involved than most PF players, "obsessive" my DM likes to call it.

    Hopefully someone will get enjoyment out of these journals, my group and i certainly have.
    The writing gets better as the campaign carries on, so stick with me.

    Seriously though, the writing starts to get rad around Chapter 20. Give it a go.

    Any comments are welcome, it's nice to know people are actually reading my ramblings.
    - Mindy


    Book One - Knot of Thorns - Part One


    Prologue – Solecism
    Spoiler: Prologue - Solecism
    Show


    Motionless, she sat staring at the blackened oozing flesh on her arm. Bruises covered her stomach and chest, cuts and grazes covered her knees, but not a tear fell from her eyes. She watched as the skin around the wound on her wrist reddened and swelled. As the wound festered, she thought back over the past few years; she needed to know where she went wrong if she was to survive.

    Willow Monteguard was raised like any other girl from a noble house in Matharyn. The capital of Talingarde and it's famous Golden Bow, the single richest district in the city, an arc of luxurious manors covering the western edge of the broadest and deepest part of the River Danyth. Equally one of the higher ranking noble houses, the Monteguard's had their city manor in prime location, a large mansion almost three hundred feet wide on the highest point of the riverside. They were part of the infamous Forty Four, the Noble’s Elite of Matharyn. And to be part of the Forty Four was to be on the cusp of the Talirean social scene.
    The Monteguard line had been part of Matharyn since the origin of the Markadian reign. Generations had passed through the decades, becoming a staple in Talingarde's history. The current head of the house and Duke of Keldenryn, Bartley Cassidus Rebold Monteguard, was renowned for his abilities as a diplomat. His clever tongue and quick thinking had saved the region uncountable gold over the years. It was a trait that had evidently been passed on to his only daughter. Words flowed from her lips with ease and grace. Her eyes could read the lies others were telling without breaking face, controlled and calm she stayed, never giving away a thing.
    Willow learnt to curtsey on arrival, sway and glide as she walked, cover her mouth when she laughed. She read books about kings, studied lore about empires, wrote songs about history. As she matured, she learnt to soften her gaze and flutter her eyes when a potential suitor was looking. She learnt to act like a proper lady, always leaving her admirers wanting more, but never leaving so much to the imagination that she wandered from their mind.
    It was rumoured that Willow’s fair completion, slender graceful figure and pale red eyes were the result of distant generations of Elven blood mixed in the Monteguard line. Though such rumours were falsities, harshly dealt with and never spoken in polite society. Still, her beauty was renowned among the people of Matharyn, common and noble folk alike. Her long luscious black locks flowing down her back were the envy of every woman, and her crimson kissed full lips were the desire of every man.
    The townspeople spoke of her gracefulness, her kind aura and her angelic nature. The offers of suitors were in over-abundance; every noble ranking family in the Matharyn region would have been grateful to accept Willow into their family. At the ripe age of sixteen, it was the offer of the great House Talrish that was finally accepted by Willow’s father. The eldest son, Audric Edmond Talrish, was a fine suitor indeed. He served the Knights of the Alerion, the elite warriors of Talingarde, devout followers of the Shining Lord Mitra. A fine match they made, a stern faced noble knight and his sweet talking ever-graceful bride.
    Or so she would have you believe…
    As a child Willow studied history and religion. She was particularly taken with a certain prince of history. An entity of pride, contractual obligations and tyranny. Asmodeus – The Prince of Darkness. It was him that the Monteguard’s honoured and followed. They strived for his order, his freedom from chaos. But of course it was only behind closed doors. For the worship of such a god was heresy – and the Monteguard’s were no use to Asmodeus dead.
    Willow was taught power in hierarchy and order. She studied the way of Asmodeus rule. Every creature knowing its place, the weak always being ruled by the strong, the smart always outwitting the daft. What others called evil, was what she saw the natural order of the universe; water flows downhill, fire burns and the strong dominate the weak.
    The Monteguard's had worshipped their Infernal Lord since before the Taldorian vassal state of Talingarde was born. Their ancestors came across the great sea, playing their part in the gruelling war of conquest. In the time of Markadian I, all religions were worshipped and the Monteguard bloodline ran strong in their home country of Cheliax, where the Prince of Darkness ruled unrivalled.
    When Markadian IV came into power, The Zealot launched a war against the Asmodean faith. By fire and inquest, he sought to destroy every trace of Asmodeus from the land. Cassidus Edward Monteguard, Willow's Great Grandfather, had long held the title of Lieutenant General. He had played an instrumental part in the great conquest, earning him and his family special recompense. Cassidus and his family publicly renounced Asmodeus. They repented, begging forgiveness, embracing Mitra as their lord. Of course, they did not actually abandon the Prince of Darkness. They worshipped him behind closed doors, plotting and planning for his return.
    Every bit a child, Willow fostered a special connection with Asmodeus. Her parents would find her talking to him late at night as if he were in the room with her. She would tell them of him, his constant watchful eye, helping hand or warm embrace. At his command, she spent her younger years delighting in tricking people, convincingly lying and learning to manipulate them to her will.
    As an adult, she fulfilled her duties as a wife and put on the face to make her husband believe he was all she needed. But he would never be enough. No man could ever be enough. No man could rule her while she was their better, she knew her place, and it was certainly above them. She could never love someone she could manipulate to her every whim. If they were not smart enough to see through the manipulation, then they deserved to be used like tools to suit her needs.

    It was her strong connection to the Prince of Darkness that had her question her mother and father's devotion. As an early teen she would accuse them of their lack of faith, their laziness having taken over leaving them idle, fat and happy. She regarded them as undeserving of their power and status. As she grew, she learnt that some thoughts were better kept to herself. For she knew Asmodeus to be the Lord of Ambition, and she was most certainly ambitious. She was strong where her parents were weak, and their Lord had his own way of working these things out.

    “A way with words,” people would say of her gift – her ability to talk anyone into or out of anything. As young as fourteen, she had already begun work for her father as a lower transcriber in the Mayor’s office. It took only a few short years to talk her way up the ranks into the role of first administrator to the Mayor of Matharyn. It was from here, that Willow could weave her web of deception in the name of Asmodeus.
    As first administer she had access to most records and was responsible for sorting the priority list for the mayor’s charges each day. The mayor was an easy man to manipulate. All that Willow had to do was bat her pretty eyes while handing the him the contracts he was signing and his hand followed her lead while trying to slide around her waistline. While she was in the room, he had no time to pay attention to anything else. Fraud and extortion were simple play things to Willow; she would smile gracefully as people unknowingly signed away their money. Most of them would never realise how mislead they had been.
    But she had her sights set on something much bigger; The crown.
    King Markadian V of the House Darius was known for his charity. It was his “help the less fortunate” attitude that sparked the fire in Willow. It was his “help the less fortunate that refuse to do anything to help themselves”. The natural order of the world was that the strong rule the weak. They were weak for a reason. Willow craved real leadership. She craved the rule of a man who saw the world and its people for what they were – most of them inferior helpless sheep. She craved Asmodeus.
    It was this flame that put her into action. She knew that getting to the King himself would be perhaps beyond her reach for the moment, but a target she could surely reach was his beloved daughter Belinda. A benevolent kind girl, the apple of her father’s eye. No better way of disrupting the royal line than wiping out the only heir to the throne. She would work her way up to the king next. One by one she would wipe out every existing Markadian. Her own family were only a few steps from royalty. Nothing like a string of untraceable deaths to boost them up.

    A decent assassin was always someone Willow had respect for, a man who could separate himself from his emotion and get his job done. Willow had need of such a man, and she had just the one in mind. A man who had never failed a task set before him, with a stoic face to rival her own. He asked no questions. He sought the target and location, he accepted her money, and the job was done on time as agreed. He called himself Switch, and after five years of working together, he’d never divulged his real name. But he’d earned himself a special place in Willow’s mind. A man in constant observation, a man who chose each word wisely, a man who never revealed his cards. It was not very often Willow lost control of her emotions, but a man so hard to break, no batting eyes would sway - he was a man worth her time.

    It was only one night that brought about her downfall, she could see that now. Willow usually sent payment along with a hireling, dirty work and road running were certainly not to her status. Only, that night she decided to go herself. Her curiosity was piqued, she had to know if the man of mystery and stone cold looks had a weak point, and she had been unable to discern one yet.
    They met in an abandoned temple on the outskirts of town, a forgotten relic of the past and a place she had always felt safe. She wore a cape of black to cover herself and her ruby carved daggers that were strapped to her hips. She stalked into the temple only after she was certain she was not followed. Dropping her hood, she heard the faintest of breaths behind her and swiftly unsheathed her daggers as she span around. In a single moment, she came face to face with the ruggedly handsome masked assassin, his dagger resting at her throat. She smirked as he ran his eyes over her, not making any effort to disguise that he liked what he saw. As he met her eyes, he lowered his blade, gently tracing it down her chest before sheathing it. Willow fingered her dagger for a few moments more, before unfastening her cloak and taking up a perch on the nearby wall. As they stared in silence for a while, Willow considered the man. Tall, strong and built, but still lean and nimble. She noticed the scuffed boots with worn away soles, the tight fitting pants and shirt, even the soft material it was all made from. They would never hear him coming. He chuckled as she tried to study his face, the mask he wore covered any recognisable features, but his familiar laugh sent shivers down her spine. Attempting to hide her reaction, she began talking and turned on her usual charm. She found it oddly curious how easily the conversation flowed with him. They spoke of everything from fine arts to tight corsets; he held a twisted sense of humour that Willow certainly enjoyed.
    After an hour talking with the curiously evasive man, she said her farewell, tossing him the pouch of gold as she turned to leave. Before she had taken a step, his hands gripped her forearms, spinning her towards him. He thrust her backwards and pinned her against the wall. He crushed his lips to hers, crushing her further against the stone as he pushed his thigh between her legs. Willow was outraged at his audacity, but she couldn't restrain herself. So long, she had thought of this. So long she had denied him, denied herself. He had warned her that this day would come, and he had told her that when it did, she would be unable to ignore her desires any longer. She cursed her treacherous body as she ground herself down on his leg. She knew she should push him away, yet she was compelled to draw him closer. Every time they had met, she had managed to stay herself. This night was different. He seized her hands and forced them violently above her head, lifting her away from his leg and denying her all bar what he was willing to give. It was a move that fanned the fire within her; she had to gain control of him, she drew his lip into her mouth and bit down firmly. In a trice, he had her flipped around, face pressing into the sharp stonework of the wall. With a hand in her hair, he drew her head back, staring deep into her eyes. He stared into her soul as he took complete control of her – and all she could do was listen to her body and obey.

    It was a night of weakness, she had let herself become vulnerable, she had been made to feel a passion she had never felt for anyone but Asmodeus. It was a frightening thought.
    They never spoke of that night. After all, Willow was a married woman. The wife, the trophy, the pedestalled doll of a great noble Knight of Mitra. She could not be seen or connected with the scum of the streets; a man who killed for money. Switch accepted the contract on the Princess’ life. No queries, no objections, just a price and a wink as he left her dishevelled and exhausted on the temple’s stone floor.
    Willow had to admire the way he worked once under contract. He was smart, no bravado - quick and efficient, always believing in ending someone else’s life only through necessity, and through the fastest and most effective means. Willow had seen too many cases put through the Mayor’s desk, incompetent amateurs wasting time with painful prolonged revengeful deaths. Leaving enough time for the victim to escape, be found or saved, leaving only the imbecile who allowed his feelings to disrupt his task. Each time he had completed a contract for her, Switch kept his mind on the job and got it done. Over the years he had completed a few for her. No one as high ranking as the Princess of course, but a merchant chewing into her profits, or a politician looking to jeopardise her convenient position. He was always efficient and successful. She had no doubt he would be again, for the exorbitant measure of gold she was paying, there was indeed no doubt.

    As the daughter of a Duke, Willow was always invited to soirées the Princess hosted, and like every other year she would be bidden to the Royal Gala on the Vernal Equinox. If planned meticulously, she believed it would be the perfect chance to lace the Princess’ wine glass with a little amber lotus lowder. A swift death, leaving no trace of lingering poison.
    Willow was incredibly gifted at bribes and blackmail and took particular pride in the way she could bend people’s will to suit her needs. A few well-placed coins to the palace kitchen staff; one would leave the potato sack in the way of the storeroom door while the stew was on, another would leave the window ajar so the Princess’ favourite pie could cool on the sill, one would spill a bucket of water across the brick walk to the kitchen stores just as the rear western guards were changing watch.

    It was the night before the soirée when the guards kicked Willow’s door in. They came bursting through, led by her husband and another of the knights. Before she could speak, she was thrown to the floor, restrained and gagged.
    “High Treason!” they kept barking.
    Willow kept her calm as she was dragged out in chains, staring into the eyes of hatred, her husband with his stone cold face tinted with betrayal. When they brought her before the magistrate, she stood silently listening to the testimony of the manor staff, what they had been paid for small mundane tasks all amounting to a clear path for the would-be assassin. The same assassin who had turned her in, who had anonymously been blackmailing her husband with the evidence of Willow’s guilt. The same husband who could no longer protect a woman, an apparent faithful, loving wife, who would sleep with another man. She knew not what betrayal had iced over his heart. For when he looked to her, she did not see outrage or anger at her high treason. She saw a broken heart, a lover scorned.
    It was a fairly short hearing; for there was no doubt that Willow was guilty. She did not protest; she did not try to claim her innocence. In fact, she said nothing. There was nothing she could say. She had lost all she had worked for, and she knew why. This was the natural order of the universe. The strong rule the weak and those too weak will be taken advantage of by those strong enough to do it. She had been weak, but she had learnt a harsh valuable lesson. She would not be weak again. She would not be inferior.
    She was hauled into Branderscar Prison and thrown onto the cold stone floor. They pinned her down and pushed a searing hot brand into her arm. She felt the skin split, melt and burn away, but she did not move or whimper. She would not grant them the satisfaction. Picked up by a firm rough grip around the newly scorched open flesh, two guards dragged her to her cell.

    Willow gazed into her blackened oozing arm. As the wound festered, she knew it would serve as a lifetime reminder. She would grow from this – Asmodeus demanded it.
    She closed her eyes and spoke to him; she would not beg forgiveness, for all he demanded was obedience, all he demanded was that she keep her place. And her place was with him, fighting for him. She was strong, she was meant to restore order to this world. She would not be the victim again.





    Chapter 1 – Escape from Branderscar
    Spoiler: Chapter 1 - Escape from Branderscar
    Show


    The smell of burnt flesh hung thick in the air, cold and stale musk lingered through the darkened cell. The throbbing of the bruises on Willow's side were what woke her, as she found herself dangling by the wrists chained to a wall. The wound on her wrist still tender, the crisp edges of the runic scar met with swollen red skin. Forsaken they said. Marked for eternity as scum, vermin, traitor. An abandoned soul.
    Chains clanked as the forsaken soul to her right tried to brute force her way out of her restraints. An abnormally strong looking female, with a face Willow could almost recognise, was pulling hard on her bonds trying to snap the chain away from the wall. Scoffing internally, Willow knew the Branderscar Prison chains would not be so simple to escape.
    Straining her eyes, she looked around the cell to find four other prisoners. The man to her left was tall and toned, he had red fiery eyes with one of those charming faces Willow would have enjoyed taunting back at court. On his left was a woman whose face had that slightly angular exotic shape, clearly not from the lands of Talingarde. At the end of the row was an older gentleman, his ashing hair and almost wrinkle-less face spoke of a privileged life.
    A loud clank to her right brought Willow's eyes around to see a reinforced cell, with a bulking beast of an ogre sleepily swaying side to side. Covered in wounds that had clearly not been tended to, the beast simply sat idle, looking groggy and drugged. The cells stank of blood and faeces, the filthy rags she was barely dressed in stuck to the wall, in places where it had obviously not been cleaned in a while – or ever.
    Willow wondered what kind of atrocities the other prisoners had committed to find themselves locked with her in the infamous Branderscar. For it was a place only for the heinous and unspeakable, those who commit great sins against the faith. Those who had betrayed the great and eternal love of Mitra and his chosen mortal vassals. Condemned, each of them faced at best a life of shackles and servitude in the nearby salt mines. Others would await the ministrations of the inquisitors so that co-conspirators may be revealed and confessions extracted. Or, like Willow herself, some would be spared that ordeal. She instead having been brought to Branderscar to face the final judgment. In three days, the executioner would arrive and the axe fell, or the pyre lit.
    For the Shining Lord repelled against villainy, cursed the damned and irredeemable, and his people fought tirelessly against the onslaught of darkness. Though Talingarde was in no such dire holy crusade. It was the most virtuous, peaceful, and noble nation upon the material plane. The land was ruled by King Markadian V called the Brave of House Darius. The benevolent monarchy was heavily intertwined with the Church of Mitra, the Shining Lord. Mitra, the god of the sun, of bravery and honor, justice and charity. The Church of Mitra was the preeminent religion of Talingarde. Willow knew it was not always this way. Before the Darians took over, Talingarde worshipped an entire pantheon of deities.
    Prominent among those deities was Asmodeus, Prince of Hell, Lord of Ambition and Order. Now though, it was forbidden to worship the Infernal Lord. To do so is to be condemned.
    As she hung by her wrists upon the wall, limbs aching in stiff and sore agony, she wondered if heresy lay among the crimes of the prisoners. She had never been revealed as a servant of darkness, she had been smart enough to keep no incriminating evidence within the manor that she shared with her husband. Though little good her precautions did for her now.

    Escape seemed hopeless. Willow had been thoroughly searched, though she had not tried to conceal anything. The manacles were clamped so tight her hands were beginning to swell, but even if she could somehow slip her bonds and fly out of the prison, where would she go? Who could she go to? She had brought shame to her family name, so much so that her mother and father had not bothered to show up to her trial. She had never truly made any real friends, only fake smiles and mutually beneficial allies. The only man who knew anything of who she truly was, was the very author of her current fate. Despised, alone and shackled – all that she could do is hang her head in humiliation.
    The sound the muscular female was making with her chains brought the attention of the guard to the door, and as he yelled a warning, Willow remained motionless. Once the door slammed shut, she inspected the restraints. Simple enough locks if she had her tools, but tight enough that even Willow's slender wrists could not slip through. Willow contemplated breaking her own wrist to get at least one hand free, but with three days until her scheduled execution, she decided to leave that as her last resort. She did not know where she would go, nor what she would do, but she knew she did not wish to die here at the hands of the Mitran inquisitors.

    An hour after she had woken from her restless slumber, the door flung open as the guards entered, led by their captain. The same captain who had laughed as he seared the brand into Willow's arm, who had explained to her in detail how it was going to feel being drawn and quartered. The thought of feeling her blade in his throat surged through her in venomous glee. The shadowed unlit room made sight difficult, but as the torch they carried came closer, Willow’s eyes squinted against the blinding light.
    “You there!” the captain grunted, “That’s the scum! Get ‘em unshackled. If any of you makes trouble, they’ll earn a thrashing! Today’s your lucky day, scum. You’ve got a visitor. How you ever warranted such a fine lady is beyond me. Seems she wants to say good-bye. Now step lively. We wouldn’t want to keep her waiting.”
    Willow frowned as the handsome man to her right was dragged away. An odd thing, to say the least. Willow had never heard of anyone in Branderscar being allowed visitors. Nor had she heard of anyone who would want to visit a soul condemned as forsaken.
    It was short while later that the prisoner with the charming face was dragged back into the cell and re-chained to the wall. A few filthy comments from the Captain, and the cell was locked shut. Two guards had been stationed outside their cage, and after a while they filled the dreary silence with drone conversation about card games and cheaters. Chains quietly clinking to her left had her looking over at the charming man, as a white veil draped from his hand.
    “It's a magic veil!” whispered the foreign woman, a thick lilt to her voice, "It has items sewn into it, try peeling it off!"
    As Willow’s eyes drifted over the veil and she saw the five pointed star of Asmodeus, her heart warmed. She knew she was not done in this life, she had a much bigger role to play and that she would do great things for him. She knew she was not forsaken, Asmodeus was there for her as she would always be for him. Seeing the lockpick embroidered into the veil cemented her will. The charming faced men offered them to her, and with a wicked smile she set to her own hand restraints. A swift and quiet click of the lock and she could rub her sore but free wrists. She decided the best course of action was to free the other prisoners, if not for help to escape, at least a mighty good distraction while she slinked off into the shadows. The charming looking man’s manacles were as quick and easy as her own, but as she reached for the brutish female's, her nervous fingers dripped with anxious sweat and the long end of the lockpick chinked to the floor. Willow whipped her hands above her head as quick as she could. Luckily, the guards only huffed, assuming the noise was a rat – clearly not expecting any possible way of escape. After a few minutes, and with her feet still retrained, Willow returned to her task of unlocking the chains. The older gentleman was too far away for her to reach, so he would have to wait until she was completely free herself.
    She watched the Asmodean star peel from the Veil and come to life. As it was passed to the butch looking lady, she considered the possibility of not doing this alone. Quiet as she could, Willow crept over to the side of the cell where the chains were attached to the wall. Deft hands made short work of the lock, as she quietly dragged the chains through the manacle attached to her ankle. Keeping a sharp ear for any pauses in the guard's conversation, she crept to the other side of the cell and unlocked the gentleman's restraints. With the five of them free, she heard the foreign lady whisper an incantation as the faint sound of battle came from beyond the prison cell. The guards seemed to weigh up the repercussions of not aiding their comrades against leaving the prisoners alone. After a curse, they followed the sounds, rushing out of the room. Willow sprang to the door, quick and swift it was unlocked and open.
    “What about the ogre?” said the butch female.
    Willow scoffed, “What about it?”
    “We can't just leave him here. He could help us escape. Or at least be a decent distraction.”
    Again, Willow smiled. Another distraction was always welcome. She ushered the manly woman into the ogre's cell, and carefully set about unlocking the massive manacles on his ankles. The ogre stirred, looking apprehensive and nervous, watching Willow work. The metal fell to the floor with a clank and she got out of the cage as quickly as she could, positioning herself behind the corner cell. Without her blades there was little she could do in a fight, she would have to bide her time and wait for an opportunity. Other items were stripped from the veil, including two daggers, which Willow eyed hungrily. The men were given one each and set about to prepare for an ambush. When the guards entered, conversationally discussing the odd sounds they heard, the prisoners attacked. Swift and precise, the handsome man plunged the blade through the guard’s eye. The other received a fair cut to the throat as he stumbled back, falling into the door and sliding to the floor clutching his neck. Willow pounced forward as the charming looking man tossed her a dagger. She caught it mid air and as the guard spluttered a warning, she cut off his sentence by embedding the dagger through his throat. An odd feeling it was. She didn't have much time to ponder, but she was surprised how remarkably easy it was to end a mans’ life. A sergent outside the door called out to his fellow guards as Willow stripped the bloodied uniform from the dead man.
    "All ok," barked the gentleman, "Just bloody rats!"
    “I’m Willow,” she whispered in introduction.
    With little to no modesty left after spending nights dressed in foul rags covered in her own waste, she stripped naked and put on the guard uniform, trying to wipe off as much of the filth as possible.
    “Pellius,” the handsome man replied.
    “Teelee,” said the foreign woman, eyebrows raised high and chin lifted.
    The brutish female scowled at the gentleman as he took the only other sword, leaving her with the small dagger.
    “Garvana,” she whispered to Willow.
    They looked towards the gentleman, who merely grunted, “You kids can call me Sir.”
    Willow almost laughed, her control keeping hold of her reaction. Even in their humiliating state, some men would always believe they were above all others.
    After the bodies were stripped of their belongings, the group set up another ambush. The ogre, who called himself Grumblejack, stood in front of the door while the old man called out to the guard in the next room. When the door opened, the guard was greeted by Grumblejack's fist. He was flung backward, tumbling into the seat behind him. As the prisoners swarmed into the room, his eyes wide in realisation that he was clearly out numbered and over powered. So he sat quietly, trembling slightly as he watched. While the others bickered about what to do with him, whether to kill him outright or whether to lock him away, Willow made the easy choice and approached him from behind and drove her dagger into the side of his neck.
    “He can't stop us if he's dead.”
    While some of the group looked shocked at her actions, Pellius gave her a disarming grin, one that lit his already handsome face. With a wink, she quickly began stripping the guard.
    The group of prisoners began discussing the plan to escape, when the old man suggested someone with quiet feet should scout ahead, looking to her expectantly. Willow raised her eyebrows in disbelief and disgust. If the old man thought she would be at his beck and call, he had another thing coming. He raised his eyebrows back and pointed his sword threateningly at her face while repeating his suggestion. Willow fingered her dagger while staring him down. She pictured with a different fate, if Pellius had not intervened. He pushed in between the two and batted away the old man's sword.
    “Forget this,” he said impatiently, “I'll go first.”
    Willow eyed the old man for a moment longer before brushing past to follow Pellius down the stairs. As she got to the bottom of the staircase she found him with his ear pressed to the door.
    “My lady,” he whispered, “May I ask you to listen, perhaps you can hear what I cannot?”
    Surprised and flattered, Willow obliged, pressing her own ear to the door. The sound of a crackling torch was all she could hear, as she was about to pull away she heard a distinct cough from the other side. She signalled the group and they prepared for attack. The old man, who clearly enjoyed his theatrics, played the part of a drunken musical guard. As the door opened, Willow plunged her dagger into the throat of the wide eyed guard while Pellius skewered him on his longsword. As over kill goes, ogres do it best; Grumblejack stepped forward and crushed the impaled man into the ground. Further down the hallway, a guard stood frozen in shock. A sickening terror flooded his face, the fear seeming to stunt his reaction. The prisoners surged forward and reached him before he could flee.
    “Do not move, do not speak,” Pellius warned.
    He quickly nodded and mumbled incoherently.
    As he sank to his knees, he spluttered, “Nobody can escape Branderscar prison, you'll never succeed.”
    Garvana smiled, a dark and ominous sight, “Asmodeus will show us the way.”
    The guard's skin drained of all colour, with wide eyes he breathed, “Mitra preserve me.”
    Willow lent down close to the guards’ ear and with a callous grin she whispered, “Mitra can not save you now...”
    As the guard let out a shriek and began to wail, she quickly slashed her dagger across his throat, cutting off the sound in a shower of blood.
    The group split up to search for supplies and any information to help them escape, and Willow found herself raiding the armoury and the office rooms. Within the stores, she found the cast iron brands used to mark prisoners as forsaken. Clutching it within her fingers, she smiled. She told herself she would not use it for vengeance; she would use it to send a message.
    While she was searched through the desk drawers of the office, she heard the old man fumble around with the door handle to the captain's room and clumsily knock the door open. As a signal horn sounded from the room, Willow clutched her dagger and sprang into action. She pounced into the room and slinked in behind the captain as Garvana shattered a bottle of oil over his shoulder. Instinctively, Willow grabbed a torch from the wall and bludgeoned him, setting the oil alight. The fire spread across his body quickly, as he screeched and wailed, crashing into the wall and falling to the floor in a heap. As his flesh turned charred and crisp, he struggled to roll in an effort to douse the fire. When his efforts seized, his figure slumped and still, Willow pulled free the brand from her belt. She held it over his flaming corpse until it glowed bright orange and pressed the mark into the centre of his forehead.
    "It would seem dear captain," Willow whispered, unhinged and wrathful, "That Mitra has forsaken you.”

    Coming from the hall Willow could hear the sound of swords clashing. She ran out of the room with her blade in hand, hitched up her uniform pants as she dove passed the guards with a forward flip and sideways roll, she sprang up and lodged her dagger into the top of the closest one’s spine. As the guard fell forward, she saw the others impaled or crushed. She could not help but be relieved that each of the prisoners seemed to have some fighting prowess. Pellius handled the sword with military efficiency, controlled strikes and defensive blocks. Garvana struck out with fierce stretch in each untamed blow. Even the old man pierced quick and true, a duelist style to his swing. Teelee held no blade, but appeared to have a small set of arcane spells she could perform, some of which had already proven their worth.
    Prowling through the long and winding hallways, they searched desperately for any sign of an exit. The stone brick walls were barely lit by torch, dirt and dust littering the floor. They continued through, passing empty cells in eery silence, only the sound of their own feet echoing through the chambers. When they opened the door to a side room, they sighed a breath of relief. A kitchen, filled with fresh vegetables and leftovers of previously prepared meals. A great oversize fireplace lay on the eastern side, a relic of the old castle that was before Branderscar. Shelves filled with plates, bowls and other cooking utensils lined the walls. Over the great flaming stove, Willow spied a sharp long meat cleaver, which she eyed thoughtfully before handing to Grumblejack.
    While they rested within the chamber for a moment, and feasted on the much needed food, Garvana ran out the front door yelling about a fantastic plan to lure the warden and the guards. With no more explanation, she was gone. It was only seconds later, multiple signal horns sounded. After scoffing and shaking her head, they crept out of the kitchen door. The courtyard of the castle was adorned by a small fountain, soft green moss coated the sculpted marble, a slight stale scent to the stagnant water. The centerpiece was a statue of the Mitran pantheon’s patron saint of law and order – Saint Dothan the Just. In his outstretched hand was a sword that pointed towards the great hall. At the base of his statue was an inscription that read, thus is justice done. As the prisoners crept passed the statue, they saw a great banner emblazoned with the emblem of Branderscar Prison.
    Sneaking around the back of the cell block, heading towards the warden's tower, the sound of guards yelling and dogs barking had Willow cursing. The thought of leaving Garvana and sacrificing her so the rest of the group could get away, was certainly a delicious temptation. But Willow could not ignore the fact that her possible allies in the world could be counted on one hand. With a sigh, she and the group charged around towards the fighting. When they rounded the corner, they saw her limping towards them, fifteen guards and two great hounds on her heels. Willow saw the warden, an elderly harsh looking man, commanding a sphere of flame and shooting wisping missiles of magic. The prisoners charged to meet their captors, cries of desperation calling across the courtyard, as steel and might clashed.
    One by one, the guards were cut down. Their blades and arrows had split open wounds and punctures in each of the prisoners, but after decades of slackening and complacency, the guards were poorly trained and unequipped to deal with the ferocity of desperate vengeance.
    Willow knew well that this standard of defence was not always so. When Branderscar was founded, it housed the most heinous of all criminals. The small bands of Asmodean cults were purged from the land like a stain on Mitra's glistening robe. They were hunted and captured, slaughtered and burnt at the stake. The prison once housed the ones they had managed to capture alive, holding them until the judgment of the pyre was ready to claim their souls. The walls of Branderscar were fabled to be filled with the strongest and mightiest warriors, protecting the fair people of the land from the vile villainy of Asmodeus. In recent times, the prison had fallen into disrepair. The guards grew lazy, their defence grew sloppy, their training severely lacking. No one ever escaped from Branderscar, no one ever would. It was a fact that was accepted and never questioned. Willow couldn't help but smile as each guard fell. The Talrien’s complacency was about to be their undoing.
    She had her sights on the warden. She took off at a run and with a forceful leap came down over him and hacked clumsily across the back off his neck. Blood showered across the yard as he collapsed to the ground. Willow stood over him, holding him down with her foot. The warden lay helpless on the ground clutching his neck, as the blood pooled from his body and his struggling grew to a still. He was just another sheep, she thought, another blind follower. This is how she would do it. She no longer needed words, all she needed was a blade. Looking down on the warden as the life drained slowly from his face, Willow leant close and positioned the blade to his skin. With one powerful jab, she thrust the dagger through his throat.

    They made their way up the winding spiral stairs of the wardens’ tower, they came across the hall of history. The entire floor was dedicated to the history of the, Castle Branding and the subsequent history that led the castle to become Branderscar Prison. It consisted of a series of mostly uninteresting plaques that tell of nobles and deeds so un-noteworthy that even Willow found her hunger for knowledge vanish. Only one of the tapestries held anything of interest, an old brocade tapestry that depicts Castle Branding being turned into a prison with the motto, marked with the foreboding words in celestial.
    “His judgment cometh,” Willow translated aloud, “And that right soon.”
    “You speak celestial, my lady?” Pellius enquired politely.
    “I speak a vast amount of things,” she smirked.
    His lip lifted into a grin, “Intriguing.”
    She looked to him, noting the strong line of his jaw, the harsh lift of his cheekbones.
    “You are not from Talingarde,” she observed, less of a question.
    “I am not, my lady,” came his smirked response.
    When he said nothing further, Willow merely chuckled, turning from the tapestry as they continued their search. The tower held little interest, nothing that would help them with their escape, so they returned to the courtyard under a hail of arrows from the walls. Willow ran to pick up a bow from the body of a fallen guard and began to fire back. Years of hunting trips with the Royal Court were finally proving of use. Although, Willow couldn't see much difference in the mindless creatures she would shoot then and the ones she was shooting now. As her arrows landed true, she saw Garvana struggling to even draw an arrow to her bow. As she fumbled and continuously dropped first her arrow followed by the quiver, flinging her bow string pointlessly, Willow couldn't stop the laugh that escaped. Another few failed attempts had the pair of them keeled over in deranged laughter.
    It had been a very long time since Willow had laughed like that. Neither her usual days at work in the mayor’s office, nor her social gatherings with the noble houses, ever yielded any actual fun. Her husband had never been a particularly funny man. Nor a fun or interesting one. Apart from his status, there wasn't anything Willow liked about him. If there was one good thing about having been caught, it was the memory of the look of horror on his face when he realised Willow was not the weak, pushover he believed she was.
    Loosing a quick volley of arrows, she smiled as she realised she’d never have to make love to him again. She often wondered how he had no clue that she was within her own world, wishful dreams of making love to her Infernal Lord. She would envision serving him; he would demand and she would obey. Every time, in the haze afterwards Willow always had trouble telling what had been real and what had been dreamed. She always felt the touch of Asmodeus, along with the cold dead weight of her husband. She snapped out of it and shook her head, drawing a final arrow a letting it fly free. It soared through the air and struck the last guard through the throat.
    When they regrouped, she wrapped the few coins, food and supplies she had gathered in a length of fabric and wound it to her side. With no idea what would come next, she faced the looming double doors keeping her from the outside world. Together, they pulled the wooden panels wide, darting through the torrent of arrows that came from the slits on each side of the wall. Quickly, the ran free over the threshold, greeted by the raging sea as it crashed into the road of rocks. Slowly walking along the jagged cliffs towards the gate, Willow found herself grinning. One wrong step would mean a very painful fall to her death, but she had always been nimble on her feet. Each step was like a weight being lifted from her shoulders, her second chance was becoming a reality. The sea breeze whipping her hair around, the salt smell clearing her nose and watering her eyes; it truly was a beautiful day. And freedom tasted damn good. As the group made it to the gate there were smiles all around, even the old man turned to Willow with a wicked grin of his own.
    He winked, “But, nobody escapes Branderscar Prison...”

    Upon reaching the outside, Pellius turned to the others, a frown upon his brow.
    “I was visited by a woman in white,” he began, “She said we possessed a mutual friend who would like to meet with us. The friend was unwilling to visit us in prison, and was the one who gave us the veil.”
    “Who is this friend?” Willow asked warily.
    “She would not say,” he replied, “Only that once we had escaped we were to cross the moors on the outskirts of town. On the old Moor Road she said we’d see a manor house with a single lantern burning in the second story. That is where he awaits our arrival.”
    “I do not like this,” Garvana said suspiciously.
    “What choice do we truly have?” Willow said plainly, “I do not have anywhere else to be, nor anywhere else I could go. If he wishes an audience, the least we can do is grant it. I shall take the man of mystery over the pyre any day…”

    With little to no other options, Willow was anxious to meet this mysterious benefactor. They trudged through the moors for hours, as quickly as their exhausted feet would take them. Finally, the mansion came into view. There it sat, foreboding and unwelcoming. A tall dark manor, with a single lit lantern in the second story window. There was nothing warm about the place, it felt like no refuge. But it was as close to a sanctuary as Willow was going to get.
    She had escaped, she was free. A faint hope lit within her heart. She was being given a chance to prove herself worthy to her Infernal Lord. She would seize it; she would earn her rightful place…

    Last edited by minderp; 2017-02-12 at 03:21 AM.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 2 – The Master
    Spoiler: Chapter 2 - The Master
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    The last gasp of sunlight sighed as dropped below the horizon, the shadow of dusk consuming the sky. The soggy marsh swelled water through the holes in her stolen boots, as Willow gazed towards the foreboding manor. She was exhausted and filthy, but free. Her bones ached as she trudged through the mud, the severe lack of sleep draining the last strength she had. With no clue what these mysterious benefactors wanted from her, and no other real options, she squared her shoulders and marched on. Some of the others seemed wary or scared, unsure what the future held for them, whether it better or worse than the confines or swift promise of death that Branderscar had offered. Grumblejack on the other hand, pushed ahead to the cast iron gate with no hesitation. As he swung the gate open with ease, the breeze whipped his hair aside and Willow would have sworn she noticed small horns protruding from his forehead. Slowing her steps slightly, she hung back from the door, fingering her poorly made dagger and preparing for anything.
    As the manor door opened, a strangely beautiful woman stepped out with a smile. The menacing aura that surrounded her betrayed her polite and warm greeting. Her eyes searched the newly escaped prisoners, and landed upon Pellius.
    “Darling, what took you so long?” she said, a dastardly grin in contradiction to her soft fretting voice, “I was worried and beginning to think you weren't going to make it.”
    She looked the rest of the group over in slight disgust.
    “Slaves!” she bellowed behind her, “See our honoured guests to their chambers. They are to meet with the master, and they most certainly cannot appear in front of him looking so… vile.”
    Although Willow could not honestly disagree with her observation, standing in the dirt covered dressed in a bloodied guard uniform, she still chafed at the insult.
    “Make yourselves presentable,” she sneered, “And the master will see you when he is ready. He commands that you enjoy his hospitality, and help yourself to the waredrobes he has arranged for you.”
    The slaves came rushing out of the doors and began to faun over each of them, heads bowed in subservience, mutterings of respectful greetings. The idea of a bath had Willow almost in tears.
    As she was escorted through to the west wing of the manor, she felt almost at home in the stunning halls and beautifully decorated passages. Exquisite oil paintings in golden frames lined each wall, immaculate woven runners lined the floors. When the door to her luxurious bedroom opened, a smile lit up her face. An elegant four post bed stood centre of the room, draped with shining silk sheets, plump feather pillows and intricately embroidered throw rugs. A smart looking sitting area to the left, arranged with taut leather couches and an exaggerated number of glass beaded cushions, surrounded a mahogany oak short table displaying a fine ceramic tea set. To the right was an open door leading to a large bathroom tiled from floor to ceiling. The centre piece of the room was a lone standing claw-foot bathtub as high as Willow's hips. She had to bite her lip to stop a whimper from escaping.
    She turned back to the slaves and demanded a bath drawn immediately. In a politer voice she requested food and plenty of wine to be served in the bathroom when she was ready.
    Stepping into the steaming water was ecstasy, she submerged her entire body and simply floated there. The two male slaves scrubbed her from chest to toe, while the female worked delicately with her hair. Once her skin was clear and red, free of the filth she had been living in, she demanded the bath be emptied and refilled so she could soak properly. While the slaves got to work Willow sat at the vanity and stared into the mirror. What she saw staring back was but a shadow of herself. She was born to be so much more.
    The slaves scurried about, efficiently lugging bucket after bucket of boiling water into the room. Stepping back into the bath tub, Willow felt every muscle in her body clench and relax. She sipped fragrant spicy wine while the men massaged her legs and arms. As she drank, she felt her wounds closing over, looking down she watched the sore weeping skin around her brand knit together and heal, leaving a solid white raised scar in its place. It was more than contentment that she found herself in. As the searing broth burned away the filth she felt that lingered beneath the layers of her skin, she floated atop the water in a languid state of bliss. She soaked for the better part of an hour, while the female slave gently worked through what was left of the knots in her hair, rubbing through oils made from liquid myrrh, cinnamon and cassia. When her skin was pink, soft and subtle, she dried and explored the opulent wardrobe she had been provided. Garments in every colour, made from every material she had ever heard of. This was a wardrobe to rival Willow's own. She selected an elegant silk black gown, high neck and long sleeve, with a plunging drop down the back and a completely socially inappropriate slit up one thigh. It was perfect. A perfect fit, hugging into her slender waist, flaring out and flowing down to the floor. She knew not how this mysterious master knew her so well, little did she care as she eyed her figure appreciatively in the mirror. While her hair dried, she powdered her pristine skin, applied a modest amount of carmine to her lips and a thin line of kohl to her eyes. She lifted her hair into a spiralling weave, braiding the tail and fastening it with the golden pin that had been left for her on the vanity. She smiled as she gazed at her reflection. Elegant, and beautiful. Just how she was meant to be. She didn't know what the master wanted from her, but it would have to be horrendously awful for Willow to think of turning down this kind of treatment.
    After slipping her feet into a pair of blood red leather heels, Willow flowed down the hallway towards the east wing. The female slave led her across the affluent wings to the master's waiting chamber. She perused the finely bound leather books, marvelling at the rare pieces in his collection, as she heard the heavy stride of a man entering. She turned gracefully, inkling her head to Pellius. Her eyes raked over his fine physique and figure dressed in a high necked colonial jacket, smart black trousers and gleaming leather boots. She batted her eyelashes as she complimented his dashing attire.
    “You also are looking splendid this evening, my lady,” he said as he kissed Willow's hand.
    The corner of her lip quirked, "Such manners."

    A short while after the last of the group had entered the room, the mistress who called herself Tiadora, beckoned them into the master's attendance. Without hesitation Willow stood and glided into the room with her re-found confidence. She was led into a beautifully appointed office, richly decorated with dark wood and sumptuous brocade tapestry. But a sight behind the grand desk, made her heart skip a beat. A man, draped in black and red robes adorned with a large red inverted pentagram in the centre of his chest. With a gaze so intense, she found it impossible to take in anything else. Hitching her breath, she slinked into the room as the others filed in beside her. While he eyed each of them, the respite from his gaze allowed her to scan her sight across him. His head was closely shaved, above his consuming and ebony welled eyes were dark thick eyebrows and a sharp black goatee.
    There was something else about him that had Willow still short of breath.
    She had always had a strange connection to the powers of the nine layers of hell. It had taken her years to discern what it was. But as she grew to be a woman, she started to understand what she was feeling. She knew she could feel the touch of Asmodeus. Whether in a place or a person. She could feel the infernal blood within their veins, like a pulse or beat of a drum. She felt His burning heat, as if hell itself enveloped her for brief moments. It felt like a fleeting searing kiss. This was no kiss, this man had her blistering and sweltering in places no lady should rightly think about. As he his gaze drew to her again, the feeling flared, and Willow had to clamp down on her lips to stop from gasping. The corner of his mouth turned up in a sly and knowing grin.
    “I believe you to be the first to ever escape from Branderscar Prison. Well done! Of course, you had help from the outside,” he said with a wicked grin, in a deep and rasping voice, “But enough with the pleasantries. You must be curious why I’ve helped you. Rest assured this is no random act of altruism. I have brought you here for a reason. My name is Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. I am the last high priest of Asmodeus left on the island of Talingarde. Once the Prince of Nessus was rightly revered alongside the other great powers. Now, the king of Talingarde has become a puppet to Mitran fanatics who wish to destroy any religion that does not bow to their insipid sun god.”
    His lip curled in revulsion, mirrored by Willow’s own.
    “For their blasphemy, I will see the same people who imprisoned and condemned you suffer. I understand what you went through for I have faced it myself.”
    With that, he pulled down the sleeve of his robe to reveal his own runic brand, identical to the one they all bore.
    “I am going to burn Talingarde to the ground,” he snarled in ferocious wrath, “And from the ashes I will build a new nation that knows its rightful master. I cannot do this alone!”
    As he spoke, the air within the chamber thickened. His eyes lit up with a frenzied scarlet glow, his voice echoing through the chamber in rage.
    “I seek servants worthy of our Infernal Father's majesty,” he rasped, “Have I found them in you?! Join me! Swear fealty to me and to Asmodeus! Put aside forgiveness and I shall give you vengeance! Put aside mercy and be made powerful! Put aside peace and become my harbingers of war! What say you?! Will you swear your allegiance or will you burn with the rest of the blind fools?!”
    The blood coursed through Willow’s veins, her heart soaring, her mind was more than made up. She stepped forward and knelt in front of the Cardinal.
    Staring deep into his eyes she said breathlessly, “I will join you, I will serve you as I will serve the Prince of Darkness.”
    The wicked grin grew along Thorn’s lips as he inclined his head. She stayed where she was while he eyed the rest of the group. One by one they each agreed, some more reluctantly than others.
    “Excellent!” he declared, “Let us make it official!”
    With a rasping incantation, two copies of a long detailed contract appeared by him. Though Willow listened intently to his words as he read aloud the terms of their servitude, she could hear the thundering of her own panting breath.
    She was to be Bound. To adhere to four loyalties. First to Asmodeus, to do everything she could to further his cause, to obey him and his principals. Second to her Master, the Cardinal, to do his bidding and serve him faithfully. Third to her companions, the group of Forsaken soon to be bound along side her. And finally to herself.
    "For Asmodeus is the Lord of Ambition," he crooned, "And to serve him is to strive to be better, to be the best, the strongest and the most powerful."
    Willow had scripted a lot of contracts in her time with the mayor. Most of which she had twisted in clauses and conditions to take advantage of the weak minded souls she was scamming. But this contact was perfect. There were no loopholes. There was no negotiating. It bound her to Asmodeus, in the only way she was not. There was nothing that would stop her from signing. She stood with a grin, determination cementing her will, as she approached him with her chin high. He reached into his robe and pulled out a long thin silver dagger.
    “These things are usually best sealed in blood, don’t you think?” he said with a devilish smile.
    Willow's heart was trembling within her chest, her eyebrow arched as she took the blade and made a thin cut along the tip of her index finger, never breaking eye contact. She stared deep into his eyes as she scrawled her long elaborate signature, and with each loop the Cardinal's grin widened. Unconsciously, she drew her bottom lip into her mouth and firmly bit down. As she finished with a dot upon the second scroll, she sensually licked the drop of blood from the dagger. Still looking into his consuming gaze, she dexterously flipped it pommel first and handed it back to him. Grinning, she slinked to the side, watching the alluring man of hell, while the others signed their souls away.
    After everyone had scrawled their names upon the binding contract, Thorn clasped his hands together in satisfaction.
    “Well done,” he said, a strange pride in his tone, “Your first command: prepare yourselves. Stay within the manor. You are still hunted by the Talirean soldiery. In three days we begin your training. Until then, please enjoy all my estate has to offer.”
    As the others filed out of the chamber, Willow couldn’t stop herself from appraoching the Cardinal, wicked intent on her face.
    “If there's anything else I could do for you in those three days," she said sinfully, meeting his intense gaze, "I’d be happy to accommodate. Willing, one might say.”
    His gaze deepened for a moment, with his devilish grin returning he spoke at almost a whisper, “Child, I think you're asking for more than you can handle, much more than you realise.”
    Willow's lip curved into a dark sinuous grin, “For now, perhaps,” she mused.
    As she sauntered out of the room, she could feel his consuming fierce gaze following her, giving him one last lustful glance before closing the door.

    She took a moment to catch her breath and calm herself before following the others to the parlour. Relaxing within the lavish and comfortable room, she sat in conversation with Pellius, laughing and flirting while sipping on more of the house fine wine.
    “I think a proper introduction is in order. I must admit, I’ve never met people under such peculiar circumstances,” she said with a wine giggle. “I am Willow Miryah Monteguard. Condemned disgraced daughter of Bartley Monteguard, Duke of Keldenryn. Traitorous harlot wife of Audric Talrish, Knight of Alerion. And, apparently, trying to assassinate the dear Princess, and wipe out the Markadian line, isn't something a proper lady should do!” she said with mocked surprise.
    Pellius laughed and raised his glass inrepsonse.
    “I am Pellius Albus,” he said formally, “From the far lands of Cheliax. I landed upon the shores of Matharyn and was accused and arrested for the crime of heresy. The guards upon the dock took a single glance and called for the watch. Apparently crimson eyes are a sin.”
    Willow smirked, leaning towards him, winking and whispering, “Do not worry handsome, some women find crimson incredibly attractive.”
    Teelee piped up and introduced herself simply as Teelee from Rahadoum, who had been captured and charged with slavery when she docked ship and her slaves went to the local authorities.
    Willow couldn’t help but laugh and **** her eyebrow, “Maybe you need a little help in proper disciplining, I can help with that if you like.”
    Garvana began a lengthy tale about the death of her father, the burning of her house and strange scorch marks appearing from the abyss. A slight silent pause went over the room before Willow raised her glass and called with laugh, “Cheers to that.”
    She relaxed back in her chair and looked over to the old man, “And what did an uncouth sir such as yourself do to end up here?” she said mockingly.
    “Killed little whelps like you,” he snapped.
    Willow raised her eyebrows and paused. A slender length of gold was pinned into her elaborate braid, and would take only seconds to detach and ram through his throat. Thinking of the contract she had just signed, she realised that it might not be the brightest idea she'd ever had. So she simply smiled and sipped her wine. The high road may be boring, but visualising her pretty golden pin sticking out of his jugular, was satisfying in itself.
    The rest of the night Willow spent swapping stories with Pellius, the content growing more iniquitous and crude with each glass of wine. After six bottles were gone, and Willow noticed her tongue getting looser, she knew it was time to retire for the night. She was happy to share harmless light banter and her dark sense of humour with these new companions, but she didn't trust them completely. Even Pellius, with his disarming smile and witty charm; Willow had known his type before. Right now they were all she had, and she would make the most of that. But there were some things she would keep closely guarded. They all had secrets, and there was only one entity she would share hers with. Asmodeus would keep her secrets, and she would keep his.

    As duck approached on the evening of the third night, the master called for the bound. Willow held her breath as she entered his room and as his heated gaze settled on her she felt the fire burning deep inside her. He greeted them with his devilish grin and handed each of the group an iron circlet and a silver medallion.
    “The iron circlets allow you to move amongst your enemies as one of them,” he said from behind his great dark wood desk, “The silver amulets will remind you of your true loyalties. You have done well to escape from Branderscar and to accept my offer. However, you are still not ready for my service. Tiadora will lead you to the basement of this domicile. There you will find nine chambers each more dangerous than the last. Somewhere hidden within these chambers is a pendant of silver and sapphire. Recover the pendant and bring it to me. Let nothing and no one stand in your way.”
    He from his desk, looking out of the manor house window across the grey moor.
    “It is almost dusk,” he warned, “You have until dusk tomorrow to bring me my prize. Do not fail me.”

    The group was ushered out of the room and shown the way to the basement. Teelee lit both Garvana and Pellius’ shields with magical light before the five of them filed in down the pitch black tunnel. A set of stone stairs led down into the depths, through an archway and into an unfurnished chamber beyond. An inscription upon the archway in the common tongue caught Willow’s eye.
    “Deception is a tool,” she read aloud, “Self-deception is death. Deceive always thy enemy but never thyself.”
    The room beyond was lit by a small oil lantern hanging from the center of the chamber. A single doorway sat to the east, a plain wooden plank on a simple hinge. Willow crept into the shadowed mist of the chamber, each step controlled and light, testing for any soft change indicating a pressure plate. Deception was her tool. It came naturally to her, so she tried to formulate her strategy around the way she would use it to trick and ensnare her prey if the roles were reversed. She prowled on light feet towards the door on the eastern wall, cautiously eyeing the hinges and locking mechanism for any sabotage or traps. As she stepped on the stone in front of the door, she felt the distinct sinking of a pressure plate, leaping to the side with swift grace narrowly avoiding the drop as the stone slab fell away. She wobbled on the edge of the gaping pit before a firm hand grasped her own and pulled her from her fall.
    "You're quite nimble, my lady," Pellius said charmingly.
    Willow smirked, "Not quite nimble enough it seems."
    The door slowly swung open to reveal a continuation of the stone wall behind it. Willow cocked an eyebrow and thought for a moment. Following a hunch, Willow began to trace her hands along the stonework, feeling for any discrepancies or prostitutions. Her instincts had been correct, the group indeed found two hidden doorways disguised in layers of the stone. The northern door lead to a small darkened chamber, a single glimmering jewel sat upon an altar, filled with a magical substance that Teelee identified as alchemist's ice. The southern door led the group into the blackened caress of another chamber.
    “Following the herd is for fools,” she squinted as she made out the next inscription, “Fear not their icy derision. Instead, fear only thy Infernal Lord.”
    Inside the stone chamber, there were four doors, each facing a cardinal direction. The interior of the chamber shivered a strange cold. The western door throbbed in a strange pulsating violet mould, it's growth seeping out of the door's hinges and handle, it's thrumming beat releasing wisps of chilled air. Suspicious as always, Willow inspected the other doors. At first glance, the doors appeared harmless, a much more promising prospect than the festering perse growth. But on closer inspection, hidden within the wooden frames of both clean doors were coin sized circular holes, about the size cut for spears.
    "They're rigged with traps, be cautious," Willow said to the group.
    She stood in the centre of the room thinking of the inscription. The herd would have followed chosen the safe looking doors and shied from the feral mass covering the western door. Willow found the use of the word icy quite peculiar, also noticing how much colder the room was when she stood close to the mould. As the thought formed, before she had a chance to speak, lit torches flew towards the mould.
    "No!" Willow yelled.
    As the flames made contact with the pulsating cluster, it violently contracted, spreading and swelling as it doubled in size. Willow was hit with a freezing blast that seeped into her skin, her joints aching and her bones throbbing.
    "Garvana! Throw the alchemist's ice!"
    With a slight frown, Garvana pulled the jewel from her pouch and hurled it at the oozing mass. Just as quickly as it had grown, the mould began to shudder and fester, shrinking in on itself until it dissipated completely, leaving the doorway empty and clear.
    "Very clever, my lady," Pellius said quietly.
    His disarming grin made Willow's breath hitch.
    “Thou hast made thy own path,” Garvana recited from the wall beyond the open door.

    They made their way through a labyrinth of other chambers, procing their worth as they overcame each obstacle in their way. Arcane darkness blackening each passage, twisted and alien creatures hidden within their depths. They faced the undead men with their water rotted corpses left sprawled in a decaying mess across the cold stone floor. They managed to dismantle and capture one of the mithral cobras that tried to rip through flesh with it's razor sharp metal fangs. Willow was riddled with anticipation as they approached the chamber marked by cruelty. Opening the door, she frowned as she saw nothing but a torture rack sat in this room. She didn't miss the way Pellius' mouth quirked up in a small grin at the sight of the torturing equipment.
    "Is this what you did?" Willow asked him quietly, standing by the door, "Back in Cheliax."
    He turned to her with a slightly sad smile of nostalgia and nodded. Willow couldn't was curious about him, there was little point denying that she found him incredibly attractive. Yet he did not seem the usual type of torturer. Callous men, sadistic and cruel, seeking pleasure in the infliction of pain on others. He was stern and certainly seemed impeccably disciplined, qualities she found completely endearing. But as she turned away from him and returned to their task at hand – her mind continued to churn as it always did.
    Looking further through the room, she began to run her hands along the stone, looking for another passage or component to this lesson. Reaching the eastern corner, she found a slender crack in the wall, almost invisible to the naked eye. Pulling the wall open, she was greeted by an odd sight. A small boy dressed in the garb of a squire, barely older than fifteen, sat huddled in the corner. He looked up at Willow with terror in his eyes. For a moment, she thought he recognised her, but he merely shook his head and began to mumble.
    "Calm down child," said Garvana soothingly, "Tell us who you are, and what you are doing here?"
    It took sometime to settle the child, but Garvana was patient and comforting. Willow stood back against the wall next to Pellius, frowning at the strange sight that she felt was a complete waste of time. Though as he spoke, she stared at the crest marking his robes. She heraldry was painfully familiar, but she could not pinpoint the bloodline. His story was that his knight had been fighting the cardinal, and that he had panicked, fled and escaped. Willow raised her eyebrows at that, a smirk lifting her lips. This child was here as a test, planned completely by the cardinal. She smiled at the ridiculous thought of this pathetic child escaping those soul penetrating eyes. The boy agreed to come along, believing he'd found allies and friends. Garvana seemed to take him under her wing, guiding him through the maze of Thorn's test. Willow didn't care what the child did, as long as he stayed out of her way.

    “Suffer not the fool,” she read from the inscription on the farthest southern wall, “Stupidity is our faith’s cardinal sin.”
    The door opened wide into a blackened dim chamber, a single oil lantern burning low, hanging form the stone ceiling. A single podium sat centre of the room, atop it lay a pendant of silver – a dragon with sapphire eyes. A sudden flare of suspicion swept through her body. This was too easy. Surely a man as powerful and dominant as the cardinal would require more of his acolytes. Surely escaping the prison was more challenging than this. She told the others to wait as she crept up to the pendant, checking every stone and crevice along the way. By the stairway on the eastern wall she noticed a slit along the base, an indication of a deadly trap, possibly a spring loaded board or a large swinging blade. Carefully, she inspected the pedestal, looking for any signs of sabotage. No pressure plates, no poisoned spring loaded spikes, no trap doors. Gingerly, she reached for the pendant and grasped it in her hand. Nothing happened. Definitely too easy, she thought to herself. She threaded the pendant around her neck, cautiously prowling through the rest of the chamber. After tediously feeling over each stone, calling the others into the room, Willow finally found a single stone out of place. The solitary brick was slightly smoother than the rest, indicating it had been buffed by regular use. She gently pressed the stone in, springing back and readying herself to defend. Darkness was all that greeted her. The group followed the winding maze of tunnels until they arrived at a sturdy iron banded door. A heavy brass key hung upon the wall under their final message.
    “Serve thy master well,” she recited, “And be rewarded.”
    Willow inserted the key into the lock and hefted the door open. What she saw made a grin split her face from ear to ear. A single man standing in full plate armour in the centre of the room. Sir Balin of the Knights of Alerion. Not just any knight. He was the knight who broke down her bedroom door, slammed her to the ground and arrested her, all while her heartbroken husband watched. He was the one who dragged her to the waiting cell by her hair, stripped off her night gown, left her naked and spat on her bare skin. This was the man her husband had confided in, and was the man responsible for Willow's arrest, conviction and sentence. This man was her vengeance.
    As Sir Balin saw the group he began to question what was going on. As his eyes drew to Willow, his face drained of colour, and a look of rage swept over him.
    “YOU!” he yelled, “What in Mitra's name is going on here?”
    “Oh dear Sir Balin," Willow chuckled, "I see your Mitra has left you in my hands. Such a generous gift. How does it feel to know your precious Shining Lord has abandoned you?”
    Willow crept into the side of the room, winking at Pellius as she passed.
    “What foul sorcery is this?!” Sir Balin shouted, “Mitra preserve me!”
    Willow laughed, a foul and wicked gleam to her voice, “Mitra will bring no salvation, Asmodeus will grant me vengeance!”
    He recoiled from her, “I know not what devilry has allowed you to be free, but I swear by the Shining Lord that I will right this injustice!”
    He charged at Willow and cleaved with his sword, but she was too quick and ducked under its swing. She flipped and dove in behind him, laughing as she drove her dagger into a slit in his armour. Pellius charged forward, sword over head, and smashed it into the Knights chest. Sir Balin was knocked back by the blow but kept his footing as he failed to parry. Garvana leapt forward with a mighty swing and brought her sword down into his shoulder.
    Willow was watching the look on fear and confusion on Timeon’s face as his former knight battled his rescuers. She wasn't paying attention as Sir Balin's sword came down carving into her shoulder. She cried out in agony, before she slammed her teeth shut, the wound splitting open so her bone protruding through. Better than most, Willow understood there was no pleasure without a bit of pain. With a deep breath she embraced the throbbing ache and let it feed her anger. Slashing her dagger forward into the slit on the other side of his armour, driving it deep into his ribs. His scream of agony was music to her ears.
    Staggering slightly and heaving breath, Sir Balin seemed to gather his strength.
    “MITRA GUIDE MY SWORD!" he bellowed righteously, "If I am to die for you, let me take this harlot with me!”
    A sickening wave of holy energy surged towards Willow, wrapping its tendrils of goodness tightly around her, forcing a dry heave from her throat. Empowered, Sir Balin cleaved his sword towards her. At the last second she managed to bend backwards from the blade, as it skimmed the tip of her nose, and slammed into the wall shattering a large chunk of stone into a shower of shards. She could see the torment in his eyes at the prospect of leaving a naïve impressionable child like Timeon in the hands of Asmodeans. In a last desperate attack, he span and hacked his sword straight down into Timeon's skull, splitting it in two as the child collapsed to the floor. The old man came out of no where, lunged through the carnage and with an almighty jab swiftly impaled the Knight straight through the chest.
    He sank to one knee, dropping his shield, barely holding himself up with his sword. Coughing through the pooling of blood as he struggled to breath.
    “I am sorry, Mitra forgives you Timeon,” he spluttered, closing his eyes.
    Willow grabbed him by the hair and slammed his head back into the wall, baring his throat. His eyes flew open on impact, and she smiled down at him and drew his sigh to her own.
    She held the blade to his throat and whispered, “Mitra could not save you. Mitra cannot save anyone from the reckoning we will bring.”
    She hacked deep, and with a cascade of crimson she carved across Sir Balin's throat. She held him close, and watched the life drain from his eyes. Vengeance was sweet. Vengeance was hers. She grabbed the pendant from around his neck before allowing his body to slump to the floor. She turned the pendant within her fingers and read the engraved Mitran prayer on the back. A silver and sapphire pendant. Clever, Willow thought. Her lips pulled into a grin as she slipped it in her pocket.

    The Cardinal was still seated at his desk as they entered his office.
    Looking up from his work, he said, “You've returned.”
    “Indeed,” Willow replied with a smirk.
    “And my pendant?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
    Willow unlatched the first pendant from her neck and handed it to him. He lifted the stone in front of the light, carefully looking it over. He seemed about to speak when he suddenly threw it down and smashed the pendant into his desk. A shower of blue crystal and silver shatters littered the floor.
    “Silver, yes. Sapphire, no. Do not disappoint me, tell me you have something else.” he said, almost in warning.
    The rest of the group looked slightly lost and worried, but Willow only grinned. She reached into her pocket and pulled out Sir Balin's pendant. She dangled it by the chain and slowly lowered it into the cardinal's outstretched hand. Willow saw the corner of his mouth kink up in a smile as he turned the pendant over and examined it. He stared into the sapphire as if in contemplation, utterly silent for a moment.
    “A pretty enough thing, eh?” he mused, “This is a holy symbol of Mitra in particular the sort favored by the Knights of the Alerion. But I suppose, some of you already knew that. Remember this symbol. This is the mark of those who destroyed our faith and sought to banish all trace of our Father from these shores. These, my friends, are your enemies.”
    He tossed the pendant back to Willow.
    “Keep it,” he said, “It may aid you in disguising yourself.”
    He looked up at the group and smiled, “You have done well. Escaping from Branderscar Prison, slaughtering Sir Balin … yes, you are worthy. Now, let us complete your training...”

    Last edited by minderp; 2016-09-27 at 06:31 AM.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 3 – Beginnings
    Spoiler: Chapter 3 - Beginnings
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    With the soft linger of blood in the air, the lantern light glistened against the radiance of the sapphire stone. Willow gaze was locked deeply into the Mitran pendant she had lifted from Sir Balin’s corpse. As she listened to Thorn spell out their instructions for the coming months, her mind wandered upon his previous words. They would burn Talingarde to the ground. They would bring down the monarchy and wipe the Church of blessed Mitra from the land. As it should be, Asmodeus would once again be worshiped from every corner of the isle, statues and monuments to his greatness would be seen along every street. She would do this. She would be the harbinger of war, and be the herald that brought forth his glory.
    Twelve weeks of training they had ahead of them. The cardinal planned to turn them from a bunch of rogue criminals into an efficient team worthy of his service. As the group filed out to rest up ready for the next day, Willow stayed behind. Thorn watched her curiously, and once the door had closed she looked up from the pendant into the cardinal’s eyes.
    “Thank you," she said sincerely, "Thank you for this."
    The cardinal smiled. He knew she was talking of vengeance.
    “This is only the beginning, my dear.”

    In the three months that passed, Willow was taught a few harsh and valuable lessons.
    First, the cardinal was more than a worthy master. He was relentless. He was an amazing teacher, skilled in all aspects of war. He expected obedience and results, but in return gave invaluable advice and guidance. Second, Tiadora was a sadist. She delighted in the groups failure and injury. One afternoon, frustrated and infuriated by her laughter, Willow could contain her anger no longer.
    Willow spat, “What in hell’s name are you?”
    Tiadora gave her a wicked smile, “I'm a devil dear, and I'm here to do a devil’s work.”
    Third and finally, Willow had found her calling. With each day that passed, she gained bruises, sprains and scars. She also gained confidence and strength in her will. The effect the cardinal had on her didn't lessen, but she did learn to control it. It was only an occasional wicked grin that set her body aflame. She learnt to continue without pause, giving no indication of the searing heat inside her. She trained in the arts of stealth. She was taught how to enter a room and draw her dagger without making a sound. She was taught the vital spots on the human body, where to strike to inflict the most damage and the quickest way to kill them. She was taught to dodge and weave, to simply not be where the target would strike.
    Willow already had a talent for deception, the cardinal told her as much, but he had much to show her. He taught her to control her body language, to keep her voice level and to wear her disguise like a second skin. On his suggestion, Willow spent one evening dying her hair with carmine and lemon, for her black long locks were more than recognisable anywhere near Matharyn.

    On the final evening of their three months, the cardinal hosted a grand banquet in their honour. The dining room was lit up with chandeliers, a quartet of slaves played smooth violins and the room-length dining table was lined with exquisite canapés and thick fine wine. Willow had dressed her hair in immaculate waves to the side, the candlelight shined through them, reflecting the copper tones. She slipped into a tight fitting black chiffon dress, thigh high, no sleeves and tulle flaring from the waist. Wearing a carmine of deep blood red upon her lips, she wore the perfect velvet shoes to match. She glided down the stairs and into the hall, tulle undulating in trail behind her. As she flowed across the room and lifted a wine from a tray, she could feel the cardinal’s intense heated gaze tracking her every movement. She exhaled gently and gracefully turned to face him. Meeting his eyes sent a wave of fire searing her from the inside out. She stared back at him, and as his gaze intensified and the burning flared below, her lips crept into a sinful grin.
    “Care to dance, my lady?” Pellius offered, breaking into her inappropriate thoughts.
    “I would be delighted to,” she replied, taking his arm and inclining her head to the cardinal.
    Willow laughed as Pellius swayed and spun her around the room, following his lead in an elegant waltz. He was a fine dancer, controlled and dignified in his movements, classically trained in all forms of tradition noble dances. He was charming, a smooth talker with an alluring rasp to his deep baritone voice. They conversed easily, quite comfortable within each other’s company. Though she could not put her finger on it, there was something oddly familiar about him. She knew he had never been to the land of Talingarde before his fateful collision. Yet, as she looked up at him as he spun her around upon the dance floor, she felt the prickle of something meaningful. As he guided her into the final notes of the tuneful dance, she dismissed her strange suspicion and ended in a theatrical curtsey. He grinned to her as he bowed deeply in return.
    After they had dined, wined and danced, the cardinal called them into his private side chamber. The fierce heat that radiated from him had Willow biting her lip in anticipation. As she stepped over the threshold, she was pleasantly surprised to feel right at home within the chamber. The inverted pentagram lining the floor, the walls laced with red and black ritual candles, the podium centre of the dais. The Monteguard’s housed a similar chamber in the hidden cellar of their Matharyn manor.
    She took her place in the left point of the pentagram, as the others filled out the remaining four. A slave was lead into the centre and the cardinal took his place at the podium. As he began chanting, the candles flared. Willow could feel the ground heating up and the air thicken as he spoke. As his voice intensified, a crack emerged along the floor and the flicker of hellfire unfurled like tendrils from the void. Willow groaned as she was hit with a searing wave of blissful heat. As the crack widened in the floor and a rotten bleeding hand reached up; she felt her knees weaken as the burning scorched its way down her legs. A foul creature dragged itself out of the realms of hell, scarlet gore in a constant state of furious bleeding, the beast flicked its tail and screeched. The cardinal simply gestured to the slave. The beast let out a frightening wail and leapt on the sacrifice. It shredded the body to shreds of flesh and bone, devouring and consuming its turmoil. When there was nothing more left of the slave than a smear on the ground, the beast bowed it’s head and held out its wrist. The cardinal approached it with a bowl carved from a human skull, tearing through its hand with a shining ruby blade, filling the bowl with the crimson secretion. With a small hand gesture from the cardinal, a ripple went through the creature, before it vanished from sight. Even as the crevasse in the foundation of the manor sealed itself, the heat inside Willow remained. Thorn approached each of the bound one after another, using the bowl of blood to draw an inverted pentagram on their foreheads. As he completed the star on Willow, she felt the blaze rage through her limbs, burning and scorching its path. She could feel Asmodeus swarming through her veins. There was little she could do but bite down on her tongue to keep herself from whimpering aloud. The cardinal stood back and a strange look of accomplishment came over him.
    “Now,” he said with great pride, “The Nessian Knot is forged.”

    The five of them were ushered from the chamber, and given strict instructions to wait for their master’s summon. The servants still lingered with trays of wine and canapés, waiting patiently to be of need or use. The five of them sat within the parlour, relaxed and excited for their new days to come. It was not long before they were beckoned into Thorn’s office once more.
    “Welcome, my children,” he said in a deep resonant voice, that had an almost inhuman quality to it, “Training is at an end. You have proven yourself worthy. Now, it is time for you to use that training and take on your first mission. Your mission is war, my children. You will bring war to Talingarde.”
    The prior easy comfort that fell between the bound now chilled in a hush. It was not fear that stilled their movements and shortened their breath; it was anticipation and adour.
    “You have two objectives,” he continued, “First, you will see a shipment of munitions delivered to a bugbear chieftain named Sakkarot Fire-Axe. He makes his camp on the northern coast of Lake Tarik beyond the Watch Wall. With this shipment, the Fire-Axe will have resources enough to unite the barbarous humanoid tribes of the north and light the fire of war. Sitting on the dock as we speak is the longship Frosthamar captained by Kargeld Odenkirk. Tomorrow when the ship is resupplied it will be your transport. The captain is a ruthless mercenary and not to be trusted. He knows nothing of the specifics of our mission and you should keep it that way. He knows he is smuggling cargo to the north beyond the Watch Wall. That is all he need know. Once the cargo is safely delivered, he will take you just south across the lake under cover of darkness and land you near the town of Aldencross. There our contract with Captain Odenkirk will be concluded. It is shame how greedy he has proven. I had hoped to let the captain serve me again but it seems he is too much of a liability. Kill him. Kill his crew. Burn his ship and leave no survivors. It is crucial that no one suspects our involvement and that loose ends are taken care of. Be sure to reclaim the coin I gave him. Best not to be wasteful. That done, you will begin your second task. We will do more still to aid our ally the Fire-axe. The bugbears are mighty warriors but poor siege engineers. You will infiltrate the tower Balentyne, keystone of the Watch Wall, kill its commander and open the gate for Sakkarot’s horde. Once the shaggy monstrosities pierce the Watch Wall, the bugbears will pillage and lay waste to the townships of the north and the local garrisons will have no choice but to meet the Fire-Axe in the open field. Sakkarot is the most brilliant, gifted and murderous bugbear of his generation. I expect these battles will go poorly for the knights and yeoman of fair Talingarde.”
    All the while as he spoke, he showed no signs of irresolution nor uncertainty. Cardinal Thorn appeared as callous and earnest in his grand scheme as one could ever hope to be.
    “Do all of this,” he said, “And then when your task is done, break this clay seal.”
    He handed Willow a delicately carved clay seal adorned with a tangled knot of thorns surrounding the five pointed star of the Lord of the Nine.
    “I will have more instructions then. Succeed, and I will see you rewarded handsomely. Fail or betray me, and you will pray for the comfort of Hell before I am done with you.”
    He turned to gaze upon the stretch of marsh beyond the window.
    “The mission you start upon today is a holy mission,” he said, in a quiet yet terrifying voice, “The people of Talingarde think they have seen the last of the mighty Asmodeus. Soon enough we will remind them that there is no escaping the grasp of Hell.”
    Though his sight darkened and a wrathful look of fury threatening to swarm his control, he suddenly returned behind his large desk. He pulled the cork free from a bottle of heavy velvet burgundy wine, morning a glass for each of them first before pouring one for himself.
    “Let us toast our success!” he emboldened, raising his glass high in the air, “TO WAR!”

    By the dawn light as the sun began its upward march, they set sail aboard the Frost Hammer. Odenkirk was a gruff sailor, dirty dark hair, worn hide armour and a feral toothy grin. His teeth were stained a dark rotting brown, protruding from his gums in odd and sparse angles. Willow cringed every time he leant in to speak to her and she had to smell the wafting stench of his breath. It was late one night, as she slumbered upon the wooden deck, that she awoke to a hand grasping her thigh. Impulsively, she drew her dagger in the blink of an eye and held it firm to the captain’s throat.
    “Remove your hand before you lose your head,” she warned viciously.
    His breath heavy with whiskey, he panted and slowly withdrew, stumbling towards the other side of the ship. She watched his groggy form disappear behind the small cabin before she rolled over, pulling her coat tighter, keeping her dagger firm in hand until dawn.
    After days at sea, the ship sailed passed the trading port of Daveryn, the gem of the western coast. It was the third largest city of Talingarde, and in her opinion, the far most boring. As the ship sailed towards the north, they spied a Talrien vessel in close pursuit. A single mast fully-rigged pinnace only thirty feet long, marked by what Willow recognized as the crest of Saint Martius.
    Captain Kargeld grimly paired down their options, “She’s seen us, sure as damnation. And there is no way the Frosthamar will outrun her loaded like this. One look at our cargo and they’ll know us for exactly what we are – weapon smugglers.”
    “Continue on course,” the old man said calmly, “When the hail us, follow slow the ship. We will deal with this.”
    The newly bound used the magic of their circlets to disguise themselves as part of the ships crew, rough salt worn slacks and shirts, aiding to blend them in seamlessly. The old man formed his gear into a perfect mimic of the Alerion Knights armour, adorned by Sir Valin’s pendant, he looked every bit the stern faced knight. Willow held her dagger fast, hidden beneath the tattered fabric of her shirt, preparing to strike if the need arose.
    “Stay your oars!” called the Mitran sergeant form afar, “Prepare to be boarded!”
    The crew anxiously looked to one another, intimidated by the strange magic afoot, unsure of how their guests would manage the ruse.
    “Halt!” called the old man commandingly, “Identify yourselves!”
    As the vessel pulled along side of the Frosthamar, the sergeant eyed the Alerion Knight suspiciously.
    “We are of the Blade of Saint Martius!” he replied, “Charged with the inspection of all passing ships. We have had no word of the Knights of Alerion in these parts.”
    The old man sneered in response, “And are you usually privy to the missions of the order?”
    “W-well,” the sergeant stammered, “Well, no. But-
    “You will return to Daveryn at once!” commanded the old man, “I have no time to be interrupted, it is crucial I arrive at my destination on time!”
    With sceptical eyes tracing over the shabby crew and the wooden crates of cargo, the sergeant frowned. Although he seemed to suspect something more was going on that he could surmise, he reluctantly accepted he was outranked. Hesitantly, he ordered his ship to return towards Daveryn. As they turned and they ship grew smaller from their sight, Willow hissed out the breath she’d been holding. She was impressed, she had not expected the old man’s ruse to be successful. She allowed her guise to dissipate, inclining her head to him.
    The captain grunted from behind the ship’s wheel, “Don’t know how ya did that, but sure glad it worked…”

    After two weeks of rough sailing along the turbulent coast of Talingarde’s eastern shores, the Frosthamar finally arrived at the ice-choked entrance to the River Taiga. Kargeld proved himself a worthy captain, nimbly sailing the heavily laden craft through fields of floating jagged ice. He barked orders in norspik, the language of the men of the north, and his sailors scrambled to comply. Again and again, he turned the boat at just the right moment to pass between the broken shards calved from ancient glaciers. Finally, after nerve-wracking hours coursing through the slender pass, the boat pushed through the dangerous headwaters of the Taiga into the clear water of the almost uncharted mighty river. Beyond, lay a land of savage wonders. The Taiga wound through a great northern forest that to the best of anyone’s knowledge had no name. After miles and miles of picturesque pine trees frosted with new fallen snow, the ship came to a great mountain range. The river flowed through a great rift in the mountains that looked as if some impossibly gargantuan primordial giant
    smashed a pass through the grey slate. Although the turned for the south, leaving the frosted chill of the northern realms behind, it appeared to have no effect on lessening the intense cold that froze their bones. They were headed for the great interior sea of Talingarde – Lake Tarik. It was to the south of Tarik that the Watch Wall lay. And on the northern banks in a wide wooded valley was their destination – the camp of Sakkarot Fire-Axe.
    As dusk loomed heavy upon the great expanse of open sky, the Frosthamar craned wide passed the jagged rocks, when slowly the sounds began. Devouring howls of beasts, screams that curdled blood, savage cries of barbaric horror. As the ship veered to the north-east, the fire littered canvas came into view. Thousands of bugbears were already assembled. Savage beasts clearly not welcoming or pleased to see outsiders, worse still, white fleshed humans. There were more than just feral hordes of bugbears amassing in the camp. Fur-clad goblins scampered here and there, laughing with frenetic glee. Grotesque hill giants gathered at the edges of the great procession. Snarling beasts of callous and ferocity prowled through the fire-laden swarm.
    There was only one place to dock the boat – a crudely made pier that jutted into the river. Blocking their entrance into the camp, were four hulking bugbears. They watched the ships approach with foul hungry eyes.
    “Keep your mouth’s shut,” Willow whispered harshly to the captain and his crew, “Let us handle it.”
    “Right you are,” Kargeld nodded quietly.
    As the Frosthamar pulled along the side of the dock, Willow prowled to the edge of the ship with a face of cold venom.
    “Looks like dinners here,” grinned the largest of the bugbears.
    “This one’s not got much meat on her,” scoffed one of the others, “Be a bit chewy for me.”
    As the brutes chuckled in laughter, Willow and Pellius stepped on to the dock together, while she crossed her arms over her chest. Inside she was terrified, the idea of being simply a meal was enough to turn her stomach, but on the outside she kept her exterior cool and hard.
    “Where is Sakkarot Fireaxe?!" she snarled viciously, "We are here to see him, and I have little time to waste speaking to you.”
    The largest of the bugbears scoffed, his furred eyebrows lifting high.
    “Huh,” he grunted, “Least my dinner’s got a bit a spice.”
    Her eyebrow arched, as she deliberating pulled her blade slowly from it’s sheath. She never once looked away from his sight, her will warring with his, her threat clearly understood. The smaller bugbear frowned, grabbing one of the others by the ear, grumbling between eachother. In the corner of her vision, Willow saw a commotion coming from the back of the crowd that had gathered around them. When the largest bugbear looked to make a move towards her, Pellius stepped forward threateningly.
    “You heard the lady,” he warned with utter malice, “Where is Sakkarot?”
    Suddenly, the largest bugbear Willow had ever seen burst through the crowd, a great black-furred beast wielding a fearsome axe of flame. His namesake became immediately apparent.
    “Who sent you?!” Sakkarot Fire-Axe demanded.
    Willow smirked, inclining her head, “The master Thorn.”
    At that answer, he smiled a toothy grin.
    “Then you are welcome here!”
    He turned to the somewhat stunned throng of bugbears who were getting ready to storm the boat and devour it’s occupants.
    “These humans are my guests!” he growled, “I will deal with anyone
    who harms them. They are our allies!”
    He stopmed over to the boat and ripped open one of the crates revealing finely made axes with in. He tossed one to a nearby bugbear warrior who until now only had a crude club to wield.
    “Behold!” he boomed, “They bring us steel! They bring us war!”
    His proclamation earned a terrifying chorus of growls and cheers from the monstrous assembly. The boat was unloaded and Sakkarot’s lieutenants saw that each case was distributed among the throng of beasts. It was a rapid transformation that overcame the camp. Where once there were a thousand bugbear savages – now there was a thousand bugbear soldiers each with new weapons and shields adorned with the emblem of the fire axe.
    “Tonight,” he called to his newly armed horde, “We feast!”

    The night held a brutal, savage affair with bugbears fighting each other and all manner of
    monsters in attendance. The bound were given postions of honour, as far as honorable went amongst the lawless brutes. They sat at Sakkarot’s table, and earned themselves a front row seat at the spectacle of savagery. The brutal festivities raged on, hunks of meat were hacked off the dire boar that was roasting on the spit, and the strange bugbear liquor flowed through the camp. Willow watched the feral celebrations in disgust; animals slaughtered for food, barely cooked, no preparation or cleanliness. Simply freshly dead animals on the fire, fur, feathers and all. She had no clue what the liquor was, and as she asked Sakkarot, the only answer she got was a laugh.
    “Bugbear special,” he said with a grin.
    She accepted a particularly burnt piece of meat, and the cleanest looking drinking horn she could find. The drink seared her tongue and after a only few swigs, it mattered not what the meat tasted of, as she could not taste a thing.
    “You’re little,” grunted one of Sakkarot’s lieutenants to her, his face riddled with confusion, “How don’t you get eaten being so little?”
    Willow had to concede his blatantly obvious observation, she was indeed very little in comparison to his size. Yet size and strength were not everything. Faster than the inebriated bugbear could react, she ripped her blade free and pressed it firmly into his throat.
    “I am too quick,” she grinned.
    The stunned brute blinked a few times, before bursting out into a hearty laugh. She sheathed her dagger and laughed before taking another hefty swig from her drink. She tried to keep pace with the men in their rapid procession of drinks, but her small slender frame could not handle it well. After countless horns of burning black-red drink, she stood and pulled free her daggers. It was with a drunken sway that she slinked over to Pellius.
    “Spar with me?” she winked.
    She tossed the second dagger to him and took up a defensive position. When he was ready she took off at a run. As she went to dive between his leads and through his wide stance, she came face first into his knee. She rolled over on the ground and laughed as she rubbed her face. With a chuckle, Pellius held out a hand for her. She grasped it and he hoisted her to her feet. As he went to push her back, Willow bent down grabbing his arm and pulling his shoulder, using his own weight to flip him over her back. She dropped him face up on the ground. The crowd of bugbears cheered in a song of feral growls and snarls.
    “That is how it’s going to be?” he questioned slyly.
    Willow giggled as he got to his feet, too distracted to notice him step in behind her and lift her weight easily. He flipped her over his shoulder and slammed her down into the table. Crudely made plates and drink containers went flying, flinging the food into the air and drinks sloshing across the ground. Their bestial audience cheered with approval. Even through her winded chest, she giggled uncontrollably. She only laughed harder when she saw the food her landing had splattered over his chest and face. He laughed with her, wiping his face with his sleeve before leaning down and placing a gentle kiss on her cheek. This, of course, earned them a mixture of crude catcalls and taunts.

    After the revels had died down, Sakkarot called the group into his tent. Willow followed and took a seat on the pile of furs next to him. He spoke of war and battle, their plan of attack and what the group were required to do. He paused and looked around at each of them.
    “I have to know,” he said seriously, “You are traitors to your own kind. You must know that. When Balentyne falls and my horde pours through its shattered gates, we will slaughter the Talireans by the thousands. Yet I see no regret in your eyes. Tell me, how can this be?”
    Willow smiled and looked deep into his eyes, placing a hand on his forearm.
    “Our ‘own people’ as you put it,” she said bitterly, “are led by a king who has become a puppet to Mitran fanatics. They wish to destroy any religion that does not bow to their pitiful sun god. They have wished to banish all trace of our Infernal Father from this land. They would slaughter us, they tried to, purely for our faith in him. Their charity is sickening. They tax those who have gained power for themselves and reward those who fall at the bottom of the food chain.”
    Willow’s gaze grew intense, “They are pathetic, the weak rule the weak minded. We will show them strength and power, we will purge them from this land, true order will rule and true power will reign.”
    He grunted and nodded, “You sound just like Thorn.”
    Willow smiled, it was a sentiment she would find no fault in. Sakkarot glanced down at the brand on her wrist. When Willow noticed his gaze, she merely scoffed.
    “Courtesy of our people.”
    He pulled aside his great breast plate and revealed a large carved scar, in the shape of the five pointed star of Asmodeus seared into his chest.
    “We all have our scars…”
    He looked around at the five who sat with him.
    “Tomorrow, you must depart this camp,” he said, “It will never be truly safe for you here. Over the next week, more tribes will rally to my banner. I will promise them blood and give them steel. Then at last I will be ready to march. A week after that – I will be poised to strike. I will move my horde to the valley just north of Balentyne. There we will wait for your signal. Fire this rocket into the air. Within the hour, we will attack. Make sure that the way is ready. After we gather, my horde will be idle and start to grow anxious. I can hold them together for another two weeks. After that, I expect desertions and squabbling. Get your
    work done before then. You have one month to infiltrate and destroy Balentyne.”
    Sakkarot handed them a single carefully wrapped signal rocket. Suddenly the bugbear warlord grew immensely serious and stern. He stares straight into Willow’s eyes.
    “Can you do this? In one month can you break the Watch Wall?”
    “We can,” she answered, “And we will.”
    He grunts and nodded, “Thorn has faith in you. If you weren’t his best, he wouldn’t have sent you. Do this and your names will be legend. Now go. Hail Asmodeus!”
    Their response came, in fierce and determined voice, “Hail Asmodeus!”

    The plan was set. They had one month to infiltrate the Watchtower Balentyne, find and kill the Commander, take out the siege weapons on the roof, open the gates and set off the signal rocket. It was an arduous and dangerous mission, one that sounded a sure suicide. Yet, when Willow looked to the other members of the Nessian Knot, she saw the same passion and determination that she bore. Perhaps, all was not lost. Perhaps, they would be victorious. Either way, they would succeed or die trying.
    Before they left by dawn’s light the following morning, Willow suggested to Grumblejack that perhaps he would have more fun crushing and smashing things with the bugbears. He considered it for a moment.
    “Grumblejack does like smashing,” he grunted, “Grumblejack stay with bugbears.”
    As they boarded the ship, Willow turned to Sakkarot, “Why do the bugbears want war?”
    He gave her a toothy feral grin, “Little one, bugbears love nothing more than the hunt of the soft skin prey in the south.”

    The captain and his crew were anxious and desperate to leave. As they sailed away from the dock, the captain spoke aloud to himself.
    “Look in that one’s eyes. He's smart, always plotting. Bugbears should not be smart.”
    It took most of the night and next day to travel down the coast to the outskirts of Aldencross. When the landing site was visible, Willow took her stance next to the captain. She continued mundane conversation until the old man stepped in behind the captain and everyone was in position. Willow withdrew the dagger from it’s sheath and in a breath drove it into the side of the captains’ neck. He turned just in time for her to miss his jugular. The old man drove his rapier deep into Kargeld’s back, piercing through his stomach. The captain spun around just as Willow dove behind him, he swung his great axe and cleaved it downwards, narrowly missing the old man. She sprang forward, fist in his hair, tearing his head back to bare his throat. She swiftly sliced through his neck, a cascade of crimson showering the dock. She grinned as she dropped his body and flipped up onto the railing deftly running along the edge. Sneaking behind the sailor locked in battle with Pellius, she winked at him before thrusting her dagger through the back of the sailors neck. It was not long before the last of the crew fell to the blades of the bound.
    Working quickly, they stripped the crew and the ship of any valuables, before flooded the hull and slowly sinking the ship.
    From the bowels of the vessel, Willow taken the wooden crate that had been marked as emergency rations. Six bottles of whiskey, a staple for every dire emergency. She handed a bottle to each of them, eyeing the old man warily before winking and tossing him one. As the strolled from the hidden wreckage, she pulled the cork free, and took a long swig from the dark burning liquid. If there was a positive to their swim ashore, it had at least washed away the majority of the blood.

    They arrived in Aldencross just as dusk was falling. The found an Inn taking travellers, by the name of the Lord’s Dalliance. It wasn't much by the way off accommodation; but it had a bed to sleep, water to bathe and food to eat.
    Her room window faced west, and as she stared into the blackness that was the night, she smiled. He was with her here as He was always. She lifted her hand and traced the inverted pentagram into the air.
    As she closed her eyes she breathed deep and whispered, “Hail Asmodeus...”

    Last edited by minderp; 2016-09-28 at 12:28 AM.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

    Join Date
    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 4 - Reconnaissance
    Spoiler: Chapter 4 - Reconnaissance
    Show

    Glistening sunlight shimmered through the windowpane, casting beams of warmth across the wooden floorboards. Willow awoke with a clear head and a determined chin. They required information. They needed a way into the Watchtower and they needed to know what they would face within. The traveller’s inn they had taken up residence in, was a perfect place for that kind of information. While the others skirted about town, Willow headed to the bar at the Inn, dressed in her adventuring gear and a friendly smile on her face. The barkeep introduced himself as Bellum Barhold, the owner of the Inn.
    “Lady Kathryn,” she introduced herself, “Of House Fairholm of Matharyn. I am but an adventurer, striding across the country, seeing the sights, and successfully avoiding my marital duties.”
    Bellum laughed, “And what can I do you for?”
    She saw the impressive range of wine along the shelves, and asked after a recommendation of a fine vintage. Excited and a little thrilled, he whisked off to the cellar, returning with tall bottle of elven red. As he poured her a glass, Willow read the elven script on the label and smiled.
    “Forest Elixir, vintage 4715,” she praised, “Such a strong robust red. Beautiful.”
    Bellum seemed impressed and complimented her pallet, excitedly offering her a tour of his wine cellar, to which she smiled and accepted. As she admired his selection, such rare, uncommon and exotic wines, she was reminded of her own cellar back home. A strange longing welled in her chest for only a moment, before she shook her and pushed aside her thoughts. That life was done. She would build a new one on the bones of her past.

    As dusk fell, the Inn filled with local soldiers and workmen coming to drink their days away. Willow continued her idle chatter with the barkeep as she watched a group of dwarves enter and set up at a table. She listened to them talk in dwarven about their hard days work up at the watch on the trebuchet and the siege weapons. She continued to listen as she asked the barkeep for a round for the table of whatever they were drinking. Willow smiled as she stepped over to the table, putting the round of drinks down, she winked at the dwarf who looked like he was in charge.
    “Sorry for listening in,” she said in dwarven, “but it sounds as if you lads a rough day.”
    The leader looked Willow over for a moment before laughing and agreeing with her. He offered her a seat next to him, introduced himself as Barnibus Eisenbauch and took a swig of his drink. The rest of the dwarves cheered and downed their cups.
    “So tell me lass,” Barnibus said, “How'd a young kid like you come upon learning dwarven?”
    “My father is a diplomat to the south, in Matharyn,” she smirked, “I suppose he wanted me to follow in his footsteps.”
    One of the dwarves piped up, “Matharyn? What's his name, I might know him?”
    The Fairholm’s were only a minor noble family she remembered through her work at the mayor’s office, she knew how unlikely it would be that they would be recognised.
    “Alright now all the formalities are out of the way,” said Barnibus, his voice turning dramatic, “The real question is! Do you know how to play Hammer and Anvil?”
    Willow laughed and shook her head. After she threw in twenty two gold pieces, she was dealt in to the game. She tried to follow as best she could, but the strange and obscure rules had her chuckling at her own mistakes. After two losses, she cheered out as she slapped down her last card in victory and scooped in her winnings. The dwarves laughed and called beginners luck, dealing the next round.
    As she played, she made small talk about the dwarves work and got them chatting about the watchtower and its weaponry. Acting fascinated in the mechanics of the siege weapons, Willow pried for more details on the trebuchet and its location, noting the best way to disable it. She made sure not to stay on one topic for too long, drunk or not, she didn't need the dwarves to become suspicious. She asked about sights and people of interest around the place. One person in particular lit Willow’s curiosity. Every Monday, a lady known fondly as Mumma Giuseppe cooked a delicious venison and vegetable stew up at the watchtower for the soldiers, enough to feed all one hundred of them.
    “How sweet of her,” Willow smiled, “It sounds perfect.”

    As the night grew late, and the barkeep called for closing time, Willow approached the bar. As the guests and soilders departed for the evening, and Bellum wiped the counter with a sheet of cloth, Willow sat upon a stool and smiled.
    “Seems like a hard night, can I buy you a drink?” she asked compassionately.
    He smiled, “Yeah, I think I need it after all that rabble.”
    He poured two tall glasses of the Forest Elixir, and toasted a thanks. They sat and chatted about the town and the latest local gossip. Willow listened as he told her the story of the Lord's Dalliance, the long standing rumour of an unfaithful lord, dallying with a young barmaid.
    "How scandalous!" Willow laughed in mock outrage.
    "It was!" Bellum laughed with her, "Even the name, controversial to say the least! Wouldn't get away with it if we were any closer to the capital."
    "I struggle to see it fitting in between the Noble's Hollow and the Fragrant Lily," she joked.
    "Indeed," he chuckled.
    He refilled their cups and turned his back to wipe down the far bench. Willow reached into her pocket and silently pulled out a vial of poison, smiling easily, sipping from her glass. As he bent down to stack the mugs under the counter, she uncorked and swiftly emptied the contents into his glass. Sipping her wine, she stared out across the room. She laughed along when he made a joke about the very drunken dwarves snoring upstairs while he wiped down their table. She watched him, his footsteps slowing and as his eyelids starting to droop. Acting concerned, she asked if he was ok as he stumbled forward. He mumbled about being tired all of a sudden, apologised and turned to head for the stairs. Willow jumped up and caught him as the poison took hold and he fell unconscious, she was quick enough to catch him seconds before he smashed his face into the ground. She struggled with his weight and lowered him to the floor gently, dragging his body behind the bar, and set off down stairs to explore the basement. After searching the cellar and finding nothing but bottles and kegs of hard liquor, Willow took a bottle of 4675 whiskey and headed up stairs. As she passed the room Pellius was staying in, she noticed the flickering candle light from under his door. Being slightly drunk after the multiple bottles of wine she had drunk trying to keep up with the dwarves, she knocked on his door and leant up against the frame.
    “So I might have poisoned the innkeeper,” she said in mock innocence, “And he might be passed out downstairs behind the bar.”
    Pellius smiled, “And you need my help to get him upstairs?”
    Willow smirked and nodded, “I’m good for helping them down, not helping them back up.”
    They got him into his room and dropped him on the bed. Willow patted him down and searched through his pockets, as she pulled out a great wad of keys, she held them out to Pellius with a grin.
    “We’ve got fifteen minutes minimum, two hours maximum,” she said as she lifted Bellum’s eyelid to see if they were still glazed, “Depends on how tough this guy is.”
    Pellius didn't waste anytime, he took the keys straight to the room Barnibus was staying in. Willow prowled across silently, she muffled a giggle when he clanked the key in the hole, failing miserably in his attempt to be quiet. As the door opened, the overwhelming smell of ale and the booming snore coming from inside, reassured her that the dwarf was still out cold. As she delicately searched his pockets and his body, she rolled her eyes as she pulled out his Mitran pendant. She whipped her head around when she heard Pellius mutter under his breath. She walked over to the desk and smiled to see architect maps of the watchtower. Knowing their fifteen minutes were nearly up, Willow snuck back into the Bellum's room to replace his keys while Pellius made a copy of the maps. As she closed his door silently, she saw Pellius leaving Garvana’s room. She quirked her eyebrow in question, and as he passed he held up a wooden symbol of Asmodeus. She frowned for a moment, watching him enter the dwarf’s chamber. When she realised he was planning to set up Barnibus with charges of devil worship, she sighed internally. She knew at some point they would have to get rid of Barnibus, after all he was the one in charge of fixing the tower, but she had kind of liked the brutish dwarf.
    Willow dawdled to her room as Garvana ran off to find the guard. She uncorked the whiskey and took a swig. She sat in silent prayer while the guards came through, finally managing to rouse the drunken dwarf and took him in protest away. She prayed, and as she felt her Infernal Lord’s touch, she let go of her feelings towards the dwarf. He would be punished for the same reason she would be if she was caught. If he knew who she was, he would not hesitate to turn her over for the same fate he was now facing. They all would. She would die for the Prince of Darkness, she would sacrifice herself if need be, and everyone else. She took a deep breath and let him swarm through her veins. She was his, and in the end, nothing else mattered.

    The group spent the next few days gathering information, listening to rumours and investigating their truth. Willow had even heard a rumour about a secret passage way from the Lord’s Dalliance to the keep. When she returned to the Inn that evening and slyly asked Bellum about it, he laughed a little too firmly as he denied its existence, and Willow was sure that there was some truth to it. She waited until the middle of the night and everyone was asleep before she started strapping on her gear. As she reached for her door handle she froze as she heard footsteps shuffling towards the stairs. She silently opened her door and saw a silhouette tiptoeing downstairs, so she crept after the figure on light feet.
    As they turned left and head down the basement stairs, Willow was right on their tail. She hid behind one of the large ale barrels and let her eyes adjust. She heard the sounds of stone scraping against stone as she watched a part of the wall open, she smiled as she recognised the familiar sound of a pressure stone being activated as the wall closed.
    She sat perched behind the barrels and waited. Forty minutes passed before she heard the pressure stone and the scraping again. Her eyes had adjusted enough to make out Bellum carrying two bottles of wine as he passed her on his way up the stairs. She waited until she heard him enter his room and lock the door before she approached the wall. She traced her hand over its surface and found a slightly smoother stone in the left corner. She pressed it in and watched as a pitch black tunnel was revealed in front of her. Willow considered going ahead on her own, but thought better of it; if it did lead to the keep, she may have needed some help. She slipped up the stairs and approached the room Pellius was in. She went to knock but stopped herself as her lips crept into a mischievous smile, and venereal thoughts flooded her mind. She silently picked his lock, and softly pushed on the door. She scoffed as the door stuck on something heavy jammed behind it. She rolled her eyes as she knocked loud enough to wake him. Willow laughed as he opened the door and she saw him holding his massive axe.
    “Don't like late night visitors, huh?” she said cheekily, eyeing his axe, “No fun.”
    She slinked into his room, closed the door and told him about the secret passage she had found.
    “Did you see where it led?” he asked, pulling a shirt over his head.
    Willow’s grin came back as she raked her eyes over his sculpted torso, “By myself?”
    Pellius smirked and shooed her out the door.
    Together they followed the tunnel uphill by candlelight. After a while they came to another stone wall, Willow traced her hands along it looking for a similar smooth stone. When she found it, she leant over and blew out the candle as she pressed the stone in. It opened into a room that appeared as the vault of the Balentyne keep. Filled with long term food rations, water barrels, weapons and mundane gear like candles and blankets. She smiled as she perused the room, it was indeed a brilliant place to start.

    While Willow had been busy sourcing her information from rumours spoken by the locals who frequented the tavern, the others had not been idle. Pellius returned with information of the patrolling captain and his men, camped just south of Balentyne. Teelee had learnt of a deathly poison kept within the magister’s chamber in the keep, a vile and putrid broth known as wolfsbane. For their plan to poison Mumma Giuseppe’s stew, they needed a vast amount of the average poison, or something strong enough to spread thin.
    “I’ll go,” Willow offered, “While you four take care of the captain and his rangers, I’ll infiltrate the watchtower.”
    “That is a very dangerous plan, my lady,” Pellius frowned.
    “All the fun ones are, good sir,” she smirked.
    “At least you will have the distraction of that bard retinue in town,” he shrugged, “If you are to infiltrate, that may be your best distraction.”
    “I cannot see another way,” Garvana said, brow pulled tight, “We need the poison. Are you sure you’re up to this?”
    Willow’s eyebrows slowly rose, “I am more than up to it.”

    As night fell, and the others prepared to head into the forestry, she braided her hair back and donned her armour and gear. She double checked that she had her poisons and potions, strapping on her daggers and her blow gun, pulling on Pellius' boots. He had lent them to her with a grin, ‘good for jumping and landing’ he’d said with a wink.
    She snuck downstairs and met him in the basement. They walked in silence through the tunnel and when they reached the other end, she hissed out the breath she’d been holding.
    “Will you pray with me?” she asked seriously.
    He looked slightly shocked by her request, but after a moment took her hand and began a short prayer to Asmodeus. As he spoke, Willow could feel the Dark Prince encompass her in a fiery searing warmth, burning her, guiding her.
    “Hail Asmodeus,” Pellius finished.
    Willow smiled, leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, feeling the fiery wave zap him.
    Before stepping through the arched passage, she looked to him and whispered, “Hail Asmodeus.”

    Climbing through the trap door in the ceiling of the vault, Willow found herself in the forge. Drinking down her first invisibility potion, she followed the map they had copied from Barnibus, heading up the stairs on the eastern wall into a room filled proudly with flags marking the lineage of the commanders of Balentyne.
    Two guards were leaning casually against the far wall, chatting easily about the festivities and performance that they’d be missing while on duty. Although they weren't paying much attention to their surroundings, they were directly facing the door into the courtyard. Willow did not wish to chance her exit, so she crept passed them and followed the spiral stairs further up into the tower. As she entered an unguarded room of arrow slits, she approached the holes thoughtfully. She guessed it would be a tight squeeze, but she surmised she’d be able to slide through into the courtyard. She did her best to hold in her laugh when she had the most trouble fitting her chest through the slit, and although it took longer than she would’ve liked, with a little shuffling she managed to slide through. Once free of the wall, she fell toward the stones and felt the strangest sensation as the boots pulled towards the ground. As she impacted, she landed in a crouch, eyes scanning her surroundings. Creeping along the path towards the keep, she cursed under her breath as she saw the only way in was through the main chamber. The one room packed with every off duty soldier and staff member as they watched the grand performance. She took a deep breath and clutched her Asmodean pendant tightly. Keeping her breathing even, she focused on each footstep as she took them, lightly transferring her weight from one foot to another. She made it across the hall, weaving silently in between chairs, reaching the side of the front row. As she continued forward, she noted the important members of the watch all lined in the front row. Those she assumed were the captains, the priest and the magister.
    As Willow took another step, she was hit with a wave of sickening divine energy. She looked over into the centre of the front row and saw a man with an intimidating forceful presence, staring straight at her. Willow’s stomach quivered in revulsion, and it was only sheer will that kept her from whimpering out loud. She knew instantly that he was the Commander. His eyes pierced through her confidence, his intensity drained the blood from her hands and feet. She froze, clenching her pendant tighter and as she held her breath. When he made no move to stop her, she kept her eyes locked on him as she stepped forward silently. His eyes seemed to follow her for a moment longer before he shook his head and turned back to the play. Feeling the sweat drip from her forehead, Willow forced herself to stay calm and continue on, through the stage curtains and up the stairs into the keep. She leaned back against the wall, catching her rapid breaths, heart racing and blood coursing in vigorous anxiety. He was a man she did not wish to meet alone, nor ever again.
    As she gathered herself, she saw the stone brick room guarded by two men. They were stationed directly in front of the door Willow needed to pass through. With no alternative, she slipped out her blowgun and drew her aim. In quick succession, she blew the darts doused in taggit oil, piercing them both in the neck. It took a moment for the guards to realise what had happened, both clutching their throats, slurred words falling from their mouths. Willow quickly drank down another potion, pressed tightly against the wall as they did a sweep of the room seeking their attacker. As the poison took effect, both bodies slumped to the ground in quiet thuds of metal upon stone. She quickly searched the doors nearby and found an empty room, littered with horrible stains and claw marks; much like those seen in interrogation chambers. Willow spied a small inscription at the back of the room scratched into the stone. She smiled as she saw the five pointed star of Asmodeus, accompanied by the sinful words – Send us Vengeance, O Prince.
    Willow swiftly dragged the slumped bodies into the room, smiling as she sealed the door.
    After creeping along silently, passing the guards and dodging the patrols, Willow finally found the magister's room. As she opened the door, a cold breeze wafted from the chamber. Slipping inside and closing the wooden door, her steps faltered. It was an uneasy stomach that she looked over an ice form, laying upon a table in the centre of the room. She watched as cracks formed along the figure, before slickly sealing themselves. Taking a breath to steady herself, she crept to the shelves covered in vials and alchemical ingredients. When she saw the words Concentrated Wolfsbane, Willow was thankful this magister seemed organised enough to label his poisons. She grabbed the vial and stowed it in her pouch, keeping one eye on the ominous ice form. She didn't linger, tiptoeing out as fast as she could, letting out a sigh of relief once the door closed behind her.
    It was on quick and light feet that took her upward to the last level of chambers under the roof. As she crested the top of the stairs, she was met by a set of ornate large double doors. The entrance spoke of great importance. Although was tempted to have a peek, a sickly feeling of dread came over her when the commander flashed through her mind. She had to get out of the keep, and quick. She silently swung the trap door to the roof open, and slithered through the gap. As she gently closed it behind her, she looked up to see the massive trebuchet standing tall looming over the gatehouse. Five guards were standing to the side, shivering and complaining about the cold. Willow felt the chill as her lungs filled with outside air. She approached the edge cautiously as the wind whipped her hair into her face. She took a deep breath and she prayed. She prayed that Pellius had been truthful about the boots. She promised that if he hadn't, she would live long enough to take his head from his shoulders.
    She gripped her pendant close and held her breath as she stepped off the ledge. She kept in her breath as she fell and watched the path closing in, only metres from the ground did she feel the boots pulling downward. Dirt and dusk blew up in a great cloud as she landed in a crouch. Though she struggled to breathe, the wind had been knocked out of her chest – she was alive. She quickly prowled across the courtyard, and headed for the door to the flag room. As she reached for the handle, she felt the ripple of arcana as her invisibility vanished. She panicked, grabbing the last vial and pouring it down her throat as she dove behind the cover of the stables. When she looked back into the courtyard, she shivered as she saw the commander standing at the door to the hall, arms crossed, eyes scanning. He made Willow's skin crawl, the fierce righteous might radiating from him like a pulsing wave. He would not go down easy. He would be the hardest part of their task.
    Willow shrugged off the awful feeling he gave her and headed back for the door. She silently unlatched the handle and softly pushed it open, doing her best to mimic the wind.
    “Damn latch is still broken,” called one of the guards, “Thought those dwarves were gonna fix it?”
    As they neared the archway, she snuck by them and headed for the vault without delay. As she dropped into the pitch black room, she lit her torch and quickly pushed in the pressure stone. The scraping of stone on stone sounded as the passage was once again revealed. Willow took off at a run, winding through the darkened path with a grin lighting her face.
    “We're really going to do this,” she said to herself with determination, “We're going to take this place down...”

    Last edited by minderp; 2016-10-05 at 03:40 AM.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Gender
    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 5 - Sewing the Seed
    Spoiler: Chapter 5 - Sewing the Seed
    Show

    Dusk departed the far northern lands of Alden Cross, with the shadow of night sweeping the mountainous range in deafening blackness. By the dim light of a simmering torch, Willow ran through the winding tunnel towards the cellar of the Lord’s Dalliance. As she reached the hidden stone wall, she doused her flame and listened intently to the far side. When no sound of scuff came from the wine cellar, she pushed in the pressure plate and slipped through. She crept up the stairs from the basement and could her first opportunity to blend in with the raucous guests that lingered drunkenly near the bar. Casually, she returned to her chamber, locking the door behind her. Before stripping her armour off, she found the wooden board she had loosened in the corner of the room and levered it up with her dagger. She carefully placed the vial of poison in the shadowed hole, next to the runic metal brand she had taken from the prison.
    As she lifted her pendant over her head, she held it to her lips for a moment, inhaling deeply through her nose. She had infiltrated a watchtower guarded by more than one hundred men. She had walked right through the keep's front doors in plain sight, trusting in the magic from a vial and her own ability to go unnoticed. She had come face to face with the legendary Lord Commander, and she had kept strong to her task. It was pride that swelled her chest. Though his stare may have incited fear in her heart, it was but a drop in an ocean compared to the fear her Dark Prince incited in her soul. She served him, and while she served him, she would face anything he asked of her.

    After changing from her armour, she found most of the group and called a meeting in her chamber. Although she looked for Pellius throughout the inn, no one had seen him return after their mission was completed within the forest. As they dragged the table from the corner and unfurled the parchment map of the tower, Willow looked to the others.
    “You were successful?” she asked Garvana.
    Though she was sure that they had been, for they had returned on time, she did not miss the fragile state they were in. She could hear Garvana's staggered chest wheezing, and saw strange bite marks on Mathias that had barely closed over.
    “We were,” Garvana grunted.
    Willow frowned, looking for more of an explanation. When none came, she sighed.
    “And?” she said, “Are the captain and all of his rangers taken care of?”
    “Dead,” Mathias snapped, “Yes. Clearly, or we wouldn’t be here.”
    “And Pellius?”
    “No idea,” he grouched, “Took off after we finished. Thought he’d be back here.”
    Willow shook her head and began scribbling the details she could remember from each room she passed within the watchtower. She explained what she came across, focusing on the features of each room and its number of doors, windows, guards and weapon stashes. When she spoke of the Commander, she noted the sickening aura that radiated from him, yet downplayed the fear and terror he had made her feel. She hoped they didn't notice the way her voice spiked as she mentioned him.

    It was an our later that Pellius returned, with a look of subtle defeat furrowing his brow. He explained that he had also tried to infiltrate the keep looking for information on its layout and weaponry. His solo mission had not been so successful. Willow couldn't help but smirk when he told her how he had lost his weapons within his first five minutes. She listened to his story, and watched the sweat form on his forehead as he spoke of his encounter with the commander. She took a little solace in the fact that Pellius, the strong and proud dark paladin, felt the same fear that she did.
    As she listened, she filled in the map with the details he provided of the lower levels of the watchtower.
    “This is good,” Willow commented, writing out a list of priorities for their siege upon the tower, “Very good.”
    They designated tasks out for the next day, each of them to source more information from different avenues. As they said their goodnights, Willow wandered down the stairs to the bar, and struck up easy conversation once again with the innkeeper. Getting answers through flattery and friendly prodding was always the easiest way. The man was a major gossip, if anyone had the information she needed, it was him.

    As the sun rose over the mountains on the following morning, Willow donned her adventuring gear, braided her hair into pigtails and dotted her cheeks with carmine. They had developed a rouse to inspect the tower’s main defences and the gatehouse itself. She was to play the part of an innocent faced noble, naïve and young seeking glory passed the infamous wall. She was always so convincing when she tried to look young and innocent, she had spent much of her life before her downfall acting the same part.
    She met Pellius in the dining area, chuckling at his gruff mercenary outfit, and ushered him out the door. They strode up to the keep on horseback, with the task of information on the layout, defences and specific weaponry. Two guards stood at the front gates, watching their approach.
    “I am the Lady Kathryn of House Fairholm of Matharyn,” she said proudly, “And I wish to pass through this tower and head into the northern lands.
    “The north is no place for a noble lady such as yourself,” the guard frowned.
    “Yes yes, so I’ve heard,” she said, rolling her eyes, “So many people with opinions on what is and isn't a place for this lady. Nevertheless, I wish to head north.”
    The guard looked in questions over her shoulder to Pellius. Looking severely unimpressed, he simply shrugged.
    “Madam, I do not think you understand what you're asking,” said the other guard, wide eyed, “The north is a savage place full of horrifying dangers!”
    Willow cocked an eyebrow and smiled coldly.
    “My dear soldier,” she said softly, “I do not believe it is your place to question what it is I do or do not understand. I wish to see the infamous north for myself. So fetch the captain and let us get things moving.”
    The guards looked to one another; one shrugged and the other shook his head. After a short time, an unfortunate unattractive man clad in heavy steel armour, approached Willow with a face of clear annoyance. He looked her up and down and shook his head.
    “So you want to enter the north,” snapped the captain, “Look mam, outside that wall is no joke, no pleasure cruise, no royal hunt. Its savage lands, bloodthirsty beasts and imminent death. What in the world could a child like you want with it?”
    “Adventure captain!” Willow said, brightly wide eyed.
    “There's plenty of sheep to chase south of the wall,” he grunted.
    Willow raised her unimpressed eyebrows, “Maybe I like to chase really big sheep.”
    Not a single muscle in the captain’s face moved, “They're called cows."
    His lip pulled up in a hint of a smile as he chuffed at his own joke.
    “Captain,” Willow said firmly, “I wish to head north. I thank you for your opinion and advice, but it is my decision. And I will be heading north.”
    The captain stared into her eyes for a moment before his shoulders slumped slightly in defeat.
    He looked behind her at Pellius, “And you're letting her do this?”
    “Not my call,” Pellius replied curtly, “Family's paying me good gold to follow her around wherever she wants to gallivant.”
    Scoffing in response, the captain simply shook his head and led them into the keep. She slid gracefully form her steed and guided it through the entryway. Looking around with inquisitive eyes, Willow took note of how many guards were stationed and where. She noted the large iron barred double doors on the southern side of the bridge, the twenty foot drawbridge on the northern side, the murder-holes in the gatehouse and large cast iron pots around the edge of the ten foot murder-hole in it's ceiling. She entered the gatehouse and stood in front of the large iron portcullis keeping her from the savage north. In perfect feigned anxiety and fright, she stared at the gate wide eyed, and looked through the murder holes.
    “I-Is all this really n-necessary?” she stuttered.
    “Of course it is,” the captain said sternly, “The evil terrors of the north could not be contained otherwise. Last chance, do you still wish to go?”
    Willow faked flustered.
    “Yes! Of course. B-but,” she stammered, “I've, i've... left my good boots behind! Yes! In the inn! I must go get them!”
    She spun on her heel, pulling her horse with shaking hands, striding back towards the entry. She saw the captain and Pellius make eye contact, mirrored faces of annoyance and frustration. As they mounted their horses and continued towards the town, when she was sure they were out of earshot of the keep, Willow innocently batted her eyelids at Pellius.
    “Oh, my dear captain,” she said patronisingly, “I think it's the evil terrors right under your nose that you need to be worrying about…”

    As the twilight hours of dusk came and the group returned to the inn, they all had news to share. Willow and Pellius filled in the map with further details, drawing out the important pieces of weaponry they knew they’d have to disable. Mathais had spent his day listening in to news on the missing patrol. The priest of the tower had begun an investigation, suspecting foul play after evidence of a battle was found at the camp site. Garvana had been searching for information on the commander's late wife, and found only that it had been a decade since her demise. Willow was impressed when she heard Teelee talk of her day spent with Captain Mott's wife. She had not only found out about an affair with Captain Eddarly, but she had found out that once again they would meet for a secret rendezvous that night. They devised a plan to stir discontent in the captain ranks, forging an anonymous note with the details, waiting until the cover of night to deliver it.
    Relaxing by the fireplace in the tavern, it was passed midnight when word came in rush from a band of soldiers. Mott had caught the pair in each others arms, and had issued a formal challenge of duel at the hour of dawn.

    As they slept through the hours of night, Willow woke with a burning rush that seared down her body. She couldn't stop a moan from escaping as she forced herself up and the heat pulsed in fiery bliss. She tried to concentrate through the searing warmth; something was close, something with a strong connection to Asmodeus. She forced herself to ignore the burn so she could determine where it was coming from, but by the time she had narrowed it down to the rooms to the right of her, the feeling vanished. Breathing heavily, she laid her head down, waiting for the feeling to return. After an hour she felt her eyes drift close. It was a curiosity to be sure, but she smiled, basking in the residual warmth as she fell back into the lands of slumber.

    As the sun rose over the mountains, Willow and the others stood with the crowd of townsfolk and watched the two men prepare to duel. Mott was a sturdy fierce man, solid in his defence as he waited for an opening. It did not take long, Mott was not there to simply teach the man a lesson. When his chance came, he lunged and cleave down his halberd deep into Eddarly's chest. As he slumped to the ground in a shower of scarlet, Mott pulled his bloodstained weapon free as the crowd cried out in horror. Duelling unto death, a crime punishable by beheading. A man resigned to his fate, he did not struggle as the guards in the crowd surrounded him and put him under arrest.
    While the others went to watch the sentencing and explore more of the keep, Willow was struck with an idea. Three of the watch’s captains were now either dead or incarcerated. There was one last captain that they had to eliminate. She returned to the inn, and spoke to the innkeeper Bellum, the brother of Captain Sam Barhold. With a few sly hints and sighs of admiration, he winked and promised to introduce her to him next time he came in for a meal.
    The others returned from the watchtower with the tragic news of Mott’s sentence. As they gathered around the table in Willow’s chamber, she was pleased with the decision to begin their assault and start sewing the seed of fear and angst into the ranks of the watchtower. Their first target was the rookery. With no quick way for the guards to call for reinforcements, they could take their time and thin out the defences, one by one.
    They waited until dark, and together crept out into the tunnel, carrying a tray of meat laced with enough arsenic to poison hundreds of ravens. They followed the winding passage by torchlight, clad in armour, weapons strapped tight. As the stone wall into the vault scraped open, a sudden squeal had Willow’s head snap up. Bellum Barhold stood in front of her, two bottles of wine in hand, a face stricken with fright. Willow cursed as dove over the barrels, narrowing dodging the shatter of glass as he threw the bottle on impulse. She swiftly tumbled and landed on her feet, lunging in quickly with her dagger poised at the back of his neck.
    “I'd suggest you stay calm,” she warned quietly, “And keep your voice down.”
    “Y-yes, yes,” he said shakily, “I think I’ll do that.”
    She pressed the dagger a little firmer on the back of his neck, “Calmly, quietly, inside the tunnel.”
    With trembling hands held high, he fumbled into the tunnel with his hands up.
    Willow sighed, looking to Pellius, “What are we going to do with him?”
    “Do it!” Garvana said, staring fiercely at the dagger Willow was holding.
    With a furrowing brow, Willow’s mind raced for a way out, for any other solution.
    “Who are you people?!” Bellum stuttered loudly, “What are you planning?”
    With an exhaled of frustration and anger, she grabbed his hair and held tight as she drove the dagger into the top of his spine, killing him as quickly and painlessly as she could. He fell forward as his body collapsed to the floor. She hissed out a breath, cursing viciously under her breath.
    “It had to be done,” Pellius said sombrely.
    “I know that!” Willow snapped, “It does not mean I am glad for it.”
    He gave her a moment, as she continued to curse under her breath. Frustrating as it may have been, she understood that he needed to die. She saw no other way around it.
    “Come along, my lady,” Pellius said gently, “We have much to do. There will be many sacrifices along our path, it is what must be done…”

    Using the strange arcana of their circlets, they formed their frames to mirror the guards and servants. Willow took the lead, carrying the large tray of raw meat, passing guards on watch as she walked up the winding staircase towards the rookery. As she reached the door, the others hid as she knocked.
    “What da ya want?” a voice grouched.
    “I’ve got feed for the ravens,” Willow called, “Come on now, the trays heavy!”
    “They’ve already got their dinner,” he barked.
    “Come on Martin,” she sighed, “Commander’s orders. He’s worried some one might have tried to poison the birds, what with all this strange happenings around the keep.”
    “Poison ya say?” he questioned worriedly, “Why’d they do a thing like that?”
    “Martin!” Willow snapped, “I’ve spent the last hour carving this damn boar, my shift is done, my kids are waitin’. Just let me in!”
    With muttered grumbling, she heard the sound of several locks being unlatched. As he opened the door, Willow smiled and handed him the tray. As the weight fell heavy in his hands, she slyly unsheathed her dagger and walked in the rookery passed him.
    “Let me get the other tray,” she sighed, “Damn birds.”
    As she strolled passed him, Pellius suddenly leaped from his hiding place, ploughing into the frail man and rushed him backwards into the room. Mathias dove from behind the pillar, lunging forward and piercing Martin's chest with the rapier. As a cry of pain and surprise escaped his mouth, Willow leaped in from the side and plunged her dagger deep into his windpipe. It was quick and efficient, and most importantly relatively quiet. They set up the poisoned meat for the ravens and quickly searched Martin's belongings, using his keys to lock in his corpse and the feasting birds. As the sound of a signal horn blew a short burst, signalling the change of the guard shifts, they quickly descended the stairs back towards the hidden tunnel. With their small objective completed, they made their return to the inn, sheltered by the cover of darkness and the warmth of success.


    The dawn sun rose, as Willow woke with an uneasy stomach. They had made their first real offensive move, and it was one that would surely be noticed. She knew alone, she would be able to blend in to the crowds and remain unseen. But there was nothing subtle about the group. They would just have to take it one day at a time, and always keep their main objectives priority; opening the gates, killing the commander and firing the signal rocket.
    She dressed and strapped her daggers to her thighs, before headed downstairs to pretend to wait for breakfast. The group had decided the best plan to deal with the innkeepers sudden disappearance would be to pretend to know nothing. Keep their stories simple and act as shocked as everyone else.
    When the barmaid arrived for work and the front door was still locked, she ran off to fetch the guards. Minutes later, Father Donnigan and Captain Barhold arrived, flanked by four guards. The captain barged the door open with his shoulder, shattering the lock, flinging it from the frame. The father had a friendly but firm tone as he requested for all of the inn's patrons to gather and await questioning. One by one the group were called in for solitary interviews.
    As Garvana was called into the office first, Willow watched on with a look of feigned concern and confusion. It was almost a genuine look. The masculine woman may of had a strange approach to her life and duty, but she had grown on Willow. She did not want her to be captured. She did not want any of the bound to get captured, for they were her only allies in this world, and she knew not if they were strong enough to withstand interrogation and keep their secrets hidden.
    While she waited for her turn, Willow mused on the curiosity of the souls she was bound to. Garvana was an odd woman, to say the least. But she had a twisted sense of humour and a strange intensity Willow liked. Teelee was a quiet and spoilt child, that much was always apparent. But she seemed to have a brilliant mind hidden underneath the layers of her cossetted attitude. Pellius was charming, handsome and arrogant. All bad things for Willow, but so very much fun. And even Mathias had a certain charm himself. An old fashioned misogynistic gentleman, who clearly believed women were below him. He had that kicked puppy charm about him; been wronged by the world, the black sheep, the underdog. Willow did not want to see any of them captured. For they had formed a strange sort of bond, and also because rescuing them spelt more work for her later on.
    Willow and Pellius had spoken briefly of a plan if they were to be questioned. A ruse of an affair, giving plenty of cause for a story that may have lacked a few clear facts or held a few mistakes. As they sat and waited for their turn, he made eye contact with Willow and cocked his eyebrow in question. The corner of Willow's mouth turned up in a smirk as she placed her hand high on his thigh in answer.
    As Teelee was called in and Garvana was escorted back to her seat, Willow wanted to know what was asked, and what she had said. But the four guards were keeping a fairly close eye on them and she knew better than to risk it. When it was Pellius’ turn, Willow squeezed his upper thigh slightly digging her nails in before he stood, making sure he knew that she had understood his plan. After only a few minutes, that felt much longer, she saw the door open and watched Pellius stroll back to the table. They pointed to Mathias and ushered him inside the small chamber. Pellius sat down and leaned back in his chair, placing his hand on Willow's thigh, squeezing tightly.
    The anticipation grew as Willow waited for herself to be beckoned forth, and as the old man strode out with his usual swagger, she forced herself not to roll her eyes at him. She scoffed in her head, there was something about him that blossomed an irrational need to act like a child. The guards escorted her into the office, and indicated for her to a seat against the wall.
    “Sorry for the trouble,” Father Donnigan said sincerely, “But we need to ask you a few questions, miss...?”
    Willow smiled gently.
    “Fairholm,” she said sweetly, “Lady Kathryn Fairholm.”
    The priest furrowed his brow, “Fairholm? Minor noble house of -”
    “- Lendaryl, Matharyn Province, yes,” Willow answered for him.
    “Ah yes,” he said, “I remember reading something about your family...”
    Willow smiled, “Of my Father no doubt, Theodore Fairholm, works as a diplomat in the Lendaryl Mayor's office.”
    “Ah, I see. Yes, Theodore,” the priest muttered, “Lands of wheat, yes?”
    “Corn, Father,” Willow corrected.
    “Ah yes. Corn,” he nodded, looking up from his note book, “The odd thing is I remember young Lady Kathryn was a beautiful thing of brown ashen hair...”
    Willow gave him a wry smile, “Oh I’m sorry father, you must be mistaken. Our family tree has been laden with hair of aubrun for generations.”
    She tried to sound helpful, “Perhaps you're thinking of the Fairmont's from Aberthall? I studied with their eldest, Lady Caitlyn, long brown hair. And I believe they grew wheat as well?”
    Father Donnigan smiled, “Perhaps.”
    “Alright Lady Fairholm,” he said, “When did you last see Mr Barhold, the innkeeper?”
    Willow frowned, “Bellum? Why, yesterday lunchtime I suppose. Why is that? Is he alright?”
    “That is what I’m here to find out Lady Fairholm,” he said, “You knew him on a first name basis? Can I ask what your relationship was with him?”
    “It was a mutual love of fine wines,” she said truthfully, “Such a connoisseur, great selection, impressive taste. Oh my, I hope nothing has happened to him.”
    “As do we all. And may I ask, how did he seem yesterday?”
    “Just as normal, happy to take my gold and feed me wine,” she chuckled.
    “I see,” he said humourlessly, “May I enquire as to what brought you into town?”
    “Oh, adventure Father,” she said bright eyed, “I had planned on adventuring north of the wall, but alas, the solicitous captain I spoke with persuaded me otherwise.”
    “Indeed,” he said, not looking up from his note book, “And you are adventuring alone?”
    Willow chuckled again, “Of course not, Father. Johnston, my bodyguard, is with me ever vigilant.”
    “Indeed,” he repeated, “And what were you doing last night?”
    Willow feigned a look of fluster, “Late dinner, a bit of light reading.”
    “And is that all?”
    “Well... no... Father...” Willow forced a blush, “There was some.... other...”
    “Other?” he queried.
    She looked down at her hands and begun twirling her fingers, “A... visit, with Mr Johnston.”
    The priest looked up from his book, “Please be more specific Lady Fairholm.”
    “Father!” she said in indignation, “You would not ask a Lady to verbalise those activities, would you?”
    “I do apologise Lady Fairholm,” he said genuinely, “But with the nature of the crimes we are investigating, I’m afraid I must insist.”
    Willow hung her head and stuttered, “Yes Father. I-I went to him.. and... w-we lay together.”
    “In his room, you say?” he said, without missing a beat.
    Willow froze momentarily. A simple detail, but they had not covered such things.
    “Yes Father,” she continued, her head bowed avoiding eye contact.
    She figured Pellius would take the dominant road and make things on his terms. A sudden fear simmered in her stomach, she could only hope she was right.
    “Thank you, child,” he said, “Oh, and one last question, did you two come into town alone?”
    Willow looked up and quirked her head, “No, we followed a group of others here. As my father says, safety in numbers.”
    “Specific names of the people in the group, Lady Fairholm?”
    “Oh Father,” she said wide eyed and innocent, “I'm sorry, I just don’t remember the common rabble. Maybe one of two of the others staying here?”
    “Very well,” he said dryly, “Well thank you Lady Fairholm, you may head back outside. We'll call you back if we need more information.”
    Willow stood from her seat and shyly made her way out of the office. As she returned to her seat, Garvana was called upon again. She rose from her seat and returned to the office, looking determined and fearless. Willow was desperate to ask Pellius of his answer, but the watchful eye of the guards satyed her once again. A few moments later, Garvana was carried out of the room by Captain Barhold, gagged and bound. She struggled against her bonds, until she tied securely and placed behind the bar guarded by a soldier. Willow let out a gasp of shock and used the opportunity to huddle against Pellius.
    She turned her faced to his neck and whispered, “Your room, right?”
    He placed a comforting arm over her shoulder and squeezed.
    “Yeah,” he said, “It'll be alright miss.”
    Willow exhaled in relief. She frowned when Father Donnigan called for Teelee again. As she leant forward, they sat in silence while they waited. After only a few minutes, they walked Teelee out with her hands bound behind her back. As the priest and the captain closed up the office, Willow felt Pellius shift in his chair. She quickly laid a staying hand on his shoulder, squeezing firm. One of the guards looked at her questioningly, but she merely batted her eyelids in feigned worry and shock. As the guards dragged Garvana and Teelee out through the doors, the priest addressed the remaining guests.
    “You are free to go,” he said politely, “I thank you for your time and patience. I am afraid you will have to find other accommodation, for the Lord’s Dalliance will be closed until further notice.”
    Willow stood up, and rushed over to Father Donniagan, placing a gentle hand on his wrist.
    “But Father,” she pleaded, “We were told this was the only inn that would take travellers. Where will we stay? Surely I’m not to sleep in a tent?!”
    She did not care for sleeping in a tent, but it really did not matter. The ruse of keeping up appearances did.
    He looked at her with empathetic eyes, “No of course not my child, head to the Brassbell at your earliest convenience. I shall send word and have a room available for you.”
    “Oh thank you father, thank you...”

    She quickly scaled the stairs and collected her belongings from her chamber, being swift and quiet about retrieving the items from her hidden plank. She slid the brand down her corset and stuffed the poison vial in her slip, putting the pendant around her neck, slipping it in her shirt. She handed Pellius the rest of her gear at the top of the stairs, muffling a laugh at his unimpressed look as she slinked down to the dining area. They found the Brassbell with little trouble, an establishment of higher class than the last. The bellhop greeted them at the door and ushered them inside the grand waiting chamber. He told them that Father Donnigan had already sent word along and had arranged a few suitable rooms.
    “We'll take two rooms for five nights,” Willow said politely, smiling at the luxurious interior of the parlour.
    “A room is twenty gold a night, my lady,” said the bellhop, “Paid in advance, of course.”
    “Twenty!” barked Pellius, in his mercenary accent, “We only need one room!”
    Willow rolled her eyes and thought it over, it would be much easier to escape by night if need be, if they were in the same room.
    “Fine,” she huffed, “We'll take the one room, thank you.”
    The bellhop looked shocked.
    “My Lady,” he whispered scandalously, “The rooms only have one bed, large as they may be.”
    Willow raised her eyebrow.
    “We'll take the one room,” she said sternly.
    “Yes, my lady,” he replied with a bow.
    After showing them to their chamber, and he bowed to them before turning for the door, Willow saw the corner of his mouth lift up in the smallest of smirks as he made eye contact with Pellius. Once alone, Willow searched the room for somewhere she could stash her forbidden items, as Pellius went in search of breakfast. After testing the wooden floorboards and wall panels, she found a loose pane in one of the cupboards, removing it to fashion a small hidden alcove. She quickly slid her pendant, the vial of poison, the brand into the drawer before sealing it closed.
    It was close on midday by the time she had settled and Pellius returned with food. She sat in the window seat that faced the keep, as she picked at her poached eggs, half expecting to have an army of guards charging down the hill towards her at any point in time. Mathias visited their chamber after lunch, remaining vague about his whereabouts, declining their offer to stay together. They wasted the day away by going over the rescue mission. Arousing more suspicion now would only indicate to the guards that there are more conspirators. The brands on both Garvana's and Teelee's wrists would be enough to have them locked up and awaiting their return to Branderscar. It would be at best weeks before the inquisitors could arrive to escort them back to their fates. The three of them knew they would be more likely to be successful in rescuing their companions if they tried when the keep was weakened.

    When the sun set on that first night, Willow stepped out of the bath and entered the living area dressed only in her nightgown, her long auburn hair wet and flowing down her back. As she sat in the window seat and looked up at the bright shine of the moon, she realised that she had never shared a bed with any other man than her husband. She could not help but think about the dead weight he used to be. He was such a fine specimen of manhood. Sculpted torso, chiselled features, handsome face. A righteous, virtuous, faithful man. And yet, she felt nothing for him. She never did. She spent years of her life trying to force the feelings, she truly and honestly tried to learn to love him. He gave her his heart in full, and she still did not feel a thing for him. Not for all his suffering, his sacrifice and duty. He was weak. Pathetic. Ruled by a sense of fairness and justice – he embodied everything she despised about the lands of Talingarde.
    She watched Pellius in the reflection in the window, as he stripped his shirt over his head, she watched the muscles across his back flex and release. She watched him bend forward and unstrap his boots, his firm behind strong and thick as the muscles craned down the back of his thighs. She tore her eyes away, chastising herself for her deliciously inappropriate thoughts.
    “I know little about you, Pellius,” she said quietly, “The curious and handsome man from the far lands of Cheliax.”
    “Handsome?” he repeated, a sly grin on his lips.
    “Do not be coy,” Willow chuckled, “You are more than aware you are handsome. Tell me of yourself, what are you doing in Talingarde?”
    “My lady,” he frowned, a guarded expression coming over his face, “I do not wish to speak of it. You will forgive me if I wish to keep my secrets as my own.”
    Willow’s eyebrow arched in intrigue.
    “You do not trust me?” she asked, a smirk lifting her lips, “Then you are wiser than I gave you credit. We are bound together, this is true. Yet, none of us know more of each other than simple crimes and reasons of our capture.”
    She looked to him, a peculiar gleam to her eye. A strange curiosity he indeed was. She could feel Asmodeus within him, she knew his connection to her Dark Prince was strong and true.
    “We do not have any other allies in this country,” she said, “We are alone. We will have to learn to trust one another in time. Of all of our allies, I feel the most drawn to you. Perhaps I can show you a little of me, for you may be the only one of the bound who can understand it…”
    She stood from the window seat, strolling to her pack and removed the small silk pouch. She sprinkled the crimson grains of dried blood so lightly along the floor that the shape she was making was barley perceivable. As she finished the fifth point on the inverted pentagram, she stood back, inhaling sharply as she unlaced and dropped her nightgown. The cold chill seeping through the windowpane feathered against her bare skin. She delicately stepped into the centre of the star and lowered herself into a kneel. The spark of excitement ran through her veins, the nerves and anxious trembles pulsed low in her stomach. She had been praying this way since she was old enough to first truly feel the Lord of the Nine, but she had never prayed this way under the eyes of someone else.
    “Hail, Asmodeus,” she whispered, the first wave of heat lick her flesh, “Deliver me from chaos that I may serve you in eternity. Unmake the lies of my body and reshape my soul in your design.”
    As her rasped chant continued, the waves of warmth began to burn and simmer. She repeated the words she seared into her brain, begging her Prince for the chance to serve him. By the sixth round, she was chanting in between aching whimpers. The seventh, her knees began to buckle and her hands began to shake. The eighth, her chest was heaving as tears welled in her eyes, the blissful agony of Hell’s fiery rapture overwhelming her senses. As the ninth chant fell barely audible from her lips, she cried out through clenched teeth with the final wave of searing inferno swarming through her. The euphoric pain of her Infernal Prince’s touch blazed through her limbs, scorched it’s way through her chest and crushed her slender frame in it’s grip. Obediently, she held herself perfectly still while He settled in her veins, encompassing her in his profane and fiery wrath. It was only as his frightening grasp release, that she free her trembling exhale. On shaking and weathered legs she stood. She wiped away the grains with her foot, tenderly turning for the bed. She could feel the piercing gaze of Pellius’ sight, but she could not face questions or queries now. As she slid under the silken covers, she closed her eyes and willed sleep to take her quickly.

    It would be Moonday that they would push their assault on Balentyne. They planned to meet early morning before the dawn, in the cellar of the Lord’s Dalliance, before making their way through the passage and into the tower.
    Ealry Sunday evening, they ate and finished preparations for their tasks. Willow had snuck out earlier that day to steal a few bottles of wine from the cellar, sharing a few too many with Pellius over dinner. As she did every night, Willow bathed and dressed her hair with liquid myrrh cinnamon and cassia. The easy haze of warmed velvet wine settled well within her mind. As she watched Pellius change in the far corner of the bedchamber, his sharp physique and bare skin feeding her excitement, she felt the rapturous need for carnal pleasure. Slowly, she prowled towards him. Her long locks slicked along her back, her pale skin shimmering against the candlelight. She wore only the black laced slip, slim straps that draped the fabric loosely across her naked flesh beneath. As he heard her approach and tied his drawers around his waist, her turned to her, brow arched in question. She did not say a thing as she slowly sauntered towards him. She stared into his eyes, thrilled to see the mirrored spark of desire lit within his gaze. As she reached him, she traced her finger intimately slow, along his collarbone and upward along his neck. As she slid her fingers over his chin, she gently pulled his head downward. When he did not refuse or resist, the thundering need of lust overcame her senses. She lifted her head, bringing her lips to meet his, in a gentle and soft kiss. As her tongue slowly slipped between his lips to tenderly seek his, a wave of heat undulated through her limbs. Though the caress began as a leisurely exploration, he suddenly gripped her waist in a frightening embrace. He pulled her to him, crushing her small frame against his firm chest, his kiss deepening as his fingers latched through her hair. Their touch became almost desperate, teeth scraping against flesh, nails digging deep into each others skin. She ripped her mouth from him and rasped a panted breath. As he released her, she watched his eyes flash a fiery and fearsome scarlet. With a deep grin, she turned from him and slinked over to her bag, pulling free out a firm leather riding crop. As she had been strolling through the town that day, she had seen them in the window of a stable house, and been struck with the lecherous and sinful idea. As she walked on trembling legs, she knelt down and raised the crop up in both hands. She turned her head and looked deep within his curious and intense gaze.
    “Will you help me pray?” she rasped, a tone tickled with mischief.
    He prowled slowly to her, standing above her as his consuming gaze began to devour. She stared up through her eyelashes and shivered as he grabbed the crop by its handle and tested it with a loud lash to his hand. He grinned, disarming and sinful.
    “This we give our Infernal Father, our obedience to him above all else...”

    Last edited by minderp; 2016-10-05 at 03:42 AM.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Gender
    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 6 - Thinning the Ranks
    Spoiler: Chapter 6 - Thinning the Ranks
    Show

    The first of the morning birds started their song, the sky still shadowed black as dawn slowly approached. The warmth of summer’s air lingered in soft breeze through the crack of the open window, the bright leaves upon the trees rustling under the weight of the singers’ wings. Willow awoke in the warm embrace of heavy solid toned arms. It took a moment for the reality to set in. The memories of the prior night swarmed back to her mind, unconsciously bringing a blush to her cheeks. She had never shared something so intimate with another soul. She had never bared herself so openly, her faith and devotion so completely on display. Even knowing Pellius shared her beliefs; through every step of their lustful and carnal joining, she had expected him to turn form her in revulsion. She had never known the feeling of real trust, she had kept her faith so hidden over the years, so sheltered from all watchful eyes. Yet, here she lay, in the arms of a man who knew her darkest and most well-kept secret, and who not only accepted it, but revelled in it.
    Stepping out of the bed, she stretched her arms high and arched her back. She winced as the flesh pulled tight along the welts from the crop on her sides. She couldn't help but grin as she traced her fingers down their ridges. Walking gingerly, she tottered towards the bathroom on fragile legs. She grinned as she heard Pellius’ gratified laugh from the bed as she gave him a crude finger gesture before closing the door.
    Under the cover of darkness, they met up with Mathias and broke into the secret tunnel within the Lord’s Dalliance. Their plan was to await the evening, to poison the stew and take out as many guards as possible, using the distraction to free Teelee and Garvana. They had a few hours to wait, so Willow retired a bottle of red from the cellar and they sat by torchlight, passing the time with a few rounds of cards.

    They emerged silently from the tunnel after the sun had set, sneaking through the vault and into the forge. Willow had disguised herself as a plump female servant with unremarkable features and an aged forgettable face. Pellius and Mathias had disguised themselves as guards, planning to loiter in the walkway pretending to eagerly await the stew much like the rest of the guardsmen. It was Willow’s job to lace the cauldron with the concentrated wolfsbane. She took a large tray from the store room and hefted it through the hallway. Shuffling her footsteps, appearing busy and in a hurry, she barged the door open with her backside and navigated her way into the kitchens. As she entered, she saw the hefty size older woman known as Mumma Giuseppe. She was leaning over and stirring a large steaming cauldron, as the smell of spices and venison wafted throughout the room. To the left were a dozen kitchenhands, and an intimidating woman brandishing a rolling pin. Willow had to think of a way to get Mumma Giuseppe’s attention off the stew only for a moment. As she attempted to knock a servant over by bumping him firmly in the shoulder, perfect and terrible timing had him bent forward to adjust his laces. The movement sent Willow off balance as she tumbled over his back. The tray she was holding went clattering to the floor, and in a chorus of shouts of surprise, the kitchen staff all ran over to help. The fierce looking woman came barking towards Willow as she picked up the tray and quickly wiped it over at the sink.
    “What’s wrong with yer girly!” she barked, clonking Willow over the head with the rolling pin, “Useless! Can't git decent help these days!”
    Mumma Giuseppe turned away from her cauldron to calm the cook down.
    “Come now, Larza,” she soothed, “They’re only children. And it’s only a tray.”
    Willow took the opportunity to slip in behind her silently, emptying the vial into the broth. She watched the poison simmer on the top of the meaty stew, before being sucked under and absorbed into the chunks of venison. She quickly piled her tray with a few bowls of simple foods, sliced vegetables and meat, and a tankard of ale. A horn signalling the beginning of dinner sounded throughout the keep as Willow left the kitchen. She shuffled down the corridor making eye contact with Pellius, smiling with a nod to him as she continued on her way. With casual ease, the two men fell in behind her and followed her up the stairs and into the keep.
    As Pellius and Mathias stopped to talk to the two guards standing on duty outside the cells, one of them stopped Willow as he put his hand out in her way.
    “Are you busy at the moment mam?” he asked.
    “I’m afraid so,” Willow said politely, “What is it you were after my dear?”
    “Would you have time to bring me up some of that stew after?”
    She smiled compassionately, “Oh of course I will, I hear it's extra delicious tonight.”
    “We’ll take over,” Mathias said, “We already got our share early.”
    “Really?” the guard asked, “Oh, that’d be great. You two sure you’re alright to hold the post?”
    Pellius laughed, “Yeah, go on.”
    As the pair hurriedly made their way down the stairs, Willow smirked as she quickly put down the food tray and set about picking the lock on the door. She had it open in seconds and wasted no time, prowling in quickly and deftly unlocked the cell doors. As she threw the outfits at both women, the other prisoners started shouting out for the guards. She pulled out her bow and drew an arrow trained on Mot’s forehead, as Mathias did the same to Barnibus. With no where to run or hide, it was swift and quick that they fell, silencing their cries for help.
    Willow quickly went to check the women over, both of whom looked drained and exhausted. As Willow approached Teelee, who hadn't said a word since being freed, a frantic signal horn sounded an alarm. She placed a firm hand on Teelee’s shoulder.
    “No time for sorrows,” she said softly, “Take this and get to the tunnel. You remember where it is?”
    Teelee took the invisibility potion and nodded. She drank it down in a gulp and she was gone. Willow turned to see Garvana pacing the floor, she spoke an enchanted incantation and disappeared, sounding footsteps travelling up to the next floor. Willow shook her head and transformed herself into a guard before following Pellius and Mathias towards the exit. They passed dozens of guards falling into rank as they ran through the courtyard, when they reached the forge, Willow cursed under her breath to see it filled with guards donning armour and fitting weapons. She pushed passed Pellius and strode up to the pile of longswords, grabbing a few, passing them out to each guard. She saw Mathias smirk and take up position handing out halberds, while Pellius tended the shields. Suddenly, a shrilling high pitched squeal sounded from the top of the keep. The guards they were outfitting seemed to quicken their steps, all converging on the main tower. Willow would have bet anything that Garvana was the cause of the alarm.
    Once the last of the guards had his gear and the forge was clear, the three of them hurried down into the vault. With no sign of Teelee or Garvana, they waited quietly, listening out for any incoming infantry.
    Willow stretched out her sore muscles while they waited, ignoring the smug grin on Pellius’ face as she massaged her tender thighs. She was arching her back when a wave of sickening cold hit her, sapping her energy and forcing every muscle in her body to clench and cramp. She cried out as the surge zapped through her, hearing Pellius and Mathias gasp and groan in unison. Pellius was the first to charge up the ladder to see what was going on, Mathias and Willow following closely on his heels.
    “I KNEW IT!” squealed the magister from the top of the stairs, “I’VE GOT YOU! I KNEW IT! IN HERE! GUARDS IN HERE!”
    Willow followed his eyes and saw Garvana reaching for a longsword as the Magister pulled out a wand engraved in runic flames.
    “FINALLY!” the magister called excitedly.
    He smiled with glee as he launched a pellet of flame down the stairs towards the group. Watching the bead crane down, Willow leaped into the air, flipping as the fire impacted and exploded in rippling waves of fury across the stone floor. She landed in a crouch as the flames furrowed outwards. The others weren't so lucky, blackened scorch marks charred Pellius and Garvana, while Mathias’s clothes were still burning as he dropped and rolled in a desperate attempt to douse the embers. As Willow raced up the stairs and dove in behind the magister, Garvana ran to the hearth and pulled free a book from her pack, holding it over the fiery forge.
    “Surrender,” she rasped viciously, “Or I will burn this book to ashes!”
    The magister seemed to falter in his steps. But, it was already too late for him. Willow felt Pellius before she heard him. A wave of searing profane energy exploded from him, like rapturous tendrils of unholy wrath, wrapping their clutches of darkness around him. As she turned her head to face him, the wave hit her like an unending torrent of might, forcing her breath out of her chest as her heart pounded in her ears.
    “IN ASMODEUS’ NAME!” he roared, his voice coloured by the fury of hell.
    He charged up the stairs with eyes of pure fire. The magister didn't know where to look between his book and the ferocious man charging towards him. In a panic, he went to jump off the stairs and misstepped, falling free with a cry as he fell on his face. Pellius dove down after him, and as he lifted his great axe high into the air, it was the frightening wrath of the Lord of the Nine that encompassed his swing. In a shower of crimson that cascaded across the stonework, the life of the magister was at an end.
    From the top of the stairs Willow could see a contingent of guards led by Iron Sam charging their way. She flipped down the stairs and quickly scavenged the magister’s belongings, taking his wand and the few curiosities that lined his pockets. A strained wheeze had her looking up, as she watched the blood slowly draining from Pellius’ face. He was swaying on his feet, his eyes unfocused and his breathing staggered. She carefully yet quickly guided Pellius down the ladder and into the tunnel, where she saw Teelee standing in wait. She helped him slide down the wall to the floor before closing the secret door and standing in silence, listening intently for pursuers.
    As she stood in silence for a time, she tried to ignore heavy smell of death that lingered around the innkeepers’ body. She had forgotten they had simply stored the body within the dark passage, thinking it safer than remaining unseen in an attempt to bury it. Willow couldn't allow herself to think on it, it still did not sit well within her, but it had to be done. There was no way around it. It was as she was listening to the muffled sound of the guards in the vault, that she heard a ghostly whisper in her left ear.
    “Why?” the whisper asked.
    Willow closed her eyes and clenched her teeth. She would not let her mind do this to her. She focussed on the other sounds; the guards in the vault, Pellius’ panting breath, Garvana’s quiet healing words.
    “Why?” the whisper asked again, “Murderer.”
    Willow took a deep breath and hissed it out. She heard Garvana murmur an incantation as light flooded the tunnel. She watched the shadows recede along the walls and saw a pair of shadowed hands retreat into the darkness. As the sounds of the guards retreating back into the forge, Willow turned on her heel.
    “Let’s go,” she snapped.
    As they walked away from the corpse, she swore she saw it move its head to face her, cold dead eyes staring through her soul. Only once it was out of sight she grabbed Pellius by the arm and looked into his eyes. She didn't care if he saw how frightened she was, she didn't care if he saw weakness, she needed his help.
    “What do you know of spirits and hauntings?” she asked quietly, “Why do they stay in this world and how do you appease them?”
    With a curious eye he replied, “The sole target of the haunting must to be the one to appease the spirit. If the body remains, it must be buried formally, to allow the spirit to move on to Pharasma’s realm.”
    With a sigh and nod, she knew what she had to do. She asked for his help to carry Bellum’s body out of the tunnel. As they trudged down the passage, the corpse over Pellius’ shoulder, Willow and the others following closely behind. The others did not see what her own eyes saw. Images of Bellum, staring at her with accusatory eyes she passed them.
    Willow slipped in front when they reached the cellars secret door. As she open it, she inhaled sharply as the racks of wine began to shake and rattle. Willow stepped lightly towards the stairs, narrowly dodging a bottle that came flying towards her head. She grabbed a bottle from the racks and sured her courage. As she strode up the stairs, only sheer force of will stopped her from screaming aloud in fright as the lightening and thunder cracked and the foul wind flung the window shutters open. She swung the front door wide and marched towards the forest. It was the dead of night no other sound could be heard above the roaring fury of the sudden storm. The trees and shrubs whipped and tore at her face and arms, each branch seemingly reaching for her, clutching at her limbs and clothing. The rain pelted down, seeping dread and guilt through her skin and deep into her soul.
    When they were far enough from town, they laid Bellum’s corpse down and Pellius handed Willow the shovel. She began to dig into the solid ground, the shattering feeling throbbing her hands with each plunge. The larger the hole became, the more water filled the grave, and she found herself standing knee deep in mud as she continued to dig. Her hair clung to her face and the rain poured an endless flood in her eyes, making it near impossible to see. It took her almost three hours to complete, but finally when the grave was large enough, she climbed out the side and walked solemnly towards Bellum.
    She struggled to pick his corpse up and teetered towards the water filled grave, lowering him into it as gently as she could. She could hear Garvana and Pellius saying their own prayers, though she could not hear the words. She watched the corpse float for a minute, lingering atop the body of rain, before it slowly sank to the bottom of the grave. Hundreds of images of Bellum had formed a tight circle around scene, and they watched, as Willow turned her sight to the sky. Only then did she speak, and only at a whisper.
    “We wage a war against a nation, in the name of what we believe, of what I believe. A war to change the nation, to change the world. His world… You my friend, are but the first of many innocents to fall. Sacrifices for the greater good. I do not take these sacrifices lightly. I… do not take yours lightly.”
    Willow grabbed the bottle of wine and uncorked it, holding it up high.
    “To Bellum,” she exclaimed into the stormy sky, “The first stone in our pathway to Infernal Glory! Go now, to the side of whatever god you may find peace with!”
    She drank down the wine and passed the bottle to Pellius, each of them taking a sip and speaking his name. As the bottle returned to Willow she took a final swig, staring into the eyes of one of Bellum's images. She placed the rest of the bottle into the grave. The sky seemed to sigh as she stepped back from the grave, with sore and tender arms she began to fill it in. The clouds cleared and the rain ceased. The stars glittered in the distance, the wind only gently caressing her while she shovelled away. Each image of Bellum slowly faded, one after another. They looked at peace, no resentment nor hatred. As Willow tapped down the last of the dirt and stood back, she sighed. She knew she would not forget Bellum Barhold anytime soon.

    Still soaking and muddy they wandered back into town and returned back to the Brassbell. Willow looked the group over and strongly considered simply bidding them goodnight and retreating to her chamber alone. She sighed, and offered to share their room. She and Pellius disguised their mess and walked through to the suite while the others snuck in through the back window to their bedchamber.
    Willow combed through the worst of the knots in her hair while Garvana told her story of torture and interrogations. By the sounds of story, she was quite good at giving her captors misleading gibberish. While Garvana spoke, Willow couldn't help but notice the change in Teelee. She was quiet and withdrawn, staring into thin air as her eyes barely blinked.
    “And what of you Teelee?” Willow asked softly, “What happened to you?”
    Quietly, she told her story; playing innocent, misleading the interrogators and a single broken finger. As she spoke Willow could feel the anger building, each word becoming more forceful than the last. She knew not if the words she spoke were the full story, or if she had suffered such indignation that she would not speak of it. Willow put a comforting hand on Teelee’s shoulder.
    “It is over now,” she said gently.
    Teelee nodded sharply, turning away from the group.
    Willow frowned, but did not want to push things any further.
    “So where did you get to after we risked ourselves to come and rescue you?” Willow asked Garvana curtly, “I certainly hope it was worth the risk.”
    Garvana forced a smile, speaking through clenched teeth, “I went for my belongings, since you did not think to find them before.”
    “Oh!” Willow scoffed, “My, how grateful you are!”
    It didn't take long for tensions to strain. Willow was still saturated and muddy, she had twigs stuck in her filthy mane of hair, and all she wanted was to be alone so she could work through the moral dilemmas of tonight by connecting with her Infernal Lord. After a few snapping comments back and forth between Willow and Garvana, Pellius stood up and stepped in.
    “Enough!” he snapped, pulling a scrolled parchment from his pack, “You two! Read this!”
    “Pellius…” Willow began.
    “Read, this!” he demanded viciously.
    The fiery command within his tone, soothed the rebellious flare within her. Her brow arched as she revelled in the strange wish to follow his words and obey his orders. She took the parchment from his hands and skimmed her sight down the page. He had written a reminder of their loyalties, and why it was they were together along the mission. Furthering the Infernal Father, his goals and his glory. Willow read the lines he quoted, drafted by their master, Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. As her eyes drank in the words, it was a small smile that graced her lips.
    “I'm sorry,” Garvana said sincerely. “It has been a rough few days.”
    “I do apologise too,” Willow sighed, “My behaviour is unacceptable. Look, let me bathe and get clean. I despise being filthy, it is so hard to be polite while you're covered in mud and shrubbery.”
    Willow gave a small bow to the group, and turned to locked herself in the bathroom. She bathed and washed away the layers mud and filth. As she soaked in the tub, she dressed her hair, finding comfort in the soothing ritual of combing and the familar smell of the cassia oils. When she was clean, she knelt in front of the window and prayed in silence. Although she could almost beg for guidance today, she never did. Asmodeus was not a god to give comforting words and coddled encouragement. She knew his will, she knew what he wished of her. She was stronger than let on, she was stronger than even she knew. She smiled through the comforting heat of her Infernal Prince; she knew always she was on the right path when He was here with her.

    Once she was clean and dressed in her nightwear, she returned to the living area where the group was still conversing. Willow pulled out the house fine crystal tumblers, pouring five double nips of the whiskey. She handed each of them a glass and took up a perch on the arm of the embroidered couch Pellius was seated in. As they spoke, she felt his hands pull her closer to him, so her back leaned against the side of his chest.
    “So what did you actually find up in the keep?” Willow asked Garvana, “And what in hell’s name was that shrilling alarm?”
    The group sat sipping their drinks, listening to Garvana retelling her adventure. Willow laughed as she told about her quick dashing escape from the ice golem and the infinite struggle to open a simple lockbox. Willow perused the magister's book titled The heart of all flame, a book dedicated to all things fire, mostly written in magical rattlings she couldn't understand. Though her interest piqued as she looked up from the book when Garvana spoke of the chest with an alarm in the commanders meeting room. The treasury of Balentyne, Willow guessed. Upon their return to the tower, she was planned on detouring to that. When Garvana told the group of the portrait of the woman she had burned – the room went silent.
    “It must have been his wife,” Willow said quietly, “A harsh thing to do, but a most effective way to mess with his head.”
    Lastly, Garvana handed Willow a book she found in the commanders personal chambers. Flicking through the pages, she realised it was his personal family bible. Sermons and Mitran chants; words of apparent wisdom. Willow read through as she wandered over to retrieve the bottle of whiskey for a second round. As she poured four more drinks, she came across the Havelyn family tree, a list of names she partially recognised.
    “Sir Richard Thomasson Havelyn,” she read, “Son of Commander Thomas Havelyn. He is known as a Holy Knight of Mitra. One of the apparent great heroes of the current age.”
    It was the name to the left of the commander that had Willow’s eyebrow arch high. A name that had been scratched out furiously, barely recognisable.
    “Samuel Havelyn,” Willow said quietly, more to herself than the others, “Cardinal of Mitra, Brother to Commander Thomas Havelyn.”
    Willow vaguely remembered having heard of Samuel before, but only as a curse spoken under the breath of fearful townsfolk. She didn't know who he was nor what he did, for his crimes were well before her time. Yet, she could not shake the feeling that she truly needed to find out.

    As she woke with with the dawning of the sun, Willow rose quietly from the bed, carefully stepping over the sleeping bodies sprawled across the floor. She dressed quickly and ordered breakfast to be served in the sitting area, ignoring the odd looks the servants gave when she ordered enough food for five people.
    Over breakfast they discussed the possible plans of attack and priority targets. Willow’s work in the mayors office had her sometimes working run sheets for the local military and militias. She had enough experience to make a rough judgement on how well the bugbear army would fair if they were to attack with the present state of the watchtower. They needed to wipe more of them out, they needed to further thin the ranks. Much to her distaste, they came up with a plan to fake a ransom of Bellum Barhold, in order to lure his brother away from the keep. After much deliberation, they agreed on an anonymous ransom note, delivered by a local courier.
    Their plan was simple, Pellius would disguise himself as Bellum, Mathias would play the ransomer, and the rest of them would hide in wait. Willow would hide closest to the keep, back into where the enemy lines would be, set up with poison should she get a clear shot with her bow. Once all in was in play, she watched silently as Captain Samuel Barhold and six of his men approached the change over sight, far from the keep. Sam exchanged a few tempered words with the old man before throwing in the ransomed amount of gold. As soon as the gold had been collected, Garvana let lose a fireball from the west, and as it impacted, the soldiers that had trained their crossbows on Mathias let loose their bolts. Willow smirked as she watched him deftly dodge out of their path, only taking a single clip to the shoulder. She prowled from the top of the trees, laying in wait for one of them to come close enough that she could silently take them down. She watched the soldiers rush forward to the man they thought was Bellum and cover him with their shields, guiding him back into their line. Pellius waited until he was well behind them to strike.
    “Now!” Sam roared, as four archers sprang up from the shrubs, poised and ready.
    One of the first guardsmen stepped forward around the tree to get a better shot at the old man, stepping right underneath Willow. She silently dropped in behind him, slicing her dagger across his throat. Willow heard Pellius groan, whipping her head around to see him spit out a mouthful of blood as an arrow pierced through his shoulder. Willow ripped out a vial of healing from her belt, weaving through the fray as she ran straight for him. She threw him the potion, pushing him behind the cover of a nearby tree and quickly assessed the worst of the wounds. She grabbed a firm hold on the arrow sticking out of his shoulder, holding the gap open as she pulled with all her might. The arrow came out cleanly, iron tip still attached as the armour gap closed, and she saw the magic working as it knit his flesh back together.
    Suddenly, the ground shook as a large booming rip sounded. Every head snapped towards the south where the Mathias’ body lay limp and lifeless. Willow had not even seen him fall. As a veil ripped the seams of the material plane open, she couldn't stop a moaning screech from escaping her lips. Her body soared and scalded, her blood raced so fast and hot it felt like it would explode out of her skin. Her knees buckled and she had to clamp her thighs together and lock her legs to keep from falling. Hell was on the other end of that portal. Willow knew that with every fibre in her body. Her limbs throbbed, her breathing becoming tortuous as she was barely able to contain the moans and whimpers that were trying to force their way out. She had never experienced anything so raw and intense.
    Willow watched the portal open, and a fifteen foot devil step out. Scarlet scales layered across its skin, oversize eldritch bone wings protruded from its back, tall twisted horns shattered out from its head. He paid no attention to the cries and shouts of the humans that surrounded him, shrugging off the torrent of arrows as if they were nothing. Willow had to close her eyes tightly to gain her composure. Breathing deeply, she embraced the burning pain, pulling it deeper inside her, to a place she had never known she possesed. Her eyes flew open as she felt the devil’s gaze on her. They made eye contact for a mere moment, before he snapped his sight and head away, almost in deference. Curiously, almost forgetting the raging battle around her, she watched the devil lift Mathias’ limp body as he dragged him back through the tear.
    As the portal began to close, Willow’s chest eased. It began to fade, when suddenly, a large creature dove through. In desperation, a half-orc dressed in rags, landed with a thud and clawed his was from the veil. Stark and alert, he scrounged around for anything he could use as a weapon, grabbing a thick branch from the ground and brandishing it towards them.
    As she turned back to Sam and his men, Willow knew her smile was bigger than it should have been. It was not that the battle nor the death of these men made her happy, it was that her blood was singing and her body was soaring. Her connection to her Infernal Lord was more powerful than it had ever been, she felt his power surging through her veins. She charged at the archers, dancing across the field, almost as if she was floating. She laughed with glee as she hacked one through the throat and another through the torso in seconds. She landed with a pirouette as her enemies fell, missing limbs and entrails flowing to the ground.
    “ASMODEUS, GUIDE ME!” Garvana yelled, as she let loose a wave of horrifying wrath.
    Willow saw the captain fading, struggling to block Pellius and the orc’s onslaught of attacks. With her mind still racing and her heart pounding in her chest, she sprinted towards the captain. She leaped through the air and hacked blade through the side of his stomach in a fatal shower of crimson gore. She landed in a crouch and swiftly stalked up to him, thrusting his head back, baring his throat. In one swift curve, she took his life with her blade.


    The questions quickly turned to the large half orc, adorned with Asmodean tattoos, who had some how just escaped from hell. He introduced himself as Bor, yet said little else. When Willow asked of his origins, she received only a two worded answer.
    “The wall,” he said, a furious intensity to his words.
    “Well Bor,” she said courteously, “I am Willow. You will have to forgive me if I am a tad suspicious, for one to escape the realms of hell, it is… unheard of...”
    “Don’t know what else I can tell you,” he shrugged, “I don’t remember anything, except being there and seeing an opportunity to escape.”
    Willow looked to Pellius, whose brow was furrowed low.
    “What do we do?” she asked him.
    Pellius sighed, rubbing his forehead with his hand.
    “You cannot have escaped unnoticed,” he responded firmly, “The Lord of the Nine has allowed you to escape. But, why?”
    The bestial man shook his head, “I do not know.”
    “I do not believe in fate,” Willow said quietly, “I believe that we make our own, the gifts we receive and the consequences we face are of our own making. If the Infernal Father has seen fit to put you in our path, then I will not question his will. Perhaps you are to aid us in this perilous undertaking.”
    “Let us return to camp and we shall speak of it further,” Pellius concluded.
    As they turned from the carnage of the battle, Garvana said a final prayer to Mathias.
    “I wish you well,” she said solemnly, “Though I will not mourn your passing, for you are now beginning your afterlife of servitude to the great and undying Lord of Hell.”

    They had decided to make a base outside of the city, Pellius led and found an alcove along the edge of the lake, about a mile from town. While they set up tents and built fires, Willow filled in Bor with the details of their current mission and status of the fair country of Talingarde. For now, she left out the details of their master. Bor seemed as if he would be a most helpful ally, but it was not her place to judge who was worthy in the cardinal's eyes. When she asked if he would join them, he laughed.
    “And where else would I go?”
    Willow smirked in response, “Where indeed.”
    The smell of batter had Willow’s head whip around, to the sight of Pellius leaning over the fire, flipping golden brown looking pancakes. Willow excused herself from Bor and sauntered towards him. She looked down at him as she approached, hands on her hips as she cleared her throat. He looked up at her with raised eyebrows.
    “And what is it I have to do to get pancakes?” she asked him suggestively.
    He piled two onto a dish, dropped one eyebrow into a smug expectant look as he held them out to her. She laughed, giving him a wicked grin as she snatched the plate from his hands.
    “You don't need to bribe me with pancakes to get that,” she said cheekily, “But it certainly helps...”

    Last edited by minderp; 2016-10-05 at 03:44 AM.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 7 - Fall of Balentyne
    Spoiler: Chapter 7 - Fall of Balentyne
    Show

    The wind howled across the lake, echoing its mournful chorus into the night sky. Willow lay awake staring at the spine of the tent. She could hear the breeze whistling its somber song, the nocturnal creatures calling to one another on the outside of the camp. She could hear Pellius’ satisfied heavy breathing as he lay next to her in a deep sleep. But she focussed on the low rumbling snore coming from the orc. He was a curiosity to her, a puzzle she needed to solve. As they had sat by the fire, he spoke of The Wall. Willow had pried for more details, listening intently as he described a prison of sorts, a place that sounded like an eternity of misery, uncountable souls crushed upon each other in a lay of tormented moans and ululating cries. He had no recollection of life prior to The Wall, no memory of what would have led him to become imprisoned there. Willow asked him of his loyalties, noting he had no obvious moral qualm with taking out Iron Sam in armed combat. She watched his facial expressions as he answered, searching for telltale signs of truth or lies.
    “Do you serve our Infernal Lord Asmodeus?” Garvana asked forcefully.
    “I do. That, I will always remember,” he answered truthfully.
    “Who or what was that devil?” Willow asked curiously, “The one who opened the portal, do you remember him?”
    Bor turned and stared intensely, “I don't know what it was, I’ve never actually seen it before. But I could feel it. Always there, always watching.”
    She was most intrigued, looking over to Garvana she asked, “Do you know what type of devil he was?”
    Garvana frowned, “Nothing I've ever come across.”
    Willow had no knowledge of a devil such as him, nor had she ever heard of The Wall. Of course, she intended to find out.

    The day had certainly been strange. Willow’s mind wandered through a labyrinth of questions, at the top of them all was her intense bond with Hell. Most intriguing was how the bond was strengthened and intensified as the portal from this realm to His had formed. She had always known she had an odd religious connection. She had never heard of anyone feeling their god the way she did. As a child it was more like a friend, an eidolon of guidance and comfort, always by her side. But as she grew, it changed.
    Her fourteenth birthday had barely passed before He came to her.
    Her mother had insisted she accept the offer of a date from the son of Marcus Edanburn, Duke of Tevvarneh. Willow had to admit, Samson was certainly the most handsome and adventurous of the four Edanburn boys. He was sixteen years of age, tall and lean with cropped darks waves framing his soft edged face. He had a reputation for fun and mischief, far more exciting than the other young noble men who had tried courting her.
    After a polite lunch in the parlour of his families’ manor, he offered Willow an arm as an escort for a tour of the gardens. They strolled slowly away from the watchful eyes of their chaperones and approached the end of the maze of flora.
    “Want to go somewhere a little more fun?” Samson asked mischievously.
    Willow laughed as he grabbed her hand and pulled her along, sneaking off the property. She hitched her dress up as they ran through the wheat fields and into the forest. They ran alongside the river, following its bends and curves, climbing over rocks and fallen tree trunks. When they came to the cliff edge of Fell Valley they sat and hung their feet over.
    “May I say my lady,” Samson said, “You are staggeringly beautiful. I am most grateful you accepted my invitation.”
    Willow laughed, “And may I say dear sir, that flattery will get you entirely everywhere.”
    She stared out across the rolling hills of the valley, pretending not to notice as he slowly leaned in, planting a kiss on the side of her cheek. Turning to face him, she looked into his eyes, smiling coyly she moved in closer pressing her lips to his. He placed his hand gently behind her head, staying locked in the kiss for a time. Willow could feel a warmth growing from within her. As he reached his other hand around her waist pulling her closer, Willow whimpered. A hot rush flooded her, and an aching tear seemed to be pulling her deeper into the forest. She broke the kiss suddenly and scrambled to her feet.
    “What's wrong sweet girl?” asked Samson standing after her, “I apologise, I did not mean to rush you.”
    “There's something out there,” Willow said distractedly.
    “Wait, come back!” he called as she ran off, “Wait for me!”
    Winding through the trees she followed her instincts. She knew she was getting closer when the feeling in her grew and started to burn, her breath quickened and with each step her senses heightened. She stopped as she came upon the largest weeping willow tree she had ever seen. Pushing aside the curtains of branches, a moan escaped her lips, an open abandoned stone temple stood dark and solitary.
    Willow jumped as a hand grabbed her shoulder.
    “What is this place?” Samson asked, eyes wide.
    “I haven't a clue,” Willow said in a breath.
    As she stepped forward, Samson pulled her back.
    “No, I do not like this place.” he said sternly, “It feels evil. It feels angry. Wrong.”
    Willow scoffed and pushed his hand away, “Nonsense, it feels… like… Him.”
    The words came out of her mouth with no intent on her behalf. But they felt right, they felt truthful.
    “What are you talking about?” Samson snapped, “This is not right. Who are you talking about?”
    Willow wandered forward ignoring his protests. As she reached the entry to the temple, she was greeted by a hot wave of energy, searing her from the inside out. She groaned as she continued on, timidly climbing the stairs one at a time. The further she made it, the louder the rushing energy sounded, she could barely hear Samson talking behind her. She stood at the threshold of the archway and paused. The pulling was at its worst, threatening to yank her inside, but this was a step she knew she had to take herself. Taking a deep breath, Willow lifted her chin high and crossed the threshold, stepping inside.
    A surge of knowledge flowed through her veins, the burning heat comforting her in a way she had never known.
    “This is his,” she said in awe, “This is his place. He’s here, he’s everywhere!”
    Willow studied the markings on walls, most blurred by burn marks. She surmised that the temple used to be a place of worship for those faithful to Asmodeus. As the thought formed in her mind, a wave of heat flared down below, forcing out another moan.
    She lifted out her arms and span in a circle laughing, “I can feel him. He’s actually here!”
    “Willow!” Samson bellowed fiercely, “Stop this nonsense at once! No future wife of mine should be permitted to carry on in such a way!”
    Willow froze in her position. Her arms dropped to her sides as she slowly spun to face him.
    “Can't you feel him?” she asked intensely, “He's rushing through my blood, he’s fire in my belly, he’s feeding my soul.”
    Willow ran over to Samson, pushing him up against the wall, forcing her lips against his. Grabbing his hand, she thrust it between her legs, the touch sending a shock wave through her body. As she kissed him with fiery passion and ground herself down on his hand, he struggled with the decision to pull away, eventually tearing himself from her.
    “Willow,” he panted through a heaving chest, “What is going on? What is this? Who are you talking about?”
    Willow looked up at him with bright eyes and whispered, “The Prince of Darkness.”
    Samson recoiled with a look of disgust.
    “What in Mitra’s name?!” he screamed, “Who are you?!”
    He backed away from Willow with his hands up in defence.
    “Stay back you devil bitch!” he yelled, “Heinous blasphemer!”
    He ran down the stairs and back through the forest, Willow followed behind him, skirts flying as she leaped. Her parents had warned her of this. She had been so caught up in the moment that she had forgotten the reality of the world. Even simple worship of her beloved Infernal Lord was outlawed, punishable by death. As they neared the clearing of Fell Valley, Willow knew she would never catch him, she had to act fast. She swooped down and picked up a heavy stick and threw it hard at his head. A perfect shot had him tumble forward and skid along the dirt on his stomach. Willow ran over to him and grabbed him by the collar pulling him to his feet. She could feel the searing heat circling in her again. Her eyes flashed with hellfire as he stood frozen in fear.
    “Deliver me from chaos that I may serve you in eternity,” she said fiercely, holding his collar tight forcing him to step backwards to the edge of the cliff.
    Staring deeply into his eyes she kissed him softly and whispered, “Hail Asmodeus.”
    She shoved with all her might and saw Samson fly outwards, plummeting down the side, his body falling limp as it smashed into the rocks along the way. Willow watched until he came to a stop, unmoving and lifeless. She sat down, hanging her legs over the edge of the cliff. A single tear rolled down her cheek. She did not enjoy death, even when it was necessary. As she stared out over the expanse and more tears fell, Willow felt a gentle warmth encompass her. She smiled through the tears as it wrapped her tight, like a gentle caress from a lover.

    Staring up at the spine of the tent, Willow smiled. She may not feel her god as others did, but the way she felt Him was magnificent. She remembered learning some very valuable lessons that day. That she could not trust anyone with her secrets, that a crying woman’s lies are very likely to be believed and that no man would ever be as great, or mean as much to her as Him.
    Willow thought back to the day she had just had and was struck with an odd thought. She remembered the devil that had stepped out of the portal had looked straight at her. When she caught him he had snapped his head away, she would have sworn it seemed almost in deference. She was still left with questions, certain questions only her family or their histories could answer.
    Rolling over, she could make out the silhouette of Pellius’ face. His Chellaxian bone structure so rigid compared to those of Talingarde. She wondered what he felt when he channelled their Infernal Lord, smiting he called it. Did he feel the same heat? Did his blood burn and his chest heave? Did he know that was what she felt?
    Willow silently crawled on top of him, gently grasping his hands and swiftly slamming them down above his head. He woke with a shock, instantly flipping Willow over and under him, hand to her throat.
    Willow laughed, “Round two?”

    In the early hours before dawn, Willow was woken by a familiar lick of burning flare. She blazed in the same way she had that night in the Lords Dalliance.
    “And does our great Infernal Lord offer any guidance?” she heard Garvana ask.
    “The Master of Devils,” spoke a smooth baritone voice, “Is of course far too busy to provide guidance, nor would he expect he would need to provide guidance. He would of course assume, that you would suffice with your own capabilities.”
    “Of course,” Garvana said curtly.
    Willow lay still, listening to their exchange. What she could gather was that Garvana had been contacted by this creature more than once. Willow wondered what she had to gain by hiding this information, and what other knowledge she was withholding from the group. The creature seemed to be offering advice and encouragement, as well as the use of his particular talents, described as best used in shadows. As they said their farewells and the creatures’ presence faded into nothing, Willow thought of how far she had let her guard down. She had begun to trust these people although she knew they all had secrets. Garvana’s concealment was a reminder of why trust was such a futile and hindering value.

    Willow heard Garvana shuffle around the camp, darkness still looming, first light not having breeched the horizon. The group roused quietly, gearing up and clearing out well before sunrise. Garvana, Pellius and Bor dragged the corpses of Barhold’s men towards the clearing around the Watchtower. Willow helped Teelee carve inverted pentagram’s on each of their foreheads. She watched deep in thought while they strung each body up by its neck in full view of the keep. A gruesome message sure to inflict fear in the hearts of god-fearing men.
    They hustled back to town as the sun bloomed low in the distance. The signal horns sounded from the keep as they reached its secret entrance. Upon reaching the other end, they slowed and listened. Garvana signalled that she could hear coughing in the vault. Preparing for a fight they opened the wall, charging the two guards from the tunnel, catching them by surprise. The group was so quick at taking them down, neither managed to use their signal horns. Willow took the brass flute off the guards body, a keepsake, someway to remember the beginning.
    Pellius and Bor used the magic from the circlets to mimic the guards they had killed, copying the fine facial details. Willow and the others stood in the shadows, readying their weapons, prepared for anything. She watched Bor’s face contort with rage as he reached the top of the ladder, leaping from the trap door into the room. Before anyone else could react, Willow had surged up the ladder and darted in behind the blacksmith that Bor had hacked, and sliced him through the neck. One by one, each of the six blacksmiths were cut down, but unfortunately not before they managed to raise the alarm.
    They took the tower one room at a time, meeting any resistance head on, emerging almost unscathed. Climbing another lot of stairs, they came face to face with Father Donigan. Poised for battle, a grim determination set on his face. Willow felt her fierce energy flare as he made eye contact with her, unflinching and undeterred he stood tall, while she smiled at his arrogance. He whole heartedly believed his Mitra would save him.
    The room was lined with guards forming a barricade in front of the priest and layers of archers along the northern stairwell. Willow dove through a gap in between two guards, jumping out of the way of a shower of blood flying across the room. Bor had hacked a guard clean in half, splattering the priest as his sword carved through flesh. Pellius charged through the defence into the path of Father Donnigan. Willow flipped around the room with ease, ducking and weaving gracefully, effortlessly avoiding swords and arrows alike. As she slid under the stairs flanking the priest, she was flooded with a searing rush of profane heat. Pellius called to Asmodeus, dark energy seeping from his skin, making Willow clench her teeth to stop from moaning. Father Donigan did his best to fend off the attacks, surprisingly skilled with his shield, but was ultimately too weak. A last desperate attack he started a summoning, magic wisps stirring, but was too slow to avoid Willow’s dagger aiming for his heart or Pellius’ great axe aiming for his head. He fell to the ground as the last sounds of his incantation spluttered in his throat. Pellius charged onwards upstairs towards the archers while the others took out the infantry men. Willow lingered over the priest.
    “Do not be afraid,” she whispered, draping his eyes closed with her fingers, “Our fate cannot be taken from us. It is a gift.”
    Dragging her dagger to his throat she pushed down firmly, “And if that gift is displeasing; the strong will carve out a new one for themselves.”

    The last room in the tower they took quickly. Willow was repulsed watching Bor cram a guard through an arrow slit barely half his width. Pellius seemed to puff out his chest and cleave with vicious strength, so cleanly decapitating the last guard that his head appeared to float in mid air for a moment, before dropping to the floor with a thud. Willow laughed at their vile display of testosterone.
    Through the other arrow slit they were greeted with too much silence. Looking closely, they managed to make out men on the top floor, the remainder of the guards and the commander having fallen back, preparing for a last line of defence.
    Willow and Pellius argued on which way to go, she wanted to go back through the guard rooms and come up from underneath, avoiding the open space of the courtyard. It didn't take long for Willow to snap with impatience.
    “Go wherever you go,” she clipped, “I'm going DOWN!”
    Pellius chuckled, “No no it's fine, I always have fun when you go down.”
    Willow rolled her eyes and span on her heel, smirking as she trotted down the stairs.

    They prowled through the hallway, clearing each room they passed. As they entered the passage that joined the main hallway they came upon four sturdy reinforced doors. Willow watched Bor shift his balance lifting his leg and ramming it into the door, not even making a dent. She placed a hand on his forearm as she slipped in front of him, swiftly picking the lock and swinging the door wide, winking at him as she entered. The four rooms belonged to the captains, none of which contained much worth the weight. As she rummaged through their belongings she heard a loud crack of splintering wood. Slinking back into the passage with her daggers at the ready, she laughed as saw Garvana holding a large wooden door, the door to the forge. She squeezed passed as Pellius ripped another door off, splitting the hinges apart, tearing it from the wall.
    They reached the main door in the hallway and prepped themselves for a fight. After opening the door towards them, Willow quickly took a peek at what awaited them. As arrows flew towards her head, she saw a line on four infantry men guarding a line of four archers, set up on the northern and southern side of the hallway. She swiftly withdrew, dodging the arrows with ease. Pellius and Garvana stood with their wooden doors as shields at the ready. They stepped out on either side of the door, followed by Teelee with the fireball wand and Willow with her bow. Willow saw an arrow slip through the side and puncture Pellius in the shoulder, he stood fast, tall and strong behind his wooden shield.
    Teelee launched a pellet of flame into the centre of the southern guards ranks, the explosion of fire rippling outwards, obliterating all but one. Willow launched a volley of arrows to the north, not standing in the return path long enough to see if they had hit. The northern guards retreated back into the gatehouse, calling for the drawbridge to be raised. Teelee launched another charge and managed to slip it through the small gap of the rising bridge. They knew it had found its target when the screaming sounded.
    The last infantry guard on the southern side started a desperate charge towards them. As Willow stepped out and drew a bead on his leg, Pellius launched his door towards the guard. The guard tripped forward as she loosed her arrow, unintentionally shooting it into his forehead.
    They closed and barred the large doors to the north, blocking off any chance of attack from behind. Pushing on into the barracks they saw part of the devastation they had caused with the poisonous Wolfsbane. The smell of decaying limbs pungent in the air. Guardsmen strewn about the place, gaping mouths, wheezing chest, blackened lips and tongues. Willow cringed at the smell and continued on, leaving Teelee to burn the barracks down behind them.
    Entering the acolytes’ quarters, they came across a simple candlelit shrine to Mitra. The humble altar stood in the centre of a small pond filled with holy water, a shining sun sprouting from its top. Willow was intrigued as she watched Pellius approach it feeling the dark energy radiate from him. He hefted his great axe and cleaved the sun from its pedestal, sending it flying into the wall, shattering on impact. A small moan escaped her lips as she felt the darkness pulse and surround him.
    Along the back wall stood a small bookshelf, flicking through the titles Willow pulled out a blue white and gold book, a Mitran holy text. She held it gingerly, half expecting it to turn to ash and scorch her hands as it lit itself on fire. She laughed at herself and threw it roughly in her bag. Pellius led the way into the chapel, dutifully charging up the ladder and into what lay above.
    “LEAVE!” bellowed a saintly voice.
    “This place,” Pellius called with sacred purpose, pulling out his Asmodean pendant, “Like all others, is His. And we… are here to claim it for Him.”
    Empowered by his words the rest of the group charged up the ladder into battle. Willow reached the top and sprinted towards a nearby acolyte, cutting him down with quick slashes to the chest and neck. Looking around she recoiled as she saw a great mass of energy, like a whirlwind of dancing firefly lights. Nine Archon lanterns, scouts of heaven, forming one single entity.
    Willow twirled around the chapel, flipping above the pews, avoiding each attack with ease. As she dove through an acolytes legs, reaching up behind him and impaling her daggers into his spine, she felt a menacing aura surge from the Archon. The surge throbbed and threatened to break into Willow’s mind, but Pellius’ words were still bounding around, giving her strength. She was here to claim this place for her Infernal Lord. She shrugged off the feeling and leaped back into the fray, carving her way through.
    As the last of the acolytes fell, the group realised they could do little to no damage to the Archon, they fled back down the ladder. As Willow hurried towards the latch she laughed and winced as she saw Bor hack off an acolytes head and throw it up at the Archon.

    Barging through the kitchen door, they were greeted by the chef, an array of knifes set out in front of her.
    “Don't be thinkin’ your using my kitchen as a way in!” she barked, picking up a knife.
    As Pellius charged forward she started hurling knives erratically, clearly with no skill, flinging them everywhere but at him. He reached her and easily knocked her to the ground subduing her pitiful attacks. Willow sprinted forward and leaped up onto the table, diving off it plunging her dagger into the woman's skull. She had to prop a foot against her forehead to remove the blade, shrugging and smiling in response to Pellius’ quizzical look.

    Climbing out of the trap door into the throne room, Willow’s lip turned up as she felt the sickly righteous aura of the Thomas Havelyn.
    “Lay down your arms, lest you further endanger your very souls with this villainy!” boomed the Lord Commander.
    The group ran into attack and Willow vaulted up onto the throne in the centre of the wall.
    “Our souls have always belonged to Him,” Willow replied fiercely, firing an arrow at his head, watching it clang of his helmet, “We are in no danger. It is your soul Havelyn that I would be worried about!”
    With a flash of fire, Teelee conjured another inferno that ripped through the ranks of guardsmen, more than half of them falling to their knees. As the Commander charged at Willow he beseeched Mitra for healing aid, channeling holy energy allowing it to flow from him into his comrades, reviving them from the brink of death. Garvana, Bor and Pellius took the brunt of the attack as the guards and the commander pushed forward. Lord Havelyn seemed to recognise Pellius for what he was, a Paladin of the Archdevils faithful, the righteous embodiment of his power. Willow bared her teeth as the sickening wave of divine energy flooded the area, he called down Mitra’s guidance, smiting Pellius in the Shining Lord’s name.
    Willow dashed in behind the commander, slashing and slicing, searching for a weak point in his armour. He carved his great sword across into Pellius’ torso, continuing through to strike Garvana in the shoulder. Pellius continued to try parry and defend, while Garvana called out to Asmodeus, her blood covered mace erupting in flame.
    Bor harnessed his rage into effortlessly hacking through the guards, making his way toward the commander. Pellius started to falter after taking the majority of the assault, his gaping wounds refusing to stop bleeding, he continued to fight, his strength draining with each hit.
    Bor stepped up to the Commander and brought his sword down into his helmet. Caved as it was, it held fast. Garvana swung her flaming mace, smashing it into his chest, denting in the front of the breast plate.
    Willow saw her opportunity when a spilt in the armour opened, allowing her to plunge her dagger into the Commander’s spine, his legs collapsing underneath him. The guards behind tried to grab hold of him and drag him back into their ranks. Before they could Willow pounced, landing atop of him plunging her dagger down through his throat. Feeling an intense rush of burning pride, she looked up at the guards with the fury of hell in her eyes and grinned. Willow laughed as she saw the look of horror form on their faces and fear took over, sending them scrambling out of the door. She watched as she heard Teelee send off another fireball, but as it passed her she whimpered when the searing hot flare swarmed through her veins. The fireball had been enveloped by a dark swirling mist, the sweltering burn of hell engulfing the simple pyromancy. As it reached the fleeing guards, it forcefully imploded, leaving behind only a shower of red blood misted through the air.

    Garvana saw to healing Pellius, while Willow stayed perched atop of Lord Commander Havelyn. She pulled off his helmet and studied his face. He looked like any ordinary man, and in death of course, nobody was special. As the last flicker of life drained from his eyes, her thoughts churned over in her mind. This was her enemy. Mitran fanatics that would never understand or appreciate real order. Freedom and equality were the cause of the chaos in this world. She felt slightly unhinged as she sat crouched atop his corpse. She had gone from a life of privilege to a life of death and destruction. The chaos of death and destruction that she had caused. She knew that the cardinal had a greater plan in motion, she just had to trust that he was capable of reining in the chaos he was ensuing. She would follow him, while he was still powerful enough to lead.
    Still crouched on top of the Lord Commanders corpse, she heard Pellius’ footsteps behind her. She smiled, stepping off the body, throwing the helmet to him.
    “Don't mind the blood stains,” Willow said with a wink.
    She turned to walk off, but froze as she felt a creeping surge of powerful profane darkness. Spinning back to the commander, she watched the silver armour flake and shed its layer, revealing a matte black finish underneath. The trim boiled off leaving a blood red one in its place. Willow smiled and her heart sang as the Mitran sun burned away, exposing the Asmodean star, front and centre in the heart of the armour.
    Pride pounded in her chest, “He is pleased!”

    They seized each floor of the keep, working their way to the roof. As they rounded the stairs on the top floor, they reached the ornate doors leading to the commanders meeting room. Willow smirked as she threw the doors open and approached the large chest in the corner. She carefully inspected its joins and grooves looking for the trigger to its alarm. She noticed the creases of a small hidden button at the back, disguised as one of many decorative engravings. She disabled the trap and sprang the lock, opening the chest to reveal two silver Asmodean pendants and two iron circlets laid over a heavy barbed mace; Garvana and Teelee’s confiscated belongings. After she lifted out the last piece of armour, Willow smiled at the glittering wealth she saw. Perfectly sorted bags of gold, jewelled chalices and valuable medals. She knew she had been correct, she had just robbed Balentyne’s treasury.

    After storming the roof and cutting down the rest of the guards, they dismantled the trebuchet by cutting through its ropes. Pellius stood by the edge, pointing to the north, lighting and launching the signal rocket. It exploded into a shattering of green flame coating the sky, unmissable by their bugbear army over the wall.
    Heading towards the gatehouse, they reached the bottom set of stairs, leading to the throne room. They heard a large number of guards and dwarves blocking their exit, leaderless and with little chance of success, they had banded together as a last ditch effort to attempt to stop the take over. Deep and intimidating, Pellius shouted a warning of the incoming attack, giving them a one time offer to flee. Bor, Garvana and Pellius bickered amongst themselves about what to do with the group, while Willow strained to listen to the others. They were divided, some wanting to flee in fear desperate to stay alive, some wanting to stand fast and stay and fight. While the bickering kept the group distracted, Willow used the arcana of her circlet. She bled her skin crimson, grew her teeth and tail out, flashing her eyes blood red. Slowly she prowled out in front of the guards and dwarves, with a wicked toothy smile, watching the fear drain their faces hollow. She perched up onto the arm of the throne.
    “Go,” she purred, “Take this chance and flee. For you will know real fear before long. He is coming for what is rightfully his. And when he comes, those who are unworthy shall drown in agonising dread. For his shadow is darkest at the bottom, a place where terror and horror feed on the fear of mortal men.”
    She leant forward, “GO!” she screeched, “Or I will cut you down myself and offer you in sacrifice!”
    She laughed as she watched the men scramble and shriek. Looking over to the stairs she saw the group staring down at her.
    “What?” she asked innocently, fluttering her eyes as she blinked away the fire.

    The gatehouse had been abandoned. Only scorch marks remained of the guards, their screams of agony still haunting the walls. While Garvana and Bor opened the portcullis and the drawbridge, Willow sat along the top of the outer wall facing north, watching the bugbear horde approach in the distance. She had dropped her disguise and sat, legs dangling, marvelling at their own accomplishments. The five of them had managed to infiltrate, wipe out and take over an entire watchtower by themselves. She watched the army flood through beneath her and she cringed at the utter chaos they would bring. She understood the necessity, and saw their usefulness in the long term, but still despised their thirst for pointless brutality and violence. Feral beasts at heart, dogs that needed to be kept on a short leash.
    And from the front of the charge she saw Sakkarot. A feral beast indeed, but with an intellectual mind. A dangerous sort and a powerful ally.
    The horde spilled out of the keep towards the town. Willow could hear the massacre bounding across the clearing. She dropped down landing in a crouch when she saw Saakrot approaching.
    “I'm impressed little one,” he laughed, slapping her on the back, almost knocking her off her feet, “I’ve barely worked up a sweat. You sure did a number on this place!”
    “Eh,” she said in her best cockney accent, “All in a day's work.”
    “Haha!” he bellowed, “That's the spirit!”

    The gruesome deeds raged on and fires burnt high in the town, while the group gathered around the clay seal they had been given. Willow studied the carving, an inverted pentagram surrounded by intricately detailed thorns. Firmly holding it between her hands she snapped it clean down the middle, watching the cracks rivet along the pentagram's points, shattering the clay through her fingers. The waited mere seconds before Tiadora, the Mistress from the cardinals’ manor, appeared before them with a small wooden box in her hands.
    “Well,” she said patronisingly, looking around, “I suppose this means you've been successful in your task. Most surprising.”
    She handed Willow the oddly heavy box containing a hefty amount of platinum bars and a note marked with an A. The Cardinal gave his congratulations offering the fine reward. He gave orders to rest and recover, before they would be called on again soon. Tiadora announced that she had been given authority to recruit Bor as the replacement fifth charge in their Nessian Knot. He signed without hesitation, much to her obvious disappointment.

    They traveled to the dockside where a ship awaited them, Willow turned back towards the watchtower. She saw the smouldering embers and thick ash smoking through the air. The outer walls were crumbling, the tower had fallen into rubble, the inner sanctum was nothing but an inferno. To the south the horde had amassed in camp. The horrific cries of the last townsfolk and the ferocious calls of the beasts could still be heard as she walked away. She threw her hood over her head as she toed along the plank.
    The Watchtower of Balentyne had fallen, and with it, all hope of peace for Talingarde as they knew it.

    Last edited by minderp; 2016-10-05 at 05:01 AM.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 8 - Visitant
    Spoiler: Chapter 8 - Visitant
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    Her skin shivered as the chill of the breeze feathered along the sweat covering her chest. Willow whimpered as another fiery wave pulsed through her.
    It had been every night since the eve of her fifteenth birthday, two weeks in total, that she had dreamt of a flaming palace with its scorching walls as tall and far as she could see. The paths lined with the ashen remains of what were once people and creatures. In the dream, she would run through the endless hallways, searching for the source of the pulsing heat pulling her closer. She could feel him. She could feel his presence, watching, waiting, taunting. She ran and ran, as far as her feet would carry her, but she never seemed to be gaining.
    The wind stirred and blew heavy through her window. The freezing blast on her sweat drenched body had her eyes snap open as she flung herself out of bed. The dreams had been getting more intense, the burning becoming closer to reality, the pain lingering longer after she had left the dream realm. She paced back and forth across her bedroom, panting through a heaving chest. Tonight the burn stayed with her, low and rumbling, making each step difficult to take without moaning. As she paced, she caught her own reflection from the corner of her eye. She gasped, mouth hanging open as she approached it. The room was lit by a fiery red light, beaming from her eyes. Her chest tightened, wheezing as she struggled to draw air.
    “Come child,” spoke a soothing seductive voice.
    The burning flared out aggressively, forcing Willow's knees to buckle.
    “Come to me,” it crooned.
    Willow span on her heel and staggered towards the door. She didn't know how, but she knew exactly where the voice was coming from. She gingerly tiptoed down the stairs, groaning as the searing grew and spread through her limbs. She pushed the heavy doors to the library open and stumbled along the bookshelves. Reaching the far side, Willow pulled the hidden leaver firmly and fell back to rest on the ladder. The shelf opened wide to reveal the secret stairway, the inferno raged on as Willow's legs collapsed. She crawled down the spiral staircase on hands and knees, sliding down one step at a time. As she reached for the doors hidden trigger, she screamed out, the burning reaching its apex. Sweat poured from her body, her hair dripping and plastered to her face and neck, her nightwear wet and slicked to her skin. She ripped the dress down the middle, leaving it in rags behind her, staggering to her feet. On unsteady legs she teetered towards the back stone wall, panting in between whimpers, eyes cast down. Without looking up she pressed the five stones in order, starting in the top left corner, tracing out an inverted pentagram. Sucking in a deep breath she closed her eyes and forced in the centre stone. A split formed down the middle of the wall, both sides of stones parting and opening to reveal the Monteguard’s family shrine to Asmodeus. A golden statue immaculately carved in intricate detail formed of their great Infernal Lord. He was depicted as a large towering devil; razor sharp scales layered across his bared skin, large angular horns crowning his head, serrated talons protruding from each finger and toe, a thickened tail with a blade-like barb and long sharpened teeth hanging from his roaring jaw.
    Willow had spent a lot of time in here over the years. She would spend hours kneeling in prayer or cuddled by the statues feet in study. There was no where in the world she felt more safe and comfortable.
    As the walls opened and the looming statue of the Prince of Darkness was unveiled, she was knocked back with the force of smouldering heat coming from the room. Draped sensually at the feet of the statue was the most beautiful woman Willow had ever seen. Long black hair floating in midair, long black eyelashes fluttering almost in slow motion, and a stare so carnal it had Willow blushing. So achingly familiar she seemed. Willow struggled deeply, grasping for an answer just out of her reach, this woman felt more familiar to her than her own parents.
    “So beautiful,” the woman breathed.
    As the words found Willow's ears, her knees collapsed as the surge of blissful agony ripped through her body. She whimpered as tears flooded her eyes, the burn so painful, yet euphoric.
    “Breath it in child,” commanded the woman, “Draw it deep within you. Harness it, use it, control its power as only you know how to do!”
    Willow let the words sink in, finding the strength to breath. She drew in every ounce of willpower she had, pulling the pain deep down, letting it swim freely through her veins. She forced it into her legs and demanded they stand. She forced it into her neck and demanded it lift her head. She forced it into her eyelids and demanded it stare back at the woman, drinking in the sight of her.
    “Remarkable,” the woman whispered, “I've never seen it mastered so quickly. You may be the one… Let me take a look at you.”
    Willow felt her feet leave the ground, her body became as light as a feather, her arms stretched wide of their own accord. She turned gently, levitating just above the ground, spinning in a circle while the woman looked her over.
    “Marvellous,” she breathed, “Such a beautiful creature.”
    She lowered Willow back down and leant back against the statues base. Willow stared back at the woman and struggled to string any words together. Hundreds of questions were racing through her mind, but the aura the woman was giving off was so distracting, Willow struggled to hold on to a single thought.
    “Who… are you?” she stuttered.
    The woman smiled.
    “Such strength of will,” she mused, “Who I am child, is of no importance right now. Who you are, and who you will become, is.”
    The woman pushed off the base of the shrine, gracefully floating to the ground. She approached Willow, flowing rather than walking, reaching out a hand to caress her cheek.
    The inferno blazed inside Willow’s lower stomach, scorching deep, expelling a moan of ecstasy.
    “Trust no one and nothing, but this!” she commanded, “Always trust this, let it be your guide. Follow where it leads, for it will lead you to greatness. It will lead you to his side, where you were destined to be!”
    As she stepped away, she gave Willow a last longing look before rearing her hand back, striking Willow in the face. As it connected, Willow flung herself up from the bed. She sat, twisted in her sheets, sweat drenching the bed. She leaped from the mattress and ran to the mirror. No red glow flooded the room. She struck a match, lighting her lantern by the vanity. She scanned her reflection in awe. Her naked skin was flushed and pink, her black hair was askew, soaked and slicked to her body, her nightwear strewn about the bed. But as she traced her hand across her cheek, she smiled. Four raised ridges along her cheek, red and swollen, in the shape of a handprint.
    Staring into her own eyes, she sighed and whispered, “Hail my Infernal Father, Asmodeus.”

    They would visit once a year, and every year it would begin in the same way. For two weeks after her birthday, Willow would spend her nights in a blazing frenzy. She would battle with uncontrollable sexual urges and deep seeded masochistic desires.
    Each year after the two weeks, Willow would wake in a dream, creeping down the stairs into the sanctuary. One of them would always be there, waiting for her. Each one stunningly beautiful in her own way, each as painfully familiar as the last. Willow was never visited by the same woman twice, but the aura they carried was identical. They taught her of the power a woman carried in between her legs, the power that came with the confidence and knowledge of this.
    Her last birthday had been different. She may have woken the next morning without a mark on her, but inside she had changed and grown. As she had entered the shrine that night, in her usual dream state, she was grabbed by the throat and forced to the ground. Her body had fallen limp and obeyed without question.
    “There is great pleasure and power in pain dear child,” spoke a husky deep female voice, “Learn to master it, learn to harness it, and you will be unstoppable.”
    Willow was dragged into the room and strung up by her wrists. A tall sturdy woman, a power house of beauty and strength, stood over her with a long leather whip.
    “To achieve order,” she said sternly, “There must be obedience. To ensure obedience, there must be punishment.”
    Willow clenched her teeth, refusing to make a sound, as the woman lashed the whip back and forth across her bare ribs.
    “To simply accept this punishment is submission. To embrace this punishment, feed from it, harness it… That is obedience. And there is great power in rightful obedience.”
    The woman smiled at her, something close to pride shining from her eyes as she selected a second whip. This blackened whip was hardened with wax and embellished with a single metal blade barb on its tail. The whip struck deep, splitting the skin, leaving a trail of welted slashes in its wake.
    “We do not submit,” she said fiercely, “Submission is surrender, weakness! We choose to obey those who are greater than ourselves! There is great power in truly understanding your place in existence.”
    As the lashes continued and Willow's blood pooled along the floor, she felt herself growing weak. Her grip on the chains faltered and she slipped, dangling freely from the bindings. Her head hung low, her breathing slowed, as she struggled to stay conscious.
    “Wake!” barked the woman, lashing her viciously across the chest, “Embrace the pain! Draw it in, pull it deep inside and FORCE IT BACK OUT!”
    Willow inhaled deeply, welcoming the pain, letting it swarm her insides. She crushed it further into herself, and with a surge of willpower, brutally forced it outwards. In one swoop, Willow swung her body up high enough to loosen her bonds so she could free her hands, as she swung back down she flipped and landed in a deep crouch poised to attack. In a breath, she had flipped in behind the woman, lifting her dagger from its sheath and forcing it up against the woman's throat.
    “Ha!” the woman exclaimed with a smirk, “Blind obedience is submission, it is for the weak. You my child, are most certainly not weak.”

    Leaning up against Pellius’ solid chest, laying along the port side of the ship staring up at the night sky, Willow felt the sweat drip down her chest. It was her birthday tomorrow. Twenty five years old. If tradition held, this would be the tenth visit she had received.
    She shivered as the sea breeze blew along her sweat covered chest. She would have to spend almost the entirety of the two weeks cooped up on the ship with a dozen other people. Already she was having trouble controlling it, even though the symptoms had yet to manifest completely and the dreams had not begun.

    They were headed for Farholde, the northern most colony of Talingarde. Willow had travelled to Farholde as a child, her father having been called across for business. They had come across during one of the infamous floods, the nine tall hill tops surrounded by the overflow from the Great Lake, boats and rafts the only connection to each part of town.
    Tiadora had told them little of their mission, spending most of the trip locked away in the captains cabin, having apparently evicted him from it. She informed them only to use the trip to recover and await instruction.
    As Oathday dawned, Willow drank to celebrate her birthday, staring out at the sunrise. After she polished of the last of her wine, reaching for a bottle of whiskey, she saw Pellius eyeing her questioningly.
    “Twenty five,” she said softly, staring into the brass liquid, “It feels like more.”
    “It is little fun to drown those years alone, my lady,” he said with his usual charm, “Would you care for some company?”
    Willow laughed, passing him the bottle, “I would indeed.”
    On such a small ship, there was no privacy. Word of Willow's birthday was spread instantly. As the others celebrated and joined in the drinking, Pellius pulled out his cards and began teaching them a strange Chelaxian drinking game he known as kings. They spent the day drinking and gambling, bottles of Rotgut Whiskey shared amongst them. The liquor flowed and gold passed hands, they listened to each other swap stories of the past, more relaxed than they had been since coming together.
    That night as they dropped anchor, Willow leaned along the railing and listened to the faint sound of screaming echoing from the near by towns. She watched Tiadora smile at it as she entered the cabin for the night. Shaking her head, Willow heard Pellius’ footsteps as he approached and leant next to her.
    “The war wages on,” she said quietly, “So much destruction. So much chaos. The bugbears are obliterating everything in their way. What will be left when they are done?”
    “It's a necessary step, my lady,” Pellius replied.
    “I do understand it,” she said softly, “But the cardinal must have a plan, if the bugbears are left unchecked, there will be nothing left to rule over when they're done.”

    As the days passed and her temperature grew, Willow struggled to contain the blaze feasting inside her body. As dawn crept upon them each morning, she sat along the starboard side and dangled her feet in the river. The freezing water splashed up her legs, so cold her toes lost their feeling, she let the chill seep through her skin and calm the rage inside her.
    Each morning she sat in observation, watching as the others went about their usual routines, learning more about them by their habitual practices.
    She watched as Pellius spent his morning in an unwavering regime. She chuckled at the obsessive amount of time he dedicated to grooming himself. In strict order he meticulously trimmed his nails, shaved his chin, brushed his teeth and combed and styled his hair. Once finished, he stood shirtless and began his methodical stretches, slow limbering fluid motions. Each morning, Willow's eyes followed the flex of his back muscles as they rippled from left to right.
    Garvana rose with the sun like a bat out of hell, hair a wild mess with puffy tired eyes, trudging about the ship scuffing her feet. Each morning, she stood by the edge of the ship as the sun lifted in the sky and her awareness slowly came around. Once her eyes would stay open on their own, she would begin her prayers and memorise her spells, the boons granted by their Infernal Lord.
    Willow always knew when Bor awoke, for the ship would shake as he lumbered to his feet. Every morning he sat in silence as he therapeutically sharpened the blade of his axe. Willow watched him in intrigue, she saw the torment in his eyes, the horror of his past lingered behind them. Although he laughed along with the group, Willow could hear the pain in his voice, the inner battle he was fighting behind his stone cold face.
    Teelee was always the last to rise. She sat with her nose turned up, complaining about the conditions of the ship and the quality of the food. She pulled her hair into an uptight bun, plastering it back off her face, each morning after she woke. She washed her clothes in the river water, grumbling to herself about having to perform a chore she thought was clearly beneath her.
    As for Willow, each morning she woke before the sun. She hung her feet over the edge of the ship while she methodically brushed her hair, weaving a differently arranged braid for each day. She stretched her limbs, her flexible frame bending effortlessly, contorting into strange positions. One of the mornings while she stretched, she felt eyes on her as she folded forward, flattening her stomach against her legs, draping her hands behind her knees. Hanging upside down, she turned her head to see Bor and four of the sailors grinning at her, staring at her backside. She winked, lifting a leg towards the sky and stretching it high.

    The days were spent much the same. Bor was patient enough to teach Garvana how to speak the Draconic tongue, each day becoming less painful to listen to. Willow paid little attention, draping her feet along in the water, her nimble fingers mindlessly braiding her hair. On their seventh day, from the corner of her eye she saw Teelee staring, trying to mimic the braid, ending with her nails entwined in her own hair. Willow laughed and offered to teach her, starting with a basic braid, rather than the five strand cascade braid she had been weaving.
    Later that afternoon, they cleared a space along the decking, large enough for a few rounds of sparring. Wooden makeshift weapons in hand, Willow prowled around Pellius as he stood solid in defence. As he lunged forward with force, she swiftly span out of the way, diving under his arm and coming up behind him. She jabbed him in the ribs with the wooden board, too late at noticing his back swing towards her head. She slacked her body, rolling with the force of his hit, tumbling backwards to her feet and thrusting her weapon upwards clipping him under the jaw. She danced under his cleave, springing from the right to strike him across the back of his head, laughing as she dove out the way of his boot. She went in for a double strike, ducking under his arm, slashing him across the stomach pirouetting to slash again. But as she turned, she felt his crushing grip latch onto her wrist. She giggled and squealed as he yanked her backwards, grabbing her by the throat, effortlessly lifting her and slamming her slender frame into the floor.
    “You're enjoying this, entirely too much,” he said with a smirk, as she wheezed out giggles through a winded chest.
    Willow watched intently as Bor and Pellius clashed weapons. Bor was an explosion of strength. He hit with force and might, attacked with everything he had, no thought for defence. Pellius on the other hand was a sturdy form, tough and resilient, taking each blow in his stride waiting for his opportunity. They were evenly matched. Exchanging blow for blow, both men heaving, energy drained and depleted. After almost an hour, they called for an end, a draw as it were. They stood on either side of the ship, staring at each other, tensions escalating. Willow laughed at the testosterone emanating from the pair and offered up her whiskey, calming the tempers long enough to break the feud.

    Throughout the nights Willow fought the battle against herself to keep quiet. The dreams of the blazing palace, running in circles, burning from the inside out. She knew she used to thrash and moan next to her husband, loud enough to wake and panic him. Night terrors, she told him. Filled with frightening creatures and a banquet of debauchery. What she failed to mention to him, was that she was the frightening creature, the main conspirator of the heinous acts.

    On the last evening as they pulled along the coast, Farholde a sight in the distance, Tiadora called them to attention.
    “The master is here and commands you to attend him,” she said grimly, “He awaits in the cabin.”
    Willow cringed at the thought of the cardinal seeing her in this state. Bathed only in river water for two weeks, worn black travelling clothes, salt licked mane of hair flying free and wild. As they filed in, Willow swiftly braided her hair back, twisting and flicking it up into a bun.
    As she entered the room, expecting to be blown away by his fierce pressed, she was surprised to find the blazing heat did not flare as strong as before. He still had her stomach churning, her lower region sweltering and her chest seizing, but the intensity had ever so slightly dimmed.
    She slinked in the room, sinking to her knees in front of him, looking up into his dark eyes. Her looked down at her, his all knowing devilish grin still lighting his handsome face.
    “You have served me faithfully, my ninth knot," he said with pride, "And I have rewarded you both in treasure and vengeance. Thanks to your efforts, the Fire-Axe has been unleashed. Even now he writes his name in blood across the Borderlands. But our work is not yet done. Talingarde has not yet acquiesced to our unholy master nor tasted the full measure of our vengeance..."
    He outlined the objectives of their next mission. Firstly, he gave them the name of an old Asmodean worshipper, a man not to be trusted, but a well connected potential ally. Secondly, he told them to enter the largest unmapped forest on the island of Talingarde. Hidden within the Caer Bryr was an ancient temple called the Horn of Abaddon. He told them how it was overthrown almost eighty years ago by the Markadian I, the Victorious. How he defeated its inhabitant, an Archdeacon known as Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes.
    "So terrified of this monstrosity was the king," the Cardinal recalled, "That he had the priests of Mitra craft a great silver seal to forever forbid the daemon from returning to our plane of existence. The seal remains to this day."
    “I have learned the truth about this daemon prince. I have learned what the Victor feared. Vetra-Kali is in service to the lord of pestilence. This immortal monster could create a plague so virulent that it would bring Talingarde to its knees. When the Victor attacked, the Daemon Prince was close to unleashing his masterpiece upon the world -- a pestilence known as the Tears of Achlys."
    "Find the Horn. Find the seal and shatter it. Call Vetra-Kali back to our world. Bind him to your will and force service from the monster. And then bring the Tears to me. Can you do this, my knot? Have I found servants with might and will enough to see this task done?”
    Willow inclined her head deeply, Garvana and Bor nodded firmly, Teelee smiled and Pellius bowed low, “Yes, master.”

    As they pulled into dock on Farholde’s shores, Tiadora gathered them together.
    “I shall escort you to the dinner with Baron Arkov Vandermir tomorrow evening,” she clipped, “Six o'clock sharp. Do not be late. And please,” she said disgusted, looking over the group, “Make your selves appear presentable.”
    As they wandered from the docks, Willow told the group what she knew of the town. After telling Pellius of the shanti town in Drownington, he and Bor trudged off down the muddy path. Willow informed the women that she would be heading to the Bronze Minotaur in Auld’irey, a luxurious establishment in the most historic and wealthy part of the merchant area.
    “I've heard they also have the most amazing desserts buffet,” she said quietly with a grin, “Apparently they do a lychee panna cotta worth killing for.”

    Once they were set up in their suites, and heavily stuffed with desserts, Willow retired to her bedroom. Staring up at the ceiling, she sighed deeply, only two nights before her visitor was due. Her chest was tightening, her hands were trembling, the burning was beginning to throb preparing for her return to the fiery palace.
    As she dreamt of racing through the halls in the dead of night, Willow woke in her room at the inn, with a dagger to her throat.
    “You!” she breathed, panting heavily.
    Poised over her, pressing the blade down firmly, was a man she would remember for the rest of her days. Switch, the assassin who had turned her in, the reason she was arrested and imprisoned.
    “Miss me?” he said with a sly grin.
    He flipped the dagger up in the air, catching it by the pommel and swiftly sheathing it.
    “Sorry to wake you from such an entertaining dream,” he mocked, “Very erotic. With moans like that, any chance you were thinking of me?”
    Willow ignored his question and slowly lifted herself from the bed. Eyeing him warily, she slipped her legs over the side and cautiously stood. Force of will stopped her from screaming out as the burning rushed from her thighs to her toes. Still keeping one eye on him, she slinked across the room, shamelessly naked. She felt his eyes upon her as she gracefully wrapped herself in her silk nightgown and poured them both a nip of whiskey.
    Handing him the drink, she lent against the bed, containing her squeal as she pressed her hyper sensitive body against the hard metal frame. Her eyes searched his face. He still wore his hair shorn clean, the dark wells around his piercing eyes still heavy, his arched jaw still strong and firm. Though she seethed at the thought, he was still as alluring as ever.
    “So, what do I owe this pleasure?”
    “I've been watching you,” he said, sipping his whiskey, staring directly at her.
    “So I can tell,” she said dryly, “And what do you want?”
    He paced to the other side of the room, “You've impressed me, not an easy thing to do.”
    Willow scoffed, “And why does that matter?”
    He stopped pacing in front of her, “Because I can help you. You've got potential. I couldn't have dreamed you would escape that prison, let alone make it this far.”
    “And why was I in that prison?” she snapped, stepping up to him face to face in rage, “Why did you put me in there?!”
    Switch chuckled, “Because your parents paid me more to turn you in.”
    Willow's eyes widened, “They what?!” she said, mind reeling, “Those faithless traitors!”
    As her anger started to boil, Switch scoffed, “They say that about you, don't they?”
    Willow's eyes shot to him. His sheepish grin softened her temper, she rolled her eyes and couldn't help but laugh. She drank down the entire glass of whiskey, tenderly walking over for another. She relaxed a little, if he meant her harm, he was smart enough to have already attacked.
    “I don't suppose you know their reasoning?” Willow asked hopefully.
    Switch raised his eyebrows at her.
    “I suppose not,” she huffed.
    She sipped on the drink as she watched him. His footsteps were silent as he moved around the room, inspecting the decor on the walls and Willow's belongings, he moved with a fluid grace she hadn't seen before.
    “So what is it you actually want from me?” she asked warily.
    “There's a job,” he said, still perusing the room, “A test of sorts. Perform well, and I will train you. Perform badly, and well, the consequences will speak for themselves.”
    “A job?” she balked, “Train me? Have you gone completely daft, why would I want that? And why would I trust you?”
    He simply smirked, “You already do, and you already don’t.”
    Willow sighed at his answer and rolled her eyes. He was correct. He had much to teach her, his skills had always been impressive, though she never had any use for such things. And she certainly did not trust him.
    He downed his whiskey, placing the cup on the bench, heading for the open window.
    “I'll contact you when the time is right.”
    Placing her glass on the table, Willow stood.
    “What was that night?” she asked curiously, “Was that all part of the game?”
    Switch stopped in his tracks. After pausing only for a moment, he spun on his heel and charged up to Willow, grabbing her by the throat and backing her into the wall. He crushed his lips to hers in blazing passion, holding her off the ground firmly by the neck, stripping open her nightgown and forcing his thigh in between her legs. With the fire raging so fiercely through her, she tried but couldn't bring herself to push him away, only managing to sink herself further into his grip. She snapped her teeth against his tongue pushing her sweltering body against his, blistering where his thigh was rubbing, clawing her nails down the back of his neck.
    Chuckling against her mouth he pulled his lips away, panting shallow breaths, resting his forehead against hers.
    “A game I'd like to play again,” he said darkly.
    Willow laughed, breathing hard, “Perhaps we not end it with me imprisoned this time?”

    By day break he was gone. Willow woke alone, satisfied, sore and dishevelled. Standing in front of the vanity mirror, she laughed as she inspected her bruised neck and wrists. She was lucky her outfit was high necked and long sleeved.
    Strolling through the market place, Willow browsed the wares and listened to the townspeople. She selected a few elegant gowns in black and red, picking out a new pair of black leather heels to match. Willow returned to the Inn, bathing and dressing for the dinner. The dress, layers of black lace, bound together with black leather boning. The leather stretched high and wrapped around Willow's slender neck, long and elegant. The layers of lace ruffled from her small waist, flaring out gracefully, almost appearing as if she was gliding when she walked. Before she slipped into the dress, she strapped her dagger to her leg, its sleek curve a perfect fit on the contour of her thigh. She pulled her hair up tight in a sleek bun, wrapping all of the lengths into a chignon. Her flawless pale white skin glistening, her natural red lips plump and full. She wore only a single line of black along her eyes, their pale redness shining brightly.

    She wandered down to the dock, with Garvana and Teelee in tow, arriving as dusk began to fall. Garvana wore a pleated frock of red, soft lines attempting to soften the tightness of her harshly toned figure. Teelee fashioned a bespoke gown with hard tucks in a trend Willow had only seen from the shores of Rahadoum. She smiled as she saw Bor in his large black tailored suit, with sleeves so large she could probably wear one as a dress.
    Pellius stepped towards her, his black colonial style coat slim fitting and sharp, hair slicked effortlessly back in a quiff.
    “My lady,” he bowed, she curtsied, “Beautiful as always. I have a gift for you.”
    He reached into his pocket and pulled out a red silk pouch, gently tipping it into his hand, revealing a stunning gold and ruby necklace. A single large ruby sat centre, surrounded by intricate gold carvings and smaller individual rubies, laced together with a fine golden chain.
    “It's… exquisite,” she breathed, eyes wide, suspicion flaring, “truly beautiful.”
    “May I?” he offered, taking the necklace and stepping behind her.
    Willow closed her eyes and breathed deep as his hand gently caressed her neck, adorning her with the jewellery. Although she felt his fingers curiously move aside the layers of silk to reveal the bruises beneath, her mind could not think of it. She held the ruby and stared down into it. Her eyes flicked up to Pellius and back to the stone around her neck.
    “Thank you,” she said graciously, “Truly, thank you.”

    Tiadora exited the cabin of the ship, wearing a slip of white beauty and dripping with diamonds, looking the part of royalty attending her own wedding. She guided the group through town across to Caviller Green, the wealthiest section of the city. They arrived at the gates to the largest manor spread across the rolling hills. As they strolled up the path towards the entrance, Pellius offered his arm to Willow, to which she smiled and accepted. The guards stepped up to them as they reached the great archway of a front door.
    “Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” spoke the guard, “I'm afraid I can't let you in looking quite so armed.”
    As the rest of the group handed over their weapons, Willow shrugged to the guard who looked her over, her blade was hidden and strapped seamlessly to her leg.
    They were escorted into the lounge area where platters of delicious hors d’oeuvres and glasses of fine white wine awaited them. Willow picked at the food a little and simmered on the single glass of wine. The Cardinal had said that the Baron was not a man to be trusted, she would heed his warning, she needed to have all her wits about her.
    After a while, a man called for them to join him along the main table, an extravagant long oak dining trunk. He appeared a slender half elf, a young almost boyish face, dark calculating eyes that spoke of years beyond his appearance. Willow knew he was the Baron Arkov Vandermir, part of the Barcan line, the rulers of Talingarde before the Markadians came into power.
    Willow laughed softly as Pellius insisted on pulling out her chair for her, eyeing the servants warningly, keeping them away. He tucked her seat in before taking the chair to her left.
    “Your hospitality Baron, is unrivalled,” Pellius said graciously, “Master Thorn would be most pleased with your treatment of us.”
    Vandermir scoffed, “Enough with the pleasantries. Get to the point. What is it you want?”
    “We are here to see if you can aid us,” Teelee said shortly.
    Willow stayed quiet and merely watched the Baron’s face, attempting to read him.
    “You come to me as beggars,” he retorted, “The last remnants of a forbidden faith. You will promise me much; of that I have no doubt. But all that I am likely to earn from helping you is the inquisitors pyre. Tell me, why should I help the likes of you?”
    Teelee spoke of their past victories, their unimaginable escape from Branderscar, their impossible success of taking down Balentyne. Garvana spoke of her contact with the devil, his trust and his willingness to help. Vandermir stared intently and listened, clearly interested in what they had to say, but remaining unswayed.
    “Even so, the risk is still not worth it.”
    “This risk,” Willow said smoothly, “Is nothing against the risk of facing our Infernal Father’s wrath. He is the Lord of Ambition and yet you claim to serve him?” her voice turned intense, “Ambition is the definition of the desire to succeed, and to succeed we must risk. We risk much to gain much. Does his ambition not run through your veins?”
    Vandermir stared into her eyes, his mind ticking and turning.
    “Enough!” Bor stood and said forcefully, “There are only two sides of this war. You are either with us, or you are against us. There is no neutral ground, you must pick a side!”
    “Those who stray from the path,” Garvana said, standing too, “Will be laid unto dust.”
    Willow rose from her chair, tilting her head slightly.
    “The kingdom will be His.”
    Slumping slightly in defeat, Vandermir paused. Looking around at the group, he begrudgingly agreed. He offered his services, his accommodation and contacts. He spoke with the group for a few minutes before he began to bid them goodnight. As he turned to leave, Willow approached him with a question that had been bouncing around in her head.
    “Baron,” she beckoned politely, “What do you know of Samuel Havelyn?”
    The colour drained from Vandermir’s face. Suspiciously, he looked deep into Willow’s eyes.
    “What would a disgraced cleric of Mitra mean to the likes of you?”
    Willow smiled and batted her eyelashes, staring back, “Oh, I was just interested, I found a mention of him is all.”
    He stared at her, seemingly trying to conclude or decide something. He shook off the look of fear that had began to creep over his face and turned back to Willow.
    “He was a Cardinal of Mitra,” he said curtly, “Burned at the stake for the crime of Heresy.”
    He stood to leave, “This meeting is over,” he said sharply, “Good night.”
    “Good night,” Willow replied softly.
    Her interest was piqued. Vandermir's response was not at all what she had expected, but was in fact, all the more deliciously curious.

    They were shown to their separate rooms where their belongings had been delivered. Willow requested a bath be drawn as she unpinned her hair, brushing methodically as her mind reeled over the possibilities. She laughed at some of the dramatic situations she came up with, deciding to go searching the library in the Hall of the Sun Victorious tomorrow.
    Freshly bathed and smelling of cinnamon, she dropped back into the large bed. As her head fell to the pillow, she was hit with a crashing wave of heat, pulling her deep into a heavy sleep.
    She gasped for air as the blazing force crushed down across her body. She lay sweltering, drenched in sweat, drowning in the storm of heat. Her body quivered as a breath of wind kissed her soaked skin.
    "Child," soothed a sultry voice, "Come, you are ready."

    Willow's eyes snapped open. Her chest trembled as she struggled to breathe evenly. She crawled out of bed, one foot at a time, standing on fragile legs in her childhood bedroom. She whimpered as she lifted her leg to step, gingerly shifting her weight across, knees buckling.
    "Stand!" commanded the voice, "You are greater than this. SHOW ME!"
    Willow felt the force of the words rip into her soul. She clamped down her teeth and arched her back, seizing the scorching fire and forcing it deep into the pit of her stomach. Her eyes flew wide and her head snapped back as she violently expelled the power outwards.
    "Very good," the voice smouldered, "Come to me child."
    Willow forced her feet to lift off the ground. She glided across the carpet, opening the doors with little but a look, floating down the stairway towards the library.
    She felt her blood rushing through her veins at rapid speed. Her senses had become so heightened she could hear it racing through her limbs. She could feel each individual muscle and tendon in her hand working separately as she clenched her fingers together. She could see the veil between this plane and the next. She could taste the fear of the souls trapped in and around this locus.
    She smiled as she hovered at the entrance to the sanctuary, basking in the roaring power flowing through her, simpering at the affectionate way the heat licked at her heels. Stepping out from the stairs she felt the fire surge and soar. She dropped to the floor, heaving chest, and forced her way forward. She reached the stone wall, panting fast and hard, unable to stop the moans seeping from her lips.
    Upper left, bottom centre, upper right, bottom left, bottom right, upper left. The wall shuttered as she reached for the centre stone. Fighting a raging cyclone of fire, she thrust her hand out, forcing the stone to open its walls.
    "Child," spoke the woman softly, "What a creature you have grown to be."
    In the centre of the steps on the altar, sat a woman surrounded by curtains of long crystal white hair. She held an air of confidence married by an overpowering aura of dominance. Piercing eyes alight with red flame, skin so pale it glistened like glass, lips so deep red like blood. Willow smiled. The woman, so intimately familiar, so incredibly well known. Yet she could not place it, the thought drifted just out of each, her identity blurred by only a wisp. It did not matter. Willow glided to the stairs and knelt in her place by the woman's feet, eyes downcast, head bowed.
    "Come closer child," she hummed, "I wish to see you."
    Willow looked up, leaning in towards the woman, shaking in awe.
    "Ah yes," she said, smiling almost fondly, "I see it."
    Willow desperately longed to beg for answers, but she knew better, some ingrained reasoning kept her silent.
    "You will see it one day too," spoke the woman, "When you have learnt your rightful place. You must not falter. You must stay strong. You must leave behind who you were, and embrace who you are, who you were meant to be and who you will become.”
    The woman traced a single finger across Willow’s forehead and down the side of her face, following a long flowing curl down to her shoulder.
    “You must use the tools you were given child. You have a power seeded deep within you. One you can control, that can give you control over even the most powerful of foes. Embrace it, extort it, it is there to be used."
    Willow sighed softly as she felt a searing kiss deep down below.
    "Yes," the woman smirked, "That is it. The greatest tool you have."
    She leant down close, "Use that. Never this," she said as she pointed to Willow's heart.
    She reached down to the golden ruby necklace laced around Willow's neck, lifting it gently and inspecting it.
    "You must learn to stand alone, do not allow this festering affection to root any deeper. You are growing, transforming, ever-evolving. Do not let this attachment gain any momentum. Enjoy yourself child, play for great pleasure and gratification. But stay guarded always. Do not let your heart strings attach themselves."
    Her gaze turned intense, the strength in her voice made Willow tremble, "You are bound to another. You know this! Nothing or no one else will ever be enough for you. You will never be satisfied. You were meant for Him. Your heart belongs to Him. You, belong to Him.”
    The woman traced a finger along Willow's jaw, smiling down at her before pressing a kiss to her lips, sending her world spinning.
    Willow flung up from the bed in the Barons manor. Hair soaked with sweat, chest pounding, hands cramping from their tight grip on the sheets. Scrambling from the bed she raced into the bathroom. Staring into the mirror, she frowned at her reflection. She saw the woman she used to be staring back at her. She reached for the ruby and laced it around her neck. Her hand traced over the edges of the centre stone as she stared in thought. She knew not what the intentions behind the elegant gift were, nor did she know what her destiny was to be. She knew only that a story of ordinary romance was not in her fate.
    She lit a lantern by the desk and composed a letter in finely scripted perfect cursive.

    Pellius,
    I am writing to you only for I find the spoken words evade me.
    I do not know how to arrange my words to shield you from the brunt of them, as I do not know the motives behind your actions. So I shall be as honest as I am permitted to be.
    I am bound to another, with ties much greater than any written contract. I have always belonged to Him. There are things in motion, a fate I am to walk, that not even I am completely aware of.
    My heart and soul are not mine to give. Though my body, it is a tool for use in his service. Whether for assignment or reward, I may use it as I see fit.
    The necklace is magnificent. Such beauty. A gift I would be honoured to bear.
    But I must impress upon you, do not entangle your heart.
    I do not claim to know your intentions. For it may be only sheer flattery, and our nights together only uncomplicated sinful pleasure. If this is the case, it is a pleasure I would be most eager to continue. But if it runs deeper, if your heart strings are trying to take root or your mind thinks of courtship, let us end this.
    You are the pinnacle of strength, but even the mightiest of warriors can be damaged by the pain of the heart. There is no future of love with me.
    Willow

    Sneaking out into the hallway she slipped the note under his door and returned to her room. She stared at her face in the vanity mirror. The contours of her high cheek bones seemed sharper than she remembered, her eyes held an age she had not seen before. As she began to comb her hair back she stared at the fresh growth of jet black hair near her scalp. Quirking her head to the side, she smiled. Reaching for her dagger she grabbed a handful of her long auburn hair and slashed outwards. She dropped the mass of copper curls onto the bench. She continued around both sides and the back of her head, cutting off the red leaving only the black behind, wispy and jagged. Looking up as she sliced off the last dangling strands, she grinned. Black had always been her colour anyway.

    Willow watched the sun breach the sky, sitting in the dressing room by the window, staring out across the rolling hills of Calliver Green. She slowly sipped her ginger tea, rolling out her ankles, stretching out her feet and toes. Her ears tweaked to the footsteps entering her room. She recognised Pellius’ wide stride as he walked around the bed and retreated back into the hallway. After finishing her tea, Willow draped her silk nightgown over her shoulders and strolled into the bedroom. A folded letter sat upon her pillow, her name written across it in fine script.

    My Lady,
    I fear your suspicions of my motives do contain some truths.
    Allow me a brief explanation.
    A life in the Chelaxian capitol has left me wary of courtly intrigues. Guards can be bought, judges intimidated, clerics corrupted. The baron is a selfish man, loyal only to himself. Think of the strength he would garner for revealing us to the Mitran dogs. I could not allow this uncertainty to threaten our mission. To this end, the necklace. While it is indeed a fine piece, entirely suitable for enhancing your charms, I am surprised to learn your quick eyes and keen hands have not yet located the hidden lockpick situated amongst the golden trim.
    As to your fears of leading me astray, worry not. Although young, I am not some moon eyed lad who would fall to his knees at the sight of bosom, perfect though yours may be.
    I think it is fair to say that we both understand that sex can be a very useful and satisfying tool. To have encountered such a skilled partner in one such as yourself has been very beneficial.
    But as I write this, I will admit that I feel drawn to you. Though the others can bleat their words from a book and blindly follow His practices, I know it is you who holds true passion for our Lord. I feel it whenever you draw near, and to enable you is to serve Him.
    While you and I are together, He shall flourish.
    Pellius
    Postscript
    I have some new manacles I was hoping you could help me test out.
    Bring the necklace and we'll see how long it takes you to finish.

    As she read his words, her lips crept into a grin. She chuckled as she pulled the hidden lockpick from its crevice, thinking of the lockpick she had sewn into the seam of her undergarments. She laughed at herself, shaking her head at her worries of heartbreak. It seemed she had finally met some one who truly understood…

    Last edited by minderp; 2016-10-05 at 04:59 AM.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

    Join Date
    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 9 - Secrets of the Sons

    Spoiler: Chapter 9 - Secrets of the Sons
    Show

    The sun rose high, casting its light across the glittering lake that wound through the stretched of Farholde. The city awoke in bustling life, the streets filled with people and the chorus of cheer lingered through the air.
    After the five of them had eaten breakfast, they headed towards the docks to meet the Seventh Knot. A woman of long white hair, and a heart as cold as the icy arcana she wielded, by the name of Elise led the band. She strolled off the ship with her nose in the air, surrounded by an aura of arrogance. Willow had to forcibly stop herself from rolling her eyes as the woman spoke about how fantastic she was to have completed her mission of eliminating certain commanders, ensuring no army could quickly come to the aid of Alden Cross. Two roguishly handsome twins, known as Trick and Track waltzed off the ship, Trick with his charming smile and Track with his scowl.
    “Hello again. Hi. Hello.” Trick greeted the party, “Hello to you! We saw you lot in Thorn’s manor.”
    He looked around the group, “Where’s the old man?” he asked Willow.
    “In hell,” she scoffed.
    “Ah,” Trick paused, shrugging he said, “Shame that. Who's this?”
    Willow laughed as she introduced Bor and continued friendly banter with Trick. Garvana spoke to Elise and found out the details of her assignment here. Willow half listened as she spoke of watching their backs, having devised a plan to make sure no one would follow them to the Horn. Willow smiled, she could not imagine an arrogant creature like Elise being satisfied with playing second runner.

    She spent the afternoon scouring the Hall’s library for any mention of Samuel Havelyn. She wasn't expecting to find a detailed account of his treachery, but she was disappointed to find nothing pertaining his namesake. Not a single mention of him at all.
    Meeting up over dinner, Willow was impressed when she saw Bor had obtained a map of the Caer Bryr with the Horn of Abaddon circled in the centre. He had followed a lead on a missing elf, presumably the leader of the fourth knot, tasked with this mission before them and failed.

    The group left town as the sun broke the horizon and shed its first light across the city. Walking through the dense brush leading into the great Caer Bryr, the rain poured heavy from above. The further they entered, the more impassable the surrounding forest became. The lush greenery sprouted in falls, the shades, shadows and dappled darkness muting the array of jade and carob hues. Rays of light pierced through the hooded canopy, illuminating the soft mist feathered through the range. Great stone spires stood in their majesty, painted with forestry, each a tapering conical point reaching to the clouds. The thickness of the humidity enveloped Willow in a rich swell. Looking to her left, she smiled at the marvel of nature, everything around her in flux – in some state of living, breathing, growing, decaying or dying. The water trickled through the unbroken emerald canopy of trees high above, she smiled upwards as she let the rain fall on her face. Looking to her right, she laughed as she saw Pellius walking in his ridiculous rain poncho, shielded from any and all elements.
    Stefan, the guide Pellius had hired, led them through the forest with relative ease towards the south. As they reached the point marked on the map, they approached a large spire, tall grand and undistinguishable from every other spire in the forest. Willow marvelled at the height of the spires and the sheer presence they dominated. Using her imagination, Willow could picture the stone slab in front of her resembling a large upturned horn shape. Unfortunately, she could also make out the same picture with every other spire around them. The group approached it cautiously, nearing the base with uneasy feet, a cave entrance gaping behind bindings of thick vines.
    “I wouldn't go in there if I was you,” said a deep wise old voice.
    One of the nearby trees turned it trunk to face the group and slowly lifted its branches.
    “Why not?” Teelee asked the Treant.
    “This place,” the Treant said, ever so slowly, “is not a very nice place. Those that dwell here, are malign beings.”
    “Greetings, Elder One,” Garvana bowed.
    “Greetings, Child of the City.”
    “We wish to enter this cavern, Elder One. We know of the malign beings, we shall disperse of them with no trouble,” Garvana said, eyes downcast in a show of respect.
    “Be that as it may,” the Treant soothed, “You have happened upon the Horn of Abbadon. I am charged with a sacred duty to protect this place from the evil which wishes to always take root.”
    “We do not wish to bring harm to this place,” Garvana lied.
    “That is good,” the Treant breathed, “But I can not let you enter.”
    “Who gave you the job to guard this place?” Willow asked.
    “A very good man, a very long time ago.”
    “Markadian, The Victor,” Willow smiled.
    Pellius called out to the Treant after finding a single foot print on the ground.
    “I believe someone has already breached this place,” he said seriously.
    “We were sent here,” said Bor confidently, “To stop this villain breaching the seal, by Sir Valin, a descendant of the Victor himself!”
    “By one of his line?” the Treant asked, “Why, did you not say so? If he, so trusted you with this task, then who am I, to say any different. You, may enter.”
    Willow smiled and inclined her head to him as she passed, such a magnificent creature, she was sorry knowing he would burn with the rest of the country.
    They pushed aside the vines and revealed a large cave mouth. Stalactites and stalagmites protruded from the rock in jagged erosions forming a toothy grin of a passage. Willow climbed over the rocks on light feet. As she landed she looked out into the total darkness, listening to the scurry of the den, the water echo of each droplet.
    “Will you carry this for me, my lady?” Pellius asked, “I must hold my shield. Stay behind me, I will guard you.”
    Willow lifted his lantern high and aimed it into the cave.
    “Stefan,” Pellius called, “Have you ever been in a cave? Do you know what to do?”
    Stefan looked to him, wide eyed and shaking, “No, no no, never.”
    “Well we have, and we do, so stay close.”
    “Will do!” he said as he fell in close.
    “Stay beside me, but behind him,” Willow said sternly “Don't fall behind, I can not watch out for you if I can not see you.”
    “Right you are,” he said, walking closer again.
    Creeping though the opening passage she felt the ground melt beneath her feet. The thick layer of mud suctioned to her shoes as she crept into the cavern. The walls of sharp battered stone were slick with humid condensation, each winding crevice housing a silhouette of shadow and mystery. While the group pushed on silently, Willow focussed on the sounds of the cave. She could hear the shatter of small rocks as they dropped from the higher creases and the flow of a short stream or fall of liquid. But what she could not hear, was the creatures that lived in the cavern. They had made their way through many winding stone tunnels and not come across a single creature. Willow kept her dagger tight in hand at the ready.
    As the path hardened and the stone underneath solidified, Willow heard Garvana muttering incantations, and turned to see her staring at a wall.
    “There's something here,” she said distractedly.
    “It's called rock,” Willow scoffed.
    Garvana pushed hard on the stone wall and a door seam spilt into its side.
    “Well,” Willow said, “I certainly did not expect that.”
    Shining the lantern into the hidden room, revealed a spiral staircase winding upwards into darkness.
    “We should clear this floor first,” Bor said, leading the way, “Wouldn't want anything to come sneaking up behind us.”
    Following the curve of the passage way, they entered through a tight squeeze and came to a large open cavern. At the far end of the cave, sprawling across both sides of the room, was a boiling basin of mud. Steam was expelled from the bubbles that were simmering along the top of the dirt filled sludge. On the opposite side sat a ledge, housing an empty upturned chest tipped on its side.
    “Suspicious,” Pellius uttered as he turned to face and guard the entrance.
    Teelee walked closer and inspected the mud, “There's a touch of necromancy at work here.”
    Willow paced back and forth across the cavern while Garvana and Bor lassoed the chest and dragged it across the mud. As the reached the solid ground, Willow bent down to inspect the chest lock, which had been brutally ravaged and left in pieces.
    “Amateurs,” Willow scoffed.
    “We've got company!” Pellius yelled.
    They turned to see a group of boggards dancing on the edge of the lantern’s reach.
    “Get behind,” Willow said quietly to Stefan, hearing Pellius and Garvana yell a warning.
    The boggards let out fierce croaks that ricocheted off the caverns walls and echoed through Willow's head. She cringed and clamped her teeth shut, shaking it off as she took up a defensive stance. A frog creature larger than Willow's size bellowed his blood-curdling croak and charged towards Garvana. Foaming from the mouth, he swung his great sword wildly. While he was distracted, Willow snuck in behind him, barely dodging his erratic movements as he flung his sword around through the air. Exhaling deeply to focus, she plunged her dagger forward and stabbed the frog through the eye, flinging it out of its socket. The frog croaked loudly and seemed to fester his rage further, his attacks becoming quicker and more volatile. Garvana smashed her flaming mace down into the frogs foaming face, but although it left a concaved blackened welt, the frog did not so much as flinch. When Willow saw Bor charging towards the frogman, she dove out of the way, flipping gracefully towards another of the boggards. As Pellius cleaved his sword in warning to the smaller frog, Willow ducked in behind it and rammed her dagger through its throat, retching it upwards and splitting its face open in a shower of brains and blood. Pellius pulled his shield up just in time as the splatter landed, Willow laughed and deftly stepped out of its way.
    “Impressive, my lady,” Pelius grinned to Willow.
    As one of the small frogs tried to escape, Pellius clipped him over the head with the pommel of his longsword and Willow swiftly flung out her bow and shot the frog through the neck, dropping him to the ground.
    “Why thank you, kind sir,” Willow grinned back.
    A spiral of blackened wisps flickered through the air, as Teelee created a magic hole in the ground, the mud creating a vortex and sucking down the last of the smaller boggards. As Garvana and Bor fought the savage frog, Willow approached the pit. She stood by its edge and prepared to strike, waiting for the strange spell to end.
    From the corner of her eye, Willow saw the large one charge towards Stefan. She was too late to draw her bow again, the great sword came carving across, slicing him in two with such force that he was flung from the edge into the boiling mud.
    Bor raised his great axe and cleaved into the large frog, knocking him onto his knees, death closing in on him. From the side of the battlefield Pellius charged in with his longsword, stealing the killing blow, slashing his sword downward and ending in a shower of green blood. The frog fell to the ground, foam and blood pouring from his face and body. Bor hefted his axe high and dropped it down apace, cleanly hacking its head off.
    As the pit began to cave in on itself, the frog dove out in the nick of time. Willow was ready, slicing deeply across its throat and pirouetting through the air back for another slice. As she span and carved her dagger across, she slashed the air. She looked down to see the frog's body impaled into the ground by a familiar longsword. Looking up she saw Pellius across the cavern with a smug grin on his face.
    “Oh thank you my saviour,” she said sarcastically, dramatically bowing, “What ever would I have done without you?”

    Surrounded by splatters of thickened black boggard blood, Willow stood and caught her breath. The bodies of the massacred frogs lay strewn about the cavern floor. While Pellius wiped down the sticky residue coating his blade and Garvana checked their guide for signs of life, Willow strolled to the bottle neck entrance. The body of the boggard she had shot down was gone. A thick smear of blood dragged away towards the right, around the bend and out of sight.
    “Come on,” she called to the group, lifting the lantern along the trail.
    As they rounded the corner, they saw the dying frog crumpled in the mud ahead, dragging himself towards the darkness. In the shadows lurked a cluster of beaded eyes, the rest of the boggard tribe, toeing the line of the lanterns light.
    Garvana brandished her mace at them, deeply rumbling her voice.
    “This is our cave now,” she called, “Leave or be slain!”
    The boggards croaked in response seeming confused by her words and flew into a panic, abandoning their friend in the mud, clambering around before retreating into the huts aligning the walls.
    Willow peered in one of the huts, a pair of mud covered boggards cowered in the far corner. She prowled through the camp, Pellius and Bor on either side of her. Garvana cased hut to hut in search of one that could speak a common language. While she struggled to get them to comprehend, Teelee approached the dying boggard bleeding out in the mud. As she messily shoved her dagger threw its throat, Willow frowned. She saw an opportunity in the fear induced submission these boggards were exhibiting.
    At a strange frantic croaking, Willow turned and laughed. She saw a boggard dancing from foot to foot in front of Garvana, shaking his hands in the air, periodically pointing to the north of the cavern.
    “I think he wants us to go that way?” Willow laughed.
    Garvana hurried out of the hut, a strange metal helmet in hand.
    “Come on,” she called, walking off towards the North, “The frog told me to go and see someone called Zikomo. Perhaps he can understand me.”

    They approached a large dome shaped part of the cavern, water dripping steadily from it's ceiling, fluorescent green algae softly lighting it's walls. In the centre stood an elaborate hut, made from layers of mud, sticks and bones. The archway entrance was decorated with hanging vines of bone pieces and crusted strips of unsavoury leather. Smoke plumed from the apex of the hut, bellowing in soft clouds, the stench of incense seeping though the doorway. As they stepped inside, a large fire simmered in the centre of the hut. A scripted spiral adorned the wall, smeared in luminescent green paste, softly pulsing. Staring at it made the hairs on Willow's neck stand on end. Sitting cross legged to the left sat a small boggard, embellished with necklaces made from the bones of many different animals, wrapped in thin bands of leathers. He held a staff made of wood and fish bone, as he sat glassy eyed in a trancelike state.
    Garvana cleared her throat loudly.
    The Boggard, Willow presumed was Zimoko, turned his attention on the group.
    “Ah,” he said slowly, clouded eyes gleaming, “The cave of the blue slime conceals your future. Learn its secrets or fail at your masters charge!”
    Zikomo leapt from his seat and began to wail, bouncing from one foot to the other, dancing around the fire. As he yelled loudly, the fire rippled and flared with blue flame, pulsing in shades of sapphire. Garvana tried to question him further, asking of the caverns and his people, and for explanation on his prophetic words.
    “Blue slime! Blue slime!” Zikomo cried, dancing passed, ignoring Garvana.
    As Garvana struggled to obtain any answers, Willow saw Pellius’ lip twitch. He was ready to slaughter the frog and all of its kin. She trailed her fingers along his back as she passed him, stepping in the frog’s path, summoning the frightening hell fire from inside her.
    “What reason do I have, not to massacre every last one of you?” she asked him fiercely.
    Zimoko stopped in his dance, looking up at Willow calculatingly, staring back into her eyes. He inclined his head, “You who have slain Kumanda, we, are now yours.”
    “And what does that mean, exactly?” Willow asked sceptically.
    “The boggards will serve you, and Zikomo will show you the way,” he said, nodding his head, clearly satisfied with himself.
    “Show us the way to what?” Garvana asked.
    “To the Fathers return!” he called happily.
    “The Father?”
    Zikomo danced on the spot, “You will return the Horn to greatness! And Zimoko, Chieftain, will show you the way!”
    “Chieftain?” Willow questioned threateningly, eyebrows raised.
    “Second, Chieftain,” he said respectfully.
    Willow laughed as she exited the hut, leaving Garvana to converse with the frog.
    The cave mouth to the west of the hut hung a wall of blue capped pointed mushrooms, a thin path had been worn in to the ground, weaving through the growth. Zikomo provided a boggard guide to show them through the rest of the tunnels in the caverns. They rounded a corner into a small cavern, it's rear walls littered with diamonds. Willow eyed it suspiciously, looking the ground over in front of her. From the corner of her eye she saw Garvana prance forward into the cave. Willow threw out her hand and grabbed Garvana’s collar, hauling her backward just in the nick of time, the floor falling away beneath her feet. A pit lay at the bottom, sharp stalagmites crudely protruding from the ground.
    “Ah, thanks,” Garvana said, wide eyed.
    Exploring further through the winding rock faces, covered in humid condensation, they approached a weather worn lip in the tunnel. Iridescent blue algae flickered along the walls inside the cavern, growing in large clusters, oozing its cerulean glow. As the group entered the mouth of the cave, the light glittered softly at their sides. The cave was empty, save a slender gap the corner, fitting nothing larger than a cat. Willow slid her hands along the crevice, testing the squeezing room.
    “I'm pretty dexterous,” Willow mused, “But even I'm not slippery enough to fit through there.”
    “There's something in there,” Garvana said thoughtfully, reading the magical auras, “Something powerful.”
    “Get the boggards to dig it out,” scoffed Pellius.
    Garvana smiled, “That's not a bad idea.”

    After setting the task to the boggards, they returned to the southern caverns. Pulling free the large stone piece covering the secret stairwell, the group filed in one at a time. They crept up the winding spiral staircase surrounded by thick stone brickwork. As they reached the top of the staircase, they came upon a room covered in blackened ancient blood spray, battle scars littering the stone. In the corner lay two human skeletons, the bones sporting puncture wounds and blade marks. Both sets of bones lay heavily inside sets of rusted full plate armour bearing the heraldry of Vetra-Kali.
    Ear against the only door in the room, Willow heard an odd sound. Two voices, conversing in cultured and impeccably mannered Abyssal.
    “I say,” stated one voice, “I am quite peckish today. I believe it may once again be time to take a trip to where the boggards roam.”
    “Perhaps,” spoke the other, “Though I do loathe the grittiness of boggard…”
    Pellius came forward and threw the door open with force, confidently stepping inside.
    “Oh look,” said the large daemon on the left, grinning widely, “It seems dinner, came to us.”
    Two brutish looking ceustodaemons stood guarding a solid brick wall. Sharp elongated horns protruded from their skulls, large fangs hung from the mouths, thick heavy hooves shot from their legs. Standing at close to twice Willow’s height, built sturdy and wide, the two daemons looked hungrily down towards them.
    The group spread out along the wall, Willow entered warily, keeping to Pellius’ shadow.
    “May I request a moment of your time, Hexor and Vexor,” Garvana said politely, reading the runes carved into pendants around their necks, “before you attempt to devour us.”
    “Oh my yes,” Vexor said dramatically, “We have been positively starved of stimulating conversation all these years.”
    “How long has it been?” Garvana asked.
    “Oh, a few decades,” Hexor answered, “Roughly eight or so.”
    Willow listened intently, a plan beginning to form.
    “There was another who passed this way, an elf?” Garvana inquired.
    Vexor laughed, “Ah yes, he was delicious, if a little boney.”
    “No great loss,” Willow scoffed.
    Garvana spoke with the daemons, attempting to convince them to stay their attack.
    “Perhaps,” Willow said softly, stepping forward, following her instincts, “We share a common goal…”
    Hexor turned his gaze on her, “And what goal do you suppose that is?”
    “We are here to unbind and free Vetra Kali,” she replied sharply.
    “Indeed?” he said, grinning fiercely, “Well that would be most beneficial. Should you manage to succeed.”
    He looked the group over, “I am ever doubtful, but I digress, I am ever intrigued. You may pass, the stairs beyond the wall lead to the sanctum. Unleash Vetra Kali if you are able…”

    Willow felt the pulsing low in her stomach. A sickening battle for the ages. A twisted wave of evil energy being held at bay by an overwhelming aura of good. As they climbed the last of the stairs, they stepped into a fifty foot tall chamber, facing the balcony looking far and wide over the Caer Bryr. A loud crack of lightening had them spinning around in haste. Willow spun and stepped back, blades drawn. Her mouth dropped open as her eyes travelled up. Standing centre piece loomed a great statue, a carving made of green alabaster depicting the archdeacon himself, Vetra Kali. Frightening boned eldritch wings draped from its back, folded equine hooves sat under its bulk, a single serrated horn jutting from its forehead. Its face illustrated as a mantis skull, three symmetrical hollow gaping eyes, giving the Daemon Prince of Pestilence his insectlike appearance. Six arms stretched from his sides, taloned hands clawed three bowls and three daggers. The statue leered over the black stained altar at its feet. And finally, a large silver seal sat locked in its centre, layers of silver chain surrounding the statue from base to top. Willow cringed as she looked over the plague daemon and its silver prison.
    Another loud crack from above had them jump back, eyes up, only now noticing the large flowing form of electricity huddled in the rafters. As the group looked it over, the mass swooped low, striking out as it sped through the air. Willow dove out of it way, rolling to her feet, slashing into the mass with her blade. She swore as she felt her hand slide straight the the form, tearing little damage along the way. The form reached out and latched itself onto Pellius, it's flashing tendrils wrapping around him. Willow flipped to his left and thrust her dagger forward it’s the sparking mass, whimpering as she felt Pellius surge with profane darkness. She sliced and slashed at it, following with her attacks as it slowly dragged Pellius towards the edge of the balcony. She saw Bor from the corner of her eye charging toward them, his glistening great axe above his head, as he cleaved downward into the form. The lightening pulsed, a sharp shudder of electricity as a chunk of oozing blue flesh ripped off it and splattered across the floor. Garvana ran from the other side of the room, arching her mace, slamming it into the form hard enough to shatter its tendrils, releasing Pellius as it fell backwards off the balcony.
    Breathing heavily, Bor clapped Pellius on the shoulder, nodding firmly.
    The group cautiously approached the seal, it's aura of goodness almost painfully overwhelming.
    “Don't touch it,” Willow said quietly, “Mitra’s light will do nothing but harm to Asmodeus’ faithful.”
    She prowled to the balcony and leaned forward over the railing, peering along the forested side of the Horn. She called out to the others as she noticed two sets of winding stairs spiralling up and around the base. The group decided to retreat back to Farholde to rest and restock, sourcing materials to help their progress.
    Looking out along the horizon before she left, Willow marvelled at the majesty of the great spires littering the land. From this view, each spire seemed to be bowing in reverence to the Horn.

    Swiftly tracking their way back to town, the group crept into the secret entrance to the Baron’s manor as the sun fell behind the horizon. Willow had a bath drawn as she penned a list of materials she needed to procure in the morning, top of the list being a scroll of stone shaping to open the cavern of the blue slime. She soaked for an hour, floating in the scalding hot water, draping her legs over the edge of the tub. Once her skin flushed pink and the water cooled, she stepped out, towelling herself dry and ruffling her hair. As she rubbed herself down with oils of cassia and liquid myrrh, she heard Pellius’ footsteps. She sauntered naked across the room, passing his approving grin, pulling out the canvas wrap from her bag. Unravelling the wrap on the bed, she offered an array of whips, floggers and crops, neatly organised tucked into the canvas.
    She grinned sinfully, “Shall we worship tonight?”

    Willow strolled through the markets, perusing the fine silk sheets and drapery. She traced her fingers along the soft materials, selecting the midnight black duvet to compliment the blood red slip and pillow coverings. She instructed the servant the Baron had provided which ones to carry and handed the merchant her velvet coin purse full of gold. The servant followed a respectful distance behind her while she glided from stall to stall. Her yellow sun dress swayed in the breeze, it's delicate lace layers flowing out behind her, a trail of intricate embroidery in a soft train. Weaves of yellow satin wrapped high around her neck, lacing back down into the boning of her corset. The golden and ruby necklace draped gracefully along her collarbone, it's deep red shine accentuating the red in Willow's eyes.
    “Excuse me madam,” called a young pedlar, carrying a basket of flowers, “Only a rose as beautiful as this, could be worthy of your beauty my lady.”
    He bowed to her, hand outstretched offering a single red rose, wrapped in a red silk ribbon. Willow laughed as she curtsied and accepted the rose, flicking the youth a gold coin. He grinned as he scurried away and Willow continued on, inspecting it suspiciously before gently lifting the rose to her nose to take in its fragrance. She noticed the fine sick ribbon wrapped around its stem, stiffer along one edge than the other.
    After collecting a few more luxuries, she returned to the Barons manor before mid morning. She sent the servant to procure tea and biscuits while she set herself up along the dressing room desk. Gently unravelling the ribbon from the rose, she placed the flower in a slender glass vase. She sliced the end of the ribbon with the point of her dagger and slid out a sliver of parchment.
    Sister Marta Dian. The Abbey. Tonight. 6 o'clock. Blade to the throat.
    Willow smiled, holding the scrap of paper over the candle flame, watching it burn away into ashes.

    Willow dressed herself in a simple peasants robe and strapped leather sandals, disguised as a young lay sister. No make up and a simple wrapped braid, she slowly dawdled through the city, heading for The Abbey.
    “What can I help you with my dear?” asked a middle aged nun.
    Willow smiled up at her, looking around brightly, she noticed the women dressed in their religious garb over chainmail shirts.
    “I've just come into town, on my pilgrimage,” Willow said softly, “I'm Rosalyn Margaret Chadwick, a lay sister of Matharyn.”
    “Well young Rosalyn,” spoke the sister firmly, “You'll be wanting to see the Hall of the Sun Victorious. Not the simple Abbey.”
    Willow smiled at the sister, “It is not the large walls and structures where Mitra shines his light. A wall will be a wall long after I have passed it, I wish to see his light shining through his people.”
    As the words lit up the sister’s face, Willow had to forcibly swallow the bile in her throat.
    “Oh bless you child,” sighed the sister, “Come on in young thing. Would you enjoy a tour?”
    Willow smiled graciously, “Very much so.”
    Sister Cassandra Thia, as she introduced herself, guided Willow around the Abbey speaking of their history. She spoke of the Brides of Light, a female band of holy warriors. She told the tale of their founder, Saint Cynthia Celeste, famous for defeating the malicious ice devil Skathyl. Willow sighed as she laid eyes on the menacing wicked glaive strapped to the wall, frost coating its outside, banded in layers of silver chains.
    She marked each exit in her mind, each door to each room, scanning for the quickest and cleanest escape roots. She noticed the arrangement of the beams throughout the rafters, spread across the entire Abbey, large enough to support a slender framed woman.
    “Sister,” Willow said thoughtfully, “This morning I overheard the towns folk speaking exceptionally kindly about Sister Marta Dian. I'd love to know her tale, better yet, I'd be honoured to meet her. Do you suppose it at all possible?”
    Sister Thia smiled fondly, leading the way, “Sister Dian is responsible for defeating an entire horde of zombies single handed.”
    “Zombies?” Willow blurted, faking shock, “Oh how terrifying!”
    As they came upon a group of nuns running training drills, Sister Thia called out to Sister Dian. An average looking woman, plain mousy hair, with a natural up turned nose. Willow smiled softly at her as she approached.
    “I've heard such wonderful things about you from the townspeople ,” Willow lied, “they truly admire you. You should be very proud Sister Dian.”
    Quietly spoken she smiled, “I am only glad the ordeal is over, and the danger has passed.”
    Her modesty made Willow cringe.
    “Do you hold an evening mass here?” she asked innocently.
    “Why of course,” said Sister Thia brightly, “Five o'clock sharp.”
    “Will you be joining us?” asked Sister Dian.
    Willow smiled, “I'm afraid I've already promised myself to a group of children for a rematch of hackeysack,” she chuckled, “But perhaps I can join tomorrow evening.”
    “Not the children from the Vandermir orphanage?” asked Sister Dian, looking concerned.
    “I believe they may be,” Willow said, acting confused, “Why do you ask?”
    “You best watch your coin purse down there,” she said bitterly, “most of those kids would serve us better in jail.”
    Willow softened her gaze, “They are children. Mitra’s children. Mitra teaches us forgiveness, open hearts and open arms. A second chance without judgement may be all they need.”
    Sister Dian stared back at her and said harshly, “You’ll regret that second chance when you’re lying dead in a gutter with your throat cut.”
    “Perhaps,” Willow mused lightly, “But if it is my destiny to end up there, then it will happen with or without caution. Perhaps it would be that which taught a lesson to one child alone, forcing him to change his ways, helping him find Mitra's light. Then I say, it shall have been worth it.”
    Willow smiled and swallowed firmly. She was always amazed at how easily she could convincingly spin utter rubbish.
    “Mitra's light on you child,” Sister Dian said graciously, “a selfless sentiment, worthy of our Shining Lord.”
    Willow smiled kindly, keeping her rolling eyes on the inside.
    After a while longer in conversation, as the sun began to set, she excused herself and left the Abbey. She strolled casually into an alleyway around the corner and used the magic of the circlet to morph her appearance. She stripped off the peasants robes, revealing her tight black leather underneath, the armour she had commissioned to be slick to her skin and silent.
    Creeping around the side of the Abbey, Willow deftly climbed the lattice work of the balcony to the main living area on the top floor. Hiding among the shadows, climbing into the high rafters of the Abbey as the sun passed behind the horizon, signalling the arrival of six o'clock. As the Sisters left the great prayer hall, Willow hung from the rafters, waiting for her opportunity. She spotted Sister Dian, smiling and patiently listening to one of the more boisterous nuns, walking towards the dining hall. Willow quietly followed, climbing between beams, keeping out of sight.
    She saw her chance when Sister Dian veered off from the group, heading for the bathrooms. As she closed the main door behind her, Willow pounced. She dropped from the great beam and struck from the rear, grabbing the Sister by the hair and reaching around with her dagger.
    “Mitra’s light cannot shine on what it cannot see,” she whispered menacingly.
    She slashed along the sisters throat, showering the bathroom in a frightening display of blood splatter. Willow released her grip on Sister Dian’s hair and let her body crumple to the floor, the blood pooling across the concrete ground. She swiftly sheathed her blade and retreated back into the rafters, climbing up the large dressers along the wall, leaping to the wooden beams connecting the ceiling.
    She grinned as she climbed back down the lattice work, hearing a chorus of terrified screams bounding through the halls. She quickened her pace, sprinting for the shadowed alleys of the city.

    Sitting along the large oak table in the Baron’s dining room, the group dined on fine roast duck and discussed their current plans.
    “Bor, will you ask the Baron something for me?” Garvana asked.
    “Of course, what is it?” Bor answered, sounding intrigued.
    “I need a blacksmith. One who won't ask questions.”
    The group turned and looked to Garvana.
    “I think we should arm the boggards,” she said confidently, “They may be mere amphibians, but they could be quite useful if given the right tools.”
    “What do we do about those daemons, Hexor and Vexor?” Teelee piped up.
    “We leave them where they are for now,” Willow replied smoothly, “They are there to guard the sanctum, so let them. We shall disperse of them once they are no longer useful.”
    “Willow's right,” Bor agreed, “For now they are stopping anyone else from interfering with the sanctum.”
    She smiled, “They need not know they are disposable.”

    When the sky was at its darkest that night, Willow woke to a blade pressing into her throat. Switch leaned in close, his lips mere millimetres from hers. Willow pushed up gently, forcing the blade in firmer, far enough to trace her tongue across his lips. She heard his sharp intake of breath and smiled. She dropped her head back and looked deep into his eyes, the intense lust burning there only fuelling her own. Slamming the dagger into the mattress next to her head, he forced her face to the side and bit down firmly on her neck. She groaned as her back arched, thrusting her body against his.
    She despised him. Everything about him disgusted her. His smug attitude, his appalling manners, his severely lacking vocabulary. But his repulsiveness only seemed the fan the flame she felt when he was around. His arrogant air of dominance stirred something primal in her.
    She carved her nails deep into his shoulder blades. He grunted, biting down harder in retaliation. Willow screeched and giggled, growling at him as he unlatched from her.
    She laughed as he tore himself away, chest heaving he strode to the cabinet, helping himself to her whiskey. He poured a single nip into a tumbler, but drank long and hard straight from the bottle. His breathing slowed as he wandered back and sat next to the bed, handing Willow the glass and taking another swig himself. Running his hand along his head, rolling out his shoulders, he laughed.
    “Most impressive performance today,” he chuckled, “Clean and convincing.”
    Willow sat up against the wall, the sheet barely covering her chest, she smiled and inclined her head.
    “You’re a fantastic liar,” he mused.
    “I say! How rude!” she exclaimed in mock outrage.
    “Lies just sing their way from your lips,” he laughed, “A lay sister? An innocent untouched child of the faithful? Ha!”
    Willow laughed and batted her eyelashes innocently at him.
    “Oh sacred and untouched I am,” she said wide eyed, “Would you care to desecrate me?”
    She watched the heat flare in his eyes as he stood and looked away. He grabbed Willow’s nightgown and threw it to her.
    “If we are going to do this,” he said sternly, looking across the room, “We need to keep some things separate.”
    “Yes sir,” Willow chuffed, pulling the nightgown over her shoulders.
    “I will offer this once,” he said seriously as he turned to her, “There is no going back. You've been given the opportunity to join the ranks of the sacred covenant of assassins, the Black Serpent Coterie. You've been tested and passed with full marks. I, Jonathan Cadwell Swichlem, take responsibility for your training and tutorage. I will be your mentor and your teacher. You are required only to give your dedication and your silence. Secrecy is our greatest ally as we strike from the shadows. Do you, Willow Miryah Monteguard, accept this offer?”
    Willow’s lip curved up in a grin, “I accept.”
    “Very well, apprentice,” he said, returning her grin.
    He reached into his cloak and lifted out a glistening red dagger. Willow sighed at the sight of it. It was her beauty, her heart, her soul. Her personal dagger crafted out of solid ruby, enchanted with dark unholy magic, the touch of Asmodeus himself. Passed down to her by her Great Grandfather Cassidus II. She stared at it lovingly a while before she realised Switch was still holding it.
    “What is this?” she queried, scrunching her nose up.
    “You know exactly what it is,” he said wickedly.
    She crawled from the bed and reached gingerly for the dagger before quickly attempting to snatch it. He swiftly sheathed the blade back into his cloak.
    “You can have it back,” he chuckled, “When you can take it from me.”
    Pulling out a second dagger from the other side of his cloak, he flipped it up at Willow, she caught it mid air. The dagger was long and curved, slender and graceful, but terribly deadly. The thin blade had been carved to penetrate deep and swiftly dispose of its victim.
    “Use this,” Switch said, “It'll serve you well, until you're ready for the other.”
    “It's beautiful,” Willow breathed, tracing her finger lightly up its blade, “Thank you.”
    “Don't thank me yet,” he clipped, “You've got a lot to learn. I will teach you, but you are to do exactly as I say. You are to follow every command I give you.”
    “Every command?” she asked sinfully, quirking an eyebrow.
    In a breath Switch had Willow pinned against the wall, her legs wrapped around his waist, his hands wrapped around her throat.
    “Every. Command.”

    They left the manor as dawn approached, trekking through the rain forest quickly, making it to the Horn by midday. They crept passed the resting Treant, sneaking through the mud of the winding tunnels towards the rear of the cavern.
    “We have bought with us iron for the boggards,” Garvana said, placing the pile of basic armour and weapons outside Zikomo’s hut.
    “Thank you, Third Chieftain,” Zikomo replied, bowing his head, “The boggards have already repaid your service, making progress on your tunnel and capturing an intruder.”
    “An intruder?” Willow queried.
    “Yes, First Chieftain,” he replied respectfully, making Willow smirk, “We, the boggards, have captured the intruder.”
    “Take us to him,” said Garvana.
    “As you wish, Fifth Chieftain.”
    Willow muffled a laugh as Zikomo lead the way to the shabby cell, two boggard guards posted on either side of its door. Garvana dismissed them, opening the door and waltzing in. Willow slipped in and leant back against the side wall, crossing her arms, relaxed but ready.
    Garvana questioned the intruder, finding that he was actually a simple fisherman, who had been harvesting his usual catch, a far distance from the caves. Willow grew impatient, listening to the back and forth between the confused prisoner and Garvana, forming a shaky agreement. She did not trust any deal they made. She did not trust this peasants’ promise, made in desperation in exchange for his life. A few boggards and their strange human friends were little threat when he could turn to the authorities. Certain authorities that would be very interested to know that a strange group of humans were conspiring for any reason inside the Horn of Abbadon.
    Willow crept on silent feet, unnoticed as she snuck into the shadows behind the captive. She drew her dagger from it's sheath, quietly stepping forward, raising the blade slowly. As she approached, she caught Pellius’ eye. He shook his head softly, giving her that look that said he had a plan. Willow huffed, disappointed, but obedient for now.
    The prisoner, Hask he called himself, made an agreement to deliver half of all of his catch once a week to the boggards. As Garvana checked with Zikomo if the deal would satisfy him, to which he agreed, Pellius approached Hask.
    “If you conceive the idea to betray us,” he said threateningly, removing a vial of blood from his pocket, imprinting his thumb into the prisoners forehead, “Know you have been marked. We will find you.”
    “Will you have your men escort Hask back to his fishing hole?” Garvana asked Zikomo.
    Willow leaned in close to the prisoner, who had not noticed her.
    “Unharmed!” she commanded fiercely, making Hask jump in fright, “For now…”

    Gathering after the commotion of sending the prisoner off, the group headed to the blue slime covered cavern to check on the boggards progress. Unexpectedly impressed, Willow raised her eyebrows at the two metre deep missing rock. Pellius pulled out the scroll, handing it to Teelee. She made a dramatic fuss over the unravelling of the parchment, calling the words loud and strong. As the magic reformed the stone and split it down the middle, Willow watched Zikomo. He sipped on a steaming brew from his horn and smiled, misted eyes rolling.
    “This is good,” he said from his trance.
    Willow prowled forward on light feet, stepping along the firmer patches of ground. Sprawled across the floor, a caustic lime encrusted skeleton draped in shreds of time weathered fabrics. Still wrapped in it’s grasp lay a black leather bound tome, the remainder of a shattered vial spread at its feet. Willow lifted the tome from its boney fingers, and noticed a glint of light reflect upon something tucked in a tattered pocket. She smiled as she gently lifted it out and held it to the light, a large shining exquisite emerald. She slipped it into her pocket and stood, flicking through the tome while Garvana and Teelee read the magic of the cavern.
    “The Dirges of Apollyon,” Willow read aloud, “Chronicles of the Pale Horsemen.”
    Willow perused through the pages, marvelling at the rarity of the book.
    “This would be worth a for-
    She stopped on the last page, “Oh, hello!”
    Willow walked over to Pellius, handing him the book, the last page open revealing a hand written letter.
    He quickly skimmed its contents, “The ritual!”

    Perched upon the ledge, Willow read the letter aloud.
    “Behold our shame that we, the Sons of the Pale Horsemen, failed in our darkest hour to defend our prince the undying and ever malevolent Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes. But I have seen it! I have seen the road to repentance!”
    He spoke of a ritual, performed over two hundred and twenty two days. A practice in which they would have to speak six hundred and sixty six prayers. Each day, bathing the seal in unholy water and intoning three prayers from the Dirge; Supplication to Darkness, Cursing of the Light and Call Across the Void.
    “Blessed day!” she read, “Be ready, my brothers. His eyes have been stolen from him. Return them and the Prince will honour ye with one task for each. For the Eye of Vigilance ask only for his mercy upon we mortals and plead that he do ye and yours no harm. For his wroth will be great. For the Eye of Hatred ask for his greatest gift – the Tears of Achlys so that once more every corner of the world may know his mercy. For the Eye of Withering ask what ye will for in his gratitude he must answer your charge. And then, behold, the Prince restored. All shall know his blessings of pestilence and despair…”
    Willow closed the book and sat in thought, the others beginning to bicker amongst themselves. Seven months was a long time to stay unnoticed. The boggards were a helpful defence but they would need a whole lot more to if they were going to make this work.
    “But what are the eyes?!” Teelee called.
    Willow frowned, tracing her hand over the lump in her pocket. She pulled out the emerald and stared down into it.
    “This is one,” she whispered quietly in realisation, “Garvana!” she called, “You said this was strongly magical, could this be one of the eyes?”
    Garvana frowned, looking the emerald over, “It's the best guess we've got.”
    The group began to argue about how to proceed when Willow became too frustrated.
    She leapt off the ledge, heading towards the outside, “There's two other levels to this place that we know of, let's figure out what else is here before we panic, alright?”

    Climbing the outside of the densely forested horn, Willow prowled up the stairs, following closely behind Pellius. She chuckled as she found herself thanking his cuisse armour piece for the way it curved into his backside with every step.
    “Nice view,” Bor muttered.
    Willow smirked sheepishly, turning to look back at him. She laughed as she saw Bor’s devilish grin with his eyes on her own backside, coated in slick skin tight black leather.
    Reaching an open door made of stonework bricks, they entered as quietly as possible. Willow frowned at the entrance hall. Arrow slits lined both sides of the room, panelled tiles lined the floor, an iron barricade at the far end of the passage. Willow tapped Pellius on the shoulder before he stepped forward. She passed him and lightly crept from brick to brick, searching for any signs of tampering, listening and feeling for any irregularities. She prowled below the arrow slits, far enough until she was sure there were no traps, nodding to Pellius and allowing him to pass her. They searched room by room, Willow's suspicion growing with each empty chamber. She checked each door over before Pellius burst through it, but although signs of a brutal massacre stained the walls, the base was empty. They found an entire set up there. An armoury, a forge, a guard post, a jail cell, a holding cell, a throne room, even a tavern.
    They entered a room tiled with plaques, what appeared to be a trophy room. The trophies had been removed long ago, leaving behind only their owners name and a few words on their death. While the others moved on, Willow traced her fingers along the crevices of Ergun Nigma, noting that the plaque sat out a few millimetres further than the others. She slid her nails in behind the plaque and gently pulled. The plaque slid outwards, attached to a metal rod connected to the wall. Willow softly turned the plaque, feeling the faintest of clicks beyond the stone after turning it to the left three turns. She smiled as she softly spun it back the other way, feeling the click after only a single turn, winding it back towards the left for a final two turns. As she swivelled into the last latch, the lock clicked loudly, opening a hidden panel in the stonework. Willow laughed, pulling out fifty five pieces of shining platinum and a large solid ruby. Reaching into the back of the wall safe, she pulled out a pair of silver manacles and threw them to Pellius, a wicked grin on her lips. Teelee seemed to miss the sexual tension and went about examining the manacles and muttering incantations.
    “There's some kind of charm on them,” she muttered, “A compliance charm…”
    Willow stalked away, heading on to the next room, pausing as she passed Pellius.
    “There's no need for that,” she whispered sinfully, “You know I always do as I'm told.”
    His dastardly laugh was music to her ears.
    As they entered the next room, Willow heard his sharp intake of breath. An old torture room. A broken rack lay in the centre with its bindings cut, and a dismantled iron maiden smashed to pieces had fallen heavily in the corner. Various tools of sadistic whim laid strewn about the room, it's benches and shelves in disarray.
    “Salvageable,” Pellius murmured to himself.
    While the rest of the group continued on towards the throne room, Willow leaned up against the door frame, watching Pellius’ mind race with possibilities. She didn't need to say anything, the wicked gleam in his burning red eyes said enough.

    Willow read through a journal she had found while she walked through the throne room. She looked over the throne as she read about a peculiar situation when the owner of the diary had seen someone vanish while sitting in it. Scrawled along the bottom of the throne was a simple inscription in Abyssal – Yah. A nonsense word with no meaning. Willow made note to ask Garvana or Teelee about it later. She trailed back past the large stone pillars supporting the ceiling and paused as she heard an echo. She knocked on the closest pillar and smiled at its resonating ring. She guessed that was where their secret spiral staircase to the sanctum was hidden.
    “This place has potential,” Pellius called to Willow, “We could achieve much from here.”
    Willow looked around her and up to the throne decorated in Vetra-Kali’s insignia, picturing it draped in red and black, a large inverted pentagram defacing the wall.
    “The start of a kingdom,” she whispered, heart racing, “And it shall be His…”
    Last edited by minderp; 2016-10-05 at 05:09 AM.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 10 - Clandestine

    Spoiler: Chapter 10 - Clandestine
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    “The rotting flesh rapidly deteriorates as the infection spreads,” Willow read from the Dirges of Appolyon, “Contracted through contact of bodily fluids.”
    She cringed, flipping through the pages on detailed accounts of the plagues of history. Those sent forth throughout the planes by the hand of the Prince of Locusts, deep from his Throne of Flies, centred in the festering pits and shrivelled forests of the Plaguemere.
    “Disgusting,” Willow commented, turning her nose up.
    She turned the page and traced her fingers across four names.
    “Apollyon, Szuriel, Trelmarixian and Charon,” she read aloud to the group gathered around the small fire they had made in the throne room, “Pestilence, War, Famine and Death.”
    Willow skimmed over the little known lore of the Pale Horsemen, repeating facts she found interesting, as the members of their knot listened in. When she continued on, she came across the rambling account of a plague ridden doctor devoted to Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes.
    “Wilfred Frederick Collan, Oathday Pharast 4679,” she read, “The bacteria has spread into my lungs. The cough has grown heavy, my lung capacity has shortened by a factor of four. Symptoms have grown to include fever, chills, muscle cramps and infrequent seizures. It is most fascinating! The skin on my fingers and toes has begun to discolour, I shall be interested to see in which order I lose them…”
    Willow cringed, reading his entries aloud, frowning at the unhinged enthusiastic script.
    “Wilfred Frederick Collan, Starday Desnus 4680. He spoke to me. My undying Prince, Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes! He congratulated me on my self mutations of the pneumonic plague. He gave me his blessing, he touched my soul, dousing it in his unholy pestilence. I can feel the greatness within me, corroding my lungs as I write this. This shall be my last entry. Know that as my insides are putrefied and decayed, my heart is full. The life shall drain from my rotting carcass, my soul shall live on in my Prince of Pestilence’s despair.”
    Willow closed the book as she finished and stared off into dead air in contemplation, “We cannot allow him his freedom,” she said coldly, “A plague we have control of is acceptable at best, perilous at worst. But releasing a malefic plaguebringer of his might? The repercussions would be catastrophic.”
    Willow was struck with an idea.
    “Garvana, Pellius,” she called, eyebrows pulled tight in thought, “How binding is this ritual?”
    She flung open the tome, flipping to the last page, the hand written letter.
    “For the Withering Eye of Hatred ask what ye will,” she recited, “for in his gratitude he must answer your charge…”
    Willow looked from Pellius to Garvana, “How bound is he to that? Can we ask for his banishment? Ask him to leave this material plane and never return?”
    “That would most certainly anger him,” Pellius said, eyebrows drawn together, “But it is possible. Rituals such as this are soul binding. He must comply, but he is free to taint the ‘wish’ in anyway he can.”
    “Well we've got seven months to perfect the wording,” Willow smirked, “I'm sure we can come up with something fool proof.”
    “I've been meaning to mention,” Pellius continued, “We are obviously in need of allies, trustworthy allies devoted to our Infernal Father...”
    “And you know of some?” Garvana questioned.
    “When I arrived on these shores I was heading a small fleet of my Chelaxian brethren. Their punishment was lacking in comparison to my own. But say we spare some time to locate them? They would flock to our Infernal Lord’s banner.”
    Willow smiled, “Perhaps the Baron may provide some assistance, his contacts could prove useful in locating them.”
    “Ah,” Pellius frowned, “He is going to be a problem. We must eliminate him or at the very least find some compelling leverage over him. I confess, I am not a man of easy trust, but I have known men such as he. He will betray us, it is only a matter of time.”
    “Of course he will,” Willow chuckled, “But let us suck him dry of his use before we dispose of him.”

    As the first light from the sun pierced through the large canopy along the horizon, the group crawled up the second staircase winding around the spire. A slender set of steps, narrowly winding up the two hundred feet. Willow marvelled at the large Horn, it's open entrances ominously forming a silhouette of Vetra-Kali’s three eyes.
    They crept in through the entrance way, passing what should have been a brutal death trap. But instead, the arrow slits lay unmanned, the gaping pit trap hung open, the barricade strewn off centre. This entrance also abandoned. A single pair of Boggard tracks scattered across the floor, breaking the dense layer of dust and moss swarming the stone. As they crossed the board bridging the pit trap, Pellius and Garvana seemed to slow.
    “Do you feel that?” Garvana asked quietly, “It's like a sickening ray of goodness, an aura of just and righteousness.”
    Pellius cringed, “I feel it too.”
    Willow frowned, she did not necessarily feel comfortable in this place, but she could not comprehend what they were feeling.
    Searching warily through the rooms, they discovered it held great resemblance to the level below. The entrance hall littered with gaping pit traps, guard rooms, store rooms, even the remains of what was once a functioning brothel. Willow shuddered, viewing the murals depicting the ravenous scenes of lust and debauchery. She grimaced as she noted not all of the clientele were humanoid in nature.
    The murals continued throughout the base, intricately carved tales of the Pale Horsemen and their deeds of history. Willow browsed each carving, recognising the worth that could be if they were to catalogue the information. As she studied the long vivid images lining the lengthy passageway, she noticed three separate patterns.
    “They're rituals,” she mused, “Daemonic rituals…”
    Willow made note to study them further during their long stay in the walls of the Horn.

    Laying amongst the rubble of a room laden with various shattered statues, Willow found a single stone head, unlike any of the others in the room. Examining it close, she noticed how intricately detailed the stone carvings were.
    “Garvana,” she called, “What do you make of this?”
    Willow handed her the head, as she looked it over in frown, “I do not know, it is far too detailed for a mere statue.”
    “That's what I thought, could it have been human? Turned to stone by magic?”
    Garvana nodded, “It is possible.”
    Bor offered to carry the head if Willow wished to searched for its body.
    “I would appreciate it,” she chuckled and winked, “My hands are more use elsewhere.”

    Opening the door to the small room along the western side of the base, they were greeted by a tumbling of creeping vines furling along the walls. The mural on the western wall had been smashed so vigorously that the stone had collapsed, allowing the outside forestry to slither its way in. As the door clanged against the wall, two clear oozing masses resting by the hole began to shudder. Green vines rippled from the blobs, convulsing in an eery dance, mimicked by the greenery wrapped through the wall. Before Willow had time to react, she saw Pellius collapse in a sleeping heap on the ground. Three thuds behind her had her spinning around in time to see the rest of the group fall in the same unconscious daze. Willow panicked, slamming the door to the room closed, locking in the oozing forms.
    “Wake up!” Willow called, bending down and slapping Pellius across the cheek, “Wake up!”
    Willow grew frantic, unable to comprehend a plan. She kicked Pellius in the stomach, hoping to rouse him. When he gave no signs of consciousness, she rammed her pick into the lock and jammed it tight. She knew the blobs to be creatures called Verdurous Oozes, but she had little knowledge of them and even less on what could have caused this effect or how to combat it. She paced in front of the door, feeling completely out of her depth. She kicked Pellius low in the stomach.
    “Wake up damn you!” she screeched.
    After a few minutes, and a few more solid kicks, she saw life slowly return to his eyes. Frustrated, she kicked him again in the side for good measure, his groan enough to stay her panic.
    “Sorry,” she said sheepishly, offering him a hand up, “You're probably going to have a few good bruises…”
    Pellius chuckled, clutching his side, “You'll just have to rub them better tonight.”
    Willow grinned, unabashedly feeling safer with him conscious.
    The others woke a few moments later, each dazed and confused as to what had happened. Willow explained the little she understood, Garvana deducing that the sleep effect was a natural ability of the oozes, possibly an ingestible type of spore.
    “Well,” Willow said, “The lock is good and jammed, perhaps we clear out the rest of this place and come back to this later?”
    “No objections here,” said Teelee, rubbing her head, straining her eyes.

    After double checking the lock has been sufficiently compromised, the group continued their search of the base. Two large wooden doors stood centre of the hallway, a looming feat in the stone brickwork. They cautiously opened the doors, the second of the great throne rooms laying beyond. As they entered, Willow marvelled at the expansive panorama of murals, depicting a great civilisation in all its glory. Knights in majesty and gleaming armour, standing tall and proud, stout in their defence of the hoard of commoners. Towers and spires spiralling into the sky, strong and protective, overwhelming artistry of the civilisations might. As the group began their approach of the throne, Willow watched the horrific transformation. With each mural they passed, the crippling effects of the Pale Horsemen became apparent. The Knights grew gaunt, their skin hung from their meatless bones, the flesh rotted and festered. The scene depicted pestilence in all its lustre. A plague sweeping the country, the walls of the great buildings decaying and falling in disrepair, the common folk purged by famine and disease. As the scene mouldered and putrefied, images of daemons spawned across the expanse. The civilisation in festering ruins, portraits of cackling daemons, herding the masses of plague ridden undead humans into the blackened void.
    “Lead the flock,” Willow read, from the Abyssal script carved above the throne, “Into the arms of blessed death…”
    She shivered, the images of the death of humanity shaking her to her core.
    “I will do as my master bids,” she said quietly to Pellius, staring at the foreboding words, “but I will not allow this monstrosity his freedom.”
    “Agreed,” he replied sombrely.

    Willow stood in silent prayer for a few minutes, reminding herself of the power Cardinal Thorn harboured, reassuring her faith in her own instincts. She knew he was utterly devoted to Asmodeus, whatever his reasoning and motivations, their goals of her Infernal Lord’s reinstatement aligned. She had to trust in his wisdom, and his ability to control the backlash that unleashing the Tears of Achlys would bring. Her lips lifted in a small smile as she felt the softest pulse of profane energy, like a sweet searing kiss, a reassurance of faith.
    Gathering herself, Willow began a closer inspection of the throne. After examining the intricate carvings along the base of the large chair, she found another small scripted nonsense word written in Abyssal – Rah.
    “Command words?” Willow proposed.
    Teelee took it upon herself to test the theory. She marched with confidence up the stairs leading to the throne, sitting upon the seat in natural regal might.
    “Rah!” she called. Nothing happened.
    “No no no,” Willow chuckled, “My guess is Rah is the command word to return here. Try saying Yah.”
    “Yah?” Teelee said, unsure.
    She vanished. For a few moments, the throne lay empty as her person was sucked through another dimension. Just as quickly she blinked into existence, returning to the throne in front of the group.
    “Did it work?” Willow asked.
    “Of course,” Teelee chuffed, “I knew it would.”
    Willow laughed, walking back towards the exit, “Of course you did.”

    As they approached a door adjacent to the throne room, both Pellius and Garvana cringed. The spine tingling aura of goodness radiated its strength from behind this door. Willow checked the door over for any unexpected sabotage. Satisfied, she swung the door wide, revealing a small shrine on the far wall and a carved inscription in ancient tongue.
    “Mitra lucet omnibus,” Garvana read aloud, “Mitra omnia regit. Mitra shines on everyone, Mitra rules everything.”
    Willow grimaced, the sickeningly sweet words caressing her ears with its taint.
    “It seems powerful,” Willow said quietly, nose turned up, “Desecrating it would take more than merely brute force. I've read of such things, a blood sacrifice in our Infernal Father’s name would suffice.”
    Garvana called for her dog, leading it over near the shrine. Willow raised her eyebrows, she would not stand by and allow it to be slaughtered. She had little remorse for human sacrifices, sentient beings who were weak enough to be massacred, failing their natural born right to be strong. But loyal animals, ones who knew their place by their masters side, their slaughter felt wrong and immoral.
    “Surely we can offer our Lord a more worthy sacrifice,” Pellius remarked to Willow as Garvana decided against it, leaving the shrine for later.

    Opening the door to what appeared to be a large bedroom chamber, Willow sighed with delight at the sight of an enormous four poster bed. The grand structure reached a height of over ten feet, it's intricate oak beams carved in immaculate beauty, it's deep base heavy laden with majesty. The mattress and bedding rotted with mould and mildew. The drapes lay in shreds, the coverlet corroded into frail scraps of silk.
    “It's beautiful,” Willow crooned, strolling around the bed, speaking to Pellius, “How difficult would it be to procure a mattress from Farholde?”
    Pellius smirked, “It would be possible.”
    “This is definitely going to be mine,” she said, grinning back at him, “I'll let you join me on occasion I suppose.”

    Entering the last room on the floor, had Willow chuckling. Centre of the chamber was an intricately carved statue, missing its head.
    “I think we've found its owner,” she chuckled, looking over to Bor.
    He pulled the head from his bag and placed it atop the statue. Each shattered fragment sliding snug for a perfect fit. Willow rounded the statue, making out the markings of insignia of his back. The image of a bull skull, tall pointed horns and deep gaunt hollow eyes, lay carved into his back.
    “Here lies our first sacrifice,” Willow mused, thinking of the components to the ritual.
    The ritual to release Vetra-Kali had spoken of three necessary sacrifices. The first, one of the Sons of the Pale Horsemen, sacrificed to show their acknowledgement of their failure and their prolonged devotion. The second, one of Mitra's faithful, sacrificed to called forth the malevolent powers of darkness to weaken the seal. The third, one of the Victor’s own bloodline, sacrificed to use the same blood that bound him, to unbind him.
    Willow had recited the specifics of each ritual to the group. She surmised that any priest or priestess of the Light would suffice as the second sacrifice. She had recalled a rumour of Sir Valen’s relation to the Victor, suggesting him as a possible third and final sacrifice.
    “One of the Sons,” Willow said, tracing the stone bull skull carving with her finger, “Do you know of any way to un-petrify him?”
    Garvana frowned, “Did we not uncover some stone salve from that abandoned alchemist laboratory?”
    “Would it work?” Willow asked, as Garvana pulled the vial from her pack.
    “It should,” she said.
    “Let us wait,” Willow said quickly, “He may have useful information. There is another floor to this place, let us be sure of our surroundings first.”
    Bor chuckled, “I do not think he'll be going anywhere.”

    Willow deftly clambered up the outside of the forested Horn, a thick rope bundled over her shoulder, towards the only visible entrance to the next level. She quickly reached the balcony and peered in along the tiled hallway, another room laden with horrific imagery depicted in murals. Bor leaped along the wall beneath her, his great strength allowing him to force his way up onto the balcony. Willow laughed as he reached the ledge, seeing Teelee clinging fiercely to his back. She handed Bor one end of the rope and flung the rest down towards Garvana and Pellius. Garvana hefted her dog under one arm and struggled her way up the rope awkwardly towards the balcony.
    “Come on Pellius,” Willow yelled as she laughed.
    Strong and stubborn, battling with his pride about taking help to climb a simple steep, Pellius brooded.
    “Come on man,” Bor laughed, “Can't climb a simple rope?!”
    Pellius glared up at him, dramatically gripping the rope and hauling himself up. As he reached the balcony, Willow couldn't stop the giggles from escaping, earning her a fierce glare in return. Her giggles exploded into laughter, as she patronising soothed him.
    Still chuckling, she turned to the passage. As Bor stepped forward, Willow flung her hand out to stop him.
    “Look,” she pointed, “Another trap.”
    Carved intricately into the centre of the floor was a portrait of Vetra-Kali, the borders of the stone plate raised ever so slightly. Willow bent down, inspecting the mechanism of the slab, lingering over the sculpted three eyes. She saw the finely tuned minuscule pins of their locks, threaded into the joints holding up the trap door. As she reached to press the buttons, she saw Bor leap over the trap, barely clearing it with Teelee still clinging to his shoulders. Willow scoffed as she clicked all three eyes in together, snapping the trap in place, standing and sauntering across its board.
    “Eyes as keen as they are beautiful, my lady,” Pellius complimented.
    Willow laughed, playfully fluttering her eyelashes to him.
    She heard a great thud on the plate behind her, turning to see Garvana having failed to leap across the trap.
    “What?” she said, “It's hard to jump in this much armour.”

    Entering the passage, the murals lining the floors and walls made one thing abundantly clear. This was Vetra-Kali’s abode. Each scene depicted his own accomplishments, terrifying imagery of his pustule nightmares ransacking the land and its people. The murals lead them through the halls, through cell blocks of sturdy might and hidden libraries that once held the secrets of his blasphemous pestilence.
    Chills ran down Willow's spine as they stepped inside a chamber littered in ominous Abyssal script. A large red circle carved into the floor, surrounded by dark ritualistic chants and blackened glyphs. Menacing whispers chanted in soft chorus, hurried and hushed wisps of sound licking Willow's ears.
    “Receive the wisdom of Abbadon,” Willow read from the wall, large print furiously carved into the back wall.
    Scribbled hastily a hundred times over in Abyssal script was a single word – Nen.
    Willow was bent over, translating one of the chants written upon the floor, when she heard a single word.
    “Yah!” Garvana called.
    Willow spun on her heel, in time to see Garvana vanish, gone from the centre circle.
    “What in hell’s name does she think she's doing?!” Willow burst.
    A moment later the air rippled and Garvana winked back into the room.
    “Are you daft?!” Willow yelled, “Standing in the centre of a room dripping with the ‘wisdom of Abbadon’ and you run without thought into its ritual circle and use its magic?!”
    Garvana raised her eyebrows, “It was not without thought, I suppose I possess a greater understanding of this magic than yourself.”
    Willow temper flared, “Do you not see the risk?! Are you so stubborn and blind?!”
    “What I saw,” Garvana said proudly, “Was that it worked. It was indeed, a teleportation circle, aligned with the others.”
    Willow scoffed, “Let us hope that is all it is.”
    She turned from Garvana, fuming at her carelessness. Her worry was less for Garvana's safety, primarily for the success of their mission. As skilled as Willow was, she was not arrogant or naïve enough to believe she could succeed alone. After taking a deep breath, exhaling it slowly, Willow calmed. She knew Asmodeus saw strength enough in Garvana to grant her access to a sliver of his immense and unrivalled power. Willow would follow Him. She would forever follow Him, and never question his supreme wisdom. He saw Garvana as worthy, and so would she.
    After the others had left the room, Willow pulled Garvana aside, requesting a word.
    “I apologise for my outburst,” she said softly, swallowing her pride, “It was aberrant and puerile of me. But I must confess, the gain falls far short of the risk. Losing you would endanger our odds of success in this holy mission, and this mission must come above all else, pride and might aside. We must succeed at all cost.”
    Garvana hung her head slightly.
    “I do admit, it was indeed a rash action,” she replied, “I apologise. I was most confident of the outcome, I would not have attempted it otherwise. I do only wish you would have more faith in me.”
    Garvana lent forward and gently kissed Willow on the cheek.
    Softly, she said, “Asmodeus smiles on us both.”

    Two heavy reinforced, intricately carved doors stood solid and proud, what appeared to be the final doors to the Horn. As ornate and baroque as the entryway hall was, it paled before this expansive and vaulted chamber. The fane was adorned with a riot of lurid colours. Magnificent murals depicted daemons of every sort engaged in countless acts of wanton evil, callous destruction and inhuman savagery. Rows of pews lined the room, that would have once allowed a congregation of the chosen Sons to gather. A single podium stood centre of four heinous shrines.
    Willow approached cautiously, eyeing each step warily.
    A shrine of white stood to the far left, decorated with bas-relief depictions of open pits of the dead and foul lepers crying in anguish.
    “Pestilence,” she said quietly.
    A shrine of red stone stood second, decorated with cruel iron weaponry and horrifying imagery of slaughter and massacre.
    “War.”
    Third, stood a shrine of black, decorated in repulsive illustrations of mortals in ravenous hunger wasting away from starvation.
    “Famine.”
    Fourth stood a shrine of pale green, adorned with a skull with two coins over its eyes and a jagged Abyssal inscription.
    “Behold a pale horse,” Willow read sombrely, “It's rider is Death, and all shall follow him.”
    Willow shivered, sickening chills tingling her spine as she approached the centrepiece of the chamber. The large wall bedizened with an immaculately carved portrait of Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes. He sat with his equine hooves cross legged beneath him, his boned grotesque wings draped heavy over his shoulders, his single corroded horn protruding from his skull. He held out a hand offering his greatest work, his masterpiece, the Tears of Achlys.
    The three eyed daemon prince may have been paying homage to the four shrines, but there was no doubt that this fane was built primarily to honour him.
    Willow turned her head and scanned the other walls. Each contained a litany of the deeds performed by the daemonic prince. It was he who crossed the great void and came to the material plane to establish the Sons of the Pale Horsemen. It was he who oversaw the construction of the Horn of Abbadon. It was he who forged the frightful Tears, and he who planned to unleash it.
    Willow turned back to the centrepiece. Slowly, she approached. As she neared she saw a jagged key carved into one of Vetra-Kali’s open hands, a small inscription on its neck. Bor followed as she moved closer, walking up beside her. As he neared, she heard his sharp intake of breath. She snapped her head to him, frowning as he began to gasp for air. He cried out, a mournful sound of sheer terror, as he sprinted from the room. Garvana went after him as Willow turned back to the carving. She felt a sickening wave of fear tugging at her mind. She could feel it trying to wrap its tendrils around her, worm its way into her thoughts. With a surge of willpower she flung the effect away.
    Willow cringed, “It's a curse or hex, I think?”
    Once Bor had calmed and returned, Garvana carefully approached. She called out an incantation raising her hand in front of the carving.
    “There's summoning magic here,” she said, eyes glazed, “And here…” she said, pointing to the eastern wall.
    “Look at the words,” Willow said quietly, pointing to the inscription on the key.
    “Hail Vetra-Kali,” Garvana read aloud.
    Willow grimaced.
    “The foreboding magic is gone,” Garvana commented, “I no longer feel its presence. It must be a charm, warding off all but the followers of the Pale Horsemen.”
    “I will never utter those words,” Willow replied coldly.
    “Spoken words have little meaning,” Gavrana responded, “Asmodeus knows of our unwavering devotion.”
    Willow smiled, “I concur, but if those words were to leave my lips, I feel I would be betraying my… heart.”
    Garvana smiled back at Willow, “Then there is no need, I shall speak them for you.”
    She turned back to the carving as Pellius approached Willow. He bent down to whisper in her ear.
    “Asmodeus rewards his faithful… As do I,” he said low and menacing.
    Willow drew her lip in between her teeth as she grinned, winking back to him.
    Garvana reached out to the carving, tracing her fingers over the three eyes of Vetra-Kali, clicking all three in together. The sound of stone scraping on stone had the group spinning around. The bricks of the eastern wall separated and opened, revealing a store room filled with discarded broken furniture. As Garvana approached the room, Willow called out.
    “Wait, there was magic connecting the door to the shrine. What would it do if you entered?”
    While Willow was distracted, Bor sent the dog into the room. Willow spun around, and pursed. The dog merely trotted into the room, unharmed. As the others followed in, Pellius took a seat on the pew, leaning on his weapon. Willow strolled next to him, watching warily from the outside of the room.
    After searching the chamber and returning empty handed, closing it behind them, Garvana approached the carving. She stood in thought for a moment before reaching for the eyes.
    “Hail Vetra-Kali,” she said, clicking the eyes inwards in sync.
    The stone bricks parted, revealing a room littered with glistening gold and treasures. Silver furniture, golden goblets, jewellery in an array of sparkling stones. Mounds of coins flowed across the floor, potions and ornate vials stacked along the wall, delicate plates and silverware piled upon each other.
    Floating atop the hoard of trinkets was a blackened swirling wraith foaming with hatred and malice. Three lesser wraiths cried out from behind it.
    “Fresh mortal souls!” wailed the foaming wraith in Abyssal tongue.
    As it moved to swarm the party, Teelee called out.
    “What binds you to this world?!” she boomed.
    “What binds us here, mortal,” he groaned, “The banishment of our great Vetra-Kali is what binds us!”
    “Then stay your attack and let us help you,” she replied, “We intend to free Vetra-Kali!”
    “And what makes you think, you mortals are of might enough to free the Undying Prince?!”
    Garvana stepped forward, “We possess the ritual, required to release him.”
    She turned to Willow expectantly. Willow frowned, sceptical of trusting the sinister spectre. She slowly pulled the Dirges out of her pack, flicking to the back page, eyeing the wraith cautiously as she held up the hand written letter.
    “Ah,” the wraith moaned, chuckling ominously, “You must be the ninth knot.”
    The group started, suspicion flaring.
    “Indeed,” Willow clipped.
    “The memories of your fourth knot were deliciously informative.”
    She scoffed, “They were weak. Failures. Their deaths mean nothing.”
    “Very well,” he groaned, “For now, ninth knot, I shall allow you to attempt the unbinding of our Prince. Make haste, for my patience is short.”
    Willow raised her eyebrows, biting her tongue, “We shall require the use of this wealth. There are many components to the ritual.”
    “Take it,” the wraith shrieked, “I have no use for treasures.”
    A glistening green ray of light bounced off the walls, sparkling in Willow's vision. The second emerald of Vetra-Kali’s sat atop a thin pedestal behind the wraith.
    “And we shall require the Eye.”
    “You may take it, mortal. I feel the presence of the first Eye on you. But know this; we will know if the Eyes ever leave the Horn. And we will come for them.”
    “Of course,” Willow said, inclining her head.
    She slipped in the room a grabbed the large gem, eyeing a few golden and ruby pieces of jewellery, snatching them along her way out.
    Before the wraiths swirled into nothingness, they told the group of the last Eye, incased in stone on the floor below them. Willow turned to leave and saw Bor and Pellius still poised to attack.
    She laughed in realisation, “You two can't speak Abyssal, you didn't understand a word?”

    They sealed the room after taking as much lightweight treasure as they could, deciding to camp on the current floor for the night. After they had eaten, they cleared the room and set a round of sparring.
    Willow exhaled slowly, poised and ready, shifting her weight from foot to foot. She fingered her makeshift wooden dagger, holding it lightly, preparing to attack. Garvana stood solid in her shining metal breastplate and chainmail, wooden club firmly in hand, grim determination painting her features. Willow approached cautiously, circling Garvana counter clockwise. She feinted to the left, stepping forwards and quickly changing direction, darting to the right. She attempted to strike Garvana in the side of her ribs, struggling to find a break in her armour. She hacked as she continued her movement through, tumbling away and springing to her feet. The tight lace of Garvana's heavy chainmail deflected the blow with ease, but made her movements sluggish, slowing her reflexes. Willow dove in beside her, leaping up and slashing the dagger between Garvana's shoulder and neck.
    “One point!” Bor called.
    Willow span back around, scoffing at Bor’s poor scoring, diving straight back into the fray on quick dexterous feet. Garvana swung her club fiercely, hacking low, clipping the edge of Willow’s knee as she leapt backwards. Willow jumped to the right, thrusting her dagger out into the seam of the chainmail sleeve, pirouetting swiftly and drawing the dagger back across Garvana's face.
    “Eight points!”
    Garvana roared ferociously, she tackled Willow and latched on, gripping her tightly. She locked her elbow tightly around Willow’s neck, squeezing firmly attempting to cut of her airways. Willow couldn't help but grin as she struggled, finding herself in a very familiar position. She conserved her breath, using every bit of strength she had to inch them closer to the wall. When they were close enough, she swiftly braced her foot against the brickwork and ran up, leaping herself over Garvana as the grip broke around her neck. Landing in a crouch, panting for breath, she backed up stepping warily.
    Garvana spun around and charged at Willow with her club flying high above her head. As she neared, Willow attempted to feint to the left, darting to the right in hope of avoiding the attack. But this time Garvana saw through it, her keen eyes noticing the change in time, her club swinging wide and carving back towards Willow’s face. The brunt of the blow hit Willow in the jaw, the force of it knocking her off balance and sending her skidding backwards.
    “Ten points!” Bor yelled.
    Willow shouted in frustration, wiping the blood from her mouth, baring her teeth. She flipped the dagger reverse grip, cracking her neck side to side, preparing to charge.
    A firm hand gripped the back of her neck, painfully tight, in a familiar dominant gesture.
    “Enough!” Pellius said firmly, the fierce bite in his voice soothing Willow's temper.
    She took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, revelling in the sharp pain his fingers were causing.
    “Certainly,” she said softly, inclining her head, “Well fought, Garvana.”

    Later, as the moon rose to its full height for the night, Willow sat straddled atop Pellius, her sounds of carnal satisfaction echoing off the empty stone chamber. She took him as she pleased, slow and steady. Her mind revelled in the low torturous hum of her Infernal Lord circling in her veins. As her mind drifted and her body dazed, she was suddenly hit with a frighteningly forceful pulse of profane energy. She cried out, doubling over onto Pellius’ chest, the wave of sheer blissful agony sweeping through her. Pellius took it as a sign, taking control, rolling her over and under him in a swift spin. Willow screamed as her body was set alight, the fierce inferno exploding from within her. Her chest tightened and her throat caught, the pulsing fire crushing her slender frame in the most pleasurable of ways. Something was here. Something touched by the hand of Asmodeus. Willow knew from experience that Pellius was highly skilled in the way of their nightly escapades, but a pain so primal and so wicked, was more than he could offer. She had never felt something so intense. Her limbs failed to respond, every muscle had clenched so tightly they felt as if they were trying to tear themselves away her bones. Her joints seized and locked in place, each bone cradled and stiff. But it was the throbbing deep below in her that had her screaming in rapturous agony. Each surge of searing burn, reverberating dark ominous carnal pleasure, ricocheting throughout her insides.
    She tried desperately to call out to Pellius, warning him of the unannounced visitor, but all she managed was a guttural unintelligible groan. She struggled to claw her way to the door, her nails digging deep into the sheets, shredding them beneath her fingers. As another wave crashed through her body, her back arched off the bed, her frame suspended in the air by her head and backside. She shrieked in ecstasy as her own pleasure climaxed, pushing it’s apex ever higher, a blinding red light flashing behind her eyelids. As the euphoric torment fluctuated, Willow became unable to quiet herself.
    Pellius sat back, eyeing Willow with a mix of lust, concern and suspicion.
    Suddenly, the feelings vanished. Willow gasped for air, chest heaving, scrambling to her feet. She scooped up her dagger as she flung the door open and ran, completely naked, out into the hallway towards the camp of the others. She heard Pellius’ heavy thud of footsteps behind her as she rounded the corner.
    “What happened?!” Willow yelled, running into the room, “What was here?!”
    She raced over to see Garvana bent over Bor’s limp body, Teelee standing back watching. She knelt down next to Bor, frowning as her eyes flicked across his bare chest, smouldering burns festering along his torso. Two hand prints seared on each pectoral, thick oozing welts seeping from them leading down his trunk reaching his legs. Garvana called for her profane power, feeding from Asmodeus’ boon.
    “Something is blocking it!” she called, frantic and confused, “I cannot draw from His power.”
    She reached into her bag and lifted a potion, tipping its contents into Bor's mouth. The scorching bleed stopped, each of the blistering burns remaining.
    “That's all I can do for him,” she said, “He is stable, it shall not get any worse, but something is preventing his burns from healing. I cannot do anything further.”
    “What did this?!” Willow demanded.
    “I do not know,” Garvana said frustrated.
    She frowned, muttering the incantation Willow had learned to recognise as a Detect Magic spell. Garvana shuddered, crying out as her eyes rolled back and her body crashed to the floor. Pellius, standing in all his naked glory, dropped his axe and dragged both Garvana and Bor to the camp room. He dropped them upon the bedrolls and stood back, eyebrows pulled tight in contemplation. Life sprung from Garvana’s eyes, she slowly came to as Willow stayed crouch over Bor, inspecting his wounds. Garvana got to her feet, shaking off the haze clogging her mind, silently returning to the dark ritual room, kneeling upon the scripted circle.
    Willow had little knowledge of what could have possibly done this to Bor, or what Garvana would want with a ritual chamber smothered in Abyssal script and Abbadon’s wisdom. Her body still alight, her adrenaline still racing through her veins, her insides still throbbing. She had little patience left for curiosity.
    “Teelee,” she called, turning to face her, “Will you watch over Bor?”
    Teelee smirked, averting her eyes from the two naked bodies in front of her, “Why? Are you too busy?”
    Willow grinned strutting towards the exit, grabbing Pellius by the hair and pulling him along with her, “We will be very busy, we’ll be busy all night…”

    The sweet scent of pancakes woke Willow from her heavy gratified slumber. The morning rays of light beamed in through the open balcony as she draped her slip over her tender body and went seeking the alluring aroma. She whimpered as she had to strain her thigh muscles to sit crosslegged by the fireplace, laughing at Pellius’ devilish smirk as he handed her a plate topped with pancakes drizzled with honey. Willow grinned sheepishly as he turned his back and she saw the gouged claw marks along his neck and shoulders.
    “So,” Garvana interrupted, “When do we restore the man of stone?”
    Willow snapped out of her inappropriate reverie, “We must return to town first, there is no point reviving him and leaving him here alone.”
    “We have an array of places to confine him,” Pellius stated.
    “Yes,” Willow replied, “But his knowledge of this place will undoubtedly be greater than our own. He may have information that could aid us. Let us wake him when we are ready to coax the material from him.”
    Pellius opened his mouth to speak, a look of longing painted his features.
    “And if that doesn't work,” Willow said soothingly, “You can extract the information in the way you do best.”
    He grinned, dastardly and handsome.
    Willow looked over to Bor, who sat in silent contemplation, face as emotionless as stone.
    “Are you alright?” Willow asked quietly, gently laying a hand on his shoulder.
    He looked to her, agony swarming through his eyes, “I am fine.”
    His cold tone told Willow he was not wanting or needing to voice his inner battle.
    “We must inform the seventh knot of our plan and progress,” Teelee said.
    “Ah yes,” Willow said, eyebrow cocked, “Dear Elise. I believe we must be cautious of her actions. I cannot imagine one as arrogant as her to be thrilled with playing second fiddle to us. If it were I in her position, I would not be content as the assistance. I would plan to take the prize for myself. We must be wary, she is very likely to betray us.”
    Pellius chuckled, “Is that a hint of jealousy I hear?”
    Willow laughed, lifting her chin full of pride, “Jealous of her? I have little reason to be.”

    By midday the group had returned to the city. While Bor left to converse with the Baron, Willow strolled to the market, in search of a large luxurious mattress. After selecting the most opulent bedding and handing over a purse of fifty platinum pieces, she instructed the merchants that she would send servants over to retrieve it. She swayed through the market place, a dress of vibrant green laced tightly around her waist and bust, the soft train of tule flowing behind her. When she arrived at the docks the group had arranged to meet by, they were introduced to the crew the Baron had recommended. Ten handymen, built sturdy for hard labour and brute strength, and a skilled carpenter leading them by the name of Sven.
    Willow smiled politely, approaching the men.
    “Sven,” she called, dipping in a small curtsey, “A pleasure to make your acquaintance. You may call me Willow.”
    He smiled, eyes lighting up as he looked Willow over, “Nice to meet yer mam,” he replied in a gruff voice, thick with the Northerner’s accent, “Happy to be workin’ for yer.”
    Pellius approached, placing a possessive hand on Willow's shoulder, “You men come well recommended. You are to be part of a worthy cause, a holy mission set to shake the very core of this world. What credentials do you have to vouch for yourself?”
    “Well uh,” Sven stammered, “The work I'll do for yer will speak for itself. I have no ‘credentials’ as yer say, but me and my boys’ll do right by yer. I'm kinda wantin’ to leave my past where it is…”
    Willow smiled, softening her gaze she said gently, “It is alright. We all have our secrets.”
    “Thank yer kindly mam,” he replied, head bowed.
    “This is your chance to atone for those past mistakes. Failure will not be tolerated,” Pellius said threateningly.
    “Right yer are,” he replied, eyes wide.
    Sven clapped his hands together, bellowing to his crew, new vigour in his step. Willow informed them of the mattress they were to pick up and have delivered to the Horn at the earliest convenience. He barked orders at the men, delegating the tasks between them.
    “He seems competent,” Willow said quietly.
    Pellius huffed, “Let us hope so.”

    They made their way to the tavern Elise and the rest of the knot had checked into, finding them in the lounge, sprawled around a table.
    “Finally,” Elise said coldly, “I began to assume you had failed in your task after waiting this long.”
    Willow smiled condescendingly, “I do apologise, it must have been terribly boring having little of importance to do.”
    Elise pursed her lips, “Indeed.”
    “We have secured the Horn,” Willow said with an air of pride, “We have also obtained the complex ritual required to perform our task.”
    “And how long do you expect this to take you?” she scorned, “I suppose we shall be waiting around, delayed by your incompetence.”
    Willow smiled, “The ritual will take nine months of incantation to complete,” she lied, “Try not to be too bored in that time. I'm sure you'll be able to make yourselves of some use.”
    Elise gritted her teeth in obvious disdain, “I'm sure. If that is all, we must be off, some of us have actual plans to adhere to…”
    As she turned to leave, Bor chuckled, “Huh, you sure start whoring early.”
    Willow burst out in laughter, slapping her hand over her mouth. Fuming, Elise stormed away, her oversize elven guardian following her lead. Trick smiled and inclined his head to the group as he left, Track and his usual glare tailing behind. Willow grinned at Bor as they left the tavern, giggles still tickling her lips.

    They split up for the afternoon, the men off hunting the stores for weapons, while Willow took both women shopping. She found a beautiful set of black and red drapery, large enough to hang from the windows of the bedroom chamber she had selected. Willow smiled as they cased the markets for silk undergarments, grateful for the smallest of normalcy in their adventurous tales.
    They met back at Vandermeir’s manor late afternoon and sat down for a civil meal along the great oak dining table. Willow marvelled at the glistening warhammer that Pellius had commissioned, it's grand might visible by it's weight and solid surface. When he asked what she had spent her coin on throughout the day, she grinned.
    “Oh,” she said seductively, “You'll see it later tonight…”

    Before they retired for the night, Willow strolled out onto the terrace overlooking the expansive green valley that was the Caer Bryr. She held her crystal wine glass to her lips as she stood deep in thought. With a soft swish, Garvana joined her at the railing, dressed in the gown of soft peach coloured silk that Willow picked out for her. The draping lace sleeves and high neckline softened the harshness of her sculpted masculine figure. Willow smiled as she looked her over, tight banding around her waist giving the illusion of a slender yet curvaceous figure.
    “Two eyes, and the location of the third,” Willow mused, turning to stare back out across the horizon of forestry, “We are worthy of this mission.”
    “Indeed we are,” Garvana said confidently, “For the glory of Asmodeus, and for the glory of ourselves.”
    Willow smiled, her heart fluttering with pride and pleasure, “For Asmodeus, The First and rightful ruler of everything…”

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

    Join Date
    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 11 - Preparation - Part 1

    Spoiler: Chapter 11 - Preparation - Part 1
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    Light pierced the sky from the edge of the horizon, as the sun once more rose from its slumber. Standing by the open window of the bed chamber in Vandermir’s manor, Willow stretched her sore muscles. After watching the sun grace the rolling hills with its gleam, she turned and lifted her corset from her dresser, wrapping it tightly against her bare skin. As she laced the boning up her chest, she frowned at the itch irritating her ribs. Sighing, she unlaced and dropped her garment onto the bed. Quirking her head, she noticed a slither of parchment tucked into the frame of her corset.

    The sun rises forty nine revolutions, Longeviei awaits those who sip from the fourth corner of shadowed chateau, the last light of Oathday of Pharast calls to thee.

    Willow frowned. She searched the rest of her clothing and bag for any fellow words, and found nothing. It was a cryptic puzzle. She dressed herself while musing it over, pouring a cup of tea, sitting upon the window ledge. Oathday of Pharast was today. She assumed the note had come from Switch, arranging a meeting of some kind, he had always loved his riddles. She knew Longeviei was a small town in Ravenmoor, known for it’s most infamous red wine, the Chateau de Longeviei. Stretching her imagination, the sun could have been a tavern she had heard of in Farholde known as the Golden Sphere, and she knew that sat in the shadow of the large College of Magic called Four Corners of Arcana.
    She wrote down her thoughts, trying to piece them together.
    “Perhaps the meet is at the Golden Sphere at dusk today, and the Chateau de Longeviei is some kind of password?”
    She slipped into her soft black silk dress, lacing the bindings high around her neck. The slim fitting gown clung tightly to her waist, trailing out and flaring outwards towards the floor. She draped her golden and ruby necklace along her collarbone, adjusting her appearance slightly with the magic of the circlet. She traced her hand over the dagger strapped to her thigh, sliding her hand into the fake pocket she had sewn seamlessly into the dress, allowing her quick and easy access to her weapon.
    Late that afternoon, she left the manor, strolling casually through the marketplace. Willow made her way towards the tavern marked with the golden sphere above its namesake. She entered the dimly lit bar, eyeing the exits inconspicuously. She approached the bartender with a smile.
    “Good evening,” Willow said politely, “I believe the ’49 Chateau de Longeviei I ordered has arrived.”
    “Of course madam,” the bartender replied, a smooth lilt in his voice, “It arrived earlier this afternoon. Right this way.”
    Willow smiled, sighing inwardly in relief. He led Willow through the opulent hallways lined with elegant embroidered runners along its polished wooden floors, large foreign paintings framed in thick golden frames and crystal candelabras draped from its walls. At the end of the passage he stopped by a doorway, unlatching the lock and opening the door with a small bow to her, indicating she enter on her own. She inclined to her head to him as she glided through the arch. A single candle lit the small room which housed an antique oak table and two chairs. Draped casually in the corner seat, sat a man cloaked in a long black jacket, two shining leather boots folded lazily across the bench.
    “You're late,” Switch clipped.
    Willow smiled, swaying in her layers of black satin, drifting towards the vacant seat.
    “And what do I owe this pleasure?” she asked, “Your words were incredibly vague.”
    Switch smirked, “Impressed you managed to figure it out.”
    She laughed, “Contrary to apparent popular belief, there are not a great many men in my life who sneak around slipping letters of cryptic rendezvous into my undergarments.”
    He grinned, dark and handsome.
    “So what is it you wished me here for?” she asked, pouring herself a small nip of whiskey, “As much as I enjoy your company, I have much to do.”
    He scoffed, “I wished you here,” he said in a deep condescending tone, “To introduce you to a few of my friends. I have contacts, ones who are willing to meet you. Contacts who procure goods from a variety of sources, certain goods not readily available or on offer to the common market.”
    She softly sipped her drink, raising her eyebrows in interest.
    “I will introduce you,” he said, dropping his legs from the bench.
    He stood and turned towards the door, his coat flaring out. Willow's eyes flickered down as she saw a glisten of shining red stone strapped into the back of his belt. She drank down the whiskey, gracefully rising from her seat, strolling towards him.
    He flung his finger out at her, pointing in her face, “Do not mess this up,” he warned menacingly, “I have vouched for you, my name is on the line and I will not be made a fool of. These people respect their privacy, their operation exists on the base of utmost secrecy. Do not mess this up.”
    Willow stepped towards him and traced her tongue slowly along his finger. She looked into his eyes as she stepped in close, running her hands along his chest and around his lower back. She spoke against his lips as she gently lifted the ruby dagger from his belt.
    “I would never allow you to be made a fool of,” she said in a sultry voice.
    He crashed his lips against hers, gripping one hand in her hair and the other around her waist, crushing her body against his. He grinned as he withdrew, turning for the door. Willow felt the slightest movement, the hair on the top of her head return into place.
    She laughed, clearing her throat, holding her hand for the circlet he'd lifted from her head. He turned back to her, his devilish grin wide and proud.
    “Yes?” he asked.
    Willow smirked, “I believe you have something of mine.”
    He held out his hand expectantly, “And I believe you have something of mine.”
    She laughed, throwing the dagger, spinning it through the air towards him. Just like a pompering show horse, he twirled the circlet through the air so precisely that the dagger travelled through its loop before he snatched it. Willow caught the circlet, still grinning, arranging it atop her head.
    “Shall we,” he said, offering his arm to her.
    She laughed at his patronising bow as she accepted his arm, allowing him to lead the way.

    They left through the back entrance of the tavern, strolling through the side streets of the market district. As they reached a long empty pathway, Willow noticed him casually scanning the area. Once he seemed satisfied, he approached a panelled wall. She remained silent as he unlatched a series of locks hidden within the woodwork. He pulled the wall to the right, revealing a dark tunnel beyond the frame.
    “Not scared of the dark, are you?” he teased.
    Willow chuckled, stepping over the threshold to the passage, “There could be nothing more frightening than entering the dark with you.”
    He bent down, whispering in her ear after shutting the wall behind them, sealing them in absolute darkness.
    “A statement far truer than you know,” he breathed, low and ominous.
    She grinned at the shiver that racked her body.
    With a hand around her lower back, he led her through a winding corridor, not a crack of light for guidance. She trusted in the fact that if seeked her death or imprisonment, he would have acted long before creating this elaborate hoax. She did her best to keep her steps even, emitting a confidence she struggled to feel while encased in darkness.
    As he pulled her to a stop, she heard the same routine of locks clicking, noting the exact pattern he was unlatching them by. He pulled the wall to the right, opening to reveal a short hallway, lit with small crude torches hung from its walls. Willow noticed a small inscription above the door at the end of the hallway.
    “Secrecy is our greatest ally, as we strike from the shadows,” she read quietly.
    “Come along now,” Switch beckoned.
    He opened the door, striding in before her as she followed behind, far beyond intrigued. As she entered, she smiled. It was a marketplace. Vendors in dark shadowed robes lined the walls, their various illicit goods and contraband on display. Customers in ranging disguises swarmed each table with interest. No one appeared to pay any attention to Willow and Switch as they entered. He wandered over to what Willow assumed used to be a bedroom chamber, that now only housed a large desk and walls lined with shelves and draws of paperwork. Switch knocked on the door frame and he strolled in, grin from ear to ear. The man draped in heavy back hooded robes looked up and laughed.
    “Switch old boy,” he called in a heavy rasped voice, “Good to see you.”
    Switch chuckled, “Martin you old sod.”
    The man stood from his desk as Switch approached, clasping his hand in a friendly firm hand shake.
    “Ah,” Martin crooned, “This must be the dear lady you were speaking of. You are correct of course, she is most ravishing.”
    The man lifted his hood, dropping it on his shoulders. His wrinkled face and warm smile matching the wizened voice.
    “Martin, this is Lady Kathryn,” Switch said with a mischievous grin.
    “A pleasure to meet you,” Willow said, offering her hand for a shake.
    Martin gently reached for her hand, turning her wrist slightly, bending and laying a soft kiss on her second knuckle, surprising Willow with his perfect execution of the traditional noble greeting. He chuckled as he seemed to note her surprise.
    “When in the presence of such a beautiful woman, you'll have to allow me my small taste of past etiquette,” he said with a wink.
    Switch laughed as Willow smiled.
    “Martin will show you around while I take care of some business,” he said, still laughing, “Be careful, he'll smooth the pants off you.”
    Willow rolled her eyes at him as he left them alone in the room.
    Martin chuckled, “Come my lady, I shall give you the tour.”

    He strolled with Willow on his arm, guiding them through the expansive hallways. Willow found his natural charm and impeccable manners quite endearing. They perused various magical items, jewellery of all different kind shape and makes. Willow lingered over the shining weapons, imbued with rare magical qualities. They bantered in between each stall, speaking pleasantries of fine artwork and famous novels. He was delighted when Willow knew of his favourite writings, the Sonnets of Whispering Mountains.
    “When he crooned to Algernia, make haste dear love for thou reckoning is now, oh how my heart nearly leapt from my chest,” she said passionately.
    He smiled, true and wise, “And thou reckoning shall come, and tear this world asunder.”
    Willow sighed, lost in the written heartache.
    He chuckled, “I think my lady,” he said softly, “That Switch does not know what a prize he has found, for she is ready to take over this world and the next.”
    Willow smirked, saying quietly, “I think there is a lot he does not know, when only one head can lead him at a time.”
    Martin threw his head back in laughter, “Come along, there is more I wish you to see.”
    He took Willow through a small hidden passageway leading to another room, lined with exotic weapons and items in glass cases, flanked by thick burly men in protective poses.
    Willow approached an exquisite dagger, coated in a grey mist, radiating dark energy.
    “Beautiful,” she breathed.
    “Huh,” Switch scoffed from behind her, “Didn't think you'd be trusting enough to show her this stuff Martin old boy, getting soft in your old age I see.”
    Willow turned, eyebrows raised, smirking at him.
    “I have trusted my instincts since long before you were born,” Martin said with a grin, “And my instincts tell me we have found a worthy ally in this fair lady.”
    Willow smiled, inclining her head to him, “I think this friendship will be most beneficial, for the both of us…”

    After returning to Martin’s office and indulging in a glass of fine wine paired with enjoyable conversation, Willow bid him farewell. Switch, who had stood watching them cross armed and legged casually in the corner, saw Martin off with another familiar hand shake.
    “We still on for poker?” Switch asked him with a grin.
    Martin laughed, “Oh you are a glutton for punishment. Of course, I am never one to refuse taking your gold with so little effort.”
    He turned to Willow with a warm smile, bowing formally, “It has been a pleasure, my lady. Please feel free to come again. You need not tag along with Switch, the office is manned all hours, and you are most welcome. For business, and if you're ever wanting to discuss any more of Fendal Hovermere’s great scripture.”
    Willow bowed, the formal noble farewell curtsey, smiling softly, “The pleasure has indeed been mine, I look forward to seeing you again.”
    Switch scoffed, “Come on love bird, we best be going.”
    Willow laughed as they left the room. When they reached the hallway leading to the dark tunnel, Switch held his hand to the false wall expectantly. She approached it confidently, recalling the order he had unlatched each one. It took a single try for her to unlock and slide the wall across. Switch raised his eyebrows.
    “Huh,” he said sounding surprised, “So you were paying attention.”
    Willow frowned, staring into the darkness, noticing how the light from the torches disappeared at the passage edge.
    “It's a charm,” Switch said, “Magical darkness. No natural light will pierce it. There are traps hidden within, listen closely.”
    He stepped in close behind Willow, his torso flush to her back. He spoke as he guided each leg like a dance into the pitch black passage.
    “Five steps forward,” he whispered close by her ear, “Four steps right, six steps forward, four steps right…”
    He danced their way through the maze of hallway, guiding her hand with his to show her each edge of the wall. When they reached the other end, he instructed her to open their way. She traced her hands along the latches, finding it far more difficult without sight. He grasped her hand, forcefully opening each lock in order, pulling the wall across. He held her tightly, his soft breath rasping in her ear. He pushed her head down, her sight drawn to the ground, her sharp intake of breath inciting a chuckle from him.
    “Surprised you missed it the first time,” he said as they looked over the large pit trap they were standing on, “If the door is forced or the code entered with even a single mistake, it unlocks. From the other side you'll believe you've cracked it. And then down you'll go, fifty feet deep, where no one will ever find you.”
    He released Willow as they stepped over the threshold, a devilish grin lifting his lips as he pulled the wall closed. Offering his arm to her again, they strolled through the marketplace weaving in amongst the vibrant nightlife of Farholde’s merchant district. He led her across town into the barely lit warehouse precinct, the prowlers of the night eyeing them warily. Willow noticed how they looked on with hungry eyes until they seemed to recognise Switch, then scuttled away in fear, retreating into the shadows. They came across a large abandoned warehouse, slipping in through its broken wall, entering the timeworn building. Willow lifted her length of black silk, careful not to snag the expensive fabric on the splintered wood. Approaching the western wall, Switch opened another secret passage, one lined with cleaner polished pine. He lit a torch and proceeded to light the room, while Willow strolled around examining the chamber. She laughed when she came across a neatly arranged pile of shining black leather armour and laced black lingerie.
    “Sneaking into my chamber in the Baron’s manor once is an acceptable risk,” she said smirking, “But multiple times? Rummaging through my clothing and undergarments? That's just asking for trouble.”
    The grin on his proud face said it all.
    “You do realise,” she said in a low sultry voice, “That I am not always alone in that bed chamber?”
    Switch chucked, “Ah yes, the big stud.”
    He approached Willow on light creeping feet, devious intent on his face, “You do such a good job of wearing him out, I need not worry about him waking.”
    Willow laughed, turning from him and lifting up a whiff of black silk in the form of a night slip, “And so what is it I am doing with these tonight?”
    Switch smiled, trying to put on a face of professionalism.
    “Get dressed,” he clipped, his feasting eyes betraying his strong impatient manner, “We shall train tonight.”
    Willow turned to him, eyebrow cocked, holding the night slip out to him, “And is it a requirement of all your apprentices to train in such things?”
    He chuckled, “Just wanted to make sure you were comfortable…”

    Willow chose to forgo the laced silk in place of her armour, strapping its buckles tightly around her limbs. For all the sexual tension between them, the pair trained remarkably well together. Switch’s arrogance was not misplaced, his skill with the blade clearly greater than Willow’s. She followed his orders as he barked them, following his instruction to the letter. He took her through the basics of vulnerable points on a man's body, and the easiest ways to reach them with a light blade.
    “You're missing the targets!” he spat, thrusting Willow backwards with his palm, knocking her to the floor, “Stop trying to play fair! What is this? A duel for the right to your fair maidens hand?”
    He prowled over to Willow with fierce gleaming eyes, dropping his knee into her chest, holding her down with his weight.
    “You're smaller and weaker than most men, but you are faster! Use it! Go for the weak points, if you can't slip a blade in, kick them in the groin! Even in full plate armour they’re only covered by chain, a boot will bludgeon them to their knees, dropping their neck for you.”
    As he pushed his weight down into her chest, Willow growled. She thrust her legs up with all her might and threw him forward. As he fell through the air she flicked out her foot and caught him square between the thighs, before swiftly rolling to her feet.
    Switch wheezed and laughed, “Yeah, like that,” he said in a strained voice.

    After a few hours of gruelling training, he walked Willow back to Vandermir’s manor. When they passed the secret tunnel, she looked to him in question.
    He smirked, “You aren't curious how I can come and go so easy into your suite?”
    Willow grinned, inclining her head to him.
    He weaved through the brush surrounding the outskirts of the building, slipping through a slender gap between the rocks before climbing the lattice leading to the gardens. He toed silently behind the dense hedges, creeping towards the window Willow recognised as her own. The window stood at least thirty foot off the ground, with no perceivable access from the ground. Switch looked to her with a smug knowing grin, holding out his hand to her. She eyed him warily, placing her hand in his. He yanked on it, pulling her close, lifting her body on his and holding on until she held her own weight. Willow marvelled as he began to climb the wall, in a spider-like fashion, his fingers clinging on to what appeared as impossibly thin wafers of ledge. With little effort he made it to her window, picking the lock with one hand while supporting the both of them with the other. He slid her window open without a sound and slinked inside before placing her down.
    Willow began, “How-
    “We all have our secrets,” he said mischievously.
    He grabbed Willow by the hair, crushing his lips to hers fiercely. She bit down on his lip hard enough to draw blood, heart racing as he groaned low and guttural. He ripped her away by the hair and pushed her back further into the room, a primal gleam in his eyes and wicked grin on his face. His eyes flicked to the door for a moment before he stepped back to the window.
    “Will be seeing you soon, Willow,” he whispered menacingly.
    He swiftly stepped out and sealed the windows behind him before leaping from the ledge. Willow grinned as her racing veins struggled to settle. A firm knock on her door had her spinning in fright.
    “My lady,” called Pellius, in his deep baritone voice, “Are you in?”
    Willow threw her bag under her bed, smoothing her hair and wiping her lips.
    “Come in,” she called, trying to steady her voice.
    Pellius opened the door, striding in, dripping with his usual charm.
    “Ah,” he said, a small frown pulling his brow, “I did not see you return.”
    She smiled, turning to the liquor cabinet and pouring herself a nip of whiskey, “I've not long returned.”
    “I see,” Pellius said, looking her dust covered armour over, “And was it a productive day?”
    Willow smirked into her tumbler, “Indeed.”

    While Willow had been out, the rest of the group had been busy.
    “Bor has managed to convince the Baron to provide a trap maker and an alchemist,” Pellius informed her, sitting casually in the arm chair, watching her undress, “Garvana and Teelee have procured supplies for the tavern and food stores. I have organised the supplies needed to restock the forge, the holding cells and of course the torture chamber.”
    Willow grinned at the way glee slithered into his voice as he mentioned his new sanctum.
    “The locks you requested have been made to order,” he said, dropping his voice to a low menace, “We shall have to test their strength.”
    Dressed only in her night slip, Willow remained still as Pellius stalked behind her. She heard the faint jingle of manacles as he lifted them from his pocket.
    “And what is it you were doing today?” he breathed in her ear.
    Willow couldn't stop the shiver as he clicked the manacles into place around her wrists.
    “Procuring contacts,” she said simply, breathing a fraction faster.
    “Contacts?” he breathed, tracing his fingers over the red hand print still marked around her neck, “Any contacts of worth?”
    Willow laughed, “Of some import, yes.”
    “And what can these contacts do for you?”
    “Give me access to items not even the Baron has access to,” Willow breathed.
    She stood motionless, hands clasped behind her back as he strolled to the bed, reaching down and lifting out her dust covered bag.
    “Very productive day it was then,” he said, as he pulled out the golden ruby necklace.
    He prowled back to Willow and laced the chain around her neck, the pendant laying heavy on her bare collarbone. He returned to the arm chair, lifting his glass to his lips.
    “Proceed.”

    The sky still dark as the moon flickered towards the horizon. The city still soundless in its slumber, only the sounds of the wildlife waking broke the peaceful silence. In the twilight hour before dawn, Willow rose from the bed and donned her armour. She strapped her daggers to her thighs and penned a quick note for Pellius, leaving it on his bedside table.

    Pellius,
    To desecrate the shrine tainted by light, our Infernal Lord requires a sacrifice. I will meet you by the twisted large oak along the entrance path to the Horn within the hour of daybreak.
    You shall have your sacrifice.
    Willow

    She slipped unnoticed out of the manor, creeping swiftly to the small dormitory housing acolytes of the southern most church of Mitra. Willow had strolled by the day before on her way to the docks, taking note of the layout of the hall and the garb worn by the faithful. As she neared she created her own robes, matching those of the church, using the magic of the circlet. She shaped her hair into a simple pale brown wrapped braid, morphing her face into soft and humble unremarkable features. On quiet feet she snuck through the large archway, into the common area of the hall, slinking into the shadows. She listened carefully for any noise or disturbance, the air still and mute. As she neared the row of small modest bedroom chambers, she pulled out the wand imbued with silence, that she had borrowed from Teelee. She whispered the incantation she had been taught, casting the magic upon her person. Willow felt herself encased and surrounded by a deafening heavy silence. She hurried, inaudibly opening the door, slipping inside and sealing it behind her. A shabby single pine bed frame sat centre of the room taking up majority of the space in the slender stone chamber. Laying on its tattered mattress was a man, dark hair askew, peacefully slumbering unaware of the danger he was in. His soft snore muffled as Willow approached, pulling the manacles from her belt pouch, stepping up to the side of the bed. He slept with his hands draped above his head, his body relaxed and slack. Willow leant over him and inhaled to focus. As quickly as she could, she snapped both of the metal rings around his wrists. The magic they possessed swiftly shrank to his size, locking tightly in place. He woke, startled, Willow hanging closely over his head. She had two poison vials strapped into her belt as a back up, incase the magic of the manacles was not enough to restrain him, she was ready.
    His face slowly turned from frightened alarm to calm confusion. Willow sighed, smiling at the acolyte. She put her finger to her lips, indicating for him to be silent, and beckoned him to follow. She pulled his robes from the small cupboard, throwing them to him and signalling he put them on, before leading him silently out of the door towards the exit. She kept up her appearance as the magic of sound wore off and their soft footsteps along the paved road could be heard.
    “Follow me, and do not talk,” Willow said as she led him towards the Caer Bryr, “It is better if you remain silent.”
    He nodded compliantly, keeping pace with Willow. She looked him over as the sun broke the horizon, checking to see that the manacles were hidden from view by his long robes. Willow smiled, if anyone was to see them, they would look like nothing more than a pair of Mitran acolytes taking an early morning stroll.
    It took them close to an hour to walk the path to the large tree she had mentioned to Pellius. As they rounded the bend through the rolling hills, he came into view. When he noticed the pair of young acolytes, he stood ready, suspicious and poised for battle. Willow laughed as they neared, allowing her appearance to transform to her natural state, slicked skin tight black leather replacing her modest robe. She saw Pellius’ dastardly grin, his laugh deep and menacing.
    “You do not disappoint, my lady.”.
    “Of course not,” she said with a grin, “I would never disappoint you.”
    The acolyte looked the two of them over, confusion and worry across his face.
    “Do not be afraid,” Willow said to him, “You are coming on an adventure.”
    “Oh,” the acolyte frowned, “I've never been adventuring before.”
    Willow laughed, guiding him by the shoulder towards the secret entrance to the manor.
    “Trust me,” she said wickedly, “This will be unlike anything you've ever experienced before, or will again…”

    After collecting the rest of the group, and retrieving Grumblejack from a disreputable tavern, they reached the Horn by midday. Pellius led the acolyte up the winding stairs to the second floor and into the room pulsing with a deep aura of holy light. He told the Mitran to pray, to which he complied willingly. Willow watched from the corner of the room as Pellius stepped in behind the kneeling sacrifice. He lifted his shining warhammer, quietly lining up his swing.
    “In the name of all that is His,” he whispered, “I name thee Doombringer.”
    He cleaved his weapon with fierce might, the impact shattering the skull of the acolyte and launching a shower of blood across the shrine. As the body fell forward against the humble altar, the room shuddered. Willow felt the pulse as the aura of malevolence swarmed through the area, the goodness bleeding through the building, fading into the void. The words upon the wall began to ooze and smear, the once divine sentiment, dying along with its power. Garvana spoke of a righteous vengeance, casting all back down into His fiery domain.
    “Doombringer?” Willow commented, looking the desecrated shrine and then to the blood covered base of the weapon, “Fitting.”

    Later that afternoon, as the men they had hired found their way to the Horn, Pellius called them together. The group had discussed the highest priority tasks that needed to be performed. They had agreed that the base needed to be cleared out, fixed up and cleaned.
    “You have one week to completely clear this floor,” Pellius instructed, a fierce gleam to his eye, and strength to his voice that made Willow heat, “I have given instructions on each room and it's required work. One week. Lateness, indolence or failure will not be tolerated, and will be punished. Work well, and you shall be rewarded. Fail me,” he said low and threatening, “And the consequences will be severe.”
    As the men dispersed with renewed vigour and fear in their eyes, Willow approached Pellius, standing by his side staring down at the men.
    “You're very good at this,” she said quietly, giving him a fierce look as she turned to leave, “They follow you without question. It seems you were born to lead…”

    When the group had spoken of the boggards, Willow had been outvoted. They had chosen to send Bor leading the boggards to capture peasants. Pellius, Garvana and Teelee had been eager for the idea, while Bor only relished the plan of heading a squad and getting back to what he was good at. Willow agreed graciously, not opposed to the task, but of a different mind of what held priority. By sunset, Bor and the band of boggards had left for one of the nearby villages.
    Pulling out the maps of the Horn Willow had drew, the four of them planned the best use of traps in the lower caverns. The trap maker that the Baron had provided, a stout man named Horrick, was efficient and quick with his work. They left him in the caverns, along with orders for the remaining boggards to leave him to his work, unmolested and unharmed.

    When the sun dawned on the following morning, the group took Grumblejack hunting. Their goal was to capture beasts with might enough to guard the lower caverns. Grumblejack frowned as the group explained the plan.
    “You mean,” he said in his brute broken speech, “That we bash them…?”
    “Yes,” Willow chuckled.
    “But we no eat them?” he asked, struggling with the concept.
    “Yes,” she laughed.
    “Bash them, but Grumblejack no kill them?”
    “Exactly.”
    “But then,” he said, frowning, “What do we eat?”
    “We have other food,” Willow said.
    “Bor’s off getting you live food at the moment,” Pellius said simply.
    “Ah!” Grumblejack said smiling, “Then that is good. People yes?”
    “Yes,” Willow laughed.
    “Then Grumblejack eat those people, yes?”
    “Exactly,” Pellius said, struggling to keep a straight face.

    Willow split off from the group as she heard a rustling in amongst the shrubbery. She was silent on her own, no thudding armoured footsteps to give away her position. She followed the tracks of the clawed foot animal, hearing the distant sound of battle from the rest of the group far behind her. She knew they could handle their own without her help. She crept down to the edge of the lake following the path the creature had taken, further along down the bank the tracks continued back into the forest. As she neared the tree line, she heard a vicious slurping and chewing, some predator feasting on its prey. On silent feet she prowled in behind it. A long lizard like creature, standing to her waist, devouring the deer it had caught. Willow toed behind it, not so much as a twig breaking, and drove the pommel of her dagger into the creatures head. She hit with such force, the creature fell forward into its meal and span into unconsciousness. Willow grinned, quite proud of her own strength. She turned back to where the group was, still hearing their loud ruckus from a hundred feet away. She laughed as she saw Grumblejack carrying a large praying mantis, wrapped tightly bound in rope. She whistled loudly to them, unwilling to carry the filthy lizard-thing herself. Grumblejack patted her hefty on the back as they reached her.
    “We eat this one, yes?”
    Willow laughed, “Not this one, the deer you can eat though.”
    As Grumblejack raced to devour the half eaten deer, Pellius looked to Willow.
    “Dead?” he asked, signalling to the lizard creature.
    Willow screwed up her nose and laughed, “How would I know? I hit it, and it dropped?”

    With eyes searching the ground as they group made their way back to the Horn, Willow called for a halt.
    “These stones,” she said intrigued to Pellius, “Perhaps they are the ruins that guide fellow you hired had mentioned.”
    Willow scoured the rocks, looking over the strange symbols carved into parts of their face. When she quirked her head to the side, she frowned. When looking from this angle a certain formation of rocks appeared to be shape like a throne. She cleared the debris from around the stone and gasped.
    “Vah,” she read in Abyssal from the base of the rock.
    Willow's eyes went wide as her mind raced.
    “Teelee!” she called, “Can you read the magic here? Is this magical? Can you tell?”
    Teelee frowned, muttering the detect magic incantation. As her eyes glossed over, her eyebrows shot high.
    “It is the same magic linking the thrones in the Horn of Abbadon,” she said seriously.
    Before Willow could reply, Garvana had stepped up and sat on the throne, calling confidently, “Yah!”
    As Garvana vanished, Willow rolled her eyes. Garvana’s proud confidence was her strength, and her weakness. A moment later, Garvana blinked back into the stone ruins of a throne.
    “It does indeed, lead right into and out of our base.”
    “We must destroy it,” Willow said firmly.
    “Why must we?” Pellius asked, “Would it not be better to keep an escape route open for ourselves? Who could possibly know of this?”
    Willow frowned, trying to piece together the fragments of thought she had racing though her mind, “Anyone who has access to the information that Master Thorn did,” she said slowly, “We do not know how he procured his information about the Horn and its inhabitants, for him to come across it, it means it exists. We can't know what other information the Victor recorded and kept, we also have no knowledge of how the Mitrans entered the base. You've see the scars on the walls, you've seen enough battle to know it was a massacre! What if this was their way in?”
    Willow turned from the group, brow furrowed deeply in thought.
    “We do not know what will happen when we start the ritual. We are calling across the void to summon an Archdeacon, I can not imagine the resonance will be quiet in this realm. If we unknowingly draw attention to the Horn, then any information on it may be retrieved and scoured. The Victor was powerful enough to defeat and cast out Vetra-Kali, is it naive to assume he did not know of this place?”
    Pellius looked to Willow in contemplation, “You are right,” he said, “If it's purpose was discovered, it would leave a very large hole in our defences. Let us use it to transport our captures, and then we shall dispose of it.”
    Willow sighed in relief.
    Pellius himself had to struggle with the enormous weight of the mantis, a creature taller than Willow, and more than six times her weight. She couldn't help but laugh as he strained its mass over to the throne, wheezing the command word and vanishing from sight.
    When he returned a short time later, minus the great insect, he and Grumblejack used their combined might to shatter the throne to shards. After Teelee and Garvana confirmed the lack of lingering magic, Willow was satisfied. Safe was not a word they would use to describe their situation, but as the crumbled stone mess collapsed in a cloud of dust, she at least felt at ease.

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 11 - Preparation - Part 2

    Spoiler: Chapter 11 - Preparation - Part 2
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    They entered the Horn before nightfall, returning to the news that the alchemical golem they had found in pieces amongst the lab, had been restored by the Baron’s agent and merely awaited the last component. Willow cringed at the thought of watching Pellius retrieve a brain from a freshly slain being, so she chose to retreat to her chamber for the evening, to work on more civil matters.
    She had been scripting the exact wording of their pleas to Vetra-Kali. She had written and rewritten it many times, attempting to achieve the finesse she believed was needed. She had read through the Dirges of Appolyon ten times in order to perfect her wording. As she sat by candlelight scribbling along the parchment, she felt the ground shudder with heavy metal footsteps. As she entered the hallway, she laughed, seeing Pellius striding next to a ten foot golem. It's reservoirs buzzed with charged arcana, wisps of the brew encased in the glass dancing freely.
    “This is Lady Willow,” Pellius said, introducing her to the golem, “You will not harm her.”
    “Thy bidding will be done, master,” it hissed.
    Willow smiled, looking the massive structure over, “Impressive.”
    Pellius gave her a charming smile, “We have agreed the best course is to dispose of those creatures in the far room.”
    Willow grinned, leading the way to the vine riddled chamber, “Try not to sleep through all the fun this time.”

    As they approached the western chambers, Grumblejack looked up to the ceiling.
    “Grumblejack likes this place,” he said, “Grumblejack feel good here.”
    Willow's steps slowed as her mind turned. She remembered the first day they had met Grumblejack. When he had swung the iron gate wide, the gust of wind had lifted the long wisps of hair that fell down his forehead and revealed two small horns. She thought about how little they knew of him.
    “Where were you before Branderscar, Grumblejack?” Willow asked curiously.
    “Grumblejack just went place to place,” he said, still staring into the ceiling.
    “What were you doing?”
    “Smashing things, eating things, that's all Grumblejack likes to do.”
    Willow thought for a moment while she watched him, her curiosity peaked.
    “What are you looking for?” she asked.
    “Grumblejack not looking, Grumblejack just likes this place, it makes Grumblejack feel good.”
    “How about we go smash some oozes, then I'll show you around?” she offered.
    “Grumblejack likes smashing things,” he said with a big toothy grin.

    Pellius swung the door wide, and as the spores released, he and Grumblejack crumpled to the ground in a familiar sleep induced unconsciousness. Willow couldn't help but laugh as she tumbled passed his body, ready to defend his limp form. As the oozes swarmed from the room, the golem began to smash into them with its solid fists. The oozes slithered up onto Pellius’ legs, it's acidic slime beginning to melt the hard steel of his armour. Willow drove the pommel of her dagger into the blob with all her might, causing it to explode in a splatter of simmering ooze. She was not proud of the feminine screech she let out as she dove out of its path. After Garvana had pummelled the other in a squelching mess, Pellius and Grumblejack awoke.
    “Did we win?” Grumblejack yawned.

    Before Willow left, she overheard Pellius question the golem. It's name was Artephius. A name Pellius had trouble pronouncing, when Teelee suggested he rename the construct, Pellius grinned, instructing it that it's new name was to be Artephus. He questioned the golem on what it remembered of its time before its destruction. It spoke of its creator, Ezra Thrice Damned, the High Priest of the Sons. Pellius asked it of the minotaur, laying dead in the storage chamber, the magic of the room still preserving his corpse as if it had been freshly slain. The golem identified him as Gerrion Joth.
    Willow was struck with an idea, her curiosity still simmering with her mind, “What do you know of Cardinal Samuel Havelyn?”
    “This vessel has no knowledge of Cardinal Samuel Havelyn,” it replied.
    Willow lowered her voice, so only the golem and Pellius could hear, “What do you know of Cardinal Adrastus Thorn?”
    “This vessel has no knowledge of Cardinal Adrastus Thorn.”
    Willow turned to Pellius, his eyebrow cocked in question.
    She smiled, “There is no harm in asking.”
    Lastly, Pellius asked the golem of the man encased in stone.
    “This stone structure holds resemblance to the Sons of the Pale Horsemen’s torturer, Halthus the Flayer.”
    Pellius turned to the group, a charming smile on his face, “Then let us wake this, Halthus.”

    As the group approached the room, Teelee spoke of the Eyes and their magical qualities. She informed them of the need to coat each gem in a sentient creatures blood, in order to reveal their true purpose.
    They filed into the room, surrounding the stone statue, Willow positioned herself out of sight behind it. She drew her blade and waited. Teelee covered the statue in the salve, placing his head firmly on his shoulders. As the magic began to work, and the statue reanimated, Willow fingered the blade softly. Halthus awoke, frightened and confused.
    “W-what?” he stammered, “What's going on, who are you people?”
    Pellius pulled out his Asmodean pendant, shushing the erratic man.
    “Calm down Halthus,” he said firmly, “We are not Mitrans. We are Asmodeans.”
    Halthus panicked, “How do you know my name?”
    As Willow saw his hand slide into his pocket, she swiftly stepped up and drew the dagger to his throat.
    “I would not do that if I was you,” she said threateningly into his ear.
    Slowly he withdrew his hands, raising them in surrender.
    “Alright, it's alright,” he stuttered, “No need to do anything rash.”
    Willow slipped her hand in his pocket carefully, retrieving a canvas wrap filled with a poor set of torturing tools, the scalpel half drawn.
    “The eye,” Pellius demanded.
    “The w-what?”
    “The Eye of Withering,” Willow whispered.
    “H-how do you know of it? What do you want with it?”
    “The eye,” Pellius demanded, a low threatening growl to his voice, “I will not ask again.”
    “Alright!” Halthus trembled, “Alright, alright it's in my pocket.”
    He gingerly reached for his other pocket, moving slower as Willow tightened the dagger at his throat. As he pulled out the gleaming gem, Willow snatched it with her free hand. She gently sliced through the palm of his hand, wrapping it around the emerald. As Halthus cried out and whimpered, Willow felt the malice of the Eye pulse. Teelee inspected the gem, chanting her incantation, reading its purpose.
    “Yes,” she said quietly, “It is the last Eye.”
    “See!” Halthus exclaimed, “I told you, I did what you asked, now how about letting me go?”
    Pellius smiled, his dastardly and charming smirk, he looked to Willow and gave a single nod.
    “One wrong move,” Willow whispered in his ear, before stepping back and releasing her blade.
    “Ah,” Halthus said, rubbing his throat, “Much better. Now may I ask, what you intend to do with the Eyes?”
    “We intend,” Pellius replied, “To summon Vetra-Kali.”
    “You do?” he asked in disbelief and excitement, “Perhaps I can be of service?”
    Pellius looked him over with calculating eyes, “And what use can you be?”
    “Well, I uh, am skilled in retrieving information?” he said shakily, motioning to his tools.
    Pellius raised his eyebrows, “What else?”
    “Oh,” he replied, far less confident, “I uh, I suppose I know of anatomy?”
    His words were met with silence, as the group waited for him to continue. Willow saw the panic dawning on his face as he realised he had nothing more to offer. In a flash he leaped forward, charging past Pellius in an attempt to escape. Willow was ready. He made it as far as the door when she pounced forward, knowing they needed to sacrifice him later, she slashed only through his calf. The blade cut deeper than she had meant it to, slicing straight through the muscle and tendons, separating the joint of the bone. As he fell forward screaming in agony, Willow landed atop him, knees in his shoulders and blade warningly pressing to his neck. The blood began pooling along the floor, his leg hanging on by a shred of skin.
    “Garvana, will you take care of that?” Willow asked.
    Garvana summoned her healing magic and knitted the majority of the wound together. The healing had stopped the bleeding, and taken away the pain, but still Halthus whimpered. Pellius knelt by his head, a stone look on his face.
    “Do not try that again,” he warned, low and menacing, looking down in disgust at the whimpering pathetic man, “Not accustomed to receiving the pain? Only giving it?”
    “That harlot was going to slaughter me!” he shrieked, “I saw it in her eyes!”
    Pellius looked up into Willow’s eyes, a fierce gleam of what could have been pride in his eyes, “She has done much worse.”
    Willow leaned close to the trembling fool below her, “If I wanted you dead, you would be.”
    She pulled out the manacles from her pouch and latched his hands together. She wiped the blood from her blade on his robes and stood back as Pellius pulled him to his feet.
    “He's all yours,” she said with a dark grin, “Try not to kill, we still need him.”
    Pellius turned and gave her one of his disarming devilish grins, “Have a little faith, my lady.”

    While Pellius escorted Halthus to the torture chamber, Willow took Grumblejack on a tour of the upper levels. The closer they grew to the sanctum, the more comfortable he became. As they entered the chamber through the balcony, he clutched his head.
    “Grumblejack has been here before, Grumblejack not feel good, so thirsty.”
    Willow drew her water skin from her bag and offered it to him. He drank it down in a single gulp, not satisfied, his mouth still dry and parched. Willow did a quick search of the room, noticing a trough at the base of the grand structure of Vetra-Kali. Reading the Abyssal scrawled around the trough, frowning at it's phrase mentioning water. Following a hunch, she tipped her second skin into the trough. The water festered and rippled as green infection spread across its surface.
    “It's unholy water,” Teelee mused, inspecting the rotting liquid.
    Willow frowned as Grumblejack groaned, unable to determine what was going on. She shrugged as she offered the putrid water to Grumblejack. He did not seem to notice or mind the filthy state of the water, he scooped it up and drank it down.
    Suddenly, the small horns of his forehead grew and lengthened. The claws on his fingers and toes arched into long talons. His feet lifted from the ground, and as he floated, he grinned.
    “Grumblejack feel much better!” he exclaimed, “Grumblejack feel great!”
    He turned to the balcony and leaped from its edge. Willow gasped, racing to its edge and watching the massive ogre fly through the air. He swirled and spun for a few moments before returning to the balcony.
    “That was great!” he roared, “Grumblejack has magic! Magic not scary! Magic is great!”
    “What else can you do?” Teelee asked.
    “This!” he said, as the air around them blackened and darkness swarmed them.
    The light flickered and returned, Willow smiled at his glee.
    “Grumblejack can smash things better now! What can Grumblejack smash?”
    Willow chuckled, “Nothing right now, we shall find you something later on. But how about a lift back for dinner?”
    He held Willow and Teelee in his large arms, carefully avoiding them with his claws, he flew them down to the first floor. As they entered and headed for the tavern, they met Pellius along the way. His eyes flew wide when he saw Grumblejack, he gripped his weapon as they passed. He grabbed Willow by the arm and steered her alone into the nearby empty chamber.
    “What in Hell’s name happened?” he said furiously.
    Willow shrugged, unbothered by his anger, “He drank the unholy water from the sanctum. Teelee says it awoke the daemon blood in his veins.”
    “How could you let this happen? You are always so cautious! You have no idea what you have done!”
    Willow raised her eyebrows, “And nor do you. He remains willing to serve us, he has just grown in power, that power will help us succeed in our mission.”
    “And if he decides that he does not wish to serve?” he spat.
    “If that happens,” Willow said soothingly, “Then we will dispose of him. At this stage he still wishes to aid us. Pellius, not every ally we will gain will be white skinned and human. Allow me to talk with him, if I believe he is a threat and his loyalty becomes a question, I will not hesitate to cut him down.”
    Pellius remained silent for a moment in thought.
    He turned from Willow, saying quietly before leaving, “The consequences of this, are on your head, my lady.”

    They met the rest of the group in the tavern, dishing up plates of dinner. As Pellius sat alone and brooded into his meal, Grumblejack approached him.
    “Grumblejack want armour like you,” he said, towering over Pellius, “Grumblejack powerful and magic now, he want magic armour like you.”
    “We'll see what we can do,” Willow replied, walking over to join him.
    Grumblejack grinned and walked back to his seat, devouring the rest of the deer. Willow put a soothing hand on Pellius’ shoulder.
    “Let me talk to him,” she said softly.
    Pellius remained silent as Willow walked to Grumblejack and slid up onto the table next to him.
    “We will get you armour,” she said, thinking on how to explain what she wished to convey, “But armour like Pellius’ is special, it was a reward. To simply obtain it, it is not cheap. It will not be easy to acquire, it must be made, and we do not have the resources to make it here.”
    “Then why we not go to blacksmith in town?” he asked.
    Willow smiled, “Because we need the townsfolk to remain oblivious to our presence. Your appearance has grown less inconspicuous, more… diabolical shall we say?”
    “Incon-what? Dia-what?”
    Willow chuckled, “Your new appearance is much more threatening. You would stick out too much, the townsfolk would panic, and that would draw bad attention we really don't need.”
    “Why we not go to blacksmith and make him do it, and if he not do it, then we eat him?”
    Willow mused on how to explain it.
    “We have a mission. A mission of the utmost importance, one of a higher calling. One we cannot fail. And at the moment, that mission calls for as much secrecy as possible.”
    “What is this mission, who do you do it for?” Grumblejack asked.
    “Our master, and our Infernal Father,” Willow replied, “You know how you feel your connection to this place, and it is more than just a ‘good feeling’?”
    Grumblejack frowned in thought, “You are speaking of gods, yes?”
    Willow smiled, “Yes, and ours is great, the most powerful and fearsome of them all. Our mission allows us to fight for him.”
    Garvana smiled fiercely, “We fight for His kingdom, we fight to return all to what is rightfully His.”
    “As-mo-deus?” Grumblejack asked, “Does he hate ogres?”
    “Asmodeus does not care of your race or your appearance,” Garvana replied, “He cares only for your power.”
    “He cares only that you serve Him,” Willow said, “You know your place, and fight to force those who ignore their place back down where they belong.”
    “The strong will rule the weak!” Garvana said fiercely.
    “Grumblejack is strong. Asmodeus let him smash things?”
    Willow laughed, “Yes, when you are told to.”
    “Asmodeus let him eat people?”
    “Yes, unless you are told not to.”
    Grumblejack grinned, “Then Grumblejack worship Asmodeus!”
    He leapt from his chair and began to dance around, “Grumblejack have god! Grumblejack is unstoppable with god!”
    “But Grumblejack,” Garvana said sternly, “You must do as we say, you must follow our orders and you must listen. We serve Asmodeus, and our great Infernal Father demands obedience.”
    He grinned, a toothy feral grin, “Grumblejack is ok with this.”
    Garvana smiled, “His power is great, his word is law. Hallowed be Asmodeus, the First and rightful ruler of everything.”

    The group spent the next few days buried in their separate tasks. While the workmen cleared and repaired the first level to the Horn, the trapmaker finished his work in the lower caverns. Teelee and Grumblejack set off to ambush and capture a blacksmith, while Garvana studied the Dirges in greater detail.
    Pellius and Willow spent their time studying the Hall of Murals, trying to decipher their meanings. The air between the two of them had changed. Pellius, ever polite and charming, seemed distant to her. Over the days they spent together studying the walls, he seemed standoffish and reserved. There was no light hearted flirting, no fooling around. At her every try, he politely declined, always seeming too busy or too engrossed in what he was doing. Each night he chose not to return to the chamber they had been sharing, instead sleeping somewhere else. Willow struggled to determine what was wrong or what had changed, so she continued their work on the Hall of Murals, focussing her energy and thought on it.
    As day one passed, they had written the components and instructions for a ritual named Call forth the hounds. It described a sacrificial ritual summoning three Hellhounds from the pits of Hell. The second day the discovered a ritual named Call forth the Steed, summoning a nightmare steed of Abbadon. On the last day the uncovered the ritual named Caldron of the Earth, summoning creatures known as mud men.

    Together as a group they summoned the mud men into the pit of boiling mud in the lower caverns, disgusting creatures with the power to suck their victims deep into the suffocating mass of mud. Once they were done, Teelee decided to lead the ritual of the steed, leaving the caverns to perform it outside in the nearby forestry. Willow had no desire to see a steed sacrificed in a blazing frenzy, so she climbed the stairs to the second level, heading to her chamber. She scrawled down her thoughts into her journal, before the days strain of mental exertion took its toll.

    Willow woke as the sun breached the height of the canopy. She lay in thought amongst the soft silk sheets alone, mind wandering of the revelations of the last few days. Her mind turned to the Hall of Murals. She could not fathom why a place dedicated to the crumbling wastes of Abbadon would harbour rituals deep seeded within the depths of their Father’s Infernal Palace. The ritual held no trace of Abbadon, the hellhounds were creatures straight out of Hell. She continued to ponder as she rose from the sheets and dressed for the day. She glided through the halls of the Horn towards the tavern where the group had began taking their meals. As she walked in and saw Pellius sitting alone on the far side of room to the rest of the group, she dished herself up a plate of breakfast and approached him.
    “May I join you?” she asked politely.
    “Of course, my lady,” he replied casually, ever a gentleman, standing to push her seat in behind her.
    “My mind has been turning,” she said quietly, after he returned to his seat, “I have been contemplating the hound ritual we discovered.”
    “And what conclusion have you come to?”
    “I wish to perform it,” she said slowly, “But there is much risk, and I fear my want for the prize may be clouding my judgement. Yet, I find the gain of such a prize would be worth such risk.”
    A small smile graced his lips, “It seems you have already come to a decision.”
    “Not entirely,” she replied, eyebrow cocked, “May I ask a favour?”
    “You may ask,” he said slyly.
    Willow tried to keep up her face of lighthearted whim, unable to suppress the small frown furrowing her brow.
    “Will you stand guard?” she said hushed, “You need not involve yourself, but just be with me, incase my skepticism proves true and the ritual is tainted with Abbadon’s malice?”
    Pellius smiled, “Of course, my lady.”

    After sending off one of their hirelings with the task of procuring three stout guard dogs, Willow spent the day concocting the specific poison the ritual required. When word of her intent spread to the others, Garvana approached her in curiosity.
    “I thought you were against the slaughter or sacrifice of animals?” she asked.
    Willow dropped in the last ingredient the poison required, turning to Garvana once the hissing brew had festered and settled.
    “I do have a fondness for canines,” she admitted with a nostalgic air, “They are the perfect servants. They know their place in the world, they do not question it, they do not seek to rise higher, and they are fiercely loyal. All qualities I seek in servants.”
    She smiled slightly as she continued, more to herself than to Garvana, “This ritual offers beasts with the same qualities, born in the fiery pits of Hell. Though I will not enjoy the slaughter, I will relish in the birth of the three Infernal creatures.”
    Garvana merely smiled, inclining her head to Willow.

    By midday Bor had returned with ten filthy peasants in tow. They locked them in the holding cell with the new manacles Willow had ordered. Pellius selected a young female, a kind hearted looking soul, compassionate and fearful.
    “We shall allow you some portion of freedom,” he said to her, stone faced, “But I will give you one warning. If you try to leave or flee, they will die. You have a chance to better their situation. You may bathe them and feed them. You may care for them as you wish. They are your responsibility. You have only one chance, if you flee, you are killing every one of them.”

    As daylight retreated and the moon rose high, the workman returned with the hounds. Willow and Pellius descended the stairs and guided the dogs into one of the empty barren caverns below the Horn. Pellius stood in the shadows, his watchful eyes ever keen. Willow remained silent as she fed each hound the menacing poison, soothing each one gently with her hand as it ate. She stood, exhaling deeply. As she lifted her dagger to the first hound’s throat, she spoke in hushed rasping Infernal tongue, ignoring the single tear welling in her eyes.
    “Serve in death, as you did in life, rise from the deep pits of Hell. Lith.”
    She closed her eyes as she slashed through it’s flesh. Approaching the second hound, she gently traced her fingers over its ear to calm it.
    “Serve in death, as you did in life, rise from the deep pits of Hell. Loras.”
    Through clouded eyes and wet cheeks, she approached the third and last of the hounds, calming it in a similar way.
    “Serve in death, as you did in life, rise from the deep pits of Hell. Sith.”
    She stepped back, too proud to wipe her tears. As life faded from the last, the ground began to shake. Willow felt a familiar pulsing with each rumble, her body trembling, her breath quickening. She breathed deep, pulling the searing burn deep within her. A crack rippled through the earth beneath the hounds, splitting the rock and opening wide, revealing the scorching flames of Hell. Willow clenched her teeth and plastered her eyes open, finding no sexual pleasure in the Infernal throbbing in her body, only a burning strength of might and purpose. A great inferno engulfed the hounds, dragging their bodies into the depths of the underworld. As a moment passed, Willow felt a fierce vibration shake the ground. As single paw rose from the cracks, claws digging into the rock, dragging its body up from the depths. A flame ridden hound climbed into the cavern, followed by two more. Once the last had risen from below, the crack violently slammed shut, sealing the blazing realm once again. Willow stood frozen for a minute, staring in awe at the creatures. She recognised each one. Standing tallest in the centre was the largest of the hounds, powerful, fierce and beautiful, the leader.
    “Lith,” Willow breathed.
    The hound approached, its head dropped in deference. Willow reached out and sighed. She marvelled as the flames licked her skin but caused her no burn. She gently traced her hand along its head, curling her fingers under its chin.
    Her eyes turned to the second hound. Thicker and sturdier than the first, but still as graceful, “Loras.”
    It approached her in a similar way, head lowered as she reached to caress its chin. Looking to the third, she smiled. Smaller than the others, it stood with its own pride. Willow could tell it was the fiercest of the litter, possibly the fastest, the most viscous.
    “Sith,” she beckoned, reaching her hand for him.
    He approached her with no delay, turning his head into her palm.
    Willow grinned as she stood, surrounded by flickering flame, her three hounds circling her in a protective fashion. Pellius stepped out from the shadows, a peculiar look on his face. The three hounds began to growl low and menacing as they noticed him.
    “Naas!” Willow snapped, calling for them to cease their growling.
    The hounds hushed, lowering their heads once more. Willow cocked her eyebrow and smiled. As Pellius turned and left the cavern without a word, Willow frowned, she did not know what was churning through his mind. She stood in thought for a moment before shaking her head. If he wished to speak of it to her, he would come.
    “Norr,” she called, beckoning them to follow.
    Willow trailed up the stairs to the second floor, the three hounds closely by her feet. She glided through the halls to her chamber, directing the hounds to a single corner, bare of anything flammable.
    “Dravith,” she commanded, ordering them to stay.
    She lit her lantern and left the hounds behind as she went to clean the days grime and mud from her clothing. Along her stroll to the bathroom, she passed Pellius in the hallway.
    “Do you have time for worship tonight?” she asked, cocking her eyebrow.
    “Regretfully no, my lady,” he replied, “I'm afraid I have much to do.”
    A similar response to that which he had given her for the last few nights. As he turned to leave, Willow put her hand on his forearm.
    “May I ask what is troubling you?” she questioned, “You seem distant of late.”
    “Between the demanding strain of deciphering the summoning rituals, the interrogation of Halthus, overseeing the prisoners and workers, along with numerous other projects; they have left me little time for sins of the flesh,” he said, reaching for Willow's hand, laying a small kiss on the ridge of her knuckle, “I fear I would not have the energy to keep up with one as vivacious as yourself, and I would hate to disappoint you so.”
    Willow frowned as he turned from her, his emphasis on the word disappoint had not gone unnoticed. She continued on to the bathroom, her mind musing on what he could be referring to. As she polished her boots to a gleaming shine, she surmised it revolved around Grumblejack's transformation. He had been furious, the disappointment in his eyes had been clear. She conceded her actions had been a tad rash, her curiosity had been piqued, and her response a little careless. She had no knowledge of what unholy water could have done to Grumblejack, she had only followed her instincts as she had always done. She would not apologise for her actions, for she was not sorry. She had meant it when she had said that if she caught the slightest hint of wavering loyalty, she would cut him down.
    The men that the Baron had procured were always eager to heat buckets of water and fill the bathtub for Willow. Each night she smiled, and thanked them politely, batting her eyelashes softly. She had learned long ago that polite manners and soft eyes could get a woman almost anything she needed. She undressed by the tub and soaked as the water simmered, allowing her mind to wander. Her muscles retracted and relaxed, soothed by the soft burn of the water, her skin pink and flush. As the bath cooled, she stepped from the tub, drying herself with the soft fleece towel. Coating herself in a fine layer of liquid myrrh, she hung the towel to dry and prepared herself for prayer. Sprinkling the dried blood in her ritualistic fashion, she kneeled in its centre and closed her eyes. As she began to chant and the husking words slithered from her lips, He came to her, as He always did.
    Leaving the room dressed only in her night slip, she glided towards her chamber. As she reached her door, her head turned to the men watching her pass, eyes wide mouths open staring at her barely covered skin.
    “Evening gentlemen,” she said with a wink.
    “Ah, evening mam,” they stuttered, sheepish grins on their faces.
    They gasped in shock as she opened the door and she slipped in passed the three flaming hounds growling at the men in warning. She chuckled as she closed the door behind her.
    “Naas, Sivish,” she crooned, pointing to the corner, telling them to sleep.
    As she fell upon the silk draped over the grand structure of the bed, she smiled listening to the three faint snores of the hounds. She rolled onto her side, staring at the empty side of the bed. She frowned, the bed had not felt so big before. A small huff from the hounds had a small smile split her lip, she need not sleep in fear while three graces of Hell slept so close by.
    She sighed, closing her eyes, thinking of the great task set before them. They would tear the very fabric of this nation, and they would do it all, in His name. The flickering glow behind her her eyelids of the Hellfire encasing the hounds had her smile.
    “For His glory,” she whispered, reciting the words that had been so long seared into her mind and imprinted on her soul, “All shall burn in Hellfire, and it is His.”

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

    Join Date
    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 12 - And so it begins

    Spoiler: Chapter 12 - And so it begins
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    The condensation clustered and grouped as it formed around each light footprint littered along the roof tiles. Willow followed their lead as she silently slunk along the top of the building. They trailed to the east of the city. Farholde stretched out along the expanse, it's populated hill tops visible in clusters of buildings. The footprints lead towards the upper district, Estell.
    Willow had made her way back to the city of Farholde for mundane and arcane supplies. The group had been tasked with jobs of their own, most relating to the defence of their lair. After Bor had returned from his successful mission with the boggards, he and Pellius had taken on the task of detaining and relocating their animal captures into the lower caverns of the Horn. Garvana had begun her self appointed quest of the conversion of the peasants they had obtained. Teelee busied herself overseeing the restoration of the second level performed by the carpenter and his men. Willow knew better than to think overseeing meant anything more than standing around huffing useless orders with hands on her hips.
    Willow however, had volunteered to travel to Farholde, in search of the items they required. Her underground contacts enabled her to procure odd items with no questions. Items such four scrolls of plant growth and one of charm monster, a masterwork set of smithing tools, three potions of invisibility, and a small assortment of poisons.
    Earlier that morning, she had left the Horn as dawn reached out to smother the teetering stone slab in its blessing, the light illuminating the seas of greenery swarming and encasing the spire’s purpose. She traveled quickly on her own, no heavy armour to slow her down, no thudding footsteps to give her position away to stalking predators. Well before midday, she arrived at the hidden black market, stepping through the buzzing atmosphere of Farholde’s infamous thieves and fences. She found Martin in his office and shared a companionable brew of tea over a passion fuelled debate of the twin Baracus poets; Lesimet and Darainet Luthergrow. Willow smiled, rolling her eyes as Martin finished another one of his speeches, all arrangement of words meaning the same thing; I am right, you are wrong, I shall not listen. She smiled, because out of all the things she’d missed from her pampered life of nobility, it was the intellectual banter of two who understood the importance and beauty in the written language. Words could be arranged to have any effect they desired. Certain arrangements could pierce the heart of a man, shattering his ego or confidence, the words immune to the barriers of the steel armour encasing the man's body. Other arrangements could let the heart believe the impossible or trust the implausible, leaving the man defenceless against betrayal. A man or a woman, Willow thought nostalgically.
    “Ah, I almost forgot,” Matrin said, reaching for a small scroll in his pocket, “I was to deliver this to you when you dropped by today.”
    Willow frowned in suspicion, “How did you know I was coming?”
    Martin chuckled, “He is a clever man. Cocky and arrogant, but clever nonetheless.”
    Willow unfurled the small slip of parchment.

    The more you make, the more you leave behind.

    Willow’s frown deepened, she had heard this riddle as a child. Her grandfather had always given her riddles as homework before he ended her studies. He knew well that a quick body would never be enough without a quick mind behind it.
    Footprints. But what was she supposed to do with the riddle? She raised her eyebrow at Martin in question.
    He smiled, saying softly, “The look that could seize an empire.”
    Willow smiled but cocked her eyebrow further, not allowing herself to be distracted in his flattery. He chuckled again.
    “He said to point you in the direction of the sky,” he said, “Not that I know what use you have of footprints in the sky…”
    Willow finished her cup and farewelled Martin as she retreated to the blackened night encasing the cities side streets. On silent feet she trailed away from the hidden passage, approaching the bustling marketplace filled with rather more legal wares. As Willow mused the riddle, casually browsing the stalls of silk and satin, the humid yet cold mist licked the bare skin of her face and neck. She had not worn one of her beautiful gowns on her hastened return to the city. Instead, she had strapped on her blackened leather armour - slick, tight and silent. She stood to the side of the street, scanning the night sky and the peaks of the buildings above. She quirked her head to the side as a hunch formed. Creeping into an alley way shielded from the light of the street, she climbed the boarded windows and pulled herself onto the slanted ceiling. She smiled. Footprints trailed along the roof tiles towards the east. On light feet she toed along the roof, the magical lens she wore enhanced the outlines of each print, making them easier to follow in her quickened tracking. The hook of the small lens sat crested atop her ear, stretching its delicate bronze limb towards her right eye, forming a thin clear lens over her sight. The magic it held helped her seek each footstep ahead of her. She leaped across the close knit clusters of buildings, from house to house she followed the alluring trail. As she reached a fork in the arrangement of the town, the footprints seemed to split into two separate paths. Both trails lead in separate directions, no backtracking lead around or from either, it was as if one person had spilt into two. Willow eyed the prints with distrust. She frowned as she examined each. Both were the exact same size, from the same boots and presumably the same feet. Only when she inspected the prints closely did she noticed the slightest difference. The tracks that lead towards the left held a fraction more condensation, giving Willow the impression they'd been left earlier than those to the right. She made her decision and followed the winding path of prints heading to her right. After tracking across the city skyline for the better part of an hour, she found herself standing on a large hall in the middle of the warehouse district. The footprints simply stopped. The hairs on her neck rose as she felt the touch of eyes on her. She crouched low and waited. Switch had set up ambushes for her before, men hiding in shadowed alleys with simple instructions - kill her. Her orders were of practicing vital points, wounding and incapacitating her attackers, but not killing them. Tonight felt different. There were no close-by nooks or crannies, no hiding spaces where men could reach her in time to surprise. She eyed the buildings around her, their blackened windows shielding their contents from her sight. Suddenly, she heard the snap of a bowstring, an arrow being loosed. She dove and tucked, the arrow skimming her shoulder and scattering across the rooftop. Four more snaps and she deftly dodged and rolled out of each of their attacks. Willow danced across the tiles, moving too quickly for any of the arrows to reach their target. After a few minutes, the attacks ceased. She eyed her surroundings warily. As she spun in her low crouch, she didn't hear the **** or launch of the crossbow. The bolt pierced her shoulder, missing any vital organs, but splitting the skin and embedding itself deep into muscle. The pain screamed through her shoulder, but Willow knew better than to pay any attention to it. She inhaled sharply, pulling the pain deep into the pits of her stomach, letting it fuel the power pulsing through her veins. She kept her senses acutely aware of her surroundings, paying attention to more than just her sight and hearing. Switch had proven the seemingly endless extent of his magical abilities, or at least his boundless access to magical items. He could hide himself in the shadows of the starlight, he could mask his footsteps, his breathing, his every sound. But he could not control the slight rumble on the tiles that Willow felt through the soles of her scuffed light boots, the weight of his amble towards her. She waited patiently until she was certain he was within her reach. In a single heartbeat she swung her leg wide, sweeping his legs out from under him and pouncing to attack as she unsheathed her dagger. Switch feel onto his back heavily and a look of surprise raised his eyebrows. A momentary change, he grinned in his dark and disarming way before leaping to his feet daggers at the ready. He matched Willow with each blow, blocking her advances, using his greater strength and weight to force her steps backwards. Willow couldn't keep herself from grinning in turn, ducking his wide swing, tumbling to the side and launching another flurry of attacks. He was by far stronger than her, but her lighter weight meant that she was quicker and more nimble. She used this to her advantage, slicing small welts on each side of his torso, retreating again to gain some footing. As usual, he mockingly wore little armour. Burnt bronze coloured vambraces strapped to his forearms and matching greaves on his shins. He wore a black cotton shirt, buttons hanging free from his neck to his chest, revealing a sprinkling of dark hair along his chest. His regular black pants close fitting yet lose enough to give him freedom of movement. He wore no armour on his torso, blatantly displaying his lack of worry that anyone could be quick enough to reach him. Willow loved the challenge, and the better she became with the skills he taught her, the more she used them to show him he had a reason to worry.
    “Tsk,” he huffed, rolling out of the reach of Willow's dagger, examining the cuts, “This was a perfectly good shirt. How little respect you have for fashion.”
    Willow smirked, side stepping under his attack, “Perhaps it says something of my opinion regarding your sense of fashion.”
    He laughed as he leaped forward in an overhead blow, swiping his blade through the air so quickly that Willow had trouble darting passed, the tip of the dagger barely missed her outstretched fingers. She dove to the right, tumbling across the roof tiles, spinning up into a defensive stance. He winked, turning from her and dashing away across the building, leaping to the adjacent roof. Willow swore under her breath and took off after him, following closely on his heels. She laughed as she leapt over the gap between buildings, soaring through the air, the wind flicking her short stands of jagged black hair against her forehead. Every few buildings Switch would stop and attack, his powerful blows pushing her back a few steps. But with each training session they had, they grew more evenly matched. That was at least until her made use of his magic. Willow knew of magic that could make someone impossibly fast, and when Switch made use of this - she had no chance. He leaped at her with frightening speed, using his dagger to carve a small ‘S’ in between the joins where her breastplate met, the centre of her chest. He leaped back, smirking in a clear sense of arrogance. Willow looked down at the letter, now seeping bright red blood.
    “Your hubris knows no bounds,” she said, rolling her eyes, “Do you feed your ego by marking all of your apprentices?”
    “Only the pretty ones,” he said with a devilish grin, returning his dagger to its sheath.
    “You'll have to excuse my inability to be flattered by that,” she replied patronisingly.
    As they seemed to be taking a reprieve from the nights training, Willow inspected the bolt she had forgotten was wedged in her shoulder. The metal rod had penetrated cleanly through to pierce the back of her shoulder, she clenched her teeth and yanked it back through to front. Luckily, Switch had begun using headless bolts for easier removal. The grunt that seeped from Willow’s lips at the pain, unfortunately came out more like a moan, earning her a knowing grin from Switch. As Willow reached for the healing vial in her belt pouch, her eyebrows shot up as she heard him quietly reciting a line from an ancient sinister poem.
    “All the joys of the flesh, all the sorrows that wear out the soul, wert thou once pure…”
    Willow whispered as she finished the verse, “When desire took thee first by the throat?”
    Switch’s eyes met hers as ripple of fear and pleasure swept though her.
    “Who are you?” she heard herself breathe.
    He only grinned and shook his head, “Ah, the all important unanswerable question.”
    The poem was a verse nearly a millennia old, one scripted by an unknown author, the script found in an ancient cavern in the Mindspin Mountains. Scholars had debated for centuries about its origin and content. Willow had read its entirety in the secret library of her families manor. Filled with forbidden lore and profane scripture, ranging in age from the beginning of the last two millennia. The poem was entitled Our Lady of Pain. She had also read her ancestors musings on the literature. Arlond Cassidus Monteguard had believed the masochistic writings had been written in reference to one of Asmodeus’ Whore Queens - Doloras. She ruled the domain of pain, dispassion and detachment. Her worshippers held that she preached the abandonment of emotion for an unfeeling difference, pain being only a tool that was useless in the face of one who embraced it. Willow had grown to understand her meaning far better than any of those in her bloodline. She had always been drawn to the masochistic teachings of Doloras. She had never mentioned this to anyone. She suspected Switch had entered her families sacred cellar for him to have procured her ruby dagger. The idea of her family handing over something so clearly profane was inconceivable, as they would be handing over irrefutable evidence of their heresy. It was also unlikely that Switch had inspected the walls of forbidden lore and happened upon the very poem she felt so drawn to.
    “How do you know of that script?” she asked warily.
    He smiled and said simply, “There is much you don't know of me.”
    Willow frowned, drinking down the healing vial, feeling her wound begin to knit together. Switch slowly circled her, a mischievous grin on his lips.
    “But perhaps I'd be willing to tell you.”
    Willow scoffed, “And how high is the cost?”
    “I propose a game,” he said smoothly, “Each hit you land against me earns you a question about me, and I must answer truthfully.”
    Willow cocked her eyebrow, “And the catch?”
    “Each hit I land against you earns me a question.”
    She frowned, thinking of her closely guarded secrets. There were things hidden in her mind that she had never revealed to anyone, nor was she ever planning to. She also could not reveal anything of Cardinal Thorn and his task.
    Seeing her reluctance, Switch sighed, “Do not fear, I will not ask of your mission or your plans. You are playing a dangerous game with that, and I never throw my cards in with someone until I am sure they will win. So for now, the less I know the better.”
    “No magic,” she stated.
    “No magic,” he agreed.
    Willow smirked, answering despite herself, “I accept the terms.”
    The grin on his face spread. He held out a hand in a mocking bow.
    “When the lady is ready.”
    Willow laughed and reached to accept his hand up, but instead of pulling her weight up she unsheathed her dagger with her other hand and spun on her knees, slicing the blade delicately along his stomach. She tumbled out of his reach and leapt to her feet, noting the bottom half of his shirt hanging free.
    “The poem,” she demanded, struggling to control the smug look on her face, “How do you know of it?”
    He chuckled, “She shows her colours,” he commented quietly, twirling his dagger in his fingers, “I grew up in Cheliax, where profane texts were not forbidden to read but encouraged. The boys and I found a copy of it in the library tomes. The rest of them laughed at the oddity of a woman enjoying pain, I however, found the quality quite endearing.”
    Willow couldn't help but grin, “So you're a sadist?”
    He laughed as he launched his attack, “That is two questions, and a poor choice of query if you have to ask it to know the answer.”
    Willow chuckled as she tumbled under his arm, slashing her dagger out barely skimming his side. He spun and feinted to the left, lashing out with his blade to the right. A move Willow fell for and cursed as it sliced through her forearm. He retreated slightly, circling her with paced footsteps.
    “What did you see in your husband? Why did you marry him?”
    Willow frowned. She had no clue what sort of things he’d ask, but questions of her husband were at the bottom of the list.
    “That's also two questions,” she noted as she mirrored his steps, “But they are similar reasons, so I'll allow it. Position and power. His family line may have been below my own, but as a Knight of Alerion he held much sway in the way of this land. He was also naïve enough to see me as the delicate maiden of innocence that I am.”
    Switch burst out laughing as she fluttered her eyelashes, leaving her a clear opening in his defence. She dove towards him and hacked her dagger along his thigh and again along his torso before she continued through behind him. He wasn't distracted for long enough, he quickly turned as she passed him and drew his blade hard along her lower back.
    “Ladies first,” he said, facing her and beginning his circle again.
    She fingered her dagger, ignoring the pain of the deep gash on her back, “Why did you come to Talingarde?”
    “I was shipped here as an adolescent,” he said with little enthusiasm, “My parents thought by sending me to a peaceful non oppressive land that I would break away from the slums of my station.”
    Willow frowned, “Oppressive? Were not your family Asmodean?”
    Switch scoffed, “They revered the Prince out of fear alone. A fear that controls them, though they would not call themselves Asmodean.”
    He continued his predatory circling, “That was your second question. I do believe the turn is mine. The stud, what do you see in him?”
    Willow frowned again, “The stud? Pellius?” she laughed as she saw an envious twinkle in his eye, “I suppose it is that he is strong. His body is a well crafted force of might, and his mind is a stubbornly faithful whirlwind of power. He is also frightfully skilled in making a woman's body feel things no proper lady would speak of...”
    Willow suddenly leap towards him, arching back under his reactive attack, his dagger narrowly missing the tip of her nose. She launched herself forward, her body inches from his, and pressed her dagger to his throat.
    She leaned up, her face so close that her lips brushed his own.
    She smiled and whispered, “Are you jealous?”
    Quicker than she could react, he hooked his foot behind her legs and took them out from under her, using his weight to force her to fall to the ground. As she hit and his weight drove her back into the roof tiles, he ripped her hands and pinned them roughly above her head. Her breath came in shallow pants as the blood rushed through her veins in excitement and need. She watched the slender trickle of red slide down his neck before looking back into his fierce heated eyes. He held her hands with one hand, gripping the other in her hair and forcefully crashed their lips together. His tongue found hers in a fiery dominating dance, he bit her lip as he clenched her hair tighter in his hand. Her traitorous body couldn't help but respond to his every touch, she fought back and struggled for control, revelling in her lack of it.
    He chuckled as he tore his lips away from hers, heaving chest, relaxing his body slightly against hers. He still held her hands and her hair in a brutally tight grip. She grinned deviously, struggling to regain her own breath, panting her response.
    “I guess I'll take that as a yes.”

    The Horn was abuzz with life when she returned the following day. She scampered up the winding stairs towards the second level, passing rows of busy men carrying the debris from the lair. As she entered the passage, she smiled to see her fiery hounds bounding towards her. She had left them behind with orders to patrol the halls and keep watch for intruders, acting also as a greater motivator of fear to keep the peasants and workmen in line. She chuckled at the strange looks she received from a group of nearby peasants as she greeted her hounds warmly with chin and ear rubs. They seemed fascinated by the slim wafer that was Willow having such fondness for yet command over the infernal hounds. She knew well that intimidation need not be ruled by brute strength and size. She did not need threatening words when her calm exterior promised fierce unfeeling reprimand.
    She went in search of Teelee, planning to give her the scrolls to commence her work, but she frowned as she heard a ruckus coming from the entrance hallway. Turning the corner, she was greeted by a fearsome dark steed, clutching a man's body in its jaws. Dressed in a brown hemmed mesh frock, Teelee sat perched side saddle atop the nightmare horse.
    “Who is this?” Willow asked, baffled at the sight.
    “An alchemist,” Teelee replied, the steed dropping the limp body to a heap on the ground.
    “And is he alive?”
    Teelee shrugged half heartedly.
    Willow rolled her eyes as she bent over the man, rolling him onto his back. He had smooth honey coloured skin, sun weathered flushed cheeks framing angular features, a tall ridge along his thin nose. Not unhandsome, his face held the appearance of a man in his fourth decade, a man of foreign lands. Willow pressed her fingers to his neck feeling for a pulse, as Garvana walked into the entrance way, frowning at the scene.
    “An explanation, if you will?” she asked, pulling a healing vial from her pouch.
    “We were in need of an alchemist,” Teelee said simply, “So I found one.”
    “And I take it he did not come of his own free will?”
    “Yes, well, Carnitheria Rex was a tad over zealous…”
    The look of fear in the man's eyes as he awoke to the sight of the steed, confirmed the understatement of Teelee’s words.
    “What is this?” he barked, panic and fear stirring his movement, “What's going on?!”
    “Calm dear man,” Willow soothed, resting a hand upon his chest, “I will not allow it to hurt you if you stay calm.”
    His eyes flicked to Willow, he momentarily relaxed, but suspicion flared strong.
    “What is this? Who are you people? Where are we? Why have you brought me here?”
    “We are hidden within the Caer Bryr. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Willow.”
    He stared at her, frowning in confusion.
    “Coran,” he replied, giving her a short nod, “Now tell me, what is going on and why have you brought me here?”
    Willow looked to Teelee, rolling her eyes as she saw the woman barely paying attention.
    “A job. We require your services, on a more permanent basis.”
    “A job?!” he yelled, “You could have asked?! There was no need to kidnap me!”
    Willow struggled to contain her agreement, “I understand, and I apologise. Though the methods of your recruitment were indeed unorthodox, we can provide a rare opportunity for one with a skill set of your capacity. We possess a functioning alchemical golem.”
    He couldn't hide the spark of excitement that lit in his face.
    “Truly?” he asked, “Well, that is impressive, though I'm afraid I've had little experience with such constructions.”
    Willow smiled softly, “Then it is a chance for you to study it. Perhaps repair and improve it.”
    His eyes turned to Teelee, “So, the picnic,” he said quietly, “It was just a ruse for my capture? Why not simply ask?”
    “You would not have come willingly if you knew we were Asmodean.”
    “Ah,” Coran said, seeming a little more deflated, “That explains it.”
    “You will not reside here as a slave if you prove your worth,” Willow said to him, standing and stepping back, “We will pay you a fair wage, and your food and tools will be supplied.”
    “Once we have finished our task,” Garvana added, “You will be free to go.”
    He squinted in suspicion, “You mean it? Do I have your word?”
    “You have my word.”
    He dropped his accusatory finger, “Well then. I have had dealings with those of your kind before. Honourable, if not some what aberrant. Very well, I suppose I have little choice.”
    He stood, keeping an eye on the steed and stepping away. Willow turned to Teelee, handing her the case full of scrolls, before turning back to Coran.
    “Come along, I shall show you your work station and quarters.”
    Willow lead him further into the Horn, escorting him across the large stone hallways. She smirked as he let out a gasp of fear at the sight of the three Hellhounds growling at his approach and his proximity to Willow. She laid an affectionate hand on Lith’s head.
    “Nass, dorith,” she crooned, hushing their snarls, “Do not be afraid, they will not harm you unless I instruct them to.”
    Coran cleared his throat, “I'll keep that in mind.”
    The hounds trailed closely by her heels as she lead the way to the alchemists laboratory. Coran’s eyes lit up as he entered the room, the large bundle of alchemical reservoirs that formed the golem standing stationary in the chamber. Willow smiled as he rushed forward to get a closer look.
    “There is some parchment and ink on the bench, form a list of everything you need to begin your work, and give it to the carpenter named Sven. Is there anything you need retrieved from your store in town?”
    His excitement dimmed, a frown furrowing his brow.
    “No,” he said shortly, “Leave it. My daughter shall grieve and the least I can do is leave her my possessions.”
    “Your daughter?” Willow enquired, “Is she dependant on you?”
    He stiffened, “I will tell you this now. If I even so much as suspect any harm has come to her, I will not hesitate to kill myself, you will get nothing from me!”
    Willow's expression softened, “I assure you, I was not threatening her. I merely ask, as I would not be comfortable with the knowledge that we are leaving a child abandoned. I was sincere in that we are going to pay you, I was wondering if you needed the gold you earned to find its way to her.”
    His shoulders slumped slightly, “No. She can take care of herself. Leave her out of this.”
    “I will respect your wishes, we shall speak no more of her,” Willow spoke as turned to the door, “The rules are simple, do-
    “Do not try to escape,” he finished her sentence, “Do not betray you, do as I am told. Yes yes, this isn't my first show.”
    Willow smiled, “I'll leave you to your work.”
    “May I ask one thing?” he said.
    “You may.”
    “Do not tell me how you use my work, I do not wish to know…”

    The next few days were spent with far less excitement. The crew prepared the defences of the Horn as best they could. They had come up with the idea to use magic to overgrow the vines and foliage around the entrances to the spire, further masking the stairwells, Teelee had seen to the arcane execution of their plan. The others focussed on their own tasks while Willow concentrated her study of the ritual they were planning to commence by week’s end.
    Sitting amongst the piles of hastily scribbled observations she had made, Willow’s heavy eyelids drooped. Midnight had passed hours ago. She had begun listing the theoretical outcomes of their task, the possible backfires and disasters waiting to happen. It was not that she failed to believe in their own strength of mind and might, it was that she had little to go on but fanatical ramblings of the power their enemy possessed.
    And that's what Vetra-Kali was. Their enemy. He would not be content with their plan to rid the land of its benevolent weak leadership and instate the rightful hierarchy of Asmodeus. He wanted only for death and destruction. He would want his plague to run free in the land, ensuing chaos and infestation by slow sickness of the people on their hastened walks to the afterlife. The soft-minded people of this land had no idea how lucky they were that Willow and the crew sought to raise Asmodeus instead of some other god who only wished for the death of its servants. The people would be protected by the harsh rules and defined classes mirrored by the very layers of Hell itself. Willow had made such observations in her journal.
    As she once again skimmed the wording of the pleas they were to recite to the Archdeacon, a familiar pulse of infernal power strummed in her stomach. She had began to recognise it's throbbing as Garvana’s devil associate. She had mused whether or not each agent of Hell had his own unique pulse, or whether it merely pulsed in regards to their station or power. As she retrieved the parchment she had made similar notes on, the pulsing disappeared. Willow frowned, it had been a short meeting tonight. She continued her writings by candlelight recording the intensity of the pulses she had felt, noting that although they were familiar, the severity had decreased substantially since his initial visit. As the quill scrawled across the page, Willow was hit with a low thrum of infernal power, a new and unfamiliar rhythm to it. It was stronger than the other, it's vibration beating low in the pits of Willow's stomach. A small sigh escaped her lips as she rose from her bed. Dressed in a silk whiff of a night gown, her curiosity got the better of her, she crept on silent feet towards Garvana's chamber. As she approached the pulsing grew louder and more complex. The best explanation of the way she interpreted the pulsings, were a song she could feel instead of hear. Each throb struck a different note, each chord soothed a crested peak or valleyed low. The more powerful the aura, the louder the tune became, the more forcefully she felt it. The closer she was to it magnified its effect, the emotional attachment to the melody was replaced by her physical body’s reaction. In all her research over the years, she had never come across any mentions of anything similar.
    She prowled along the throne room stones, careful where to place each step, as the thrumming attuned to allow her to hear the faintest voices.
    “… to bring into our Infernal Lord’s service,” she heard Garvana say.
    The stranger replied, politely by his tone, but Willow was too far to hear his words.
    “I believed you have the ability to craft such contracts,” Garvana responded, “I wish for these servants to have a binding tie to our great Lord.”
    Willow slowly crept forward, straining her ears to listen.
    “It is, of course, within my ability to do so,” a smooth masculine tone replied.
    His charming almost soothing voice had Willow step closer. She cursed inwardly as she heard the scuffle of her foot against the stone.
    “You are quite welcome madam,” the stranger said, loud enough for Willow to know she had been heard, “Please, do join us.”
    She slunk forward, pulling aside the curtain to Garvana's bed chamber, silently stepping inside. She saw Garvana standing centre of the room, arms folded over her chest, a look of slight surprise and annoyance on her face. A smaller devil stood in the shadowed corner, his crimson skill matte and dim, his head bowed in deference. But all attention was drawn to the devil standing next to him. He stood with a natural air of pride, straight back tight shoulders, yet a calm confidence that made him appear completely relaxed. His scarlet toned skin shone brightly against his black formal outfit, richly embellished and fine fitting velvet robes draped from the shoulders to the floor. Thin horns protruded from his forehead in an almost decorative fashion, forming a crown upon his brow. Two thick golden rimmed horns pierced from pleats in his back, arching forward in smooth angles, their tips pointing ahead of him. Dozens of scrolls hung along these horns and his shoulders, swaying almost hypnotically in a nonexistent breeze. His face held the only difference to his imposing appearance. Rows of glittering razor sharp teeth formed his malevolent yet welcoming smile. His wide dark eyes, calculating and perceptive.
    “Dessiter, of the Phistophilis,” he introduced himself, “A pleasure to meet you madam.”
    He accompanied his words by a deep bow from the waist, right foot slightly forward in perfect execution of the formal greeting bow, from one noble to another.
    Willow inclined her head politely in response.
    “Can I help you?” Garvana asked bluntly, clearly annoyed at the intrusion.
    Willow raised her eyebrows at her brashness.
    “Perhaps in the matter of contracts,” Willow replied smoothly, “It would be wise for someone with experience in these matters to read the terms before they are signed.”
    Dessiter smiled, a menacing charming grin, “Wise advice indeed.”
    Garvana nodded, a frown still burrowing her brow, “Is that all?”
    Willow's eyebrows rose further, but she smiled politely in response.
    “Until next time madam,” Dessiter said, another deep bow to enhance his words, “For I am quite sure we will meet again.”
    Willow inclined her head to him, eyes lingering locked with his, before retreating from the room. She hoped Garvana would take her advice genuinely, for a man or devil who possessed such confidence would have very good reason for it. She left them to their deals as she strolled back to her room, thinking over Dessiter’s unique infernal pulse. It was unlike any she had come across, limited those may have been. As she found herself back in her own chambers, the fatigue she had felt earlier, returned in force. She shuffled her notes into the lockbox she had commissioned, and fell upon the mattress. The melody of Hell’s heartbeat lulled her to sleep.

    The following night, the moon rose directly overhead as midnight approached. They had deemed themselves as ready and prepared as they could be. The five of them escorted Halthus, their first sacrifice, to the sanctum waiting above. He seemed to understand their intent, he appeared almost eager, ready for what was to come. He stepped up and laid upon the altar with no resistance. The group was solemn and quiet as Garvana retrieved the unholy water from the trough. Willow handed out the copies of the first dirge, scrolled on parchment and translated into common. In low voices they began to sing the lines of the Supplication to Darkness, as Garvana threw the tankard of festering water upon the seal, bathing it in liquid filth. The seal hissed and squealed as the water acted like acid upon the holy artefact. Flares of putrid air sizzled on its face, sulphuric odours foul and pungent.
    “We have failed thee O’ Prince, we beg thy forgiveness. Our darkest hour, our strength and might undone. We have failed thee O’ Prince, we beg thy forgiveness. Blinding light piercing deep, we mortals, the unworthy. We have failed thee O’ Prince, we beg thy forgiveness. Cast out beyond our reach, undeserving of our weakness.”
    Willow cast her eyes away as Pellius lifted the sacrificial dagger to Halthus’ bare chest. His screams were not of those of fear and pain, but were of a man ready to be embraced by the arms of his god.
    “We have failed thee O’ Prince, we beg thy forgiveness. Our failings to defend, Undying Prince, thy domicile befouled. We have failed thee O’ Prince, we beg thy forgiveness. We beseech thee, our Lord of Lues, extenuate fault and allow us thy blessing. We have failed thee O’ Prince, we beg thy forgiveness. Share thy gifts of pestilence and despair, our ever malevolent Prince, Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes…”
    The ground beneath her feet began to shake furiously as Pellius dropped the beating heart into the bowl grasped in the statues outstretched fingers. A thundering boom racked the Horn as the tectonic plates beneath it began to shift. Suddenly, the entire spire caught fire in a flash of malevolent green blaze. It erupted into an ominous point stretching far beyond the reaches of the sky, a beacon inferno raging into realms and planes not guided by the reality of time. An eery voice slithered to their ears.
    “Kazahrah voh...” it said.
    “I hear…” Willow translated, whispering barely louder than a breath.
    She stepped quickly to the edge of the balcony, gasping at the green magical barrier of flame that still surrounded the Horn’s upper half. Where the fearsome fires had scorched, the foliage and vines had been obliterated into ash. The Horn stood in all its menacing glory, runes blazed like torches littered upon the side of the stones. There was no hiding what it’s intentions were. She heard the maniacal cackling screaming from the wraiths that were circling low around the base of the lair.
    Willow sighed, staring out across the horizon bathed in sickly green light, “And so it begins…”

    The group had agreed to have rotating shifts to perform the ongoing ritual. Three times everyday the seal had to be doused in the festering broth of unholy water while the chant of the Supplication to Darkness was uttered. Once as the sun rose above the horizon at dawn, once as it sunk below at dusk and lastly as midnight was signalled by the moon’s teetering peak directly overhead. The second sacrifice was to be performed at dawn of their fifteenth week.
    The days trickled passed with little interruptions. Their organisation grew steadily as they recruited more men and women to fill its ranks. Willow tried to find useful tasks to bridge the gaps in between her shifts guarding the sanctum. She regularly made the trip back to Farholde, happy for the distraction to fill the mundane stretches of days. She had travelled the route so many times that she had cut the trip down to less then a third of the day to reach the city walls.
    She often took a few of the men with her on her travels, using the journey as a type of training. She challenged them to keep up, to move faster yet quieter as they sprinted through the green rush of forestry. She needed no threats to keep them in line. They obeyed her without question, they followed her instructions and seemed to relish in her rarely given praise. Willow could see the fear they tried to hide in their eyes, but it was a subtle fear, one that kept them on their toes but didn't hinder their abilities. Apparently they enjoyed their training runs, for with each that passed, Willow found herself with more and more volunteers. As the second week crawled by, she had made herself a nice little tracking team picked from the best of the lot. A lean man of barely twenty, shortly cropped brass curls covering a tanned squinted face by the name of Willem, lead point position. He was almost as short as Willow, but quick footed and quiet enough to keep up. To his left flank was his brother Terris, similar build and appearance, but slightly less dexterous. To the right was a girl named Margaret, she was closer to Willow's age, blonde hair clasped back in a braid revealing harsh features and a stern face. She was much like the men the group, focussed on the job, uncaring of things such as looks and hygiene.
    Willow cared not for their appearance, but in their lack of it. They blended in smoothly with the rest of servants in the city when it was required. Most of the trips they made, she preferred that they appeared as simple travellers, they knew well to refer to her as Kathryn, their group leader as apposed to their Mistress.
    One afternoon as they returned to the spire, they intercepted a messenger bound for the Horn. Willow accepted the parchment and sent him on his way, offering no rest or respite on his journey.

    A group of local adventurers are planning to arrive in three days. Poor gear, no experience. The dwarf has been to the Horn before, he spoke of entering through the caverns. Prepare them a nice surprise, will you?
    Z

    Willow dismissed her crew and headed for the second level. Once she had gathered the group, they sat in the newly refurbished tavern and discussed what to do. The ideas were sparse. They had all some experience in planning the offensive, whether in brute force or subtle subterfuge, but it seemed they had little knowledge of the defensive. They had prepared certain aspects of their defence, laid within the traps and tricks of the caverns. But the plan they had come up with was skittish at best, gaping holes in their defence at worst.
    It was not until Willow waited in the shadowed grace of the cavern three days later that she saw their lapses. She, Grumblejack, Lith and Loras would wait in ambush in the caverns. Garvana would guard the first floor entrance, Pellius the second, Bor the sanctum and Teelee and her steed would watch the from the balcony of the third level. Willow had given instructions to Sith, the quickest of her hounds, to race up the stairs as signal of the intruders arrival. But they had left the team without means to reach one another in time.
    Although their defence was successful, it was a sloppy unorganised mess. Elise’s information proved correct, the team of five were poorly equipped and inexperienced. Willow launched into attack too early, making the preparations of actual defence irrelevant. One by one each of the would-be adventurers fell. The dwarf’s life ended on the end of Willow's blade, pierced in the back, straight through the heart. Another fell to a magical pit that Teelee had made, his body contorted to an unnatural and unsurvivable angle. Of the three others that had been beaten but remained unconscious, one of them held promise. Willow recognised the woman as a Bride of Light, one of the nuns she had passed during her infiltration of the Abbey. The ritual demanded one of Mitra’s faithful as the second sacrifice, and this woman who fit the description so perfectly, had unknowingly delivered herself straight into their hands.
    They had their men bury the dead, while Grumblejack carried the three living limp bodies into separate cells, leaving them bound and gagged. On their return to the tavern, a bloodcurdling scream of fear echoed through the halls. Willow ran in the direction it came from, unsheathing her dagger, preparing to attack. As she rounded the corner, she skidded to a halt. As the others appeared, ready to exterminate the threat, they stopped as she did and stared. The golem Artephus, was standing over three bodies, in his eerily still mechanical way.
    “What happened here?!” Pellius demanded.
    As Willow stepped over the first body and inspected its wounds, the golem hissed his reply.
    “They were attacked by unknown assailants, master.”
    “Did you see them?!”
    “They were attacked by unknown assailants, master,” he repeated.
    Willow frowned as she saw the scorch marks around the gashes on the deceased woman's torso. A strange pattern of shock lines blasted into the skin away from the opening, leaving a trail of electrical current.
    “Garvana, come and take a look,” Willow beckoned, “Are these what I think they are?”
    Garvana bent down over the body, her eyebrows pinched in frown. As she seemed to recognise what Willow was implying, she looked up into Willow's eyes and nodded solemnly. They both stood, walking cautiously towards the golem. Willow peered around to its back and frowned further. The reservoir of electrical mass had been drained slightly.
    “Artephus,” Willow said, “Did you attack these people?”
    “They were attacked by unknown assailants, master.”
    “Were they killed by the electrical mass in your reservoir?”
    “They were attacked by unknown assailants, master.”
    “Pellius…” Willow said warily.
    He nodded, a look of almost disappointment in his eyes, “Come along, Artephus.”
    “Come with me,” Willow said to Garvana as she took off down the hall.
    She swung the door wide to the Alchemist Laboratory. Coran sat upon a stool, looking up from his work of simmering cauldrons.
    “Have you made any changes to the golem?” she demanded.
    “No, I haven't had enough time to study it,” he replied with a frown, “Why?”
    “Have you adjusted it’s components or tinkered with it in anyway?”
    “No, I haven't been near it since our introduction.”
    Willow saw no telltale signs of dishonesty in his facial expressions, his frown was genuine, his concern seemed merely for his own safety regarding the accusation. But she had a way to be sure.
    “We believe he has slaughtered some of our servants,” she replied, pulling the vial of Truth Elixr from her pouch, “I am inclined to believe that you had no part of it. But you understand, I must be sure. Drink this.”
    He regarded Willow warily, reaching out to dip his finger in the vials contents. As he tasted it, he nodded. He drank the vial in one swallow and returned it empty to Willow's hand.
    “Have you interfered with the alchemical golem known as Artephus in any way? Have you made any adjustments to it at all?”
    “No,” he answered honestly.
    “Did you have anything to do with the deaths of the servants tonight?”
    “No.”
    “What is your full name?”
    He frowned, “Coran Raspunen Dirgian.”
    “Did you play any part in the deaths of the servants?”
    “No.”
    Willow nodded, satisfied with his answers, “Thank you Coran, I believe you.”
    She turned for the door, stopping before exiting, “I believe we will be deactivating the golem until we can confirm or deny our theory. If I provide you with access to it, can I trust that you will attempt to find any fault in it, and then report your honest findings to me?”
    “Yes mam,” he replied, “I will be honest and forthcoming in my observations.”
    “Thank you,” Willow said, “And good night.”

    Sitting around the warmth of the fireplace, the group hunched in the disheartening air of the Horn. The whispers through the ranks of their servants had been heard passed between hallways. They were frightened. Willow could not blame them, they stayed loyal out of fear of the repercussions that their masters would bring, but also by the protection their service garnered. If their masters couldn't protect them from their own creations, what hope did they have. Willow found herself wandering the halls, trying to exude an air of confidence, trying to give their men something to feel stable in. As she strolled passed the barracks, she heard the familiar sound of wood on wood clashing through the halls. She approached the throne room, the one they had cleared morphed into a training room. Standing in the door way, she smiled. The men were grouped in pairs, sparing against one another. The smaller ones practiced with makeshift daggers, and the larger with swords and shields. They froze as they saw her, dropping into bows.
    “Mistress!” the young captain known as Stephen said hurriedly, “I apologise, we just thought, I mean, we thought-
    “Continue,” Willow said, with a short wave of her hand.
    “Yes Mistress,” he bowed, “Thank you Mistress.”
    As the men started their sparring again with a new found vigour, the need to impress overtaking their fatigue, Willow turned to Stephen.
    “Why do they train well passed midnight?” Willow inquired.
    “Mistress! Because we will not fail you again, we will not disappoint you again!”
    Willow raised her eyebrows, a small smile on her lips.
    “Very well, continue your training,” she said as she turned to leave.
    She heard Stephen shouting his orders, a new vigour to him as well. Willow strolled back to her bedchamber, smiling despite herself. Perhaps all was not as lost as she had thought. The men still believed in the group’s leadership, even after three of their own had been slain. Perhaps they saw the golem as a test that their masters had set upon them. Perhaps they thought that their masters had been in control all along.
    Willow stared through the slim opening of a window that revealed the darkened sea of rich forestry. They would learn from this day. They had been far too lax in their vigilance and planning. They would improve, they would grow. And they would win.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 13 - Dalliance and Defence - Part 1

    Spoiler: Chapter 13 - Dalliance and Defence - Part 1
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    “The Forsaken,” Teelee said, lounging upon a chair in the hallway of the third floor, “It has an ironic ring to it.”
    Willow smiled, stretching herself forward, nestling her legs as she sat upon the floor. She preferred to greet dawn this way, stretching her agile limbs at the open balcony of the entrance. She could smooth through her soft limbering movements as the sun graced the sky, lighting the rich emerald hues of the canopy of treetops.
    “The men deserve a name like that,” she commented, “One that spits in the face of what others believe. For they are only forsaken by gods whose opinion matter not.”
    They spoke of their growing organisation, the men and women they had gathered to serve them, and of course serve their Infernal Lord. The group had decided the best name was one that would strike fear in the hearts of good men. The Forsaken being the name that the Talriens gave to their most heinous criminals, each marked with the feral ‘F’ branded into their right forearm. Identical to the white raised flesh on Willow's arm.
    After the group’s escape from Branderscar, even the fashions of the land had morphed to assist the fear. Previously, the idea of a noble woman baring her forearms would have been crude and unsavoury. But since their infamous escape, the people wore garments that proudly bared their unmarked flesh. Dresses were modified to shorten the sleeves, clear lace attached to give the women the appearance of modesty. Men wore their sleeves rolled and pinned at the elbow, cuff links attached in a decorative fashion. But no one spoke of the Forsaken, for superstition deemed that to speak of them would bring the wrath of their ill luck to your door. Willow had struggled to contain her smile when she heard such things. Farholde was far enough away that the majority of its citizens paid little mind to the fashion trend. Although, while in her elegant evening wear, Willow married the look to keep her forearms visible. The magic of the circlet ensured that her skin appeared clear, fresh and unmarked. She tended not to wear her circlet unless she needed it. She preferred the men and women who served them to see her for who she was. A survivor of Talingarde’s worst punishment. The men who ruled this country had failed to execute her, they had failed to keep her captive, they had failed to stop her. She believed it was important for their people to know this. It was indeed a sure way to keep the fear burning in their hearts. So the name Forsaken given to the crew, was a good way to remind the men, whom it was they worked for. Each rank of the organisation, including their leaders, were Forsaken by the gods of weakness and equality. But they were embraced, by the only one that mattered.

    Every few days Willow sent her team of three back to the city of Farholde, they gathered information and rumours, keeping the crew up to date with the latest happenings of the small city. On the fourth week of the ritual, the three returned, filled with gruesome gossip upon their lips. A grizzly murder had taken place. A lady of the night had been slaughtered and disembowelled, her remains left in a blatant show of grotesque savagery. The group gathered over dinner to discuss the killers intent.
    “Perhaps it was Elise’s crew,” Willow offered, saying her name as if it was a bad taste on her tongue, “In some twisted way of keeping the town in fear and out of the forest?”
    “Perhaps,” Pellius agreed, “Although if it is them, it will only draw more do-gooders to the town. And that could prove a hindrance rather than a help.”
    “We shall go and investigate,” Bor agreed, “If it isn't them, we might have a potential ally.”
    Willow frowned at the idea of bringing a homicidal maniac into their fold. Looking around at their oddly arranged group, she had to concede, he might fit in better than she wished.

    As morning dawned on the following day, the group made their way to the city. When they arrived through the southern entrance to the marketplace, they split up to seek out their various targets. Bor and Teelee left in search of Elise and her crew while Garvana and Pellius headed for the slums of Drownington. Willow slunk off to the east of the slums where the hidden entrance to the blackmarket lay concealed within the walls. When she was sure she was not followed, she unlocked the levers and stepped into the deadly blackened hallway.
    Martin was not in his office when she approached, instead the beady eyed administrator known as Grant, sat perched in his chair. With a nose far too large for his face, and a slight sweat constant upon his brow, his squinted black eyes seemed obsolete. His greedy stare had Willow's skin crawl every time they met. She attempted to slide unnoticed passed his office, but his slithering beckon had her feel obliged to enter.
    “Darling Kathryn,” he called, his eyes raking her over, “A pleasure to see you as always. Might I say you are looking most ravishing today.”
    Willow hid the scoff under her breath, “My thanks,” was all she replied.
    “And what can I do for you today?” he asked, “May I be so bold as to presume that you have not reconsidered my offer of dinner?”
    “You presume correctly,” she said bluntly, “I’m here on business, but I heard there was a murder in Drownington last night?”
    “Ah,” he said, tipping his glasses to the end of his incredibly large nose, “Such grizzly business. Come, let's talk of more pleasant things. Did you hear of my recent promotion to First Administrator?”
    Willow struggled to reign in her temper. She had little patience for fools such as he. But unfortunately, he held much sway in the running of the underground in Farholde. He could make her contacts and resources dry up like a parched land suffocated in drought. So she gritted her teeth and continued the pleasantries.
    “I had not heard, that is a grand feat,” she said politely, “But regretfully I have no free time to hear anymore of it, I must bid you farewell. Goodbye Grant.”
    She left the room before he could continue, slipping down one of the hallways towards her contacts, passing the humour glinted in the eyes of those who has heard the conversation. Willow asked around about the murder, acting casual as if merely uninterestedly seeking gossip. To her disappointment, they knew little of the details. She found out that the kill had been made with a skilled hand, a clear indication that the murderer had done so before. But apart from the gruesome details regarding the state of the body, they knew nothing else. Willow made her way to the tavern the group had agreed to meet in. The Chancellors Foul was a dingy tavern filled with the scum of the streets. She had never bothered to enter it, and as she did, she was reminded why she hadn't. The tables were little more than wooden stumps littered with broken glass and spilled ale, the chairs were stools roughly crafted barely holding their occupants weight. Women selling their bodies as goods draped themselves over prospective buyers, their garments festered rags of satin, their harlot make up smudged and rough. Willow spotted the group crowded around a booth in the corner, their clean clothes shining like light in amongst the darkened char of the tavern. As chivalrous as ever, Pellius stood and pulled her rickety chair out for her. Willow sat graciously, questioning the chairs endurance, even troubled by her slender frame.
    They each reported their findings, no one with a definite answer on who had committed the murder. Bor had spoken with Elise’s bodyguard, and received a patronisingly evasive answer, not confirming nor deny their part. The ladies of the night that Garvana and Pellius had questioned, knew little of the attack, only describing a man in a cape fleeing the scene.
    “I propose we disguise ourselves amongst the women,” Garvana suggested, “And set ourselves up as bait.”
    “Good idea,” Bor agreed, “We'll wait close by and keep an eye out. We may get lucky and catch the man in action.”
    Willow cringed at the idea, she outright refused to dress herself up as a whore. She was happy to wait, hidden in shadows, watching from above. She worked best in the darkness, feeling at home in their blackened nets of smoke. She was patient and knew how to remain perfectly still for extended periods of time. So she chose a low roof that was overshadowed by a high one, making sure the moon stayed crested behind, smothering her in the pitch blackness. She heard Garvana’s voice leaving the tavern and saw two strumpets wandering into the alley directly across from her vantage point. Willow couldn't help but smile, Teelee and Garvana had imitated the prostitutes well. They were dressed in tight corsets and small layers of aged satin, ragged fishnets wrapped their legs and loose shawls around their shoulders. Willow could see through the magic of their disguises, but aided with the night and the darkness, they would be a very convincing lure. She heard Bor’s voice, slightly slurred, begin a catchy drunken shanty. She stifled a laugh when she saw him teetering from the tavern door in a very convincing drunken amble. Pellius sat himself at a table by the tavern, a tankard of ale in his hand as he lounged back and appeared to be nostalgically staring up at the stars.
    And so they waited.
    The night crawled by as they kept their positions, the streets remained silent, save Bor's occasional drunken melody. After an hour or two had passed, Willow had begun to think that they would see no action, and that she had been squatting on the grime covered roof for nothing. The sound of a can being kicked had her ears perk up. It rang out its buffered chime as it rolled down the street and landed in the mud. Willow kept herself still and scanned her eyes across the alley. Frozen in time for a moment while nothing appeared to be happening. With no sound she watched a puddle of mud indent in a thick boot print. Willow leapt forward in a heartbeat. She judged as best she could as to where the invisible man would be standing, and dove towards him. As she tumbled through the air, she heard a distinct gasp of surprise, inches from her right ear. A slither of cloth passed across the skin of her face as she somersaulted passed. She saw the footprints turning to flee.
    “Bor! He's coming your way!” she yelled.
    She saw the half-orc step directly into the man's path, latching on to an invisible form. Willow recovered from her roll and quickly made her way back to them. Teelee and Garvana dropped their disguises and emerged from the alley.
    “Stop resisting,” Bor demanded, “We may be friendlier than you think.”
    She heard Garvana mutter a spell and saw her throw her hands out, but nothing happened that Willow could perceive. The invisible form continued to struggle.
    “We're not here to harm you,” Teelee said bluntly, “We're here to talk.”
    “Well then have your brute unhand me!” a familiar voice snapped.
    Willow smiled as she approached, lifting the hood from her face.
    “Drop the invisibility Trick,” she said softly.
    As the magic vanished, a cloak wrapped Trick appeared clutched in Bor’s hands, a sheepish grin on his lips. Willow nodded to Bor to release him.
    “What are you doing creeping around in the dark?” Willow asked with a hint of amusement.
    “I could ask the same of you,” he replied, his usual casual charm returning.
    “We're trying to stop someone causing trouble, stirring up unwanted attention to this region.”
    “Whatever are you talking about?” he asked casually.
    “Are you behind the murder?” Teelee asked, as bluntly as ever.
    “Murder? Most certainly not,” he charmed.
    Willow cocked an eyebrow. She saw no signs of deception in his face, he seemed completely comfortable with his answer.
    “You're either telling the truth,” Willow said, a small smile on her lips, “Or a very good liar.”
    “Both, my lady,” he replied smoothly.
    “I don't care if you're behind it,” Bor clipped, becoming impatient, “It draws too much attention to this area.”
    “One might say,” Trick responded, “That fear would deter most people from seeking out that attention. But, eh, however you see it. Anywho, I must be off, things and people to do and all that.”
    As he turned to leave, Willow stepped closer.
    “Next time, perhaps avoid the mud,” she said quietly with a wink.
    “Next time I'll invest in darkvision,” he replied with a grin, almost in respect, “I did not at all see you coming…”

    Two weeks of little excitement passed. They received a messenger from Elise, informing them that a group of mercenaries known as Brendam’s Breakers had arrived in town on their way to the Horn, and Elise and her band had indeed broken them.
    It was from a restless sleep that Willow awoke to the sound of screaming one night. She had been dreaming of the past, back when life was little more than the fun and games of corrupt politics. She had made her way up the ladder of leadership and landed her role as First Administrator to the Mayor of Matharyn. Society insisted that Willow, a woman of high ranking nobility, did not need to work. In fact, it was frowned upon that she did, even more so that she was successfully occupying a prime position. Her ever-faithful husband had been supportive in her decision to keep her employment after they had married. In his limited personality he seemed to admire Willow's will to work and better their government. Of course, he was none the wiser to her meticulous plots and scams.
    She had been dreaming of her first meeting with Switch, almost a decade in the past. Over her few short years working the ranks of politics, she had made a few contacts in the underground society of Matharyn. Men who worked their muscle for gold. Gold was something she had in abundance; the daughter of a Duke had a weekly allowance that could feed a city of peasants for years. She used to her contacts bully her way into better position and act as debt collectors when those on her list failed to meet the terms in their agreements. They were simple mercenaries, thugs at best, with more brawn than brain. Perfect for the tasks she gave them. But when an opponent political power rose to popularity, Willow's cosy position became threatened. Graham Talinmere was a short stocky man in his fifth decade, a devout follower of Mitra, one who had a reputation of unwavering fanatical faith. He was also an unapologetic misogynist. He had been the loudest spoken voice in objection to Willow's promotion, declaring that women had smaller brains in order to keep concentration focused on their sole duty; baring and raising children. Willow hated the man with a fire that burned more fierce than Hell itself. So, as his popularity grew in his campaign to become Mayor, she knew she had to do something.
    The contacts she had in the underground were brute men with little finesse and subtlety, the only way they would wipe out her rival was by beating him to death. Willow needed someone with a more delicate hand, one skilled enough to make the death appear an accident. She put the word out to her men that she was in need of an assassin. Weeks passed as she waited, watching Talinmere gain momentum in his crusade. It was on a gloomy night as dusk approached that Willow received an invitation to meet with her potential employee. She was wary of the proposed meeting place. The note had given directions to the abandoned temple on the outskirts of town, the same temple she secretly visited regularly, the old flame-rotted temple of Asmodeus. She had been told to come alone, and against better judgement, her curiosity and excitement won out. She strapped her ruby daggers into their sheaths, draping her large black mink cloak around herself, slipping out the servants entrance of the manor. She did not follow the winding directions that the note held, instead she took the shortcuts that she had always taken, quietly approaching the temple from the east. From cover of the nearby forest, she peered through the pillars into the charred stone temple. It was empty. She crept on light feet through the back entrance, clutching her daggers tightly, eyeing the dark shadows of the corners. She froze in the centre of the room as the hairs on her neck stood on end.
    “Such a pretty young thing,” said a smooth deep voice from the shadows, “So brave to come out here all alone…”
    Willow span in a circle, ripping her daggers from their sheaths, shaking slightly as she searched for the voice. A low chuckle sounded.
    “Those are quite the weapons,” he said, “I wonder if you know how to use them.”
    The tiniest sound of a boot scuffing stone had Willow spin again, as a black form leaped at her from the depths of darkness, two glistening steel daggers arcing down towards her. She flung her arm up, barely managing to block the attack, as she hacked out with the other arm. He moved with an eery grace, his body nimble and fast, he launched a second attack before she could recover. She side stepped passed one of the blades slicing at her chest, but stepped straight into his another arm that was waiting to grab her. He overpowered her with little effort, wrapping his arm between her torso and arm, forcing her shoulder up as his hand latched into her hair. With a swift clip to her wrists, he dropped both of her daggers to the ground as he drew his blade to her throat. His voice was a sensual whisper into her ear, his breath hot and wet, sending visible ripples of fear and excitement through her body.
    “Too bad,” he breathed, “I was hoping you'd put up more of a fight.”
    He trailed the daggers point slowly down her the middle of her chest, splitting the material as he went.
    “Now tell me,” he whispered, “What could a pretty little thing like you want with an assassin?”
    Willow scoffed, breathing heavily watching the daggers progress, “If you have to ask, you're not a very good assassin.”
    He chuckled, the sound and vibration in her ear reaping havoc with her body.
    “Indeed. Then allow me to think aloud as I figure it out. It is not a family contract, or your father would have never allowed his only daughter to come alone in the night into the waiting hands of such a man as myself. What could it be?”
    The dagger made its progress downwards, slowing as it gently sliced though the dresses bunched fabric at her waist.
    “Could it be a disgruntled lover? Retribution spawned from a broken heart?”
    Willow scoffed, feeling slightly offended at such a pathetic accusation. His chuckle again had her shiver.
    “No. Not that, you seem the type to lace the poison on his glass yourself. So, if not love or family, what could it be?”
    Willow opened her mouth to answer, but as she did, the dagger whipped up to the front of her shoulder and the blade pierced into her flesh. There was no stopping the moan that escaped. Her body shuddered in pain and pleasure as his hand tightened in her hair. They froze for a moment, Willow's breath coming in ragged bursts, his own sharp inhale stunned. Suddenly she was thrown forward and whipped around so her back crashed into the stone pillar. He was on her a second later, his weight pressing against her, his hand wrapped around her throat, forcing her face towards his. It was the first time she had ever looked into his eyes. Glistening black wells of unending depth, keen and calculating, dark and mesmerising. He was handsome, with sharp cheekbones and a smooth brow, a clean shaven face revealing his soft pale skin. His hair was shorn and left with only enough to determine it grew black underneath. He stared at Willow with a mix of intrigue and suspicion. Slowly, he lifted his dagger back to the the point in her shoulder where he'd pierced her skin.
    “That was meant to be a warning,” he said menacingly, “Not an incentive.”
    Willow felt the blade more keenly as its cold steel pressed against her skin, she had not noticed in the scuffle that her dress had fallen open, pinning her arms against her sides and revealing her laced black corset. He pressed the tip of the dagger further into her skin, grinning wickedly as she whimpered. The noise would have sounded fearful if not for the look of pleasure on her face.
    “Interesting,” he said quietly, raising an eyebrow into a look that made Willow quiver.
    “Alright, consider me intrigued. What is the contract? Who is the target?”
    Willow opened her mouth to speak again, but as she did, he pushed his knee in between her thighs making her gasp. He merely held his position, his face unchanged from the humorous enjoyment he was getting.
    “Graham Talinmere,” she managed to say, straining to sound confident and unaffected.
    “The politician?” he asked, sounding genuinely surprised, “Why would a noble born like you want him dead? I hear he stands to make you more money.”
    “I wasn't aware assassins needed reasons,” Willow snapped.
    He chuckled, forcing his knee to rub against her, “You are right, of course.”
    Willow clamped her teeth together to stop the sounds she desperately wanted to make.
    “Do you accept the contract?” she gritted.
    His grin spread, “I do.”
    “Name your price,” she demanded, with far more authority than she felt.
    “The usual rate is five thousand gold,” he said, leaning down so his lips were almost brushing her own, “But I am willing to negotiate for other goods…”
    The exasperation she felt at his request seemed to snap her out of her sexual stupor. She slammed her knee into his groin and with his momentary lapse of concentration she ripped herself from his grasp. She lifted the shoulders of her dress and used her cloak sash to fasten it back around her waist.
    “Five thousand is acceptable,” she said, trying to recover some dignity, “Six thousand if it appears like a convincing accident. His campaign ends in two weeks time, if it is not completed by then, the contract is void.”
    She turned to leave, lifting her hood back over her head.
    “Willow…” he said, low and menacing.
    She span to face him, lifting her chin, “You will address me as Lady Monteguard or my lady.”
    His devious grin returned, paired with a look of surprised excitement. He gave a short mocking bow.
    “My lady,” he said, picking her forgotten ruby daggers up off the floor.
    He prowled towards her with slow deliberate steps. She shivered as he slid both daggers into their sheaths strapped on Willow's hips. His dark eyes held a promise, one that said he would get what he wanted, he was patient enough to wait for it. He lifted his finger delicately to her chin, staring into her eyes as he leaned forward. His lips brushed hers softly in a fragile caress. Willow swore at her traitorous body that responded with a sigh into his mouth. She cursed inwardly as her mouth parted naturally, an invitation he didn't refuse. Softly, they kissed, their tongues barely brushing. It was a deceptively tender moment. Before Willow knew what she was doing, she drew his lip in between her teeth and bit down firmly. His fierce growl sparked a fire that raged inside her. He gripped her chin firmly and slid his other hand to the back of her head. The kiss heated, his mouth forcefully demanded what it knew it deserved, it dominated her in way she had never known. Before she lost every last ounce of self control, Willow ripped her mouth free, shallow breaths tearing from her chest in protest. The only consolation she had was that his heaving chest was a testament to the effect she also had on him.
    She once again lifted her hood and turned for the exit, as she stepped over the threshold to the temple, she heard the words that had repeated in her head for the next decade.
    “One day, you won't say no…”

    “Mistress!” the voice screamed, “We're being attacked!”
    Willow flung herself from the sheets, quickly rousing from her nostalgic slumber. She leaped from the bed and grabbed her dagger, flinging the door open. One of their guards stood shocked as she appeared, dressed only in her nightgown, no garments underneath.
    “M-Mistress,” he stuttered, “W-We are being attacked!”
    “Come on,” Willow demanded, turning for the hallway.
    When he didn't follow, Willow turned to him, fierce command in her eyes.
    “Fight them,” she said menacing, “Or fight me.”
    Willow was pleased with how quick he took off towards the battle. She called for her hounds to follow, and they barrelled down the hallway, scenting something she could not see. As they rounded the corner, she frowned. Margaret, the servant she used in her scouting team, stood in the hallway pointing frantically to the entrance.
    “What is going on here?!” she demanded.
    Her hounds leapt and snapped their teeth at the woman, lashing out attempting to latch on. Willow took only a moment to decide what to do. She knew her hounds could scent things that she could not and she knew with absolute certainty that they would never disobey her orders. She had introduced them to each one of the crew, with strict instructions not to attack them unless they were told. But as Lith bit deep into the woman skin, she knew something was seriously wrong. As another of the guards stepped into the hallway, Willow noticed the renewed snarls of her hounds.
    “Explain yourself! What is going on here!”
    The frantic pointing towards the entrance was the only response they gave. Suspicion flared stronger as Willow reached the pair and struck out with her dagger. Any other case, the blow she landed on Margaret would have been her instant demise. But Willow gasped as her blade hacked through the flesh leaving barely a scrape. The other guard leaped out of her reach and its form began to glisten and shimmer. His skin began to ripple and sway, magic seeping from its flesh. Willow cursed as she saw Sith and Loras cease their attacks, sitting back on their haunches, eyes wide in fascination. Lith growled low, snapping a Sith before turning to lash out at Margaret again. Suddenly, Margaret let out a fierce howl. Willow could feel the fear it incited growing low in her belly. She refused to give in to it, with an explosion of willpower she forced the fear back down and launched herself into another attack. Unfortunately, the howl had been fearsome enough to have its intended effect on both of the stunned hounds and the guard who had raised the alarm. All three took off in a panic. Lith’s growl of disapproval mirrored Willow's own. Margaret leap away from them, racing to the entrance, leaping over the trap door and out of the Horn into the blackened night. The other guard who had been continuing his alluring dance, attempted to do the same. In a desperate attempt to stop him, Willow hurled her dagger through the air towards his head. Whether through the skittish attempt of dodging the dagger or just pure misstep, the man landed heavily on the trap and plummeted down into the waiting cell. Willow smiled as the trap door mechanism closed itself, sealing in its capture.
    “Norr!” Willow bellowed to the hounds, then to the guards, “Get back here!”
    She peered out the entrance, eyeing the winding staircase. The night was still and stagnant, not a creature rustled in the distance, not a soul in sight. Willow walked to the hidden doorway leading to the guard room, her frown turned fierce as she felt it jammed and barricaded. Sith and Loras returned to her side, heads bowed as they cowered. Lith snapped ferociously at them, reprimanding their weakness. Willow scratched behind Lith’s ears as approval. The guards slowly trickled in from their hiding spaces.
    “Guard the entrance! I will deal with you later!” she spat.
    “Mistress, what of Margaret and Sven?” one of the men asked warily, “I saw them fall in the other room!”
    Willow scowled, “Do as you must. But do not leave the entrance unguarded.”
    The guards cowered, much like the dogs, as she passed them and quickly hurried to the throne. She made her way to Pellius’ chamber and woke him from his sleep. He eyed the slip of nightgown she wore and the blood splatter down its front.
    “Busy night, my lady?” he asked suggestively.
    “Not now,” Willow rolled her eyes, “We have intruders.”
    They gathered the group quickly and headed for the first level cell. The creature in the form of Sven’s body stood frozen in its cage. He eyed Willow with a fearsome hatred that radiated through the room. Some of the group tried to question him, but it proved pointless; the creature refused to speak. Willow watched it with interest as the group tried to cast spells at it. An eerily mocking laugh sounded in her head, and judging by their reactions, the rest of the group heard it as well. The man let out a terrifying howl, just as Margaret had. This time Willow shrugged it off with barely a shiver. She sighed as Sith and Loras took off again, followed closely by Bor and Teelee, she could have swore she heard a similar sigh from Lith.
    “May I?” Garvana said to Willow and Pellius, indicating to the creature.
    Willow was not sure what she would do, but the look in her eyes told Willow she would want to stand back. Willow and Pellius moved to the far wall, watching intently.
    She felt it before she heard it. The strong pulsing of dark energy, drawn from the very pits of Hell. As Willow and Lith both slumped slightly in the comforting embrace, the creature in the cell let out a feral screech. As the power grew stronger, Garvana stepped closer to the creature, the tight knit bars of the cell giving it no escape.
    “Asmodeus sees all!” Garvana boomed, “And he demands your death!”
    The fiery wash of Hell grew in a crescendo, teetering as the creature writhed in agony, Willow felt her breath quicken as she felt the distinct touch of Asmodeus, as if he himself were guiding this action. As it reached its apex, the creature let out a final wisp of a howl and it fell to the ground, curled up in the corner of the cell. The power vanished. Willow felt her chest ease as the presence in the room retreated. The creatures appearance rippled and left behind was a slender white hound, eyes wide in the pain of death. Willow approached and kneeled down to where it's head rested through the bars. She draped her fingers over its face and closed its eyes. Lith prowled forward with snarling teeth, attempting to bite into the dead creatures body.
    “Nass!” Willow snapped, “Sirth mer virith yurr trizith ti.”
    Lith huffed in response. Willow chuckled and rubbed her hound under the chin.
    “We do not foul the dead?” Teelee repeated as she entered the room.
    “They have served their purpose. There is nothing to gain by mutilating the body.”
    Teelee eyed her with mixed emotions, but simply nodded and said nothing. Pellius carried a weakened and exhausted Garvana to her chamber, while Willow organised the disposal of the hound’s body.
    “We have guards to deal with,” Willow said to Pellius as he returned, “Two of them barricaded their door and fled. Another managed to call the alarm and fetch me. Oh and two might be dead.”
    Pellius nodded, offering her his arm, “Shall we?”

    The guards quaked in fear as Bor, Pellius and Willow approached. They gave stuttering recaps of what had taken place until the moment Willow had arrived.
    “…and then Mistress saved us,” one of them said.
    “And at what point did you think that barricading yourselves in and hiding was a good idea?” Willow spat to the captain named Stephen.
    “M-Mistress!” he stammered, “They killed Sven and Margaret! They would’ve killed us!”
    Willow raised her eyebrows, “And you are not willing to die for our cause?”
    “N-no, I mean y-yes!”
    “Enough,” Bor said, returning from healing the other guards, “Barris, you will be in charge from now on. Now back to your posts.”
    Willow turned from the snivelling servants, as she left the room, she heard Bor's menacing warning to the previous captain.
    “Everyone gets one, do not fail again…”

  15. - Top - End - #15
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

    Join Date
    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 13 - Dalliance and Defence - Part 2

    Spoiler: Chapter 13 - Dalliance and Defence - Part 2
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    The following week they organised signal horns for the crew. Slowly they were learning from their mistakes, attempting to avoid further breaches in security. They commissioned solid doors with hefty locks for each entrance to the Horn. Once they were attached, it took Willow ten minutes to pick one open, she was definitely satisfied with their quality.
    As the seventh week of their ritual passed, a messenger arrived with five thick parchment scrolls. They were invitations to a ball, hosted by the Baron Vandermir, in celebration of his one hundred and fifth birthday. Willow smiled as she read the parchment addressed to Kathryn Fairholm. She couldn't help the butterflies of excitement that bounced through her belly, she had always loved balls. The beautiful gowns, the plush suits, the enchanting music. And the dancing. The dance floor was where alliances between the great houses were made and broken. Willow had always been an excellent dancer; on the floor and in the melody of house politics.
    As the group met to discuss their attendance, Willow immediately voted for accepting the invitation. Pellius and Teelee agreed readily, while Bor and Garvana seemed hesitant. It didn't take much for her to convince them to come along, though her excitement was halted when Garvana spoke of wearing armour to the ball.
    “It is a ball Garvana,” Willow said sharply, “You are a lady. You must dress like it.”
    “What about an armoured corset?”
    Willow scoffed, “You couldn't possibly fit one under a dress. Besides, the ball is open to every upper noble in the region. Vandermir wouldn't risk himself being discovered. I think it is safe to say it will be a night of revelry and celebration. Not one of battle and chaos.”
    Garvana frowned, “But I have nothing to wear.”
    Willow smiled, “Come along, I'm sure I have something we can let out to fit you.”
    “But we have no seamstress!”
    Willow laughed, “Garvana, I am the daughter of a duke. I have been sewing since I could lift a needle.”
    She did indeed have a dress perfect for the occasion. A red velvet frock usually worn fashionably loose, although it's pleats stretched wide to encompass Garvana's rather muscular figure. Willow stitched in an extra flank of silk to allow movement between her wide shoulders, and a sliver of fabric to lengthen her waist. She was roughly the same height as Willow, so the drape fell to the floor in a perfect plication. When she finished her stitches, she stood back to admire her handiwork. Her grandmother would have been proud.
    “Stunning,” Willow said proudly, “The silk drape sits perfectly. Wear your hair up off your face and show off the neckline. Do you have any rubies?”
    “Nothing elegant enough for this dress,” she replied, eyeing herself in the mirror.
    Willow fetched a simple gold string of rubies from her dresser.
    “Wear these,” Willow said, tying the sting around her neck, “They're not too obnoxious. They say that you have style and wealth, enough that you need not flaunt it in every way you can. A simple line of kohl on your eyes, but don't wear any lipstick. You'll look like a tomato.”
    Garvana turned to Willow, a strange look on her face, “Thank you.”
    Willow winked, “I would die of embarrassment if you arrived in your armour. I think of this as a trade for not shaming me so horribly.”
    Garvana laughed as she left to pack her belongings for their stay in town. Willow knew exactly what she was going to wear. She had been waiting to wear the dress since she first chose it from the Cardinal’s manor, she had been waiting for the perfect occasion to present it. She had made multiple changes to it over the lonesome nights of the last few weeks. The ball was the perfect opportunity for it to make its debut.
    The crew traveled to the city of Farholde early morning the next day. They rented separate rooms in the Bronze Minotaur in Auld’irey, taking the afternoon to prepare for their decadent evening. Willow bathed and soak herself until her skin was flush and pink. She coated herself in her distinct fragrance of cassia, liquid myrrh and cinnamon. As she began to prepare for the tedious task of combing and arranging her hair, she felt a ping of regret as she saw her reflection in the mirror. Her hair had once been her crowning glory. Tousled waves of midnight black had cascaded down her back, the envy of every woman in the city. Whether she wore it up in a tight winding peak or had it flowing freely in the breeze, her hair had been magnificent. Willow combed the short jet black kinks that hung from her head. She was no longer the girl with the sea of sable curls. She was no longer a girl at all. She smiled at her reflection. She used the tonic she had ordered from the market to push her hair off her face. She combed it to perfection, crafted riveted waves that smoothed their way to her nape. She had the face of a woman, high angled cheekbones, thin tipped nose, wide vibrant eyes. She applied the kohl to her eyelids heavier than was usually socially acceptable. But paired with Willow's ebony hair and dress, her makeup drew attention to her fierce alluring eyes. She stepped into the layers of raven silk, sliding the dress up and around her waist. She laced up the inbuilt corset, with ties that clasped at the front, slipping her arms into their sleeves. She flared the tule to her sides as she stepped up to the mirror. She looked beautiful. The black silk wrapped tightly around her chest and waist, flaring to a short trim high on her thighs. Layer upon layer of tule and lace clutched at her waist and flared in an ocean of tucks, falling far passed the floor. Scandalously, the lace was almost see through, her bare legs slightly visible beneath. The lace wrapped high across her chest, fanning out along her collarbone, forming tightly pinched sleeves over her shoulders. A single layer of soft lace draped from the joins in the sleeves, cascading down to her wrists. The dress itself was not unseemly, it was in fact an exquisite piece of apparel. It was the material that made the dress so risqué. When hit from certain lights, the material appeared a hint translucent, Willow's slender womanly form revealed beneath. To really see anything, one would have to be gawking at her for quite some time. A thought that delighted her.
    Willow slipped her dagger into the sheath strapped high onto her thigh, checking the mirror to be sure that it could not be seen. Lastly she stepped into her midnight black heels, their glistening black leather completing her look. She needed no jewellery to enhance her beauty, her bare neck and shoulder shimmered in their pale white way. Jewellery would just crowd the image. As the sun began to fall to the horizon, Willow exited her suite and glided to the stairs. She heard the voices of their group casually chatting below. As she gracefully began to descend the stairs, Willow smiled as all chatter in the parlour ceased. The whole room was looking at her. Pellius was the first to recover, standing and walking to the base, holding his hand out for her.
    “My lady,” he said, “Words could not do you justice. You look, exquisite.”
    “And you look immaculate as always, Monsieur,” she replied smoothly.
    His disarming grin had Willow swoon inwardly. He did indeed look handsome. His tailored colonial style jacket buttoned high into a stiff collar, and fell down to just above his knees. His broad shoulders extended by the firm points, perfectly creased sleeves pinned with intricate cuffs. The material was the perfect matching midnight black to Willow's gown. She scanned her eyes over the rest of their group. She smiled to see that Garvana had followed her instruction and wore her hair high in tight bun, the bronze glint of her chestnut hair shone with the help of the tonic Willow had provided. She looked the perfect part of a noble lady in the layers of scarlet velvet and silk. Teelee wore a fascinating frock of brown and cream, alternating layers in a swish of silk and mesh. Her hair braided low and pulled into a chignon of carob grace. Willow couldn't help but stare at the dress, amazed at how the beaded hems seemed to sparkle without the help of light.
    “Magic,” Pellius whispered in her ear.
    “A lady should never have her secrets revealed,” Teelee replied in a huff.
    “Impressive nonetheless,” Willow chuckled, “The dress is a true marvel.”
    She turned to Bor and smiled. He wore a black suit, tight and fitted over his bulking mass. Willow approached him with a giggle and she undid the mass of knots he'd made to his tie, threading them in the current knar fashion.
    “Very handsome,” she commented, giving him a wink, “Well, are we ready?”
    “The carriages await, my lady,” Pellius said, offering his arm, “It would be my honour to escort you.”
    Willow smiled and accepted his arm, placing hers under his and draping her hand over his wrist. They rode in the horse drawn carriages, winding through the upper streets of the Caviller Green. As the horse drew to a halt along the arching pathway in front of the grand entrance, Willow sighed in pleasure. It had been a long time since she had attended such a formal event. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
    Pellius exited the carriage with the grace of a man who had spent his life making striking entrances. He stood in the drivers rightful place, denying him the privilege of Willow's hand as she stepped out onto the pavement. They strolled up the path as the carriage pulled away, allowing the next in line to deliver its occupants. When all of the group had arrived, they made their way towards the large open doors, where the Baron himself was greeting his guests. Bor carried their present in his strong arms, the ivory tusk they had received in trade from the natives so many months ago. It was a fine gift, one that a man of Vandermir’s particular magical talents was sure to approve.
    He smiled politely as they approached, his keen eyes ever calculating as they reached him.
    “So glad you could make it,” he said, “I take it your work is going well enough to allow you to take the evening off?”
    Willow smiled back as his eyes flicked over her outfit.
    “One must always make time for the finer things in life.”
    “Indeed,” he replied, “And what is it you have there?”
    Bor stepped forward with the tusk, “A gift,” he said, “We thought some one of your arcane skill could make great use out of this.”
    The Baron stiffened visibly. He quickly looked around, seemingly checking if anyone was in ear shot. He relaxed again once he realised they were alone.
    “I would appreciate if you did not mention my particular preoccupation in public. But enough of that, please enjoy my hospitality and enter the ballroom when you are ready.”
    He moved on to greet the next round of arrivals. They followed the line of guests into the main courtyard of the manor, it's entrance lined with servants carrying trays of crystal flutes filled with a mix of rare and delicate champagnes. Pellius lifted two from a tray and handed her one with an inclined head. They made their way to their designated table and sat for a moment, merely enjoying the accompanying soothe of the music.
    The ball was a lavish affair. The halls were lit with hundreds of candles, the glistening rims of the gold furnishings sparkled and dazzled those that passed. The ball room was as grand and opulent as one would expect from the Baron. High crested ceilings embroidered with intricate patterns, smooth stone pillars buffed to a gleam, solid wooden floors oiled and lacquered. The guests were no less elegant. Gentlemen and ladies dressed in their finest robes and gowns, glittering rows of stones and gems layered upon their person. The wealth in the room shone like a beacon across the hillside.

    “Shall we dance, my lady?” Pellius offered.
    Willow smiled and stood from her chair, laying her hand in his, “I couldn't possibly refuse.”
    They strolled to the edge of the dance floor and waited as the band finished their final chords before striking up a new tune. The song they struck was a vibrant upbeat melody played at most formal gatherings. She smiled as she turned to Pellius.
    “Do you know how to Canter?” Willow asked, humour glinting in her eyes.
    “I have been Cantering since before you were born, my lady,” he said with a wink.
    Willow signalled for him to lead. Together, as they always did, they made a fine pair. Pellius held the lead position with a practiced hand, his solid form kept Willow secure as she span and swayed to his left and to his right. The lace of her dressed flared out a she span beneath his guiding hand, her height in comparison to his made the turns natural and fluid, she was graceful and elegant. His boot tapped in perfect rhythm to the beat, his natural commanding air drew attention from the onlookers as Willow's grace flowed like water over stone. Willow laughed as he spun her around twice, her pirouette forcing her dress to open like a blossoming flower, his hand landing each time firmly on her back. The music drew to its climax, as Willow swayed again to his left and right, she followed his lead as he finished their dance by whipping Willow fiercely to the right, spinning her in a final wave. She let go of his hand as the final beats of the song sounded, Willow's dress fluttered back down into its long train, her arms held high in their articulate poses. The crowd applauded as she retrieved his arm, stepping off the dance floor together, returning to their table. As Willow caught her breath, she couldn't stop grinning. She had forgotten how much she loved to dance, and by the matching grin Pellius wore, he obviously loved it to.
    After a rest, she sipped her champagne and scanned the room. She picked out the man she was looking for instantly. He was the only man who seemed to not be enjoying himself. Sir Valin, the descendant of the Victor, their third and final sacrifice. Willow didn't have a clear plan when she excused herself from the table and began to approach him. Any information could prove useful, even the slightest most insignificant details, and she'd never gain those by sitting at her table drinking the night away. She approached him from the side, slumping her shoulders slightly, eyes downcast.
    “Balls can be tedious events,” she mumbled quietly, “So many people, so much gossip…”
    He smiled slightly, a small and subtle change to his somber face, “Terribly boring affairs.”
    “I enjoy the music though,” she replied, “I only wish it was just the music.”
    He chuckled, “Agreed. I don't believe we have met, I am Sir Valin Darius of Hammarhall.”
    Willow placed her hand in his outstretched palm.
    “Lady Kathryn Fairholm of Mathryn,” she said as he kissed her knuckle formally, “A pleasure to meet you.”
    Willow continued their polite pleasantries, laughing at his attempt at jokes, smiling at his obvious flattery. When the conversation grew strained, she turned to him and grinned.
    “Do you dance, Sir Valin?” she asked with a mischievous spark.
    “Oh heavens no my lady,” he replied, “I was graced with two left feet.”
    Willow winked, “Well then, it is lucky that I have indeed two right ones.”
    He laughed as she pulled him to the dance floor. He had not been under exaggerating when he spoke of his dancing skills. He tripped on his own feet multiple times, he didn't hit a single beat on time and managed to bump his head into Willow's chin as he was busy watching his feet. She found herself guiding them both in the simplest form of the waltz, genuinely laughing as he failed miserably. As the song ended on a high note, he stumbled as he was supporting her and managed to spin on his feet and land one knee in a bow. Willow laughed at the surprisingly dexterous appearance of his finish.
    “I must apologise,” he chuffed, “A lady should never have to bare such an embarrassment as dancing with me.”
    Willow laughed in response, “What I choose to embarrass myself with is completely and utterly for me to decide, good sir.”
    “Well, thank you, my lady. It has been a pleasantly surprising evening, the first enjoyable ball I've attended.”
    “I'm sure there was a compliment there somewhere, so I shall thank you.”
    He laughed, a throaty and hardy chuckle, “Thank you, my lady. But alas, i must bid you farewell.”
    Willow smiled, “It was a pleasure meeting you, Sir Valin.”
    He returned her smile, “The pleasure was mine.”
    “Hopefully we'll meet again, I'd love another dance.”
    He laughed, “I believe that was enough dancing for one year. Good evening my lady, and good bye.”
    He kissed Willow's hand again before he made his exit, leaving her to watch him from behind. She strolled quickly but casually to Pellius as he sat amongst a group of chattering nobles. Willow laid a hand on his shoulder, his humour filled eyes looked up at her.
    “You seem to be enjoying yourself,” he said smartly.
    “Gentlemen,” she addressed the group, batting her eyelashes, “I apologise, but I must insist I steal him away for a few moments.”
    “Lucky man,” she heard one of them mutter under his breath.
    Willow smirked as she guided him to the dance floor. The song that was playing was a soft melody composed for a close bodied slow waltz. Willow drew herself towards him and leaned her face towards his neck.
    “He's leaving now,” she whispered, low enough that only Pellius would hear her, “Should we follow, or wait?”
    He remained silent for a moment as they swayed back and forth to the tune, finally he stepped back from her and grasped her hand, leading her towards the upper balcony. The tight grasp he had on Willow's wrist had terribly inappropriate thoughts flood her mind. They reached the open space in time to see Sir Valin step into his carriage and close the door, the royal livery painted onto its side.
    “Valin Darius,” Willow whispered, “He is definitely one of the bloodline.”
    “Then he's the one we need.”
    “Do we go after him?” she whispered.
    “Not yet, let us bide our time and strike when it is right.”
    When they returned to the ballroom, Willow realised the one important man she had not danced with. Baron Vandermir stood surrounded by numerous important looking nobles, talk of politics trickling to her ears. As she approached, one of the noble men smiled, noticing her and pointing her out to the Baron. He turned to her and inclined his head.
    “It would rude not to dance with the host,” she said smoothly, “After all the effort he went to arranging such a fine evening.”
    “Lady Kathryn,” he said, “It would be a pleasure to dance with you.”
    He guided Willow to the dance floor as the music changed its tempo. They began an elegant waltz, bodies held in stiff positions, faces slightly turned away from each other in tradition. As they glided over the floor, she was impressed with how remarkably well he performed. His movements were graceful, his feet flowed in perfect unison to hers. He angled his head slightly and spoke low enough for only the two of them to hear.
    “How are the orphans working out?”
    “Surprisingly well,” she replied, “They need a firmer hand than most. But they are quite sufficient.”
    “Very well,” he said.
    They stepped wide in an arching circle, passing the smiling faces of others enjoying their dance, he gripped her waist and bent her low before continuing their trot.
    “Do you regret aiding us?” she asked quietly.
    He mused for a moment, thinking upon his words.
    “That remains to be seen,” was all he said.
    Willow smiled, turning her face back to its angle, “So does the very fate of this world.”
    He eyed her for a moment as the music stopped. He bent in a half bow, a polite gesture, meant for those who were beneath him.
    “It was a pleasure, Lady Kathryn.”
    He guided Willow to the edge of the floor before taking his leave. Willow struggled not to frown, feeling as unsure about him as she had before. The Cardinal had warned them that Vandermir was not to be trusted, and she was inclined to agree. As a host, he was gracious and polite. As an ally, he was self serving and precarious. He would stay loyal only while it benefited him.
    The rest of their evening passed uneventfully. Willow was impressed with how Teelee conducted herself, using the attraction of her magically enhanced dress to strike up conversations. Before she left for the night, she had a dozen contacts and offers of meetings. Willow accepted a few more requests to dance from eligible bachelors, and had to stop herself from rolling her eyes at the repeating comments of disbelief at how she would be unmarried.
    “Surely, a woman as radiant as yourself is spoken for,” Derrian Tralleger had asked.
    He was the seventh gentleman to say so that evening.
    “Oh, I am spoken for,” Willow heard herself answer, the many glasses of champagne hazing her mind, “But he is one of immense power, of such strength and might, I shall forever be beneath him.”
    Willow's heart fluttered at the thought.
    “Then the man is fool,” Derrian said obnoxiously.
    Willow head snapped to attention, “He is no man. He is… a god.”
    Realisation dawned on Derrian’s face, he smiled, warm and comforting, “It is a delight to see a woman of your station so devoted. A shame for the rest of us, but Mitra is more deserving of your love and attentions.”
    Willow was caught between the urge to laugh and the urge to throw up. She settled on smiling politely, allowing the gentleman to continue his fantasy.
    “You’ll have to forgive me,” she said, stopping their waltz, “I do believe my feminine constitution has failed me, the champagne has gone straight to me head.”
    He smiled in a polite understanding way, “Of course, my lady.”
    He led her off the dance floor and returned her to her seat, bowing formally before he retreated into the crowd. Willow's feet ached from the hours of dancing in strictly bound heels, she turned to look over their group. The cheerful glint of alcohol sparked in each of their eyes. Willow laughed, standing herself up again on slightly unsteady feet.
    “I believe it is a fine time for me to leave,” she said to the group, “Before my tongue gets any looser and my feet fall from beneath me.”
    “I'd forgotten how uncomfortable these dresses were,” Garvana muttered.
    “It's the shoes that kill me,” Willow said quietly, “If it wasn’t such a repulsive idea, I'd run around barefoot.”
    The two of them giggled as they gathered their belongings, preparing to make their exit. Pellius approached with his arm offered at the ready. Willow eyed him as she accepted his arm, raking her eyes over his masculine figure. Even after a night worth of dancing and drinking, he looked as immaculate as ever. The only hint of the revelry was the slightest of flush to his cheeks. Willow on the other hand, had to focus all her attention on keeping her walk calm and graceful. She was grateful for his steady hand, for she made an elegant exit as the layers of lace swayed rhythmically behind her. Pellius helped her into the cabin and smirked knowingly as guided Teelee in behind her, stepping in himself and sitting to Willow's side. As the horses kicked off, the fresh air helped cleared her head and lift the hazy glaze from her sight as she watched the rolling hills go by. She leaned her head against Pellius’ broad shoulder.
    “Tell me of Rahadoum,” she said lazily to Teelee, “I thought religion was forbidden there?”
    “It is,” she replied, “Strictly. The Laws of Man prohibit any and all worship.”
    “Yet you serve Asmodeus?” Willow asked intrigued.
    “Only in recent times,” she said, “I landed on the shores of Talingarde with no god to worship, I come from a powerful wealthy family that are heavily intrenched in the faithless society. I have always been drawn to the values of Asmodeus though, he enforces the rightful way of the world, the strong should indeed rule the weak.”
    Willow smiled, “And then you found yourself in his service.”
    “It was indeed a most beneficial turn of events.”
    Willow frowned, thinking aloud, “Such a strange series of coincidences. That we should find ourselves brought together by conviction. I often wonder of how it came about that we would find each other, servants of Asmodeus, sealed together in the same very cell.”
    “Strange indeed,” Teelee responded.
    Pellius looked down at Willow with a curious expression.
    “I wonder…” she said, before thinking better of it.
    She let the phrase linger as she questioned the methods of their meeting. She did not believe in fate, she believed every man and woman carved out their own path relative to their strength. But she had wondered how much of a hand Cardinal Thorn had played in bringing them together.

    The blinding sun in her eyes was an intrusion of the rudest level. Willow woke upon the bed in the Bronze Minotaur as light flooded the room.
    “We're leaving in an hour,” Garvana's booming voice said, “It's time you woke.”
    Willow flung her pillow towards the voice in hopes of silencing it. Her head throbbed and the contents of her stomach threatened to repeat.
    Garvana laughed, “You drank like a sailor last night, I don't envy your body today.”
    Willow cringed at the voice, “Sssshhhhh!” she hushed.
    “Perhaps Carnitheria Rex will allow you to ride him back to the Horn,” Garvana chuckled.
    “Ugh,” Willow groaned, “Don't speak of that thing. Have you smelt it?!”
    Garvana laughed as she left Willow alone in her chamber. She crept from the bed, ignoring her protesting stomach, dragging herself to the bath.

    The way back was sluggish and sickly. She refused to let the group see how horribly ill she felt, so she kept up her brisk walk in hopes of reaching her bed before midday. Her hopes were shattered when they arrived to find a messenger waiting for them outside the Horn.

    A new group of adventurers are in town. They are too visible to attack directly. They assault the Horn soon, unsure of the exact time of arrival. They mentioned something about the ‘centre eye’. Third level entry?
    Traya, a sorcerous of some sort. Hassan, a strange foreign barbarian with red skin and horns. Tasker, half-orc knife specialist. Posca, dwarven cleric of a god of merchants.

    Willow sighed as they made their way to the tavern to plan their defence. After much debate, they settled by majority on a plan that utilised all of them. Teelee and Carnitheria Rex would guard the Sanctum, Garvana and Grumblejack would guard the third floor balcony, Willow and Pellius would guard the second, Bor and the minions would guard the first and the boggards would guard their home in the caverns. They would keep near to the thrones for fast access to each other, and they had a signal set up to alert them which level was being attacked. The signal horn would be blown once for first level, two for second and three for third. Once they had agreed on the plan, they split for the afternoon, sure that the attack was unlikely to come the same evening that the messenger arrived. To air on the side of caution, Willow set each of her hounds on guard at all three level entrances. She gave Lith an affectionate pat before trudging to her quarters and collapsing gratefully into the bed’s silken embrace.

    The first Willow knew of the attack was the newly installed door being smashed to pieces. Her and Pellius had been standing casually against the wall of the entrance on the second level, when the wood splinted and exploded into the room. Before Willow had time to act, a pellet of flame shot towards them. She leapt backwards, barely avoiding the blazing eruption, flames licking her heels. Pellius, in his solid heavy armour, was not quite as lucky. The fireball fulminated on his chest, ricocheting the scorching blast up his neck and face, searing any skin he had bare. He grunted at the pain, turning to face the incoming attack. As a red skinned man screamed in rage and leaped forcefully over the trap, Willow heard the signal horn blow twice from high above her. Teelee had been tasked with watching through the magic of Vetra-Kali’s eyes, and calling the alarm as soon as she could. Willow’s hounds reacted quicker than she did, leaping at the frothing man, snarling their teeth in response. They attempted to latch on to him, but he was moving so erratically, they had trouble holding on. Willow dove forward as a dagger flew directly over her head and slammed into the crease of Pellius’ armour. She heard his curse as he continued to block the red skinned man’s onslaught. Willow leaped to him with her dagger in a fierce grip. She lashed out, striking the man low across the torso. He barely flinched. As his sword came down and hacked deep into Pellius’ shoulder, Willow heard the woman who had launched the fireball, muttering another incantation. Willow swore and leaped back, flinging out her bow and quickly firing an arrow towards the sorceress. It hit its target, interrupting the spell and forcing her back behind the entrance wall. Willow didn't take time to celebrate, Pellius was steadily losing blood, his defence weakening under the strain of the barbarian’s unrelenting attacks. She slung her bow around her shoulders and ripped out her dagger, diving into the melee. She hacked her dagger into his shoulder and tore it downwards as she pulled it free. Pellius refused to give up, he swung his warhammer with all of his strength, smashing the man in the chest. His energy draining as quickly as the blood from his wounds.
    “Pellius!” Willow screamed, “Fall back and heal yourself!”
    He hefted his weapon and lurched it forward again, his weakening grip steering his swing wide. The colour was slowly seeping from his face.
    “Pellius you stubborn bastard!” she yelled, almost laughing at his strong willed ego, “You're no good to me dead! Fall back!”
    She saw the internal battle he had at the idea of retreating. The door to Willow's left swung open as Grumblejack barrelled his way into the room. She heard Pellius curse as he withdrew into the halls. Suddenly, the red skinned man let out a terrifying shriek. He cleaved his weapon to the right, slicing through each of her three hounds in a shower of blood. His blade continued its fearsome strike, slashing deeply into Willow’s chest. She slammed her teeth shut as she felt the cold sharp metal split her skin, she ripped the pain deep within and thrust her dagger forward. From the corner of her vision she saw the man who had been throwing knives fall to Bor's blade as it struck from behind the arrow slits. The man fell directly onto the trap as it swallowed him down.
    “Asmodeus!” Garvana howled, “Show them your true vision!”
    Willow felt the fiery blaze of Hell as Garvana weaved her magic, a look of utter terror spread across the faces of the adventurers, so frightening that some of them started to shake. As the red skinned man recovered, he curved wide with his blade, attempting to cleave into the hounds again.
    “Bassirr!” Willow screamed for them to retreat.
    She pirouetted under his swing and leaped forward, jabbing her dagger into the man’s throat. He lashed out his sword in a last desperate attempt, hacking his way across Willow's stomach. Willow felt the sickening shrill of blood leaking from the wound, but as the dwarf appeared behind her, she had little time to think on it. The barbarian dropped to his knees and crumpled forward, the sorceress trapped in a pit that Teelee had magically created and the rogue lay locked within the cell below. The dwarf was alone.
    “Surrender!” Willow demanded fiercely, ignoring the patch of her clothing that was steady drenching in her blood.
    His eyes flicked to the Hellhounds now viciously snapping at him from the rear, to the feral nightmare of a horse that eyed him as easy prey. As he made up his mind and lifted his blade to attack - he didn't stand a chance. Willow span and arched her dagger out, cleanly slicing through his throat, as Bor impaled him from behind. He dropped to the ground in a heap next to the red skinned man. The group turned to the sorceress as the spell of the pit ended.
    “I surrender!” she said quickly, “Stay your attack, I surrender.”
    Willow inclined her head, “We accept your surrender.”
    Bor grabbed the sorcerous by the wrists and began to fasten rope to bind her. She struggled and writhed in his hands.
    “This will go easier if you don't struggle,” Teelee said with her eyebrows raised.
    When the woman continued to thrash about, the pain thumping in Willow's body took over.
    “Cease!” she bit fiercely, “We have accepted your surrender, do not make me regret that and go back on my word.”
    The woman’s protests fell silent. She looked into Willow's eyes and saw the clear intent of her words. She nodded shakily, allowing herself to be tied up. Willow remained where she was as Bor carried their prisoner away, she sent Sith and Loras along side him to guard her.
    Lith stepped up to Willow at the exact moment she needed, stumbling on her feet, holding herself upright with the hounds back. Lith whined to her and barked frantically, trying to get Garvana's attention as she patched Pellius up. Willow swayed on her feet as she saw them racing towards her, Pellius’ firm arms catching her weight as she slipped from her stance. As his warmth encompassed her, she sighed an exhausted yet comfortable huff, stars dancing behind her eyes as her sight hazed.
    And suddenly, the world went black.

  16. - Top - End - #16
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

    Join Date
    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 14 - Eye of the Inquisitor - Part 1

    Spoiler: Chapter 14 - Eye of the Inquisitor - Part 1
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    “She needs rest,” a deep yet feminine voice said from beyond the blackness, “She has lost a lot of blood and will have a nasty scar, but she will live.”
    “When will she wake?” asked a smooth baritone masculine voice.
    “When her body is ready. She needs to rest for a while, it may be some time yet.”
    “I wish you'd keep your voices down,” Willow muttered, her eyes flickering open, “I can't rest while you two chatter away.”
    As her vision returned, she saw Pellius’ handsome battered face.
    “Welcome back, my lady,” he said warmly, though his voice was strained with pain.
    He lay next to her upon her bed, blood staining the sheets and the many bandages wrapped around each of their bodies. His face held a sickly yellow tinge, his muscles straining as he affectionately clipped her chin with his finger.
    “How long was I out?” she asked, rolling towards him, cringing at the aching flesh of her abdomen.
    “Only a few hours,” he replied, “You were too stubborn to take your own advice.”
    Willow couldn't help but chuckle, much to her stomach’s protest at the movement through her newly healed skin. She remembered having antagonised Pellius for not retreating when he was gravely injured, much like what she had done after being sliced through the torso by the barbarian's blade.
    “Do as I say, not as I do,” she muttered with an eye roll.
    Pellius chuckled in response.
    “How do you feel?” Garvana asked, looking almost concerned.
    “Terrible,” Willow chuffed truthfully, “But alive.”
    “You almost weren’t,” she replied seriously, “If it weren't for your hound’s relentless barking, I may not have gotten to you in time.”
    It was then that Willow saw the worried face of her infernal hound, flaming in the corner of the room. Willow smiled, reaching her hand for Lith.
    “Norr, barrith mar Lith siroth mer,” she said softly, calling for her hound.
    Lith trotted to the side of the bed, pressing her face into Willow's palm. She whined aloud and chuffed against her hand.
    “Hirr mer trath Lith,” she said in praise.
    “Good girl indeed,” Garvana said fondly, “Now you two must rest. You are both confined to bed for the next week. I have done my best to stop the bleeding, but any vigorous movement could start it again.”
    Lith strolled back to her corner, huffing happily as she lowered herself down, taking her place facing the doorway, guarding them while they slept.
    “Confined to bed, huh?” Willow asked, raising her eyebrows suggestively.
    “Did you not hear me?” Garvana snapped, “No vigorous movement. You'll both bleed out internally before you get to enjoy it.”
    Willow chuckled, “Yes Mother Garvana, I heard you.”
    As Garvana rolled her eyes and left the room, Willow shuffled closer to Pellius. She lay her head on his unwounded shoulder, closing her exhausted eyes. It took only moments for her to fall back into the depths of slumber.

    When Willow woke again, it was to the soft sound of Garvana’s voice humming a gentle tune. Her eyes flickered open, she pulled herself upright, surprised to not find Pellius next to her.
    “Stay there,” Garvana said harshly, “You still need rest, but you need to eat.”
    She placed a tray filled with fresh cut vegetables, diced fish and a glass of water next to her on the bed. Garvana turned to the door as Willow fetched the plate.
    “Did Pellius recover quicker than expected?” Willow asked, frowning at her pathetic feminine constitution; she still felt completely fatigued and exhausted.
    “No,” Garvana said frustrated, “He's taken a walk. Deciding that he knows best, unwavering in his exercise regime. He can't grasp the idea of bed rest.”
    Willow chuckled as Garvana turned to leave.
    “Will you stay?” Willow asked, taking a sip from the glass, “I still feel as if I barely know you, and it's been months.”
    Garvana turned to her, a strange look on her face. She looked around the room for a chair to sit in, but Willow laughed and offered her a spot on the bed. Begrudgingly, she sat.
    “What do you wish to know?” she asked warily.
    “Oh don't be so serious all the time,” Willow said as she rolled her eyes, “Everything with you is always so intense. Tell me something light hearted about you. Tell me something of your past?”
    Garvana frowned, “My past is not light hearted.”
    “Oh no you don't, don't do that serious somber thing. Tell me of a man, a dalliance, a romance or an affair?”
    Again, Garvana frowned, “There is none.”
    “So you've never fooled around with a man you shouldn't have?” Willow asked.
    “I've never fooled around with any man.”
    Willow's eyebrows raised in scandal, “A woman?!”
    Garvana laughed in surprise, “No no, definitely not. I've just never fooled around.”
    Willow's mouth dropped open in shock, “Ever? You mean you've never…?”
    Garvana smiled, a small blush touching her cheek, “Never.”
    Willow was almost lost for words, “Wow. That might explain why you're so uptight.”
    Garvana’s head snapped to Willow, but relaxed when she saw the joking grin on her face.
    “May I ask why?” Willow inquired.
    “Do you want the truth? Or a light hearted answer?”
    Willow frowned slightly, “The truth.”
    Garvana sighed, “My mother was executed for her unholy union with the dark powers. I am the spawn of this union, the spawn of a devil. I suppose the knowledge of this has tainted my view of the world. I understand normal attraction, but I have never felt it strongly enough to consider doing… that, with any man.”
    “And you've never wanted to just, you know, give it a try?”
    “Not with any human man.”
    Willow's eyebrows raised again, grinning wickedly, “Human man? But you have wanted with some other?”
    “Well…”
    “Oh come on, you can tell me, who was it?” Willow pried.
    Garvana turned her pink cheeks away from Willow.
    “Dessiter,” she whispered.
    Willow groaned, “Oh yes, that commanding air, that striking presence. He would know how to split a girl from herself.”
    “Willow!” Garvana called in shock.
    Willow laughed, quivering at the thought, “He would be fun. If you made it out alive…”
    “I can not believe we are having this conversation!” Garvana said, hiding her face.
    “You could use those big horns like handles for leverage…”
    Garvana burst out into giggles, “Willow stop!”
    Willow laughed in response, “Alright alright, but in all seriousness, you might want to start with a fish a little smaller. I don't think he'd be the type to play gentle. I meant it when I said it would be a possibility you may not make it out alive.”
    Willow dropped her voice to a low carnal whisper, “But it would be a hell of a way to go…”
    Garvana’s blush threatened to burst her cheeks.
    “Enough!” she said firmly, “Tell me of you. I would have assumed that you and Pellius were an item, but when you return from your solo trips to Farholde, I often see marks that he could not have made…”
    Willow smirked, “Pellius and I have an understanding. Well, we had one. He's distanced himself of late... That man is remarkable, a most satisfying and vigorous lover. He is passionate and dedicated in his application to everything…”
    “Yet you are not satisfied with only him?” Garvana asked, clearly pleased to have the conversation turned away from herself.
    “Oh he indeed leaves me satisfied,” Willow chuckled, “And sore and weak in all the right ways. He is a touch of a sadist, and certainly knows where to push the pain threshold to make a woman-
    “Alright!” Garvana interrupted, “I do not need to know anymore of Pellius.”
    Willow laughed as Garvana shook her head.
    “If you are so satisfied by him,” she asked questioningly, “Then why do you want the other man? And, who is he?”
    “It is not a matter of want,” Willow tried to explain, “It is more a matter of need. Unfortunately, I am not satisfied for very long. I have always been this way. It is only recently that I have been able to experiment and explore it for myself.”
    Garvana frowned, “What does that mean?”
    Willow debated how much she really wanted to share. Garvana had been trusting and open, sharing secrets from her past, Willow owed her the same courtesy. Within reason.
    “I do not seek love or romance,” she said carefully, “I certainly do not seek marriage. I was married once before to a man whose status and rank were the only admirable qualities he had. But it was a lie. I could never give myself to mere man. My body, yes, and I take great pleasure in that. But my heart…”
    “I have felt it,” Garvana said, breaking Willow’s thoughts, “I have felt Him.”
    Willow frowned and snapped her head to face Garvana’s intense expression.
    “I did not know what it was at first,” she continued, “It would appear late at night, lasting for a while and leave me baffled in my meditation. So I followed it one night, it lead me to your chamber back in Alden Cross. I was unsure I had understood it correctly. When we settled here in the Horn, I was meditating as it returned. When I could hear the… sounds, Pellius and you were making, I began to grasp the idea. How is it our Infernal Lord is with you in those acts?”
    Willow smiled in surprise, unsure how to truly answer.
    “I am bound to Him. My heart and soul have always belonged to him. He is not just with me then, He is always with me…”

    When Pellius returned later that afternoon, he was followed by Garvana and Bor. Garvana scolded him as he lay down and she checked over his wounds. The blue tinge to his lips seemed to be an indication that exercise was a bad idea. Bor spoke as she re-bandaged the newly opened wounds on his shoulder.
    “The sorcerous, Traya, has agreed to work for us,” Bor said, “I believe she will be a beneficial ally. I have questioned her, and her motives and morals seem to be in line with ours, to a certain extent. She does not follow any particular religion, yet she genuinely seems to hold no bias against anyone who does.”
    He reported the details of his interrogation. Traya appeared to have been honest in her answers. She was not here to quell the evil residing in the Horn, she was here for the treasure; she was after the Eyes. She was also wise enough to realise when the need to keep her life outweighed the need for gold. Tarska, the knife throwing halforc, had proven much less wise. He had been quick to sell out his friends for his freedom, and even quicker to sell his services for gold.
    “Kill him,” Willow suggested when asked of his fate, “If he was that eager to sell out his allies, he will only do the same to us.”
    “Agreed,” chimed the rest of the group.
    While Bor returned to his duties, Teelee had left in search of the boat that Traya’s group had sailed upon. When she returned, she handed Willow a small locked chest and the journal Traya had used to find the information on the Horn and the Eyes. Willow perused the book while her body recuperated.
    Sir Martin of Brandingshire was one of the Knights of Alerion who had accompanied the Victor on his raid of the Horn. He wrote a tale of battle and purification, a ballad of good triumphing over evil. It was a detailed account of each heroic deed he witnessed and played part in; from his captain beheading Ezra Thrice Damned, the High Priest of the Sons of the Pale Horsemen, to the Victor himself slaying Vetra-Kali in one on one combat. There were many interesting details in the journal, such as the failure of the Knights in recovering the three emeralds of the Archdeacon and the treasury of the Sons. He spoke of the construction of the shrine of Mitra, how each knight prayed in unison, the power of their combined faith feeding the shrine and strengthening the might it possessed.
    Willow found a particular intriguing passage that spoke of the immense task of slaying Hexor and Vexor. Sir Martin described in great detail how the daemons were killed in brutal combat, slayed by the hands of the faithful knights, before their bodies dissipated into the abyss. She resolved to ask the group if they had any further knowledge of what the ceustodaemons had the power to do, and how binding the amulets they now held were.

    As the sun rose on the final dawn of Willow's bed rest, she flowed through her movements of her regular morning stretches. Her muscles were stiff and sore, their forced lack of inactivity hindering her flexibility and reach. She gritted her teeth against the strain, holding her stretches for longer, testing her muscles elasticity against the cramps. The large scar on her stomach pulled the skin taut as she arch her back and neck, the newly knitted flesh quivering as if it feared it would rip open.
    The group had been busy while Willow and Pellius had recovered. They had implemented the plan of sealing every entrance to the Horn, with the exception of the second floor. They had used stone shaping magic to collapse the secret entrance to the sanctum stairs, creating a single door from a third level chamber into the room guarded by Hexor and Vexor. They had closed over both balconies, collapsed the outside stairs leading to the first floor and made a crude set of stairs out of the stone wall connecting level one and two from the inside. They instructed the guards to keep the only remaining entrance heavily guarded at all times.

    It was late afternoon on the ninth week of their ritual as Willow returned to her suite in the western wing of Vandermir’s manor. She mused over her findings as she strolled through the long hallways. She had come to Farholde in search of information on the celestial hounds that had attacked the Horn. What she knew before her trip was that they were known as moon dogs, and although they could certainly use telepathy to communicate, she had not heard a verbal word from them. She had a hunch that they could not speak, therefore giving the Forsaken a possible defence tactic. She had been correct, her research had confirmed that they could not verbally utter words. So she had come up with a plan to ensure they could be caught if the second hound returned for his or her partner. The crew would use a code word, a simple term or phrase that must be uttered each time they passed one another throughout the Horn, every time without exception.
    Willow was scribbling notes in her journal as she approached her room. The hallways were silent, the Baron had instructed his staff to leave the western wing untouched unless otherwise instructed. So when the softest click of a window lock sounded on the other side of her door, Willow silently returned her journal to her bag and withdrew her dagger. Trying to appear as if her distracted approach had continued, she loudly unlocked her door and swung it wide. She was ready when the dagger flew towards her head. She ducked under it’s path and tumbled into the room, leaping up to launch an attack against her would-be ambusher.
    Switch laughed as he bombarded her with a flurry of attacks, parrying each strike of Willow's with ease. He advanced forward with his unrelenting offence, forcing her steps back towards the bed. He leaped towards her in an uncharacteristic bull rush, catching her off guard and knocking her off balance as she fell upon the bed. True to character though, he swiftly slid above her and caged her there, knees holding her thighs, hands pinning her wrists. He forced her head aside, biting down firmly on her sensitive spot; the thin muscle that ran between her neck and shoulder. Willow squealed with delight, struggling to restrain her body from pushing up against his. This was a particular favourite game of theirs. He revelled in her inability to control herself, and unfortunately, so did she. It didn't stop her from trying though. She allowed her body to react as he anticipated, her back arching so her chest thrust itself against his, her hips grinding upon the hard length of his belt. As his teeth tightened their bite, his body slightly relaxed as he swapped his grip, one hand holding both of hers so his other could explore her body. She took a moment to enjoy it’s exploration before using every ounce of her strength to push his weight up enough so she could quickly flip him and roll on top. Her legs parted and slid to each side of him, straddling him tightly, knees locked against his thighs. She had surprised him enough for him to release the latch he had on her shoulder, but not enough for his hands to let go of their fierce hold on her wrists and waist. His hand forced the slender frame of her lower region to grind down on his. Willow couldn't stop the high pitched moan that pierced its way from her lips. He smirked at the sound. They stayed that way for a few moments, his unrelenting grip giving no room for escape as he rocked her hips ever so slightly. When he spoke, it was in an easy casual tone that gave no hint of the intense position they were in.
    “I didn't take you for a lady of literature,” he said, “Hard to picture you encased in a room full of towering shelves lined with books.”
    He just stared at her, awaiting a response, as casual as if they were sipping tea and talking over biscuits.
    “I am not opposed to research,” she said as casually as possible, “And do you not have anything better to do than follow me around all day?”
    “Do you not have men and women that serve you?” he asked with a mocking noble air, ignoring her question, “One would think that such a task was beneath you.”
    Willow's laughing response was stifled with a groan as he rocked against her.
    “It is quicker for me to do it myself,” she gritted.
    “I'm sure that's true for a lot of things,” he said, crudely laughing.
    Willow almost blushed at his words. Her dainty reply was cut short by his hand releasing her waist as it slithered lower. His other hand clutched its grip on her wrists, pulling them higher and forcing her body lower against his. She may have been on top, but as usual, he was completely in control.
    “We've got two hours before training at nightfall,” he said quietly against her lips, “I can think of one good way to pass the time…”

    It was on sore and fatigued legs that Willow followed Switch through the hazy moonlit streets of town. She kept within a few paces of him, ignoring the burn in her thighs. He gracefully ran on silent feet with the vigour of a man who had not expended his energy in the last few hours, even though she intimately knew better. They reached the warehouse and crept through the tattered wooden panels, quietly creeping though the large halls to the secret room hidden within its walls. As they entered, Switch lifted something from his cabinet and flung it towards her. Willow quickly reached out and caught it by the metal shaft. It was a dagger, a matching one to the first that he had given her. The sisters were identical in every way, both had unusually long blades that arched into fine slender points. Both had the intricate markings along their base, script written in a language she didn't recognise. Her contacts in the underground had translated it for her, they had said it was written in an ancient language, one so lost that it no longer had a name.
    Silence is our greatest ally, as we strike from the shadows - the motto of the Black Serpent Coterie. Willow fingered the dagger lightly as she lifted the other from its sheath.
    “You will learn to dual wield the daggers,” Switch said, watching Willow practice her grip, “In the beginning it will feel awkward, you'll feel sloppy and off balance as you've been trained to even your weight with a single blade.”
    Willow practiced the basic dance of light blade training. She did indeed feel sluggish. Her movements were slow and jerky, her left hand untrained in its attack, her grip tight and unnatural. The unarmed hand had always been used for balance and control, there to support her weight as she pirouetted and cleaved. The dagger, though only a whiff of metal, felt like a lumbering weight in her hand.
    “In battle you rely on your speed and agility to overpower your opponent,” Switch continued, no trace of the light hearted smug rogue, he was all business and professionalism, “But as a down side to keeping you light and quick, your weapon must be small. You are at a disadvantage when your opponents weapon can inflict massive damage each time he manages to catch you. Those opponents are usually the ones in the heaviest armour. So to even the playing field, you need to be able to hit them harder in the shortest possible time. Long drawn out battles are not your friend. The longer you take to cut them down, the higher their chance of landing a fatal blow on you. To that end, two daggers. You can inflict two wounds in the same time it would take you to make one.”
    It was a simple theory, one that made perfect sense. But the logic of it did not make Willow’s grip anymore even. Switch started by weaving her through the basic attacks of dual wielding. They were similar to her normal attacks, with the difference being the follow through. Instead of slashing and leaping away, she continued her movement with it’s momentum and sliced with her left hand. He said that there was no need to expect her second hand to be as powerful as the first, but to allow the first to guide the path for the second. After an hour of hacking through air, Switch stood in place of her imaginary target. He slowed his movements in the beginning, allowing her to get comfortable with the two blades. Luckily, she was a fast learner. As his speed increased; so did hers, her attacks mirroring his in their fatal dance. By midnight she was almost attacking at her regular speed, her fluid grace returning, her steps quick and swift. She managed to slash deeply across his cheek as she countered his attack. As the blood seeped from the gash and Switch realised she was keeping up with him, he quickened his pace, his attacks becoming impossibly fast to parry. He backed Willow into a corner, a move she didn't notice until her back thumped against the wall. He cut off all her escape routes, his body seemed to be in three places at once, his blades seemed to triple, six daggers slashing towards her. She defended herself as best she could with the little room she had. As she lashed out at one of him, she struck her blade across his torso and gasped as the image of him disappeared. The other two of him grinned in glee at her response. She ducked under their swings and took a chance by leaping into one of them with her dagger forward. The blade and her traveled directly through the image as it vanished, leaving the single Switch to chase after her as he laughed. Willow had heard of magic as this, but had never seen it herself. It was disorientating to say the least. She continued her sprint across the room, trying to create space for herself to attack. The sound of his footsteps behind her suddenly silenced. She span on her heel and prowled, two daggers at the ready. The room appeared empty, no sounds bar the ones her own quiet footfalls were making. Her heart was beating too quickly for her to take in any slight feel of motion upon the wooden floor. Silently, Willow felt the press of a cold clean blade against her throat. It pulled her backwards until her back pressed against a hard solid body.
    “You're very good,” Switch’s low grumbling voice whispered against her ear, “But not good enough. Your enemies may have access to the same weapons as I, and they won't hesitate to use them. You need to be better prepared.”
    Willow remained silent as he pulled the dagger tighter against her throat, his other hand slipping around her waist and up behind the hem of her shirt. As the rough callous of his palm scraped the smooth delicate flesh of her torso, Willow quivered against him. She felt the soft wetness of his tongue trace her earlobe.
    “Keep the dagger,” he whispered, “Use it train yourself. When you are competent, you will use it to fulfil your next task. When I deem you ready, I will deliver the requirements of your next mission. Once it is completed, you shall become a Journeyman. You have much training to do before then. For if you fail, you will only see me once more. It will be as I take your life with my blade.”
    Without another word, he was gone. As if winking out of existence, he disappeared. Willow felt like she should have been frightened by the intensity of his words, or the utter conviction in which he said them. But she wasn't. If anything, she was excited. She didn't expect to fail, she knew she could complete any mission he gave her. But the thrill of facing Switch if she happened to falter, was a delicious tease in itself. Willow gathered herself enough to collect her belongings and right her skewed armour. Her blood was still racing too fast to return to the manor and sleep. So she decided to use her energy to run her way back to the Horn. The darkness of the forest did not scare her. In fact, it welcomed her into its eternal shadowed embrace.

    The guards came barrelling up the stairs in the midmorning sun, an urgent hurry to their steps. They had returned to the Horn with the gruesome news about town. A slaughter had occurred in the slums of Farholde. Six bodies were found strung up by their hands, their entrails sprawled across the alleyway. One of the deceased had been a local prostitute, known for her easy nature and loud mouth. The other five had been an Iraen group of adventurers that had been set on ransacking the Horn. The most disturbing of the news was the message that had been written in blood cresting the bodies.

    Stay away from the Horn.

    “Subtle,” Willow scoffed as the guards recounted the tale.
    “It might scare off the groups that were merely after treasure,” Bor replied, “But it is only going to bring those that wish to actually disrupt and stop our progress.”
    By the guards report, it had indeed sent several adventurers north, figuring there were easier pickings over the wall. As the group headed towards the tavern to convene, Willow mused over the suspicions in her mind. The oddity here was the prostitute. She had not forgotten that the note Elise had sent had given them the wrong information on Traya's groups planned entry. It was Willow's suspicion that had each entrance manned. She approached the sorcerous who sat alone at the corner table of the tavern.
    “May I speak with you?” Willow asked politely.
    “Of course,” Traya responded, “I have some questions of my own if you don't mind.”
    Willow smiled as she sat, “Go ahead.”
    “The orc says you are here to banish an Archdeacon, yet you are strained for allies. Surely the Mitrans would have vested interest in seeing this task complete. Why not get them to aid you?”
    Willow kept her words controlled, careful not to give an opening for the wrong information to slip, “We are Asmodean,” she said simply, “The Mitrans consider us their enemies purely for our faith in our Lord.”
    “But surely they would put that prejudice aside to banish a greater evil from this land?”
    Willow smiled and shook her head, “No. The crimes of blasphemy and heresy are punishable by death. Burned at the stake, like some backwards heathen ritual, punishing those simply for their faith. They would not set aside their differences, their own law states that our very existence is a stain upon this land, no matter if our cause is just.”
    Willow listened to the others join in their conversation and turn it into a debate of the state of Talingarde. It was slightly refreshing to hear their views countered not by fanatical hatred, but by an unbiased outsider. Traya was smart enough to realise that there was more to their plans than simply banishing Vetra-Kali, but she held an open view of their intent, not condemning them for their belief that they could make the world a better place. Garvana spoke of the injustice against the Asmodean people of Talingarde, the slaughter of innocent families who were convicted and killed for their religion. Pellius spoke of order and freedom from chaos, real structure to allow those who were worthy to rise to from their station, everyone having and knowing their place in the world. Traya's arguments were valid. She spoke of the paradise that Talingarde was for the people, the more fortunate helping the less, charity and community being pillars in the society. Willow's mind trailed off while the others bantered, the sorcerous had raised several strong points. She could understand the views she put forward, but she could also see how they were wrong. The state of the land allowed many injustices to fester. It was those of worth that suffered. The poor were cared for by the gold stripped in taxes from the rich. The poor had no need to help themselves, they had no need to improve their own situation, the charity of this land ensured there was no need. The rich had no need to better themselves either. Their stations were protected by laws and rights, they paid their taxes and awaited the years of fattened bellies, shrinking muscles and full coffers. Willow's parents were prime examples of that. The land was stagnant. Nobody gained, nobody grew, nobody rose. It was the powerful and ambitious that suffered; there was no room for either in Talingarde.

    Early one afternoon on the eleventh week of their ritual, the boggard chieftain Zikomo approached the group. His eyes were glossed over, a drugged fuelled haze surrounded him.
    “Zikomo comes to you with grave news, oh great emissaries of the Father,” he said in his mystical amphibian way, “A boggard hunting party has not returned, they were headed east towards the great lake. I have read the signs. A great hunting demon has taken them.”
    Pellius, who appeared almost uninterested in the speech, perked up at the mention of a demon. The temptation of purging the demonic being of chaos, was one too great for him to ignore. The group agreed to seek out and destroy the predator, leaving swiftly after sourcing all the information they could from Zikomo’s readings.
    The trek to the east was slow, they followed the boggard tracks towards the river for a few hours until they came across the signs of ambush. The blood smeared along the ground casing the panicked prints of the boggards told a strange story. Massive clawed prints lay sprawled across the mud. Willow frowned at the tracks.
    “I don't think the boggard meant demon as such,” she said wryly, “I think he meant it as a beast or creature.”
    “A dire tiger,” Bor agreed, “And a huge one at that. I've never seen prints so big.”
    “Well we can't have it running around killing the boggards,” Garvana chimed in, “They're no good to us dead.”
    The group followed the enormous tracks to the edge of the great lake. They lead into a cave, black and shadowed, deep stone curving into an underground den. Willow slinked out of sight as the group tried to draw out their prey with noise. When a few minutes passed and nothing appeared from the cave, the group gave up their lure and decided to enter.
    “If it's home,” Willow whispered, “It sure knows we're here.”
    The arcane light that was cast upon Pellius’ warhammer lit the way into the winding caverns. They were greeted by a strangely clean and orderly den, bones of the deceased stacked almost neatly upon a single pile. As they delved deeper through the stone work, a frightening silhouette leaped from the shadows, straight towards Pellius. It was the largest tiger that Willow had ever seen. With paws the size of her head, on all fours it stood almost two foot taller than her. It ferociously mauled at Pellius, its teeth sank deep into his shoulder, it's claws on both front paws ripped furiously at his chest. As it tried to tear a chuck of flesh through his armour, Willow was the first to react. She tumbled passed the massacre and leapt up behind it, ramming her dagger deep into its side. The beast let out a fearsome growl as it unlatched itself from Pellius and attempted to turn on her. Pellius struggled to hold on to the tiger as it turned its attention on Willow, but it was too strong as it ripped itself free and leap on her. She cried out as its teeth pierced her flesh, embedding deeply into her neck, blooding running down her shoulders. The rest of the group attacked fast. This was not a creature they would attempt to capture, the attacks mercilessly seeking its death. In unison, Bor, Pellius and Garvana cleaved into the beast, their blades searing deep into its back. Even Teelee’s horse galloped forward, lashing out with its jaw and savaging a chunk of its fur and flesh before greedily swallowing it. The creature refused to let go of her, its teeth keeping an agonising hold as it lashed out at Pellius with its back feet. Willow saw his flaming warhammer fly towards the beast. As his mighty blow connected at the same moment Bor's sword shoved through its ribs, the enormous tiger collapsed on top of her. Still bleeding heavily, Willow dragged herself free of the beast with Pellius’ aid. His face was white with blood loss, the wounds across his neck, chest and torso were gushing bright red. Willow guided him to the floor as Garvana raced over to heal the worst of his wounds.
    Approaching the dead tiger, Willow frowned as she saw an old scar slashed across his left eye. She had heard of a tale surrounding a one eyed tiger of the Caer Bryr.
    “There is a legend of these parts,” she said to Teelee as she looked over the tiger’s face, “An animal companion of an Iraen druid, a tiger who grew to immense power in the presence of the divine might his master commanded. They say he lost his eye in the very battle that killed his master. He had grown intelligent. Enough to harbour a hatred for the Talriens who slaughtered his master…”
    Willow's frown deepened as she inspected the scar. The exterior had healed long ago, but the flesh around the eye was still reddened and swollen. As she looked closer, she saw what appeared to be the pommel of a dagger. Delicately, she gripped its edge and pulled it free. It was a complete adamantine dagger. Willow felt a ping of sadness at the thought of the creature wandering for decades, a blade painfully latched through its eye. She handed the dagger to Bor as she turned from the beast.
    “Take its head, give it to Zikomo, it will be good for morale…”

  17. - Top - End - #17
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 14 - Eye of the Inquisitor - Part 2

    Spoiler: Chapter 14 - Eye of the Inquisitor - Part 2
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    A soft knock on the door at midmorning broke Willow from her drawing. She had been sketching the Horn of Abbadon in her journal, shading the silhouette of a great blackened wraith circling its side.
    “Come in,” she called, closing the journal.
    Pellius stepped inside, dressed in his fullplate armour. The blackened metal sat on his flesh like a menacing stronghold, dark and wicked, almost frightening in its allure. He had been on bed rest again for the week following the tiger’s attack. It was good to see him up on his feet, looking his usual handsome self.
    “My lady,” he said smoothly, “May I have a moment of your time?”
    Willow smiled at his formality and impeccable charm, “Of course, what may I do for you?”
    “There is a show tonight in Auld’lrey, a famous bard by the name of Wildak Quinitis, I would be delighted if you were to accompany me?”
    Willow cocked her eyebrow in intrigue, “I would love to.”
    “Very good,” he said, a slightly devious glint to his eyes, “We shall leave by midday. Pack for an overnight stay.”
    Willow inclined her head as he left and closed the door behind him. There was clearly more than a show that Pellius had planned, and she couldn't help the flutters of excitement and anticipation that rattled through her body. After packing her belongings and gently folding in one of her gowns, Willow was almost disappointed when she left her chamber to find some of the others had joined in for their trip to the city. Bor and Garvana had decided to travel to Farholde to restock supplies and search the arcane stores for trinkets.
    The sun was caressing the horizon as they arrived through the southern gates, dusk coming earlier as winter made its approach on the land. As the others made their way to follow Pellius, his sharp commanding comment had them stopped in their tracks.
    “We will see you tomorrow,” he clipped, “Goodnight.”
    He placed his hand an the small of Willow's back and guided her towards Auld'lrey. They said little as they strolled through the streets, winding through the rich pathways of the upper market district, towards a lavish inn situated at the highest point of the hill. The Minstrel and Shield was a three story building of timber and brick, magically lit lanterns blazed brightly by its entrance, illuminating the reddened brickwork along its door frame. Willow smiled at the bellhop as they entered. Her large black fur cloak hung close to the ground and hid her armour underneath. The fur glistened against the light glittering through the opulent parlour. Pellius stood tall in his shining armour, the magic of the circlet warping it to a brilliant silver shimmer. They would have appeared as a noble knight and his mistress. When the bellhop showed them to their suite, Willow had to smirk at the memory of the first night they had spent together at a similar inn in Aldencross.
    As the door clicked shut, Willow began to unpack her things. The measured controlled footsteps behind her had her breath quicken. She could feel the heat from his body as he stood behind her, his fierce presence like a force pressing against her. The air in the room was different than it had been for weeks. Pellius had become distant and reclusive, still as charming and polite as he always was, but the desire and lust between them had dimmed. He had politely declined every advance she had made, leaving her with little choice but to accept it and stop trying. Willow had never been one to chase after her prey, she had always been patient enough to wait for it to come looking for her. And it always did. The air in the room seemed to thicken, her heartbeat sounding loud to her ears, her palms beginning to sweat. Suddenly, he turned and walked to the opposite side of the room. Willow frowned, spinning towards him. Pellius began to casually remove his armour, unstrapping each buckle with practiced efficiency, nothing remotely seductive about the methodical way he went about it.
    “Am I correct in assuming you have contacts in town?” he asked simply.
    Willow frowned, figuring she had only imagined the hint of jealously in his voice, “You assume correct.”
    “I would ask a favour, if I may.”
    Willow quirked her head, “You may.”
    “I would ask that you inquire if your contacts could track down the fate of my shipmates. I have mentioned them before, they are my Chelaxian brethren, and although it is most likely they were captured and executed, the possibility that they survived is too tempting to ignore. They would prove great allies if we could locate them.”
    Willow nodded, looking out the window to see the last of the sun dipping below the horizon. She had roughly two hours until the opening of the show so she picked up her cloak and laced it around her neck.
    “I shall inquire and be back within the hour. I must pick up an item for Teelee while we are here, I may as well kill two birds with one stone.”
    Pellius nodded as she turned to leave.
    “Willow,” he called as she approached the door, “I must apologise for being discourteous over these last few weeks.”
    Willow smiled and shook her head, “Do not apologise. We are all just trying to do what we think is right to accomplish our mission.”
    “No, please allow me to offer an explanation.”
    She stopped her leave, her interest peaked, as she took the chair he was offering.
    “I am cautious of allowing him too much power,” he said, still tending to his armour, “I wish to keep Grumblejack compliant, I fear too much power will lead to a loss of our control. I am not so stubborn as I cannot see the benefit his transformation, but it is only a benefit while he serves us. He has pledged his services to Asmodeus, but you know very well how little words can mean when alliances change.”
    Willow smiled, “You know I am not a woman of easy trust. I have been keeping a close eye on the beast, and will continue to do so, for now though he appears content in his servitude. If that changes, or at any time I believe it may, I will not hesitate to correct my mistake.”
    Pellius paused for a moment, turning to Willow with a small smile, “I believe that. But I still must air on the side of caution. Willow, you are clearly the most talented and capable of the group, -
    Willow laughed, “Flattery will get you entirely everywhere.”
    His smile deepened, “It may flatter you, but I truly believe it so. I believe we have much to gain by assisting one another, there is much prestige and power we could source for ourselves, there is nothing binding us in Thorn’s contract to dissuade us from seeking our own advantages. In fact, it is encouraged by the Asmodean dogma. By aiding me in finding my previous companions, we would have a group of disciplined Asmodeans, loyal to me to help further our goals.”
    Willow nodded, “I will endeavour to find them.”
    He smiled his thanks as he returned to his armour, Willow strolled over to him and began helping him with his back straps, unlacing their thick buckles.
    He sighed, “I am disappointed in our groups usage of our base of operations and its subjects. The men are cleaning walls that have already been cleaned, standing guard yet incapable of standing up to any kind of assault. We should be expanding our reach to bring true obedience and civility to this land, we have servants who are now bound to Asmodeus, yet we are giving them no way to truly prove themselves. What are your thoughts? You have contacts in the city who, if my suspicions are correct, partly run the underground. Do you have any better use for our men?”
    Willow mused over the question, unstrapping the last of the buckles, pushing the heavy plates over his shoulders.
    “I shall think on it, the men we have are peasants, thugs and thieves, perhaps I can find something more suitable to their skill.”
    Pellius nodded as he bent forward to start on his greaves. Willow had to take a moment to admire the bulging muscles of his backside. She tore her eyes away with a grin, and turned towards the door, readjusting her cloak.
    His silky words had her tremble, “I am not a man of forgiveness, I am a man of retribution. Yet denying you seems to have had little effect save leaving me missing your company. I’ve had to arrange more innovative means of punishment.”
    Willow quivered. She cast a quick look at the last slither of sun dropping behind the horizon before striding for the door.

    She made her way quickly through the back streets towards the slums, slipping through buildings until she reached the entrance to the black market. She approached the office to find Martin sitting in his chair, hunched over a large tome filled with hundreds of numbers and lists. She knocked as she entered and returned his welcoming smile.
    “Kathryn my dear,” he said warmly, “A pleasure as always to see you.”
    “And you Martin,” she replied.
    He stood from his seat and greeted her with his usual kiss to the knuckle. He indicated her to a chair and went about pouring them both a cup of aromatic foreign tea. Willow quietly closed the door before she sat.
    He raised his eyebrows slightly at her secrecy, “And what brings you here today, my lady?”
    Willow smiled and accepted the tea, “I have a task. One of the utmost secrecy. I need people who I can trust, discreet people, and I do not have any to spare.”
    Martin grinned, making his wizened face almost devilishly handsome, “Ah, colour me intrigued my dear. May I ask of the details? It may help to define the type of men you are seeking?”
    Willow smirked, “Men I am seeking is an appropriate term.”
    “Ah I see,” Martin replied, sipping on his steaming cup, “And are these men the type who do not want to be found, or cannot?”
    Before she spoke, she tilted her head to the door, not sure if she was imagining the soft rattle of footsteps standing by the frame. She heard Martin whisper an incantation and suddenly every sound outside of the walls silenced. Willow's eyes flickered to Martin in surprise.
    “I may be an old dog,” he chuckled, “But I've still got a few tricks. You may speak freely, no sound can penetrate into or out of this room.”
    Willow saw no lies in the creases of his soft face.
    “Roughly eight months ago, a Chelaxian vessel landed on the shores of Matharyn. A member of its crew was captured and arrested for blasphemy. The fate of the rest of the crew is what I require. For now, that information is all I need. I do not need these men to be approached, I simply need the status of them, and their location if they survived, escaped or were released.”
    Martin barely battered an eyelash at the request.
    “Consider it done,” he said with a smile, “It shall take time, but I shall send two of my own. You shall have your answer within two months.”
    Willow quirked an eyebrow, “And what shall this cost me?”
    Martin chuckled, “Think of this as payment for that scar upon Switch’s face. It has been a long time since that man has been marked by anyone, it brings an old man like me a lot of joy to see his pretty mug a bit roughed up. That it was such a delicate thing like you, makes it all the more sweeter.”
    Willow laughed as she returned her empty cup to its saucer. She thanked Martin, laying a gentle kiss on his cheek before taking her leave, purchasing a vial of calamus and styrax for Teelee and heading back to the Minstrel and Shield. Teelee had requested Willow acquire a bottle of the scents when she had heard the story of why the perfume was forbidden. While on Talingarde soil, only one person was permitted to wear such a fragrance; Princess Belinda. Willow had always found the rule ridiculous, so she secretly enjoyed Teelee's instance at wearing it.

    When Willow arrived back at the suite, she found it empty. She called out to Pellius as she began to remove her gear, but did he didn't respond. She strolled through the bedroom as she finished pulling off her breastplate and stopped as she saw an odd item laying next to her gown upon the bed. Two black leather garters sat neatly arranged along the layers of ebony silk. The garters themselves were nothing aberrant, it was the slender metal spikes attached to the insides that made them intriguing. The spikes were not sharp enough to break the skin, but their thin points enough to cause a constant discomfort and sharp jolt of pain to their wearer with every step. They were a more carnal version of the shirt Pellius had designed and commissioned their blacksmith to make. An innocent looking chain metal shirt, it's insides laced with razor sharp hooks that would latch on to its wearers skin. A perfect, if not cruel and callous, means of obedience. Butterflies flooded her stomach at the sadistic design of the garters. She left them where they were while she headed for the bathroom, finding the tub already filled with clean steaming water. She bathed and cleansed herself in her usual ritual, finding little comfort in her distracted preparation. When her makeup was done and her hair was arranged, she returned to the bedroom to face what was waiting. She delicately slipped her feet through the garters, whimpering as she dragged them high upon her thighs. They were a perfect fit. The leather strapped a tight seal around her skin and the metal spikes pinched deeply into her flesh. They were strangely not uncomfortable, Willow actually found them quite enjoyable. The slight sharp pain that rippled through her legs with each step was not dissimilar to the feeling she received each time her Infernal Lord found her. She would not have to be worried about hiding her pain in public, it would be her amorous enjoyment and the constant flush of her cheeks that gave her away.
    As she finished dressing, a loud bell chimed from down the street, the sound indicated the theatres doors were open. As Willow glided through the room, Pellius entered the parlour.
    “You look beautiful as always, my lady,” he said charmingly.
    His lip curled into a sly grin as Willow’s breathing hitched as she stepped towards him.
    “And you are as handsome as ever,” she replied, doing her best to hide the throbbing need she felt.
    “Shall we?” he asked, offering his arm.
    Willow smirked as she accepted it, keeping her steps graceful and soft. They strolled out of the inn and down the lantern lit street towards the theatre, Pellius spoke with a casual air as they neared.
    “Did you have any luck this evening?” he asked.
    “Indeed,” she replied softly, “We shall have an answer well before we leave the area.”
    “Very well, my lady, and thank you.”

    The performance made for a pleasant evening. The halfling bard sang with a soft foreign lilt, his skill with the fiddle living up to his famous reputation. Willow thoroughly enjoyed his rendition of some of the classical folk songs of lore, his delicate sopranist vocal range added a whimsical hint to the somber ballads. Of course, Willow found it difficult to really concentrate. On the occasion she managed her mind to drift off with the music, a firm hand would subtly squeeze the garter, forcing the metal spikes to dig further into the skin, making her clamp down her teeth to stop from groaning.
    As his hand released its grip and the pain retreated, Willow found her mind turning. Both Pellius and Switch were sadists. She tried not to think about what it said about her that she would find herself so drawn to them. They were so very different. Switch was vicious, rough, impulsive. He was fierce, he preferred his prey to fight back, so he could dominate them and force them into submission. Pellius on the other hand was subtle. His commanding air needed no posturing. He expected to be obeyed and revelled in his target’s obedience. He did not need to force them to submit, they would willingly, for fear of his dark promise of retribution.
    It was that dark promise that kept Willow's blood racing as they left the stalls of the theatre and made their way back to the inn. Dinner had been prepared and delivered to the parlour of their suite when they returned, the smell of heavily spiced roast duck filling the room. Willow trembled with anticipation as they ate in silence. The air in the chamber had thickened again, his ominous aura seeping into her pores. She was sure the servants in the room would have to be able to feel it while they served dinner and refilled their glasses.
    As they finished eating and Pellius called for the servants to clear the table, Willow strolled to the bedroom and slowly began unlacing the binding of her dress. She jumped as she heard the click of the lock behind her. She dropped the gown to the floor, standing in front of the mirror dressed only in her corset, lace undergarments and the garters. The cold breeze drifting from the open slit of the window feathered along her bare skin, sending a shiver racking through her body. She heard his approach before his menacing reflection appeared behind her. His fingers trailed and lingered over the garters, before firmly clutching them and compressing them so tightly that Willow felt their points pierce her skin. Her teeth clamped as the guttural groan sounded from her throat. His grip retreated as his hands turned to her undergarments and swiftly ripped them in half, the silk fabric trickling to the ground. He stared into her eyes through her reflection, as one hand traced up to her neck, forcing her head to the side to bare her throat. Willow's breath was short and sharp, her pulse quickened, her body trembled. She watched it all in the vivid detail of the mirror, she watched him take it all like it was rightfully his.


    An ominous worrying note greeted them as they returned to the Horn. A silver dragon had been sighted over Farholde, and Elise had sent an urgent message to warn them of the possibility that it was on its way towards them. The lingering enjoyment Willow felt from the night before vanished as she read the note. The group convened in the tavern to discuss their defence, combining their knowledge of silver dragons. They knew the creatures to be highly intelligent, strong willed and severely devoted to the forces of good. They knew they had powerful magic of cold and ice, giving them natural immunities to winters grace. This also meant they had a weakness to fire, one the group planned to utilise.
    As night closed over the sky, the group retreated for rest and preparation. As they left the tavern, Willow grabbed Pellius by the hand and led him towards her chamber. Far past midnight, she collapsed atop him, shallow breaths, body lethargic and sated. The signal horn sounding from the entrance broke her sexual stupor. They both leapt from the bed, scurrying to grab their weapons. Willow quickly ripped on a black night slip, it's slender whiff of fabric would offer nothing but a touch of modesty. As Pellius turned to the knock at the door, she tossed his pants towards him. Barris, the guard captain on duty, appeared in the archway.
    “The signal came from outside,” he mumbled, “They haven't breached the door yet.”
    Willow and Pellius charged down the hallway, Barris and the hounds following closely behind, rounding the corner to see the rest of the group arriving at the entrance. Bor had been on duty, so he wore his ragged armour and appeared alert and ready. Teelee had managed to grab her belt of potions and wands and had it strapped over her floor length red nightgown. Garvana wore only satin trousers and unlaced boots, her heavily muscled chest and breasts sitting taut and firm, an erotic and imposing sight. The Asmodean star burned into the flesh of her back blazing like a beacon of malevolence.
    What a strange tale this night would make, Willow thought.
    She stayed hidden behind the barricade as Bor and Pellius cautiously approached the door. Suddenly, two halberd blades shattered their way through the wood. As they retreated, Teelee shot off a pellet of flame that slipped through the cracks and exploded the door inward, scorching their attackers. Three men with halberds stepped through the doorway, unbothered by the flaming mess of the wooden arch around them. When Willow saw the intricate sunburst decorating their armour, a wave of fear came over her. They were Knights of the Inquisition. Fabled witch hunters that roamed the land of Talingarde, righting wrongs and seeking out any evil to destroy it. These knights meant that an Inquisitor was with them - these knights were a very bad sign for the Forsaken.
    Willow heard Pellius’ dark chanting as a crippling wave of energy burst through the room, for a moment, the knights looked weakened. It took them half a breath to right themselves again. The charged fiercely towards Bor, with practiced military proficiency one of them hooked his halberd behind Bor's leg and ripped him off balance, while the other two arched their blades high and brought them down into Bor's chest. Willow let off a flurry of arrows, struggling to pierce their fullplate armour, as Garvana chanted behind her. She felt the strange sensation flood her body, energy sprouted from her veins, she felt fast and keen. The strange joy was overshadowed by the entrance of their true enemy. The Inquisitor walked in with an air of complete control and arrogance. He wore a face weathered with age and trauma, his eyes held a deep wisdom and battered down pessimism. This man had seen much battle, much terror, much evil. A scar that slashed across his face contorted his lip into a permanent sneer, his hood hanging low on his brow, his shining sunburst medallion hanging heavy on his chest.
    “Mitra guide me!” he bellowed, “I shall cleanse this stain from your land!”
    Willow watched as the wounds on the knights closed over and healed from the touch of the Inquisitor’s hand. Bor leapt at one of the knights in a frothing rage, cleaving his blade deep through it’s shoulder and down into it's chest. The knight fell to the floor in a crumpled heap of metal. As the remaining two repeated their trip and cut manoeuvre, the gaping wounds in Bor's torso poured with blood. He struggled to get back to his feet as the strain of the blood loss intensified with each movement. There was little the group could do to help. The choke point of the corridor meant that no one else could squeeze through to aid him, Willow could have possibly made it through, but would have taken heavy damage along the way. Suddenly, Garvana charged through the guard room towards the arrow slits. She used her stone shaping magic to seal off the entrance between Bor and the Inquisitor's men. Pellius gave Bor a potent healing potion as he helped the halforc to his feet. Willow heard the forceful words of the Inquisitor booming from the outside as they retreated.
    “You will not escape next time!” he bellowed, “This vile den of scum can not be allowed to stand!”
    Willow assumed the group would take a moment to equip their armour before giving chase, but as she turned for her chamber, she heard Garvana reopen the stone. One by one they ran out of the building and followed the Inquisitor down the stairs. As Willow reached the entrance, she saw a slender man in black armour deserting the battle and begin to climb down the side of the Horn. Aided by the fleet of Garvana's magic, Willow quickly climbed down after him. As she neared, she saw the strangest thing. Teelee leapt from the stairs and fell plummeting towards the ground. Willow didn't have time to think on it as she deftly closed in on the man's escape.
    “Leave me alone!” he screamed, “I didn't want to come! They made me!”
    Willow had no mercy for the man as she leapt at him with her dagger. She slashed him across the throat as she clung on to the wall. He wailed as the wound spouted blood, his grip failing as he fell to his death. She heard a loud thump from out in the distance, unsure whether the ground broke the man’s fall or Teelee’s. From her vantage point she could see Grumblejack flying through the air towards the Inquisitor, hacking his blade deep through the shoulder. Willow quickly climbed her way back up, the slender slip of her night gown offering no protection from the cold bite of the night air. When she reached the stairs, she felt an ominous pulse of divine energy throbbing in the atmosphere. She looked further down the walkway and saw the Inquisitor and Grumblejack locked in battle. Wisps of holy magic danced around the Inquisitor, shimmering an eery cold blue, whipping back and forth as if building in strength. Suddenly, he unleashed them, hurtling them towards the ogre as their overflow bounded passed him and encased the rest of the group. Willow felt the sickening shrill of goodness, the righteous arcane power pelting her full force, sapping her will to fight. As she struggled to regain her composure, a menacing chuckle sounded from a deep and guttural throat. The spell had been aimed at Grumblejack, but as it poured from the Inquisitor's hands, it seems to collide with a magical barrier surrounding the ogre. He seemed to dismiss the holy man as an unworthy opponent, flying off in chase of the the priest who had rolled his way down the large staircase.
    Bor and Pellius were not so naïve. Together they charged the Inquisitor, metal flashing as it clashed through the air. The man continued to scream his Mitran dogma, cursing the retched souls that were the Forsaken. His might was undeniable, his will a testament to his strength. He was not afraid as the warhammer and the axe came sailing towards him. He could not dodge both of them, he knew he was going to die, and yet he was so fanatical in his faith he believed he would die only for it was the plan of his Mitra. As the weapons hit, the axe tore through his stomach and the warhammer bludgeoned his chest. He fell to his knees and collapsed. Bor and Pellius turned their attentions to the remaining knights. As the battle drew to a close, victory on the lips of the Forsaken, Willow strolled down the stairs.
    The Inquisitor lay slumped against the wall, his breaths shallow and rasped, blood seeping from his wounds. He faced death with a stubborn chin, a strong will cementing his knowledge that he was going to his Lord’s side. Willow approached him, dragging his hood back and lifting his head by his hair, hearing the spluttering broken words he was trying to speak.
    “Mitra… will…-
    Willow pushed all of her might into a single swipe of her blade, she felt an Infernal pulse guiding her strike with strength she did not possess. The man's words were cut off as his head came free from his shoulders. She dropped it to the ground with disdain. Lifting the pendant from its rest along his collarbone, Willow stared into the rapturous glistening sapphire. She felt an uncontrolled hatred flare in her stomach, she felt the rage of vengeance fuelling her actions. As Pellius and Bor turned back towards her, she let out a fearsome chthonic shriek, swinging the pendant towards the stone wall. The Infernal surge returned, it's force sending the medallion hurtling to it's demise. As the sapphire connected with the stone, it shattered, exploding in a feathering shower of blue and silver dust. The glittering cloud surrounded Willow in an ominous mist, before it trickled to the ground around her. She held the medallion by its chain. Lifting it into her sight, she saw the irony of the medallion’s state. A silver sunburst, hollow, destroyed and empty - just like Mitra's protection of this world.

  18. - Top - End - #18
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 15 - Leadership - Part 1

    Spoiler: Chapter 15 - Leadership - Part 1
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    “You can't stay out here the entirety of the four months we have left,” Willow chuckled.
    Since the shambles of the last attack on the Horn of Abbadon, Pellius had taken it upon himself to stand guard, stopping only for a mere two hours each night for rest.
    Their defence on that night had been at best haphazard and sloppy. The group had found themselves fighting on the ten foot wide staircase leading to the second floor, chasing their foes down the hundred foot drop. They had snatched a precarious victory from the mighty Mitran Inquisitor. When the fabled witch hunter and his comrades had launched their assault, the group had been unprepared and unorganised. As they had managed to turn the attack back onto the Inquisitor, Bor had been near fatally wounded, grasping to the last shreds of his consciousness, Teelee had fallen to the ground from the ledge of the entrance, and several of their minions had been slain. So Pellius had taken the guard of the entrance upon his shoulders. While he stood rigid in his vigil at the top of the staircase, Willow sat leisurely by him with her feet dangling above the abyss that was the Caer Bryr.
    “We're going to have to come up with a better plan than this,” she said when he didn't respond.
    “Well, my lady,” he replied, charming as ever, “Do inform me when you come up with one. Until then, I shall remain on guard.”
    Willow smiled, eyes grazing over the emerald blanket of the treetops. The early morning sun shimmered along the condensation kissing each jade leaf, making the canopy glisten like a sea of gems upon its top. She was glad for these moments, small reprieves from the intensity of their immense task, quiet moments where the beauty of the world still shone.
    “We should split the guard duty into shifts,” she said, leaning back on her hands, “Two of us on at all times. Divide it into three shifts; morning, day and night. I know you are more than capable of handling the task alone, but perhaps it would be best to share the load?”
    Pellius frowned in thought, “The responsibility would do the others good.”
    “And think of how the place would suffer if you were hidden away on guard duty the entire time,” Willow said, gently stroking his ego, “The men would run rampant if you were not there to discipline them. I cringe at the thought of the state of our order if the others were left in charge.”
    “I need no posturing, my lady,” he replied, a sly grin tinting his lips, “But I agree. There is much that fills my time, and indeed the place would be a ramshackle without someone to enforce authority.”
    “Just think on it,” Willow replied, rising from her rest, laying a soft hand on his arm, “It is a fact I myself am having trouble accepting, but we are not without allies. We must rely on each other, for none of us can do this alone.”

    As the sun dropped behind the horizon later that night, the group gathered around the table in the tavern. Bor had recovered slowly from the impressive amass of wounds he had taken, walking with only a slight limp as the flesh knitted back together along his legs and torso. Teelee strolled in with her usual swagger, head held high, nose turned up. The only indication of her perilous fall was the covered wince within her step.
    Dismissing the tavern staff, the group turned their attentions to the task at hand. The discussion of the failing defence they were employing was long and tedious. By nights end, they had agreed to Willow's proposed guarding shifts, admitting to their failing at underutilising the magic of Vetra-Kali’s eyes. They had determined the best alterations to the entrance way, and decided on new specialised training for their pitiful followers. Pellius had scripted a list of which men and women would be best suited to which training, proposing to initiate the instruction himself. Their final task for the night was to sketch out a rough drawing of their plans for the entrance. They needed to open out the inner passage way to make room for more than one defender and narrow the door way to keep ranks of enemies from swarming them. Willow had come up with the idea of placing a gate at the tail of the pit trap, to force their attackers to deal with it instead of leaping over and rendering it obsolete.
    “We need time to arm ourselves before we go running into battle,” she said, “Though humorous it may be, fighting in our nightwear is highly impractical.”
    “I didn't mind the view,” Bor said with a cheeky grin.
    “Nor I,” Pellius chuckled.
    Willow smirked, “Be that as it may, I'd rather not be gutted, the erotic fantasy of naked fighting loses its charm when I picture my insides on my outsides.”
    “Then we must take time to prepare,” Garvana agreed.
    “Perhaps we set up bunks in the throne room,” Willow suggested, “Sleep close to one another so we can muster our defence in the shortest amount of time.”
    Garvana scoffed, looking from Willow to Pellius, “You two don't do much sleeping though…”
    Willow couldn't help but grin.
    “The roster,” she continued, ignoring the comment, “Allows each of us our own free time to follow whatever pursuits we wish. Two on guard at anytime, changing shifts that align with the timing of the rituals. The signal horns, set with the series of alarms, can be heard from any level of the compound.”
    “Very good,” Pellius praised, “We shall implement the changes over the next week.”
    “Agreed.”

    Willow couldn't help but be impressed with the group's progress throughout the following days. Garvana and Teelee took charge of the reconstruction in the entrance, combining their arcane skill to reform the stone walls into malleable forms. Pellius separated the strongest and most agile of the minions, setting them up into groups for training drills. Taken from their stockpile, he armed each set of guards with a different assortment of weapons. The men were made slightly uncomfortable with the joining of the boggard warriors, but under the intense scrutiny of Pellius, Bor and Willow, they performed through any trace of discomfort.
    “Shieldbearers, spearmen and macemen with me,” Pellius commanded, a fierce bite to his tone, “Outriders and spearmen with Bor. Longbowmen with Mistress Willow. You have your basic instruction. Follow it, learn it, become it. Until now, you have proven useless. A waste of our time and resources. Prove to us your worth!”
    The men and women complied readily, launching into their drills without need for guidance. Willow was glad to see her three scouts had been selected as longbowmen. She was quick to select Willem, the small scouting parties leader, as her man in charge. He ran each drill with practiced efficiently, a sharp short voice instructing the untrained novices in the basics of long ranged fighting. Willow was free to roam the hall in observation, a menacing deterrent to indolence, and an intimidatingly inspiring presence.
    Pellius’ voice boomed across the throne room, ricocheting through the passageways, bounding across the stone. A fearsome aura loomed around him, strong, dominating, commanding. He ordered the men around with ease, a natural leadership to his ways. When he spoke, everyone listened. He did not request or ask. He demanded, and all who heard him obeyed. Willow found herself naturally gravitating towards him, her feet meandering with no intentional purpose.
    “Hold fast!” he called to the shieldbearers, “Do not cringe, do not retreat! Do not falter!”
    Willow smiled as the men remained in position as the flurry of attacks came barrelling their way. They received the blows and deflected the assault with the steel of their shields.
    “Again!” Pellius yelled.
    Willow kept her face cool as she approached, eyes full of heated intensity.
    “You should use that voice when we meet later this evening,” she whispered sensually, quiet enough for only their ears to hear.
    Without change in his face or demeanour, he replied, “This voice is reserved for those who do not know proper discipline, my lady. And you, are the most disciplined that I know.”
    Willow surveyed the men’s progress as she responded.
    “If that tone is my punishment,” she breathed, a subtle grin lifting the corner of her lip, “Then I believe I must misbehave and receive my chastisement…”


    Curiosity had always been Willow's blessing and her curse. As an adolescent it had always lead her right into the path of the unknown, and more often than not, the forbidden. It had been the driving force that found her listening in on conversations not meant for her ears, seeking secrets and truths where she was meant to remain oblivious. Her young wide eyed appearance had always aided her in these ventures, for even when she was caught all she needed was to bat her eyelashes and respond in the naïve soft voice that accompanied her innocent face, and all those involved would believe she had heard little that could compromise their position. It was this curiosity paired with her naturally suspicious nature that had her seeking information on all of those around her, always looking for a crutch or heel that she could use to her advantage.
    It was a subtle change that had Willow prying for details into the pasts of the other Forsaken. Loyalty was something she held above all else. Hers was not an easy venture to gain. There was only one entity she gave it to freely and without restraint, and her bond with him was soul deep and full hearted. But of late, she had begun to trust four other souls; four others who were bound to her true master, four others who pledged their allegiance to him along side her.
    To say the Forsaken were an oddity to her was an understatement. Willow had only ever known a handful of others who shared their unwavering faith. Her grandparents and great grandparents had been loyal to their Infernal Father. Even hidden in the shadows, hidden in the very ranks of the blasphemous opposing religion, their loyalty had not broken. The same could not be said for her parents. Bartley was a disappointment to the Monteguard bloodline. He held the ambition of a true Asmodean, but his loyalty went only as far as his coin purse. His word meant little. He was faithful while it suited him, but when there was work to be done to achieve his goals, he would flake and fall resigned to keep what he had made and run. He spoke the words of loyalty to Asmodeus, but offered no service, no sacrifice. He was faithful right up until the moment came that he had to actually put in any effort to back his words. His silver tongue and easy lies made him prosperous in the lands of Talingarde - but family, faith and loyalty held no bounds over his soul; he was the worst kind of dishonourable. Willow's mother was no better. If she had to describe the woman in one word, it would be lazy. She steadily grew fatter as she rested in the family's manor. A manor that had stood for more than eight decades, a residence that was a testament to the effort and strength of the Monteguard’s legacy. Willow's mother resided in the walls, undeserving of the luxury and wealth. She had been the bride of an arranged marriage, a woman of status and rank in Cheliax, selected to strengthen both families ties in and out of the grand homeland. Willow was unsure if she had always been so useless and lazy, or if the easy life away from Asmodean rule had changed her. She held no ambition, no strength, no might. She desired more wealth and privilege, but refused to do anything to acquire it.
    Their final act of disloyalty was what broke the last wisp of attachment that Willow had for the pair. They had turned her in, ruined her plans to bring the family's name higher into the ranks of royalty. Their reasoning was unknown to her, yet she figured there was little more to their plans than getting rid of the risk to their cosy positions. Willow was resolved to take everything from them. They did not deserve a life of luxury, they did not deserve the endless wealth that the Monteguard’s had clawed over the centuries. They deserved nothing. No sympathy, no forgiveness, no repentance.

    “What of family?” Willow asked Teelee, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
    They sat around the large wooden table in the tavern of the Horn, sipping wine from tumblers while the fireplace sapped the chill from the air. Willow had asked many such questions, eager to learn more about those that she was fated to ally with.
    “Five brothers,” Teelee replied, “Four older, one younger, and a younger sister. The eldest is a General in the army, fourth eldest is a Major. Second and third eldest are part of the Gladiator Pits. Fighting tournaments created so the slaves of the land can slaughter each other for the amusement of the nobility. Feral displays of barbarism if you ask me.”
    Willow grimaced, “Indeed.”
    Turning her glass in her fingers, she stared into the flickering wisps of flame.
    “And what of you? Did you work in Rahadoum?”
    “My family are a large part of the slaving industry,” she responded, “We were very well known, quite successful. I tried my hand at bookkeeping, but found it tedious. I was better suited to being the face of the house, creating contacts, securing contracts. They say I am most captivating.”
    Willow couldn't help but chuckle, “That you are Teelee. So what is it that had you sailing east towards Talingarde?”
    Teelee sighed, “It is hard to stand out against six other siblings. Military prowess and profitable slaving were very well regarded in my fathers eye. I wished to make a name for myself, I wished to make him proud. So I was given a ship, fifty men and free reign to travel and expand our reach in the slaving industry. And as luck would have it,” she said with an eye roll, “I landed on the only shores within reach that condemned slaving.”
    “An unfortunate turn of events given your goals,” Willow said, noting the irony.
    Teelee pursed her lips, “Indeed.”
    “And what of marriage?” Willow asked, “I do not know the Rahadoum customs, do you have a husband waiting for you?”
    “No,” Teelee replied lightly, “I have not met a suitable man. He must be charismatic, handsome and rich. A trio more rare than it should be.”
    Willow laughed, “Agreed. You can have mine if you wish.”
    “You're married?” Teelee asked in shock.
    Willow laughed again at Teelee’s dropped jaw, “Yes. Though I'm not sure if it counts if your husband condemns you to a death by drawn and quartering.”
    “Oh, I suppose not,” Teelee laughed, “Still, he was rich and handsome?”
    Willow scoffed, “Very. You’re welcome to him, though I suppose his fanatical Mitran faith may pose a problem, he's pretty against the whole slave trading thing…”
    “Ah,” Teelee said, waving a dismissive hand, “Minor details. He’ll learn.”
    Willow and Teelee burst into giggles. When they recovered, Teelee turned to her with a curious expression.
    “Do you plan your vengeance against him?”
    Willow frowned slightly. The anger she felt towards him had dimmed, the hatred she had held for him had morphed into almost pity. He would never understand her motives or her resolve, he would fight against her and seek her demise in retribution for her disloyalty. She felt so little for him, he was just another blind fool who could not see the beauty in her plans for order and her dreams for structure. He was just another stepping stone in her path to righting the wrongs of the land.
    “I will kill him,” she said seriously, “I will cut him down myself, for he will never waver in his rigid beliefs of Mitra. He will never accept his place, he will accept only death before he bends to the will of Asmodeus.”
    “And that does not bother you,” Teelee said, less of a question.
    “No,” Willow replied truthfully, “His death will be one of many. He deserves no more mercy than any other who stand in our way.”

    On the fourteenth week of their stay in the towering spire, Willow and Garvana returned from Farholde late in the evening. They had spent part of their day casing the town for rumours or information on the dragon that had been sighted over the city in the week before. While they found no further mention of the dragon, they did come across the raving claims of a fanatical Mitran preacher. Brother Ezekiel of the Mission of Saint Larius the Leper, had been overheard trying to empower the people of Farholde to rise up against the evil festering in the Horn of Abbadon. Fortunately, of those who had not already gone to war against the bugbear army ravaging the south, there were few left in the city who cared to involve themselves. Willow and Garvana had returned to the Horn with the knowledge of the minor annoyance the preacher had been causing.
    “He's not worth our time,” Teelee said.
    The group had once again gathered around the tavern to plan their week.
    “He is a threat,” Garvana countered, “Why has Elise not dealt with him?”
    Willow scoffed, “He is a preacher known for his lunatic rants, he is of no import to us.”
    “He is drawing unwanted attention to the Horn,” Garvana replied, “With our second sacrifice due next week, we need to keep our plans as quiet as possible.”
    “Send the guards,” Pellius offered, “It will be a good opportunity to employ their new training. We needn't waste our own time with him.”
    “It is a fair compromise Garvana,” Willow said.
    Garvana frowned, “Alright, but we must arm them, give them gold for bribes and supplies. They are fairly useless, I shouldn't expect them to succeed.”
    “Fear can be a miraculous motivator,” Willow grinned.
    They gathered in the throne room, the five of them standing tall along the altars steps. The hellhounds sat patiently by Willow's feet, perched regally above the cowering servants below. They had selected a group of five of their followers. Willow didn't know any of their names, nor did she care to. A brute of man stood in front of her, strong broad shoulders hunched in intimidation. Willow watched him with curiosity as he chanced a glance at her. Odd, each time he seemed to be gawking at her outfit as apposed to her body. To his left stood a woman close to Willow's height, blonde hair wrapped in an intricate braid, a semi-fine set of robes draped gracefully over her shoulders. She reminded Willow of the lower nobles from Matharyn, nose tilted in an air of superiority they did not possess. Next in line stood a skeletal man, twitching in a constant state of anxiety, black robes covered in charred marks and burns. A pyromancer, she assumed. Second from the end stood the thief. Willow could pick him out of a group with just a glance. Slender and lean, perched on the balls of his feet, ready to pounce or flee. With constant shifting eyes, he was wary of his surroundings, unsure whether his selection was a bonus or a death sentence. Lastly stood a man she could only describe as the sacrifice. Willow vaguely remembered him from their initial meeting, she had laughed for hours as he had struggled with the courage to convince Pellius to allow his pig into the Horn. The man was a pig farmer. He had joined the other peasants in their capture, and his pig had followed him for hundreds of miles, all the way to the Horn’s entrance. The reasoning Pellius had selected him for this mission was beyond her, for she figured he would prove little more than a good distraction.
    “There is a task we have for you, a chance for you to prove your worth to us,” Pellius boomed, his voice hard and commanding, “There is a preacher within Farholde, Ezekiel Hawthorn, he speaks against us and urges the people to rise and raid the Horn of Abbadon! This must not happen! He must be silenced!”
    The five of them trembled in fear, Willow watched their reactions carefully, reading the emotions they were struggling to hide.
    “This heretical scum is nothing!” Garvana called, “He must be slain! And made an example of! When he is dead, then we will be troubled by his voice no longer!”
    “No,” Teelee frowned, “If he is merely slain, he will become a martyr. That will only prove the truth of his words. He must be discredited, his name tarnished.”
    “Bah,” Bor scoffed, “Who cares what those worms believe, by the time they summon any courage we will be gone from this place!”
    Willow had to grit her teeth through the bickering of the group. She watched the faces of the five servants contort with fear and confusion. The situation was almost humorous.
    “Enough!” Pellius bellowed, “You have your mission. The ogre Grumblejack will aid you in this, seek him out in the Lord Drownington Inn…”
    Willow fazed out as the others continued their orders, she was busy watching the blonde woman and her reactions. There was certainly fear behind her eyes, but it was not a terrified mindless fear like the rest of them. This woman was cunning and deceptive, the trembling she showed was a fairly convincing act. It would have fooled many, but Willow had spent too long faking the feminine emotions, it was easy for her to recognise them in others. She would be one to watch, Willow thought.
    “Go!” Pellius yelled, a fearsome and menacing warning, “Do not fail us!”

    Much to Willow's utter shock, they did not fail completely. When they returned to the Horn two days later, they had indeed tarnished Brother Ezekiel’s name and he was certainly deceased. Unfortunately for them, it had been revealed that the Mitran disciple had been a werewolf. And although talk of the Horn of Abbadon had ceased for the moment, the chatter of his hidden transformation had spread rapidly through the many lips of Farholde’s population. Garvana was furious. She roared at the three who returned, cursing their incompetence and failure. Willow struggled not to laugh as she set them on a ridiculous quest as punishment; the capture of a hydra known to inhabit the swamp infested lands to the west of the Caer Bryr. Again, Willow watched the woman. She took Garvana's ridicule in her stride, showing no protest or worry at her impossible task. She merely bowed and strode out of the throne room. When the two replacements they had selected followed out of the room, Willow let her laughter out.
    “A hydra, Garvana?” she giggled.
    Garvana grinned in response, “It was the best that I could come up with. If they fail, and they will, then what have we lost? And if by some miracle they survive, then we gain a hydra to guard the caverns.”
    Willow laughed harder, “But really? A hydra?”
    The room filled with laughter, half of the group keeled over in stitches.
    “That will keep them busy for a while,” Pellius commented, “Come along Teelee, it is our shift in the sanctum.”
    Willow couldn't help the ping of jealousy as he offered her his arm, followed by the small satisfaction as Teelee strode passed and knocked it aside. His keen eyes didn't miss a thing, he smirked at Willow, raising his eyebrows in gratification. Willow laughed and rolled her eyes, silently thrilled at the reprimand his dark gaze promised.

    Once again, Willow had to clench her teeth to stop her mouth dropping open in shock. It was late in the evening, darkness already smothering the land, when the five servants returned – with an unconscious hydra in tow. The group stood silent for a moment as the servants approached, eyes wide in disbelief. Willow could barely imagine the luck they would have needed to perform the feat, subdue the hydra and drag its body back to the Horn. Pellius was the first to recover.
    “Adequate,” he nodded, the most praise Willow had heard him ever give the servants.
    He turned from them as Bor and Garvana started debating the best position for the hydra to ambush their enemies. The servants knew they were dismissed. As they turned to leave, Willow excused herself from the discussion.
    “You,” Willow called to the woman, “What is your name?”
    She turned to face Willow, head bowed in deference, clutching her side in an overly theatrical fashion.
    “Mistress,” she shakily bowed, faking as wounded prey, “I am Felicity Noverball.”
    Willow saw the slightest twitch to her lip, her sight glance to the right too sharply, tell tale signs of a lie to those who knew how to read them.
    “Lie to me again,” Willow warned low and menacing, “And I shall have your tongue.”
    The woman looked genuinely shocked to have been caught out. She stammered on her words and continued to dramatically clutch her wounds.
    “Save the act for the fools who would believe it,” Willow snapped.
    Looking once again in disbelief, the woman slowly stood straighter, eyeing Willow with a subtle mix of fear, intrigue and respect.
    “Yes Mistress,” she replied, a softer tone to her voice, “I am Lady Cassandra of Entharyl.”
    Willow frowned slightly, “The fishing port? The governing lord there, Davenrow correct?”
    Looking slightly impressed and worried, “Correct Mistress.”
    Staring the woman down, Willow looked her over critically, watching each reactions as they tinted her face. After a moment, she came to a decision.
    “You have a talent for the dramatics,” Willow commented.
    “I-
    “Speak only when you are told,” Willow snapped, pausing for a moment, “It is a good thing, a tool I can make use of. Come along, I shall explain what I require.”
    When they arrived in her chamber, Willow began to unstrap her armour, speaking as she worked. The woman readily approached and began aiding her undressing.
    “I require a spy,” Willow said plainly, “I do not require infiltration, merely observation. I expect the utmost secrecy. And I require someone who can lie their way out if they are caught.”
    The woman listened intently, continuing her task of the straps along Willow's back.
    “I require you to watch a woman for me,” Willow continued, “I require her habits and movements, the people she meets with, the people she mingles with. You will not be able to overhear her plans or be privy to her private details, do not attempt it, she is a formidable woman. Just observe her and report back to me in a week. I shall provide coin and accommodation. This is the only chance I will give you. Fail me, and you'll be cleaning the floors for the rest of your time. Do you understand?”
    The woman couldn't hide the sound of glee and the look of excitement in her eyes, “Yes Mistress. Thank you Mistress, I shall not fail.”
    As the last straps were undone and the breastplate fell to the mattress, Willow ripped out both daggers in a deft swipe, pirouetting and forcing the woman against the wall with the blades pressing into her throat.
    “Do not think of betrayal,” Willow warned, a rasping malevolence, “For what I will do to you if you betray me is far worse than anything your mind is capable of envisioning.”
    The colour was sapped from the woman’s face, a sickly pale green washing over her skin. She trembled beneath Willow's grip, legs weak, knees quivering in terror.
    “Yes Mistress,” she whispered.
    Willow stared into her eyes for a moment, allowing the vicious aura to surround the woman. Suddenly, she dropped her grip, sheathing her daggers.
    Calmly she spoke, starting on the straps of her greaves, “It works both ways. Fail, and you shall never regret anything more. Succeed, and I can be most generous with your reward. You will not eat the slop given to the lowers, you will not dress in those rags they wear. There is much for you to gain, a higher station if you are deserving.”
    Willow almost smirked as the talk of reward overtook the fear Cassandra had been oozing. She stood straighter, a small smile on her lips, returning to the task of helping Willow out of her armour.
    She quietly whispered her response, “Thank you Mistress…”

  19. - Top - End - #19
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 15 - Leadership - Part 2
    Spoiler: Chapter 15 - Leadership Part 2
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    As the boggards returned from their hunt, shouldering a giant glistening scorpion, Willow was struck with an idea. She approached Pellius as he appraised their capture, deep in conversation with Bor about its possible use. Willow waited for a break in their debate.
    “The tender flesh under the scorpion shell is considered a rare delicacy on Talingarde shores,” she said quietly, “It is served only once a year, at the Royal Gala on the Vernal Equinox. Perhaps the men have earned a reward for their successes.”
    When the two men looked less than convinced, Willow smiled and repeated their own master’s words, “Serve thy master well, and be rewarded.”
    Pellius’ lips quirked into a smile, he nodded his understanding to Willow.
    “I have eaten one before,” Bor huffed, “I’ll gut it and remove its poison glands.”
    “Take it to the kitchen,” Willow commanded the men, a joyous hint in her tone “Tonight, we celebrate, tonight we feast like royalty!”
    The group of men roared in excitement, scurrying with renewed vigour to cart the beast of a scorpion into the Horn, running off to spread news of the night to their fellows.
    Garvana smiled, “This will be very good for morale.”

    As the tender flesh was seared and blanched, the mugs of cheap ale poured free and passed hands. One of the orphans that Vandermir had supplied, had a hidden talent for playing the fiddle. He sang crude songs of tavern wenches, cheap prostitutes and nights spent in the drunk tank. The men and women of their growing organisation danced to the tunes and sang along with the vile lyrics, laughing and cheering as the night grew late.
    Teelee had shunned the idea of the celebratory evening, instead volunteering to take the guard shift in the sanctum. The rest of the group sat at the head table, poised on the platform along the throne’s base. They talked amongst themselves, occasionally stopping to listen along to the gaudy lyrics of a tune, or laugh at the particularly inebriated individuals.
    Willow laughed along as the fiddle player crooned an ode to her beauty, she mockingly bowed to his confession of love as a finish. He sung a low bellowed tune to Pellius’ strength and might, remarking on his fascinatingly sculpted chest. Pellius sat with a slightly amused expression, keeping his face vague until he lost control at the ode to his voluptuous buttox. The small man sang a fearsome tale of Bor’s ferocity, painting the picture of a legendary battle where he emerged the lone victor. When he turned to Garvana, Willow found herself intently listening, sipping on her glass of velvet red wine, thoroughly enjoying her night. The fiddle dropped to a slow hum, the tune turning almost sad in its melody. He serenaded Garvana with a tale of her devotion and strength of conviction. He crooned to her of the fire in her words and her eyes, matching that which burned in her heart. Though sung through his drunken rasping voice, the melody was uplifting and joyous. As he strummed his last few notes, he bowed to the four of them first, before singing his final line.
    “And please, my lords and my ladies,” he crooned, “Don't kill me for this in the morning…”


    Sitting cross legged by the base of the malevolent statue in the sanctum, Willow perused the work of the scrying magic in the small water trough filled with its festering liquid. She had managed to shrug off the eery ominous aura that's radiated from the alabaster carving, just as she learned to ignore the stench of the infectious broth in front of her. As disgusting as her position was, she had to admit, the magic of the Eyes was incredible. A vision of the halls appeared in the mirror of the basin, she watched as the guards stood relaxed and at ease in the corridor. She cringed as she watched one of their men chew his tobacco and spit it into the corner, mentally noting who he was so she could reprimand him for his filth later.
    As the structure pulsed another wave of sickening energy, Willow trembled. She could feel the touch of the blistering infection the dark magic was throbbing, slowly seeping into her skin.
    “Enough,” she snapped, rising from her perch, “Will you take over Pellius? I can not sit by it any longer today.”
    Courteous as ever, “Of course, my lady,” he replied, “I believe it is almost the end of our shift anyway.”
    As he took up her place, she strolled to the opposite side of the room, leaning back against the stone work. She watched him for a moment, admiring the dedication to each and every task he took on. He stared into the basin with an intensity Willow could never muster for such a mundane and repulsive task.
    “May I ask you a question?” she said.
    “You may, my lady,” he replied.
    "Do you miss Cheliax?"
    “It has only been 9 months since I left, yet it feels a lifetime ago…” he said airily, pausing in thought for a moment, “Put simply, yes. It is the familiar, my birthplace, my childhood nostalgia. Nothing will ever replace those memories.”
    "What is it like?” Willow asked, “Living under Asmodean rule? I've never known a life where I've not had to hide or deny my faith."
    Deep and powerful, he said, "Following the herd is for fools. Fear not their icy derision. Fear only thy Infernal Lord."
    Willow smiled at Thorn’s familiar words.
    “Listen to me preach,” Pellius chuckled, “Soon I will be as bad as our proud Sister Garvana.”
    She laughed, “You're a long way off that sort of fanatical preaching.”
    “What I mean is Cheliax is different, and yet in so many ways, not that different. I was raised by the temple of Asmodeus. My Mistress, Grand High Priestess Aspexia Rugatonn, expected us all to uphold and enforce the tenants of Asmodeus, wherever we tread. Failure to comply was not taken well. An oddly familiar story, wouldn't you agree?”
    He smiled and motioned around him and out beyond the stone wall hiding the lands of Talingarde from view.
    “As to the day to day living, Asmodeus’ followers are much like the people in other lands, except obedience to their superiors is demanded rather than preferred. Perhaps they differ for they believe in harsher punishments for lawbreakers, are accustomed to the appearance of imps and devils among their daily lives, and are openly tolerant of slavery. Measures which allow our Empire to stay the most powerful and commanding force in the region.”
    His smile dimmed, “Of course there have always been those who rebel against the Prince's will, and Cheliax in that, is no different. As a paladin, my main task was to keep the city in order and compliant with the rule of House Thrune. I lead a squad of five soldiers, bringing obedience and punishment to the any who would attempt to revolt; be it slaves, civilians, even my less than devoted comrades should it be called for. You are an educated woman, perhaps you have been versed in the rise of Thrune and Asmodean rule?”
    “I have read much on Cheliax,” Willow frowned, “But most of it was more of a personal import. Tomes of the Monteguard history and legacy, or documents deemed priority of the bloodline. There was little more than curiosities containing knowledge of the country itself. And of course, the rulership of Cheliax held no place among the teaching of Mitra on Talingarde.”
    “Ah,” he nodded, keeping his gaze observing the scrying bowl as he spoke, “Then allow a man a portion of pride in his country's success. Before Asmodean worship took control of Cheliax, the prophecies of the Starfall Doctrine predicted the Last of the First Humans, Aroden, would return from his divine ascension to lead humanity in the Age of Glory. He was to lead the charge from Cheliax, which would become the most prominent nation in the world. With this knowledge, Cheliax undertook the Everwar for 100 years, expanding her borders and spreading civility and culture among the barbaric Varisians and Galt.”
    “This i have read,” Willow said, transfixed by interest in his words, “When the day of prophecy arrived, Aroden failed to appear.”
    “Indeed,” Pellius said, “It is said that vicious storms and hurricanes racked the entire land for twenty one days, seemingly endless torrents of rain flooded the expanse, fierce winds ripped the very trees from their roots. The Eye of Abendego appeared, and remains, to create chaos in our seas. When the storms subsided, the clerics had lost their divine powers granted by Aroden. Robbed of the promised divine favour, our civil country fell into anarchy, and the lands we had brought to prosperity rose up against us. Only the strongest leadership could regain control in the chaos that ensued. And so it was, Queen Abrogail of House Thrune signed the Infernal Contract with the powers of Hell, and fought her way to lead the land, establishing the worship of Asmodeus as the new state religion and ruling with an iron fist. The worship of other Gods for healing, crafting and prosperity were still allowed, as long as it was known that Asmodeus was superior and the others faiths did not challenge His position.”
    “Perhaps Asmodeus had planned that all along. The Master Deceiver luring humanity with power and prestige only to prove how worthless we all are in comparison to His greatness. Only allowing us prosperity again once we acknowledge his omnipotence. The mind may boggle at the scope of such an event, yet we stand ready to deliver an Archdeacon's plague to land in order to simply loosen the grip of Mitra from this land. Maybe it is not so absurd? Here, the odds may seem a little more skewed, but the mission remains the same to me; uphold and enforce the tenants of Asmodeus, wherever I tread.”
    Willow smiled at the force of the words as they left his mouth. She could feel the Infernal fire that raged within him. He was devoted to this cause, with his entire being; mind, body and soul. As she opened her mouth to say so, her reply was cut short by the sound of two familiar voices echoing up the stairway.
    Bor and Garvana loudly scurried their way to the top of the staircase, fresh and well rested faces as they approached.
    “All quiet,” Pellius said, reverting effortlessly back into his professional commanding role, “No disturbances or suspicious activity.”
    He clasped Bor's forearm in a masculine hand shake.
    “Right you are,” Bor replied, “We’ll take it from here.”
    After farewelling the pair for the evening, Pellius offered Willow his arm as they strolled down to the lower levels. Accepting it, her mind continued to turn, her curiosity not yet sated.
    “What was it that had your ship sailing towards Talingarde?"
    “Ambition, politics, caution, opportunity,” he said, his lip quirking slightly, “And add a dash of fate perhaps.”
    Willow raised her eyebrows and smiled, “That effectively tells me nothing.”
    “The temple novices are trained to be ambitious,” he continued, “And trained well. I was no different in that regard. Religious, arcane, martial and tactical training were all standard, but I sought more. Diplomacy, prolific names, scandal, sex, wine lists, art. These were what had more powerful warriors and more dastardly priests seeking my favour –
    “Warriors and priests were seeking you for sex?” Willow grinned.
    “My lady,” he shook his head, trying to hide his smirk, “On occasion your mind holds much similarity to that of an adolescent boy.”
    “On occasion,” Willow said quietly, still grinning, “I'd have to agree.”
    “They would seek things which others within the temple could not supply. And so I rose in influence and power. Unfortunately, that is a double edged blade. A high standing among the temple, the capitol's more influential members and many a lady was always going to draw envious eyes from below and wary eyes from above. After I countered my third assassination attempt, I decided to seek prestige further afield and so I volunteered to head a diplomatic envoy to Rahadoum.”
    “From there,” he shrugged nonchalantly, “The winds, an incompetent captain, fate, who knows? But I dare not turn my back on a land so opposed to our Lord Asmodeus presence. From what I've encountered, the Mitran governance pursue strict religious obedience, capital punishment, torture and a strongly regimented army. Why oppose our Prince, yet continue with so much of what he stands for? Why allow the weak to rise?”
    “Because they try to ignore the natural order of the world,” Willow mused, “But it can not be ignored. The strong will always rule the weak. They must, for the weak would not survive on their own. Of the many wrongs of this land, tampering with the order is their most heinous crime. Even if we were not the harbingers of change, the world would right itself eventually. The weak can not grow, they can not truly rule. A stronger more powerful force will always come and wash the weakness back into its place.”
    Pellius looked to her with a true smile, “Indeed.”
    They continued their leisurely stroll through the halls, detouring to check in on the guards, watching their backs straighten as Willow and Pellius passed. While Pellius demanded a report from the captain, Willow approached the feral man still chewing his vile tobacco.
    “Mistress!” he said, black oozing from his teeth.
    “I am in a generous mood today,” Willow said sharply, “So I will give you one warning. If you spit your filth on my wall again, I will cut out your tongue.”
    His face paled as the surprise passed and the frightening intent of her words registered.
    “Do you understand?” she bit.
    “Y-yes Mistress,” he trembled.
    Willow raised her eyebrows, staring at him for a moment, letting the intimidating fire in her eyes penetrate his mind. She turned, gracefully strolling away, accepting Pellius’ arm once again. He chuckled as they moved away.
    “You are quite fearsome, my lady,” he said, “You would do well in Cheliax.”
    “I'd let you cut it out,” she cringed, “I wouldn't wish to taint my blades with his filth.”
    Laughing in response, he guided Willow towards her chamber, calling for a servant to procure them a pot of tea.
    "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" Willow asked, unbuckling the straps of her breastplate.
    As he began to unlace his own armour, the easy smile slipped from his face, replaced by a guarded harsher expression.
    “Blood ties? It is possible. The temple gave my siblings shape and form though. Brothers and Sisters truly. What of you? There are two inquisitive minds at work here, and only my tongue is doing the talking. I have heard no mention of any siblings?”
    “There are none,” Willow said lightly, “I was an only child. A miraculous one at that. My mother was barren, as am I.”
    “Ah,” he replied sombrely, “You have my sympathies.”
    Willow smiled, a small and sad smile, “Do not pity me. It is perhaps a blessing, for I would have conceived a child with my pathetic husband. A child raised by a devout Mitran and a blasphemous harlot. It is best that such a union was avoided.”
    "What are your parents like?" she asked, hoping to stop further prying into her infertility.
    His face turned bitter, “My father was a fool whom Hell devoured,” he said viciously, “And my mother paid dearly for his mistakes.”
    His eyes bore into hers, flashing with a hatred so fierce it made Willow shiver. She could feel the anger radiating from him, the burning intensity that churned the thoughts in his mind. His eyes slammed shut. Slowly, he filled his chest in a deep breath, exhaling as the anger subsided.
    “All this talk of home,” he said softly, “I had forgotten you probably had not been privy to my upbringing. My father, Marcus Albus, was a rather influential noble and bureaucrat. Our family were ones who were not afraid to dabble with the Infernal in order to strengthen a position or gain power, so when my father required an heir and my mother could not conceive, he turned to the temple of Asmodeus. She fell pregnant with me. Everyone was overjoyed, but complications arose during my birth.”
    A hint of regret trickled into his voice, “It was said that when Marco looked down upon his son, he saw the most handsome baby, with blond locks adorning his head so much like his mothers. Yet when his baby turned to look at Marco and he saw the red glow of hellfire in its eyes, he knew he could not keep his son, for it would be a constant reminder that his greed had killed his beloved.”
    She knew her sympathy or pity would be unwelcome. So she sat and listened, letting him air what he wished or needed, even if he didn't know that he did.
    “So he left me to the temple,” he said with a deceptively casual air, “It was only after his death fifteen years later that the temple revealed my heritage. I was granted the name Lord Albus, though it is an empty title now. I plan to make that name great once again. In this regard, you and I are similar, are we not? Restoring our names? I am curious to know how you plan to do this after the fall of these Mitran fools?”
    A knock on the door halted the conversation. While the servant delivered and arranged their tea, Willow thought over her response. As the door clicked shut behind the woman, Willow lifted her cup to her lips before continuing.
    “The Monteguard’s were once a proud and powerful house,” she said quietly, “Once strong and formidable, their reach covered the lands of Cheliax, Rahadoum, Varisia and, in their later years, Talingarde. The Archons of the bloodline were once fearsome and tremendously influential. Great grandfather Cassidus was a powerful man indeed. He first held the title of Lieutenant General in Queen Abrogail’s royal army, then he lead his portion of men to Talingarde to aid in the Great Conquest and rid the land of the feral clutches of savagery. There are many such men and women in the Monteguard legacy, many stories to proudly boast. But then there are the stains, the marks of dishonour that can not be wiped from time…”
    Willow felt her own temper flaring, the anger burning hollow in face of unsated vengeance.
    “Your parents?” Pellius asked, interrupting her stewing rage, “You have mentioned them little, and each time you've either been drunk or cursing.”
    “They are traitors,” she said fiercely, “Traitors to everything I hold dear. Family, loyalty and faith. They have turned their back on our Infernal Father, they have abandoned their faith. They betrayed me, using the so called laws of this blasphemous land to incarcerate me.”
    Willow laughed, a harsh and feral chuckle, “And they did it for nothing. They gained nothing from it. They actually had to pay to make it happen. They tarnished the Monteguard name for nothing! They have no honour! No respect! No ambition! And they will die for their disloyalty. I have no pity, nor sorrow. They will die, and be left to Asmodeus’ judgement.”
    Pellius watched her with keen and controlled eyes, “It will be as it should.”
    Willow breathed heavy, anger swarming through her veins. The cup rattled in its saucer, her hands shaking with fury. Frustrated, she placed the cup upon the table and stood from her seat, walking to the window. She stared out of the slender hole in the stone, watching the last of the sun shrink behind the horizon, the palette of the great forest morphing into a deeper ominous emerald. Slowly, her breathing returned to normal, the tightness eased from her chest. Pellius’ soft footsteps sounded behind her, bringing him flush to her back. She could feel the warmth from his body as his hands gently caressed her shoulders. His strong powerful hands could be remarkably delicate when he willed it. As soft as a breath, he began to hum one of his operatic melodies, his deep baritone voice pulling the tune into cascading depths. The sound always had a profound effect on Willow, her heart started to beat faster, her breath quickened as if the notes were a soft touch upon her flesh.
    "Where did you learn to sing?" she breathed, closing her eyes, drifting with the melody.
    “I always had a fondness for culture and arts,” he said quietly, methodically digging his thumbs into the muscles of her shoulders, “Keeping an eye on social events and knowing the going on of the town was part of what made me who I am. Knowing the operas, having a palate for food and drink, working through the intrigues of a room; these were my strengths. I guess after a while the melodies begin to stay with you, but I do not give the diabolic operas of Cheliax the justice they truly deserve. Once we have the means, I intend to bring that slice of civility to Talingarde, rest assured.”
    “It is powerful,” she said softly, “I can feel the words, rather than hear them,” she chuckled, “That sounds absurd.”
    “Not at all,” he replied politely, “But come, let us steer the conversation away from the heart. A question for a question.”
    Willow smirked at the familiar game.
    “So,” he said mischievously, “What do I want to know of the mysterious Willow Monteguard? Favourite colour, crimson. Hounds over felines. Red wine, powerful men, a fine dancer…”
    Willow laughed as he spoke, having to admit he knew her pleasantries intimately.
    “Hmm, a curiosity perhaps. You are intelligent, beautiful, brave and devout. What draws your likes to a career as an assassin?” he asked, nodding to the engraved daggers strapped to her belt, “I've seen their blades in my time.”
    Smiling, Willow wondered how much he really knew of the Black Serpent Coterie.
    “I'm very good at it,” she said with a sly smile, turning to face him, quivering at his proximity, “And the job entails all the qualities I seek and possess. Discipline, order, strict rules and detachment. It is a most enticing path…”
    Pellius stepped closer, bringing his face closer to hers. Willow felt the air in the room heat, the intent in his eyes deliciously alluring.
    “I believe the question is mine,” she said quietly, a devious glint to her tone, “Do you have a wife or a lady waiting for you on Cheliax?"
    “Ha, no,” he chuckled, bringing his face closer again, “A wife would have lead to complacency and restrictions in areas I was the sharpest. Plus, I had not met one who could... keep me interested, shall we say. Challenged.”
    He lent down, his lips brushing the flesh upon her earlobe, his heated breath reaping havoc with her body, “Perhaps Asmodeus, Calistria and Gozreh all came together to guide me into your bed,” he whispered, “Far be it for me to disappoint the gods.”
    Gently, he nipped the edge of her earlobe with his teeth, causing a shiver to reverberate through her skin. Her breathing was heavy as he withdrew, looking deep into her eyes, wicked sin peering back at her.
    “My turn,” he said, a grin creeping across his lips, “I already know you are no longer married. And I know you have more than one lover. Who was the best man you have lain with?”
    Cheeky laughter spilled from her lips, the grin she wore illuminating her pleasure at the question tainted with desire. At her laughter, Pellius pushed his weight against her, caging her slender frame against the brickwork. He grabbed her chin and forced her head up to meet his. Even through the sharp intake of breath at the pain of the stones digging into her back, still she giggled.
    “Would it please you if I answered by stroking your ego?” she stammered mischievously, struggling slightly for breath, “I could tell you that I have never had a man that could command my body the way you do. I could tell you that my body has never obeyed some one so willingly…”
    She reached up on her toes lifting her face to his, gently pressing her lips to the crevice in the corner of his mouth before tracing their shape with her tongue.
    “Or I could show you…”

    As dawn neared early the following morning, a somber tint of grey laced the sky, smothering the usual rays of welcoming gold and copper. It was their one hundred and eleventh day of the ritual. The halfway point of their mission.
    The group met in the throne room, together they made their way to the sanctum, a frightened and struggling priestess in tow. Pellius forced her further up the stairs, passing the hungry eyes of Hexor and Vexor, guiding her towards the altar. She fought to rip herself free of his grasp, knowing without thought what her fate was to be. They spoke not a word as Pellius lifted her to the table, strapping her wrists and ankles in flesh-cuttingly tight manacles. The gag in her mouth stopped the worst of the screams, muffling her cries for help and pleas for mercy. Willow felt nauseous. She understood that she must complete the task set before her, for it was her master’s wishes. That did not mean she had to enjoy it. As Teelee hurled the feral unholy broth upon the silver seal, Willow began to chant.
    “We curse the Light, the good and the just. Rise up from the darkness, tear down that which binds thee. We curse the Light, the good and the just. Call forth the powers, The vile, the malevolent, the unholy. We curse the Light, the good and the just. Defile that which trammels thee, vitiate that which shackles thee…”
    As Pellius plunged the sacrificial dagger into the chest of the Mitran priestess, Willow turned her eyes away. She continued to chant, focusing on the ominous words, cursing the light and the goodness. She tuned out the other sounds in the room, ignoring the sacrifice, not noticing if Teelee had refilled her jug or bathed the seal again.
    “We curse the Light, the good and the just. Might of evil and dark, poison the virtuous. We curse the Light, the good and the just. Taint the purity of the divine, weaken the bond and vigour.We curse the Light, the good and the just. Smother in thou shadow, enable the unleashing of darkness.”
    As the second heart dropped into the outstretched hand of Vetra-Kali, both began to pulsate anew. The Eyes in the statue lit up with green fury, sending a shockwave of emerald flame soaring into the sky. The Horn of Abbadon called out to its true master. The ground beneath their feet shook violently, sending each of them off balance, stumbling for perch. The tremors of the land reverberated outwards from the great spire, racking the surrounding towns and villages. Wraiths cackled, wisping their inky blackness in feral patterns through the air amongst the eery jade flame. A frightening blackness blanketed the sky, snuffing out each stroke of light as it tried to pierce the horizon. The sun failed that day, a dim glow behind a thickened wall of dense malevolence. The air in the sanctum grew crisp, a sickly thrum of darkness battered against Willow's skin, a feral pulse from beyond the material realm.
    As the green beacon dimmed, falling back to encompass the stone work of the Horn once more, a voice filled with terrifying malice and venom slithered from the abyss.
    “Tezahthrah voh…” it said.
    Willow cringed as she translated the foreboding words to the others, fear racking her body, a touch of regret seeping into her soul. She breathed the words, no louder than a whisper.
    “I see…”

  20. - Top - End - #20
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 16 - Darkness Feeding - Part 1

    Spoiler: Chapter 16 - Darkness Feeding - Part 1
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    The emerald flame flickered to a simmer as the throbbing malevolence softened its thrum throughout the walls of the Horn of Abbadon. The air was crisp and solemn as the group spilt and returned to their bunks for the night. Willow knew sleep would evade her, she could feel the restless worry churn through her mind, like an ominous warning begging for release from the heinous atrocity they were committing. When she reached her chamber, she found her feet pacing without intent, leading her from one side of the room to the other in frustration. A battle of will raged inside her mind; her need to obey and her moral conflict fighting for voice. They had completed the second ritual, they had sacrificed one of Mitra’s faithful, and brought themselves one step closer to unleashing the Archdeacon of Pestilence.
    She knew she would continue the absurd plan, she would fulfil her Master’s wishes and see the Tears of Achlys to his hands. But she struggled with the war of indecision, the whispering voice of hesitancy having grown stronger with each passing ritual. Though she took solace in the knowledge that they were going to employ the feat of trickery against the creature of Abbadon’s malice, deceive him into returning to the void, she worried he would find a way to bypass their scheme. The words of their pleas held part of a powerful arcane bond, he would be obligated to comply with their wishes, yet a creature of his might would surely find a way to taint and infect his end of the deal. Willow fretted over the personal repercussions of attempting such a deceit, but saw no better option, refusing the possibility of the implications surrounding letting lose a vile creature such a Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes.
    A knock of the door awoke her from her spiralling steep of worry.
    “Enter,” she called, taking a seat at her desk.
    Pellius opened the iron banded wooden door, inclining his head as he met her eyes.
    “My lady,” he greeted, “Pardon the intrusion, I came to see if you were alright? You seemed rather distressed before we parted this evening.”
    A small smile touched her lips as she answered politely, “Your concern is touching Pellius, but misplaced. I am quite alright, it is only that I am not accustomed to the butchery of such vigorous organ removal.”
    He chuckled in response, “It is not a task many have the stomach for.”
    Willow quirked an eyebrow, “It is fortunate for us that you indeed possess one.”
    “Indeed,” he replied with a smile.
    As he looked to bid her goodnight, Willow frowned in thought, acting on the instinct that told her she could trust him and his wisdom.
    “Do you have a moment?” she asked, gesturing to the lounge chair by the desk.
    “Of course, my lady,” he replied, closing the door behind him before taking up the offering.
    She churned on her words, carefully selecting the manner in which to say them.
    “I am not one for insubordination…” she began, wandering slowly to the side table, setting two cups aside and pouring fresh tea from the pot.
    Pellius raised his eyebrows, “I would not accuse you of such. Why do you say, my lady? What is troubling your thoughts?”
    Willow sighed, “I will tell you, but you must not mistake my thoughts as disloyalty.”
    She returned to her chair, handing him the slender saucer, placing hers by her side as she turned to face him, “Pellius, I will follow my Master’s orders and fulfil his wishes, I will see this mission completed. There is no force on this world that will stop me. My loyalty to our Infernal Father is my very soul, I shall never stray from his teachings. It is his very tennent of ambition that has me questioning. I shall admit, I find myself questioning the morality, the sanity of this task… The Mitran’s are naïve puppets, they follow teachings of equality and fairness when their view is so misguided. There is no equality in allowing the weak to flourish while the strong suffer. There is no fairness in the strong being condemned for being so. There is no logic in the strong allowing themselves to be used, it is a very contradiction in that statement, for if they were strong they would not allow it to continue. But as misguided as the Mitran’s are, they follow a code, a form of structure. The laws they follow may be unjust to those of true strength, but at least they follow their own rules. This plague daemon we are planning on unleashing has no such rules. It's only want is for disease, destruction and death. And we are planning on attempting to trick the beast back into its banishment, it is more than a plan; we are counting on it. A grand feat of graceful trickery if we succeed, but if we fail? If the abomination finds a way out of our trap? We have been the sole catalyst to the freedom of an entity whose base desire is to sew chaos and anarchy into the material realm… If that is our outcome, how can we justify what we have done?”
    Pellius listened patiently, nodding as she spoke.
    “This is why we cannot fail,” he said, eyes intent on Willow, “I agree, an archdeacon of Abbadon upon the material plane would be catastrophic, but the power we gain by controlling the Tears of Achlys would be beyond belief. The Mitran's would not stand a chance; no other course of action would present such strength. Although I am reluctant to say this, we must trust in Cardinal Thorn. He has obviously meticulously planned this revolution and would not risk such an occurrence hindering his rise. He would be wholly aware that an archdeacon is too powerful for us to fight or contain ourselves. An attempt to banish Vetra-Kali is risky, but if it is the only way to resolve the situation then it is the route we must take.”
    “If we fail,” Willow said quietly, “Then we have not only released him, but our attempt at deception surely will anger him.”
    “Indeed,” he replied calmly, “But it is the best option we have. We must retrieve the Tears.”
    Pellius took a slow sip of the steaming fragrant tea, placing the fragile cup back into its saucer, looking out the window into the blackened night sky. When he spoke, it was as much to himself as it was to Willow.
    “Should our current plan fail,” he continued, “We withdraw and wait. It will not be true failure unless we turn our backs on this land. The daemon will still weaken the Mitrans, though it will be a grizzly affair. Best case scenario, the Mitrans decimate their martial and religious forces banishing the deacon, allowing us fresh opportunities to seize power…”
    Out from his musing reprieve, Pellius’ eyes suddenly snapped up and bore into hers.
    “Willow,” he said intensely, no casual grace left in the expression on his face, “If the daemon does escape, flee to the coast. I've already made plans to have our newly acquired ship stocked and ready to sail on the final day of prayer. Do not attempt to save any of the others. I will do my best to withdraw our forces from the Horn, but you must flee. Do not let your pride stand in the way.”
    “Flee?” Willow said, eyebrows shooting high, “You expect me to-
    “Do not argue with me,” he cut in his commanding tone, “You must flee. Withdraw, gather the survivors and wait for your chance to return true order. The worst we can do is perish and leave Talingarde in the hands of chaos. Will you do this for me?”
    Willow frowned, the idea of retreating sitting uncomfortable within her. She looked into his eyes, unsure what she saw there. An emotion close to concern, endless pride and a certainty she couldn't mistake.
    “I will,” she said softly, before cocking her eyebrow, “But if you make a martyr out of yourself, I will raise you from the dead, just so I can kill you myself.”
    He smiled with a small chuckle, “Have no fear, my lady, i have no intention of sacrificing myself.”

    As dawn arrived to greet the expanse of the greenery in northern Talingarde, the group met in the tavern, planning their day over breakfast. Willow's dreams of a plague ridden festering land had left a bitter taste in her mouth as she methodically chewed her biscuits. They had fourteen more weeks of ritualistic prayer until she could be free of the foreboding walls of the Horn. She forcibly swallowed the food, struggling to shake off the ominous throb that had began to reverberate throughout the spire with more enthusiasm each day. Willow felt as if the Horn were calling to its master, pleading for its creator to return its abode, once again tainting its surface with the rotting filth that was the glee of the Pale Horsemen.
    “We have not given due consideration to the dragon,” Pellius said, distracting Willow from her vile thoughts.
    “None of us know any more now than we did then,” Garvana commented.
    “Perhaps I can found out more in town,” Willow offered, glad to have the conversation to keep her mind focussed, “I can visit the Hall of the Sun Victorious once more, they have an array of information catalogued there.”
    Willow couldn't help the small chuckle as both Pellius and Garvana cringed.
    “I will not step foot in such a place,” Pellius said forcefully.
    “You will not have to,” Willow said with a sly grin, “Besides, you would probably step through the doors and catch alight bursting into flames or begin melting.”
    Pellius laughed, a deep throaty chuckle.
    “Fortunately,” she continued, “I don't seem to set off any alarms when I enter.”
    “We should see if we can source any more information from the townsfolk while we're there,” Garvana added.
    “We also must speak with Elise,” Pellius said sternly, “Her failure at notifying us of the Inquisitor’s assault has not been forgotten.”
    The sour taste in Willow's mouth returned.
    “Though I have no need of being convinced of her incompetence,” Willow scoffed, “It is important to find out if she actually sent a messenger. We cannot assume otherwise, we must consider the possibility of outside interference.”
    “Agreed,” Garvana nodded, “We must also consider the words of Hisperian. He is the devil who has offered his assistance to me. He believes Elise to not be of Asmodean faith, he is unable to read her motives. But he has mentioned that Trick is most certainly one of the Infernal Lord’s servants.”
    “We may be able to use that,” Pellius said, eyebrows tight in thought, “He may be willing to share more information than his friends.”
    “If we can find him,” Willow interjected, “I have someone watching the Seventh and my contact informs me that Elise, that elf and Track spend most of their time in the Auld Briar Hall. Trick is no where to be seen.”
    “If we cannot find him,” Pellius replied with finality, “Then I will just have to deal with Elise.”

    The group left Bor and Grumblejack behind, in charge of the dusk ritual and guard duty, as they travelled swiftly through the Caer Bryr’s dense forest and arrived in town by midday. Willow quickly made her way to the Hall of the Sun Victorious, dressed in fine jade satin robes and her usual disguise as Lady Kathryn. Entering the towering building bulging with teetering shelves filled with leather bound tomes, scrolls and books, she approached the hunched form of a man with his face buried in script.
    “Brother Tedicus?” Willow greeted politely.
    Jumping slightly as if he hadn’t heard her approach, the small man straightened his glasses upon his nose, squinting to adjust to his visions perception.
    “Ah, Lady Kathryn, Mitra's grace upon you child,” he said warmly.
    “And you, Brother,” Willow replied kindly, “I see you are very busy, but may I have a moment of your time?”
    “Of course my dear!” he said with glee, hobbling towards her, “How may I be of service?”
    “I'm seeking any lore on silver dragons!” Willow said, faking childish enthusiasm, “It is the talk of the town, and I fear I have little to add to the conversation. I would love to know more!”
    The aged man smiled, heavy wrinkles creasing his face in timeworn lines, “A very popular request since the sighting. I have kept the tomes aside for easy retrieval. Come along child, I shall show you.”
    “Oh thank you Brother,” she replied with a smile, “You are too kind.”
    He shuffled to a large stack of tomes piled in the corner of his desk, impressively lifting the heavy stack and shifting them to a spare wooden study table. He separated the most relevant tomes according to what he believed Lady Kathryn would be interested in. She struggled to contain her scoff as he arranged the fantasy stories at the head of the pile, pushing aside the bestiaries.
    “Hmm,” she said, browsing the titles, “My apologies Brother. I believe I've already read these ones, my father had a soft spot for the Adrien’s Blazing Dash novels. May I see the bestiaries?”
    Tedicus chuckled, “I had forgotten how well read you were child. Of course, here we are.”
    He unloaded the tall stack, pulling out a wide and heavily layered tome wrapped tightly in leather. As he dropped the book to the table, a cloud of dusk propelled outwards, creeping into Willow's nose and forcing her to sneeze. The dust spiralled as each thick parchment page was flipped, until Brother Tedicus opened the binding to reveal an intricate sketch of a fearsome silver dragon. The wings were drawn completely outstretched, razor sharp barbs of ice trickling from its webbing, delicate glistening flesh connecting each bone. Scales of shining silver layered across its body, pointed talons protruding from each claw, hundreds of teeth lined along its jaw. The creature looked majestic, a fabled beast drawn with intelligent penetrating eyes.
    “Magnificent, isn't it?” Tedicus awed.
    “Has anyone seen one in this region before?” Willow asked, staring at the fearsome image, “Do you know where it came from?”
    Brother Tedicus smiled, a mystical tone to his voice, “My mother told me stories of an ancient silver wyrm, fabled to live to the north, in the cavern upon the mythical steep of the mountains. Perhaps the one above Farholde is one of its offspring, perhaps it is the same creature.”
    Willow skimmed the little known lore of the silver dragon, seeking anything that could aid them in their defence. She frowned as she struggled to understand the terminology, picking out the main sentences that she could make sense of.
    “Immune to the effects of arcane and natural cold,” she read aloud, “Can survive in freezing temperatures…”
    “Apparently,” Tedicus added, “It makes them weak to fire, the heat is a hard climate for them to adjust to, so they live upon the highest peaks where the air is the thinnest and the temperature is the coldest.”
    “Breathes ice naturally,” she continued, “Can summon an arcane paralysing gust of breath, affecting multiple creatures at once…”
    “Oh yes!” Tedicus said excitedly, “It has powerful magic, the silver dragon is also a shape changer! It can assume the form of any animal and or humanoid creature!”
    “So it could be hidden in this very town and we would never know…” Willow said to herself.
    “Do not worry, child,” Tedicus answered, unaware Willow was not talking to him, “These are creatures of the purest order, the silver dragon fights for all that is good.”
    He lowered his voice to a scandalous whisper, “We mustn't speak of it, as not to bring the evil to out doorstep. But if the dragon was here, my guess is that it would be to quell the wicked within the Caer Bryr.”
    Willow traced the sketch of the dragon with her finger, thinking on the power of the foes they were faced with. Brother Tedicus laid a comforting hand on her forearm, smiling warmly.
    “Do not fear, child,” he said softly, “Only the evil in this place has anything to fear from the silver dragon…”

    Willow entered the small tavern a short time later, finding Pellius, Garvana and Teelee huddled around a table. She relayed the information she had gathered to the group, before they quickly departed and made their way to the Auld Briar Hall. Teelee volunteered to go in search of arcane items to aid their defence against the dragon while the three of them entered the parlour. Willow smiled at the barman, ordering a red wine as she sat delicately upon the stool, casually watching over the room. Elise sat by the fireplace, her long crystal white hair flowing down her back, a white raven perched upon her shoulder. Track was hunched upon the windowsill, staring through the glass, distractedly watching the crowd go by. The massive elven man, whose name Willow realised they didn't know, sat in the lounge chair across from Elise with his head in a book.
    Pellius strolled towards them casually, unbothered as the towering man closed his book and stood behind Elise, eyeing Pellius warily. Willow smiled as the usual charm oozed from Pellius as he approached.
    “A moment of your time?” he requested.
    Elise quirked an eyebrow, gesturing to the now vacant chair across from her. Pellius inclined his head as he sat, lounging back into the cushioned seat, emitting an aura of calm and control.
    “Had you heard we were attacked by a Mitran Inquisitor and his knights?” he asked coolly.
    Elise’s face remained unmoved, “Indeed, I am glad to see you're still breathing.”
    The side of his lip kinked up, “Are you?”
    Elise’s eyebrows rose, a look of disdain tainting her petite features.
    “Why is it,” Pellius continued, “That we received no warning? Is that not your one job?”
    “A messenger was sent,” she gritted, a forced smile on her face, “What more could we do?”
    Pellius leaned forward in his chair, arms crossed leaning on his thighs, “You failed us, you are failing in your mission, you are failing our master!”
    Elise laughed softly, “I have performed my task, fulfilled my duties. We have eliminated multiple bands of upstart adventurers, deterred those we could from approaching the Horn, and informed you of all those we could not. It is not my fault you are struggling with your own mission, perhaps Thorn was misguided in selecting you.”
    Pellius smiled, a crude and condescending smile, “I get it. If we fail, you may get the chance to take over our mission. You will be able to finally do something of importance, rather than playing second and watching us take the glory. But if you cannot succeed in the smallest of tasks, you are not worthy to attempt anything bigger. I expect better from you next time.”
    Elise smirked, a dark and feral grin, “I do not care what you expect.”
    Willow could feel the fury radiating from Pellius, his eyes flashing crimson, his nails digging into his knees. She stood from her stool and strolled to the entrance, directly in his line of sight. She watched as he struggled to keep his control and reign in his anger, he stood from the chair, inclining his head and striding gracefully towards Willow. He offered her his arm as he reached her, casually turning for the door as she accepted it.
    “Yeah that's right,” Track spat under his breath, “Slink back to your hole you blonde prick!”
    Willow couldn't help but giggle, trying to stifle it as she felt the muscles in his arms clench and retract. Slowly and deliberately, he turned to face the short man leaning on the windowsill. The air seemed to thicken with intensity, the leash pulled taut on Pellius’ fearsome rage. Willow subtly laid her hand upon his forearm, squeezing gently. It took a moment, but she knew when he had regained control. His charming smile returned slowly as he dipped into his pocket and flipped a coin towards Track.
    “Buy yourself a drink, dog,” he said with a laugh, “Your tongue must be dry from licking so many boots…”

    Preparing to leave town, the group strolled the streets of Auld'lrey on the way to regroup with Teelee. They walked in silence after leaving the inn, Pellius leading Willow by the arm in a companionable amble. She could still feel the heat radiating from him, the anger having not yet retreated, though his face was calm and casual as they perused the market. Willow found it curious that his temper seemed to contain a similar pulse to the Infernal marks of Hell that she experienced. It was as if his Infernal blood dominated part of him, flaring its hold over his fury and his temper, leaving him with little control over the rage. There had been times in battle when she had sworn she had felt Hell’s very own pulse thrumming from him, guiding his fierce and brutal attacks with the wrath of Nessus. She could still feel the low thrum beating from him as they walked, the gentle pulse of Infernal touch brushing against her flesh.
    Suddenly, a colossal crash of splintering wood and shattering stone exploded behind them. The three of them spun in the direction of the commotion, gasping in shock and awe as a glistening silver dragon erupted into the sky, showering the town with shards of broken wood and brick. The creature was enormous. It's wings extended wide as it powerfully drove them down and back up repeatedly, gaining height as it flew towards the north. The sketch Willow had found did not do the dragon justice. The creature soared with regal and mystic might, raw power emitting from its sharp wing strokes, cloud rippling into nothing as the force of its gust shattered each mass of condensed white mist. They watched it, eyes wide, mouths open, as it soared gracefully further into the distance.
    When it was out of sight and they managed to regain their composure, Willow frowned as she thought about the direction of the explosion.
    “It came from near Vandermir’s manor,” she said warily, “If it got to him, we could be compromised.”
    “Quickly,” Pellius said, starting off towards Caviller Green, “Let us find out.”
    They made their way through the amass of worried townsfolk and reached the long winding driveway to the manor. Men and women were running from the gates, tears and shock covering their faces.
    “He's dead,” mumbled one of women, “Baron Vandermir is dead!”
    “Why would the dragon kill him?” cried another, “I thought silver dragons were supposed to be holy and good?!”
    Willow and Pellius exchanged glances, both as surprised as one another. The right corner of the manor had been destroyed, leaving a gaping hole in the building where Vandermir's study had been. It appeared as if the dragon had transformed his size and exploded the room outwards. Crumpling rubble of stones were all that remained of the chamber.
    Struck with an idea, Willow smiled, stepping behind the privacy of the towering gate. She used the circlet’s magic to morph her fine robes into simple Mitran garb and her face to that of a young lay sister. Willow grinned as Pellius shook his head and looked at her in question.
    “He has answers we need,” she said simply, “We couldn't get them from him alive, so let us retrieve them now he is dead. Do not appear to be travelling with me. When I am gone, I'll meet you by the back entrance.”
    Pellius merely smiled and inclined his head.
    When they reached the manors front doors, Vandermir's men recognised Pellius and Garvana as associates of the Baron and allowed them entrance. The three of them made their way to the eastern wing where the study once stood, passing shocked guards and dazed servants. As they approached the chamber, Pellius and Garvana stood back as Willow took the lead, appearing to act out on her own.
    “Captain,” she called gently, approaching the broad shouldered man giving orders, “I apologise for the intrusion. I come humbly by Mitra's light to offer my aid if I can.”
    “He is dead, sister,” he said, a sad resignation to his tone.
    “I am deeply sorry,” Willow said softly, “But captain, if you'll allow me, may I see him? Mitra has gifted me will the ability to return the souls to the bodies of the willing. Perhaps I can be of service, if it is not already too late.”
    The man needed little convincing, ushering Willow into the room quickly, a pained expression on his face as if he dare not to hope. She carefully approached the body, kneeling by its side. The dragon had ripped the very organs from Vandermir's chest, the bloody mangled gash open and empty. The touch of death fell heavy in the room, the smell of blood and gore pungent and sickly. Willow continued her act, lightly laying her hand on the stomach of the corpse. She closed her eyes dramatically and began to hum a simple hymn she had known in school, a Mitran prayer of light and hope. Willow carefully retrieved the scroll of dimension door from her pocket, subtly unfurling it and carefully reading over the incantation. When she was ready, she smoothed the words into her humming, calling out the incantation with Vandermir's body in her grip. As she finished the incantation, she saw the realisation on the Captain’s face surface too late for him to react. As she finished the arcane words, she winked at the burly furious man and rippled out of sight, spiralling through the otherworldly portal and dropping back into the material realm. She found herself kneeling over the corpse amongst the hidden grass field by the secret entrance, sheltered from view of prying eyes. While she waited for the others, she searched through the remains of Vandermir's pockets, finding a small black leather journal. Most of the pages had been torn or shredded in the attack, but a single page of barely legible writing caught Willow's eye. Vandermir had suspected the Ninth Knot of a terrible deception. He had begun to believe the group were in fact Sons of the Pale Horsemen, using the guise of Asmodeans to gain his aid, yet surely intent to unleashing Vetra-Kali and instating his chaos throughout the lands. Willow could not fault his logic, it would indeed be easier to believe that, than it was to believe they were planning to unleash him only to banish him once more.
    When the group rejoined after collecting Teelee, Pellius shifted Vandermir's corpse into the arcane infused bag he was carrying. The bag had an enchantment that morphed the inside into its own magically plane, allowing items much larger than the size of the bag to hide away in its leather walls. The body disappeared into its abyss, before they started their return journey to the spire.

    The sun danced upon the horizon as the brush of the Caer Bryr grew dense. As the group walked deeper into the forest, Willow eyed Pellius with curiosity. He had spoken little since leaving the Auld Briar Hall, still brooding in his heavy steps, trudging his way through the foliage. Willow quickened her pace, catching his stride as she lightly skimmed across the muddy ground.
    “Something on your mind?” she asked quietly.
    Pellius continued his pace, a small smile on his lips as he sighed.
    “At times, my lady,” he replied, “You are almost too perceptive.”
    Willow gave a small laugh, “I believe I would have to be blind, mute and deaf to not notice something was troubling you.”
    “Perhaps,” he chuckled.
    “Is it something I may help you with?” she asked.
    Pellius exhaled sharply before speaking, “No, it is not of imperative importance. It is, Elise…”
    “Ah,” Willow nodded, “She is a sure piece of work. Completing her orders to the barest minimum, and about as trustworthy as a snake.”
    “Her laziness is putting our entire mission at risk,” he said fiercely, “She needs to be brought back into line, or disposed of, her indolence cannot be tolerated.”
    “I am of course inclined to agree, but we must avoid simple barbaric murder. She is not ours to dispose of, she is bound to Thorn as we are.”
    “I am not suggesting such rash action, my lady,” he replied formally, “I am suggesting we uncover evidence that incriminates her wrong doing, be it disloyalty, disobedience or sheer failure in her efforts. She is not acting in accordance to Thorn’s contract, our first and primary loyalty is to Asmodeus. They shall do all that can be done to further Asmodeus-
    “-His worship and his glory,” Willow finished for him, a warm smile gracing her lips.
    He smiled then, looking upon her with respectful eyes.
    “But we must remember Garvana's associate’s words,” Willow commented, “Elise is no faithful of our Infernal Father. We know not her loyalties, nor what her contract states.”
    Pellius frowned in thought, “Perhaps it is information we can obtain from Trick, perhaps we quote our first loyalty and observe his reaction.”
    “Perhaps,” Willow agreed, “I shall endeavour to find him. My contacts may have kept tabs on him, I cannot see them as the type to allow such a sly dexterous hand to go unnoticed within their city.”

    As twilight seeped into the blackness of night, the four of them made the long climb up the winding case of stairs leading to the second level of the Horn of Abbadon. As they neared the ledge of the entrance, Willow felt the creep of terror bleed under her skin, rippling a shiver through her spine. She slowed her steps, realising there was more to her bad feeling when she noticed Pellius and Garvana mimic her halt. They stepped cautiously to peer into the passage, searching for the source of the ominous dread. The hall stood deathly quiet, the air almost visibly thick in its silence. Not a breath sounded from beyond the gates, not a cry nor a scream. Yet the foreboding intensity throbbed like a pulsing weight beating against Willow's chest. Carefully, she peered through the arrow slit to the right, where they had left Barris and Willem on guard. She frowned, seeing the place deserted, not a soul in sight. As she turned to inspect the other side, she caught sight of the top of a man's head. Chestnut locks, receding slightly, low widows peak – Willem. Garvana quietly muttered her incantations while Willow signalled that she would scout ahead. She crept through the passage way, working carefully to bypass the doors and traps silently. As she unlatched the main gate without a sound, she peered through the hallway, daggers held tightly at the ready. The long hallway was empty. The silence was bone chilling, sweat began to form in beads along Willow's forehead, the hairs on her neck standing upon end. The eeriness, so heavy, the air was thick like unseen fog. Willow could feel it; she could feel eyes on her, she could feel the predator watching.
    She signalled to the others to move forward, continuing on soundless feet through the hidden door into the guard room. She prowled, daggers up, preparing to defend herself. Two bodies slummed against the wall, unmoving and lifeless. Willow ignored the cold chill rippling up her spine, slowly stepping towards Willem, shivering as she examined his face. A permanent look of utter terror shaped the features of his face, his skin had sunken in upon itself, his once almost handsome face now appearing gaunt and skeletal. It was as if something had siphoned the very life from his body. When Garvana and Pellius entered the room, Willow signalled silently for them to approach. Garvana rushed over, frowning at the state of the man.
    “It's some kind of curse,” she whispered, “He's still alive, barely, but I don't know what state he’ll be in if we disturb him.”
    Quickly dropping her bag, Willow fumbled through the belt of vials she had tucked in her zip, looking for the right one. One of the most useful pieces of advise that Switch had given her, was to be prepared for anything. He had suggested always keeping two vials of every basic healing potion, cure and remedy on hand. She had taken his advise seriously, carrying the belt at all times, even strapped under her lavish gowns besides her daggers. She pulled out a vial with the remove curse label and quickly handed it to Garvana.
    “Cure him,” she breathed, “We need to know what we're up against.”
    It took a moment for Garvana's surprise to settle, but as she leant towards the catatonic man, his mouth suddenly shot open and let loose a horrifying shriek that bounded down the stagnant hallways.
    “Take away the sword!” he cried, terror flashing through his eyes.
    Garvana struggled to get Willem to drink the potion, resorting to gripping his hair forcing his head back and pouring the vial’s contents down his throat. She released his head as the screaming subsided, shrinking into soft whimpers and cries, as the skin in his cheeks slowly rose and inflated off the bones. Willow crouched in front of him, watching as awareness slowly dawned in his eyes.
    “Willem,” Willow said quietly, “What happened here?”
    “Y-you,” he stuttered, “You've come to save us!”
    “What happened here?” Willow repeated sharply.
    “It-it was terrifying, it was terror, t-terror…”
    His eyes glazed over as he drifted away from reality. Frustrated, Willow struck him fiercely with the back of her hand across the cheek. As the slap echoed through the passage, Willem’s eyes focused, dead centre on Willow.
    “What did this?” she demanded, “What was it?”
    “I don't know Mistress,” he said clearly, struggling to stay focused, “It was here, but not here. It was not completely here. It came through the walls, there was no where to hide. It just kept stabbing me. Over and over, over and over, over…”
    Awareness slipped from his grasp as his eyes glazed, and his mind wandered away into the void. Willow was unsure if he would ever be the same after his mind had been rattled so.
    “It is entirely possible,” Pellius said quietly, “That the creature we’re looking for is a physical manifestation of the horror experienced here when the Mitran's raided eight decades ago. The bloodshed was vast and gruesome, it is possible the terror that was felt as the men were slain, still lingers in the halls. The manifestation of those feelings being fed by the increased activity of the Horn, the darkness intensifying its reach.”
    “Wait,” Willow said, frantically searching her mind to recall the dates in her research, “It is Fourth Starday of Rova, the exact day of the ritual, eighty one years later.”
    “Indeed?” Pellius replied, eyebrows raised, “We must banish this horror, for the more souls it consumes, the more powerful it’s haunt will become.”

  21. - Top - End - #21
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 16 - Darkness Feeding - Part 2

    Spoiler: Chapter 16 - Darkness Feeding - Part 2
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    They decided to check on Bor and Grumblejack before seeking the terror that had consumed their men. Willow carefully unlocked the door to the throne room and attempted to swing it open. The door bumped into a solid form blocking the doorway, as Willow pushed firmly, a blood curdling female scream sounded from the other side. As the door opened, Willow saw the form of a woman sprinting in fear out of the double doors and into the hallway.
    “We must get to the Sanctum,” Garvana said hurriedly.
    As they nodded and turned for the throne, another voice boomed from the passage.
    “You!” Bor's voice bellowed in the distance, “Get back here!”
    The four of them looked to one another, silently agreeing to go in search of the voice. They quickly made their way towards the courtyard, scurrying through the passage, weapons at the ready. When they reached the opening to the large room, only silence greeted them.
    “Bor?” Pellius called suspiciously.
    “Bor, are you here?” Garvana parroted.
    For a moment, nothing happened. The air hung heavy in its quiet rest, the shadows lay still darkening the corners of the dimly lit chamber. Suddenly, a mass of swirling blackness unfurled from the walls and swarmed towards Pellius. It's eery shaded tendrils wrapped themselves around his arms, passing though his armour and caressing his flesh. Willow stood shocked as she watch the horror ripple across his face. In panic he swung his sword at unseen enemies, struggling to block the nonexistent attacks, his body reacting as if he was being slash and skewered with ethereal blades. A flash flickered behind Willow's eyes. For a brief second, she saw herself as a Son of the Pale Horsemen, Mitran holy warriors charging towards her with death in their eyes. Her vision flickered back, she took only a moment to adjust herself and leap at the ebony nightmare with her daggers. It was a strange thing to see the physical blade pass through the inking blackness as if it were air, yet watch the arcane enchantment on the dagger slice through the flesh of the horror beast like skin. She quickly drove her second dagger into its vortex mass. The horror writhed and shrieked, a chorus of moans of agony and wails of despair ricocheted off the stone walls, filling Willow's ears with its torment. As Garvana began to chant a deep incantation, Pellius pushed through his torture, eyes flashing with hellfire as he cleaved his sword into the form. His blade slashed deep, tearing through the mystical flickering beast, causing it to groan its sorrow from the terrifying abyss. The wisps of agony swarmed towards Willow, scattered fragments of the past flashing in her mind, otherworldly wounds tearing at her skin. She could feel the very life been sucked from her soul, her skin slowly draining, sinking heavy upon her bones. Struggling to shake off the fear sapping her will, she launched herself at the mass, ripping her blades through its tendrils. Garvana's magic caressed her vigour, pulling her back from the edge of the void. With renewed energy, Pellius and Willow struck out in unison, weakening the abomination of grief. Teelee fired wisps of white magic, forcefully driving each arcane shard into their attacker. At his gasp, Willow risked a glance at Pellius. He stood still for a moment, staring up in trepidation at something she couldn't see. He flinched suddenly, his shoulder caving as if he had been cleaved by a mighty great sword.
    An image of a Mitran knight sparked in Willow's eyes, his large axe cascading down towards her head. She tried to dodge the axe, leaping to the side, but her legs barely moved. She was not ready for the assault; none of them had been ready, the Mitran's had attacked so quickly, so organised. It was a slaughter, a massacre. All her brethren were already dead, their corpses littering the hallways and the chambers, their blood painting the walls in poetic crimson justice. The axe continued its course, splitting the air as it neared its target with an almighty force. Her feet still refused to move, she was frozen in fear. She was not ready to die, but as the axe split the skin covering her skull, she knew she would.
    The blackened dread appeared in front of her, it's coils of sable surging through her flesh, drawing her will into its form. It slithered with uncanny speed, sinking into the stone below their feet, a shadow racing towards the left and disappearing behind the wall. Willow breathed heavily as she stood ready to attack, daggers held tight in her fingers, heart thumping in her chest.
    “Mith si mortih!” Pellius growled in Infernal, taunting the nightmare to reappear.
    Willow's heart drummed as the eery silence stretched, anticipation tainted with trepidation racing through her veins. Seconds later, the blackness swarmed from the stonework towards Teelee. As it’s rippling curls reached for her, Willow's head whipped around at the sound of a frightening chthonic battle cry. Pellius charged the creature, a frothing rage running rampant through his body, his eyes blinding in their scarlet glow. His sword ripped through the air above his head, riving in it's decent, tearing the nightmare asunder. As it shrieked and wailed, writhing in agony, Willow used the last of her strength to dive at it with her blades. As the daggers slashed, the mass shuddered. In a soundless pulse, the misted creature fulminated into shattered shards of ethereal wisps, shooting outwards as they dissipated back into the void.
    As the feelings of dread slowly began to seep out of the spire, Willow's legs collapsed. She could feel the skin loose upon her body, the bones of her cheeks protruding while the layers of flesh hung slack. Garvana rushed to her aid, calling on her powers for healing, laying her firm hands upon Willow's gaunt shoulders. As the arcana circulated through her veins, Willow looked over to see Pellius, slumped against the wall. His head leant heavily upon his arm, eyes clenched shut, teeth gritted as if he was still fighting. But the internal battle he was fighting seemed like much more than physical creatures that could be slain with metal. Through the cracks of his eyelids, Willow could see the hellfire still raging from within. It was as if he were struggling for control, warring with his fury for perch in his own mind. It was a battle she could not help him win.
    The last throb of divine healing pulsed within Willow's body, her chest lightened as her mind cleared. The four of them had miraculously avoided the nightmare’s curse, although they had been left shaken and drained. Pellius appeared to have emerged from his struggle, his stern face returning as he marched with his usual dominance. They made their way back towards the throne room, passing guards and servants slowly recovering from their terrifying madness. One of the guards gradually emerged from a side chamber, white faced and bewildered.
    “W-what happened?” he stammered, “Is it gone?”
    Pellius shoved him forcefully out of the way, his great strength unintentionally sending the man flying backwards into the room.
    “We have dealt with it,” he bit.
    They used the teleporting magic of the thrones to quickly ascend to the sanctum, hurriedly scaling the stairs passed Hexor and Vexor. As they entered the abyssal shrine, Bor charged towards them, sword drawn. He staggered on his attack as he seemed to recognise them.
    “Are you real?!” he demanded, “Is it actually you?”
    “It is us, Bor,” Willow soothed, “We have dealt with the creature.”
    Hesitantly, he lowered his weapon.
    “Good,” he said, “What in Hell’s name was it?”
    “A manifestation of the terror caused by the raid on this place,” Garvana said.
    “Hmph,” Grumblejack huffed, “Grumblejack don’t like it. Can not eat mani-fust-too.”
    “Willow believes it to be the anniversary of the slaughter,” Garvana added, “If that is the case, it is most likely that it shall return again next year.”
    Willow sighed, “Thankfully we’ll be gone from this place by then.”
    “What of your progress?” Pellius clipped, “The nightmare did not interrupt your ritual?”
    “No,” Bor said, back straightened in formality, “It was completed as planned. The creature appeared as the sun left. We had enough time to attend to the ritual before it attacked.”
    “Good,” Pellius responded, “Teelee, Garvana, it is your shift. Are you in health enough to relieve Bor?”
    Garvana raised her eyebrows, nose in the air, “Of course. I am not incompetent.”
    Teelee shrugged nonchalantly, seemingly unbothered by the situation.
    “Very well,” Pellius nodded, “I shall retire for a few hours, and return to relieve you before dawn.”
    He turned, marching to the stairs and began to descend them. Willow said goodnight to the others before following behind him, quick steps catching up to him before he made it to the teleporting circle.
    “Pellius,” she said gently, “May I ask a favour of you?”
    “Of course you may ask, my lady,” he responded, his voice sounding tired and deflated, “But I fear I may not be of service this evening.”
    Willow smiled softly, laying a hand on his forearm, “That is not what I wish to ask of you. It is just…”
    She sighed, the smile dropping from her face, the horrific images swirling through her mind.
    “Will you stay with me tonight?” she asked in quiet voice, dropping her eyes to the ground, “I do not wish to sleep alone, I have trouble sleeping within these walls as it is, yet tonight I fear the dream realm will be overwhelming in its dread. Your presence is… comforting.”
    She looked up into his eyes, knowing well that the truth of her fear was present on her face.
    A slight smile touched his lips, “Of course, Willow. I will offer what comfort I can.”

    Sleep remained just out of reach as Willow lay upon the bed, head tucked into Pellius’ shoulder, thick blankets of soft wool funnelled around her. She listened to the steady beat of his heart, outpacing the sharp inhales and exhales on his breath. Mere moments after they had doused the candles, he had fallen into a heavy deep slumber. Willow could feel the tension within him as he battled his way through the dream land. She could tell he was tired, as they all were. The five of them had come from such varied backgrounds, their stories colliding into their shared fate. Willow had been so young before Branderscar. So naïve and blind, parading in a life she held no love for, serving a god she gave no real faith. Suddenly she had been confronted with her failings, given an opportunity to right her wrongs and truly achieve something. She had been thrown into a whirlwind of excitement, servitude and meaning. She had grown more in the eight months serving Thorn, than she had in her twenty five years of life as the delicate Willow Myrah Monteguard.
    As Pellius’ chest trembled, she thought of him in a new light. Only two years her junior, with the cultured confidence of a man many years his senior. Yet, as she breathed along with him, she realised he was in over his head, struggling for grasp just as she was. Inexperienced, yet doing all he could in his first real mission in serving his Infernal Father. They were all struggling to succeed and please their master and their lord. They were all just trying to survive.

    The warm rays of dawning sun failed to penetrate the darkened clouds the following morning. Willow thought it was as if the very sky was in mourning, sending off the anniversary of the massacre that took place, in a solemn condolence. The group gathered once again around the large oak table in the tavern to discuss the coming week. Even through the haze of her groggy sleep deprived mind, Willow had thoughts of their organisations growth.
    “Vandermir's men are without a leader,” she said to the group, “We should recruit them before they have a chance to recover or be pouched by another.”
    “Agreed,” Pellius nodded, “They are most vulnerable now. It seems our men have mostly recovered from the nightmare’s curse, we should send them into town as soon as possible.”
    “We should send the boggards to discover the fate or at least the truth of Elise’s messenger,” Garvana added.
    “Agreed,” chimed the others.
    They prepared to relay the tasks to their minions, as Bor and Teelee left the tavern, Willow watched curiously as Pellius approached Garvana.
    “Garvana,” Pellius beckoned, “May I have a moment?”
    She cocked an eyebrow and stopped her leave, turning to Pellius with a short nod.
    “Am I correct in assuming,” he asked formally, “You have never received any formal training in the way of Asmodeus?”
    Garvana frowned, a suspicious glint in her eyes, “You are correct.”
    “Ah, I did believe as much. Then I have a proposal for you. You may not know, but I was raised by the Temple of Asmodeus, mentored by those of true faith. From birth I was guided in the way of our Infernal Lord, taught and disciplined by the hands of his disciples. This I offer, if you shall accept my guidance, I shall mentor you.”
    For a moment, Garvana looked taken aback. Her frown slowly retreated, a look of strange hope and acceptance dawning.
    “Thank you, Pellius,” she replied, “It would be most appreciated.”
    “The training will not be easy,” Pellius clipped, “I expect complete obedience and compliance, I will not tolerate complaining, and failure shall be met with harsh punishment. Do you understand?”
    Willow couldn't help the smirk as she watched Garvana battle with her pride. While Willow revelled in Pellius’ harsh form of discipline, Garvana was a proud woman with a vicious stubborn streak. She managed to reign her pride in, smiling politely as she nodded.
    “I understand,” she said.
    “Good,” Pellius said sharply, “Change into some loose fitting clothing and meet me in the throne hall on the first floor. We begin in an hour.”
    Garvana gave a stiff nod, quickly leaving the room. As Pellius turned to presumably bid Willow farewell, she stood from her chair as she spoke.
    “Do you believe your training will be received well?” Willow smirked.
    Pellius smiled, “That is yet to be seen. I have hope, discipline would be extremely beneficial to Garvana. She has the devotion, fanatical and boundless though it may be.”
    “May I attend?” she asked, “I would be most interested to observe this discipline.”
    Pellius quirked his lip, “You may. But you must remain silent and not distract her, she has much to learn and will not be aided by your commentary.”
    With a sinful grin she replied, “I will be as obedient as always.”
    His wicked chuckle echoed off the stone walls as he left the tavern and Willow behind.

    An hour later, Willow wandered down the stone steps to the first floor, journal and ink in hand. She entered the great hall to find Pellius and Garvana already practicing the routine of stretches and exercises that he habitually performed every morning.
    “Keep it slow and controlled,” Pellius said quietly.
    He stood with his eyes closed and his face relaxed, legs apart as he gradually lowered himself into a deep balancing squat, both hands held together in front of his chest.
    “This is the bastion stance,” he continued calmly, “Drawn from the teachings of the Sacred Mountain Monks. The monk of the iron mountain finds strength and power in the earth beneath his feet. Rather than spinning through the battlefield with the fluid motion of the river, he roots himself to the ground, as immovable and unshakable as the stones of the mountain. In this stance, we find balance and grounding. We hold fast, we remain still, we breathe. We are immovable, we are unshakable.”
    Willow watched on with interest, fascinated by the array of knowledge Pellius had to share. She had been taught of the benefits in certain philosophies carried by monks, her own grandfather having disciplined her training with the aid of the Monks of the Mantis. They believed in the points where the flesh, mind and spirit coincide, and they were trained and highly skilled at manipulating these points. Having been a female in a male dominated bloodline, it had been important for her to utilise her agility and speed to counter her lack of physical strength. The teachings of the mantis were of pressure points and how to use them to control the flow of battle.
    She listened intently to Pellius speak of the iron monks and their practises, the words of strength and control of the body, relating to strength and control of the mind. After he had guided her through the routine of poses, he called for her to continue as he patrolled and observed her posture. Willow flinched in excitement as he fiercely cracked a cane against her thigh.
    “Lower!” he called, “Bend into it deeper.”
    Garvana gritted her teeth and lowered herself further. Willow put down her journal and quill, sitting cross legged upon the floor, lazily leaning back on her hands. She watched as Pellius strolled, head high and shoulders back, a clear authority in the hall. She found his dominance utterly endearing. Busy watching Garvana in her vigil, she failed to notice Pellius stalk behind her, shocking her as the cane lashed across her forearms.
    “If you are going to observe,” he said darkly, a menacing warning to his tone, “You will sit properly in a kneel and remain there.”
    Willow felt the quiver of amorous delight as she quickly lifted to her knees, holding herself perfectly still in her subservient pose, enjoying the stinging flesh on her arms. She saw the glint of satisfaction in his eyes before he returned to Garvana. As she held each pose with sustained strength and control, Pellius lectured her on her faults he saw that needed correction. To her credit, Willow thought, she didn't call him an over observant rude bastard.
    “At present,” he continued, “You are too impulsive, poorly disciplined and disrespectful. You are over zealous, too rash and unapologetically naïve. These are things we must resolve not to be. We will train with mace and shield; I will teach you to be controlled and smart about your offence and defensive tactics. We will train to use logic over emotion; I will teach you grace by study of religion, culture and strategy. Today you will fight with only a shield, and you will learn that your defence can be your best offence…”

    As the sun fell below the horizon, Willow finished her shift on duty in the sanctum and followed Garvana to the storeroom where they had stored Vandermir’s corpse. Willow had told only Garvana and Pellius of her plan to question him, avoiding the possibility that her plan would draw the attention of those she wanted information regarding. It was a risky decision to ask Vandermir of Cardinal Thorn. Her contract or orders did not forbid her from prying into his past or identity, but seeking such knowledge could provoke his anger or his wrath if he wished his secrets to remain hidden. She was smart and paranoid enough to believe that he would have some way to keep tabs on his servants, and the fierce aura he carried spoke of powerful arcane ability. She would not be surprised if he regularly used his magic to scry and observe the bound, keeping check on their loyalty and progress. It was for this reason she quietly requested that Pellius and Garvana left their gifted circlets and medallions behind, minimising the possible links he would have to watch them.
    Quietly, she followed the pair into the storeroom. They stood around Vandermir's body, staring down at the horrific wounds that had left his chest gaping. The strange magic that surrounded the storeroom chamber had kept his body in the exact state that they had retrieved it in. Willow's mind raced over the implications of the questions she was preparing to ask.
    “I am ready,” Garvana said, retrieving her Asmodean holy symbol from her pouch.
    “Proceed,” Willow nodded.
    Garvana clutched the star in her hand, gently laying the other upon the corpse. Slowly, softly, she began to chant. Willow could feel the rush of arcana reaching out into the afterlife, seeking the soul of the corpse that lay under Garvana’s grasp. Excitement flooded Willow's veins, her curiosity chomping at the bit, a touch of fear feeding the anticipation. As a semblance of life rippled in the corpse, it's eyes flickered open. Willow shivered, staring back into Vandermir's vacant eyes. She had no true idea what information she was about to receive, nor if she would receive any at all. But as the corpse opened its mouth to speak, Willow felt the strangest sensation, a foreboding warning that promised what she was about to find out, would change the course of her fate forever…

  22. - Top - End - #22
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 17 - Treachery - Part 1

    Spoiler: Chapter 17 - Treachery - Part 1
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    The air hung heavy within the stone walled chamber, stale and stagnant, dense with anticipation. The night air was crisp, a cold chill looming as winter made its inevitable approach. Willow, Garvana and Pellius gathered around the corpse, solemn faces as they performed their clandestine task. As Vandermir's vacant eyes flickered open, Willow inhaled sharply. The corpse groaned, shifting in its respite, the soul of the damned settling back into its former body. Garvana chanted her incantation, eyes wide with concentration, tone smooth and methodical.
    “Ask your questions,” she said to Willow, “I will hold the spirit for as long as I can.”
    Willow and Pellius stepped forward, staring down at the mangled corpse, facing their opportunity.
    “Who were you meeting with before your death?” Pellius asked firmly, arms crossed over his broad chest.
    They had agreed the best advantage they could gain was a description or the identity of the shape the dragon took on to gain access to the Baron’s manor. Even Willow had a regular disguise she favoured, they were hoping the dragon would have a similar habit. Shifting his gaze across the room, Vandermir wheezed his cryptic response through lifeless lungs, eyes landing on Pellius.
    “Fair of hair,” he moaned, “Fair of eyes, fair of skin. His brawn matched only by his indomitable spirit…”
    Willow knelt by the corpse’s side, her eyes piercing with intent. She had thought over her questions countless times, meticulously planning the wording to best achieve the information she was seeking. Vandermir's reaction to her questions of Samuel Havelyn had peaked her curiosity and sent her mind reeling. She couldn't deny the desperate call of suspicion that told her his identity was to play a major role in her destiny.
    “What do you know of Samuel Havelyn?” she asked.
    A sudden chill rippled through her spine as his eyes floated to stare back at her.
    “Burnt, and forgotten,” he breathed, “Friend and son…”
    Willow frowned on his words, unsure what to make of their meaning. She began to drift into thought, her mind spiralling as it leapt to conclusions. Garvana cleared her throat, the sound snapping Willow back to attention, reminding her of the time restraints she was faced with. She had not yet asked the question that had seen her biting her nails in anxiety for the last few hours.
    “What do you know,” she asked carefully, “Of Adrastus Thorn?”
    The Baron’s corpse seemed to almost sigh.
    “Adrastus,” it wheezed, “He is a man who is not a man. One step, below the Father…”
    Suddenly, the corpse shuddered with release. The soul sapped from the body, returning to the afterlife. Willow stood from her perch, brows pulled tight in a deep frown.
    “One step below the father…” she repeated.
    “What does that mean?” Garvana questioned.
    Willow fiddled with the clasp on her cloak distractedly, “I am unsure. All that is clear is that our master is more than a simple high priest of Asmodeus…”
    “One step could refer to the hierarchy of hell?” Pellius mused.
    With no further speculation, Willow turned and strode out of the room, heading for her chamber. As she reached her door, Pellius’ heavy footsteps quickened their pace as they sounded behind her. As he open his mouth to speak, Willow turned and politely inclined her head.
    “I must apologise, for you will have to excuse me,” she said, opening her door, “I have much to think on, and I would prefer to do so alone. When I have drawn my conclusions, or failed to, I shall seek your company.”
    For only a mere moment, a look of suspicion crossed his face, quickly replaced by his usual charming smile.
    “Very well, my lady,” he replied politely, a small bow before he retreated.
    Sealing the door behind her, Willow swiftly took her seat at her desk and began scripting her thoughts in her journal. Vandermir's answers had only led to further questions. Cryptic words, a puzzle to solve. She had little to base a theory on, such little information, fuelled only by a hunch.
    Willow spent the next few hours scrawling across the parchment, trying to find a link to unravel the mystery within the words. As dusk approached, she had gained nothing more than cramping fingers latching the quill and a sharp pain in her forehead as her eyebrows furrowed relentlessly. Frustrated and lost, she was glad for the distraction when Pellius returned to collect her for their shared night duty in the sanctum. They strolled together leisurely on their way up to the top floor of the spire, quietly discussing their lack of findings.
    “It could mean anything,” Willow huffed, “We have no base to begin. All I have of Havelyn is a brief story of convicted heresy and a scribbled name in a book. I would have dismissed his importance, were it not for Vandermir's initial reaction.”
    “Forgive me for suggesting it,” Pellius replied, “But is it possible your curiosity has created a scenario more enticing than the truth?”
    “It is entirely possible,” Willow chuckled, before her laughter faded and her frown returned, “I cannot explain it, Pellius. I feel there is more to it, I do not know what it is, but I cannot deny the chill that tells me to keep seeking answers.”
    “Then continue your search,” he reassured, “There is no harm in seeking information, so long as it does not interfere with our work here.”

    Standing around the flicking flame of Zikomo’s bonfire the following morning, the group listened to his translation of the reports from the boggard tribe. Garvana had ordered the boggards to search the forest for signs of Elise’s apparent failed messenger. The frogs had returned, one man down, as they retold the tale of the terrifying tree that had eaten their brethren.
    “He tells me the tree had a rope tied to its trunk,” Zikomo said, eyes glazed over in his drunken stupor, “He says it was as if a horse had been shackled, it's rider stopping for rest.”
    “Could they not take care of a simple tree?!” Pellius barked.
    Zikomo looked unfazed by his anger, merely chewing his animal rind methodically.
    “He says the tree is of the darkness, an evil spirit waiting in ambush for its prey. The boggards cannot contain the beast. It is the work of the emissaries of the Father.”
    Willow rolled her eyes, listening to the rambles of the inebriated frog.
    “We shall deal with it,” Garvana said with authority, “Tell the tribe not to fear. We shall quell the threat.”
    As the group left the caverns, Willow shrugged her disinterest as she was asked her opinion on how to proceed. Garvana and Pellius were of a mind to recruit the treant, deal with the threat by employing its wrath upon their foes.
    “And what's to stop it from turning on us and our men?” Willow asked, “How much loyalty do you suppose a tree that eats people possesses?”
    “We can ensure its loyalty by offering it regular meals,” Garvana offered.
    Willow shook her head, “Let us first find this treant, then make our decision.”
    The group left the Horn later that afternoon, following the boggards directions, seeking the ominous grove they had described. Pellius had chained one of the peasants they held captive to a leash, dragging him along behind them. When the peasant became erratic and began trying to escape in desperation, Willow looked away as Pellius sighed, disabling the prisoner with a crunch to the knee. Rain pelted from the skies, deafening thunder shook the ground beneath their feet, clashes of lightening ricocheted through the gaps piercing the canopy. The ground was sluggish and congealed, making their traipse through the mud slow and tedious. As they reached a clearing devoid of all animal life and riddled with blackened spirals of corrupted growth, they knew they had found their destination. They approached cautiously, peering through the dense brush, stopping in shock at what they saw. The corroded treant was easy to identify. It's long tendrils of branches hung heavy from its leafless trunk, rippling coils of wood formed into nooses, charred and sable oak seeping from its core. What had the group startled was a second treant, a familiar figure in the labyrinth of the Caer Bryr. Jurak, the treant tasked by the Victor himself to guard the Horn from evil doing, stood next to the festering hollow tree. Garvana quietly rushed to Willow's side, whispering as silently as the raging storm would allow.
    “Will you talk to them? You are better at this than most.”
    Willow sighed, unsure what they would gain from this meeting, but still willing to aid. She nodded, and shivered slightly as Garvana's magic circled around her. She felt a slight chill around her throat as the words of the majestic trees drifted to her ears. What had previously been mere rustling of branches and groaning of wood, became clear words that Willow could barely hear over the thundering skies.
    “It is alright,” Jurak soothed, “Calm yourself brother…”
    “He is comforting the tree,” Willow said to the group in confusion.
    As Willow crept forward to better hear the conversation, she heard the rattling of armour behind her, loud enough to draw the attention of the treants. The carved face upon Jurak’s trunk contorted with anger, he lifted his roots from the soil and drove himself forward threateningly.
    “YOU!” he roared, “LEAVE THIS GROVE AT ONCE!”
    Willow realised the magic Garvana had summoned, had allowed her the ability to speak the language of the treants. She gave a small respective bow as she spoke, loud enough to the heard.
    “I apologise, Elder One,” she said, “We do not wish to intrude, merely to speak.”
    Jurak’s face raged with fury as the husk of the blackened treant began to twitch and shudder violently. Suddenly, Jurak stormed forward lashing out with his branches, swinging them wide and colliding with Willow sending her flying backwards. She skidded through the mud, tearing up the blackened shrubbery as she passed, coming to a halt at the edge of the clearing.
    “LEAVE!” he boomed, “NOW!”
    The group quickly retreated, watching the second treant as its convulsions intensified, it's own face rippling with raging need. Pellius swiftly lifted Willow from the mud, before they turned back to the grove. Jurak continued his approach as they paused to observe the situation, deciding that retreat was the best option and quickly dashing behind the brush.
    “Will you allow me to remain behind alone?” Willow asked Pellius, “I can remain unseen, and follow Jurak back to where he rests, we need to deal with him at some point.”
    Pellius frowned in thought, before nodding and turning to leave, “Agreed, but stay out of sight and be careful, he is a powerful creature you cannot deal with alone.”
    Willow nodded, slipping into the dense foliage and quietly scampering to a subtle hiding place within the grove. She watched as Jurak returned to the treant, too far away for Willow to hear what was being said. The treant had not yet calmed or returned to its prior rest, the violent twitches and convulsions still rippling its trunk. Suddenly, it's coiled branches whipped out and latched upon Jurak's own. It heaved with fury, ripping the splintering wood from his form. Jurak continued to remain passive, presumably trying to soothe the raging treant. It tore its roots from the ground, launching itself into the other as a shattering crack of wood upon wood echoed throughout the forest. Willow watched on in fascination as Jurak gave up his attempt to settle the creature, regretfully having to retaliate in defence of his own life. The trees flung out their branches, crashing against one another, splinters of wood cascading through the air littering the blackened soil of the ground. A battle of titanic mass, both mystical creatures roaring with fury, bursting throws of exploding oak tearing through the wind. With a final tremendous blow, Jurak's massive trunk fulminated across the expanse in a shower of ripped leaves and shards of wood. Lightening flashed through the air, thunder bellowed as the wind howled. The treant sank further into the marsh, its roots furling deep into the mud, settling as it came to rest. The violent shudders retreated, and Willow watched as its branched coiled upon themselves, the tree ceasing all movement bar the gentle flow of the rain. She knew not what to make of the development, only that it was a decision for the group to make together. She crept unseen out of the grove, before sprinting her way back towards the Horn of Abbadon.
    It didn't take long for her to catch up to the party, the crippled peasant slowing their journey, so she called out when they were in sight.
    “Jurak is dead,” she said, panting from her sprint, “And the treant is injured. If we are going to fight it or deal with it, now is our best chance.”
    “Quickly,” Garvana said, heading back to the grove, “Let us return.”
    “Do you think it is smart enough to make a deal with?” Willow asked doubtfully.
    “That remains to be seen,” Pellius replied, dragging the peasant behind him.
    “I still believe it is too much of a risk,” Willow said, “What is to stop it from turning on us when it becomes hungry?”
    “I agree,” Bor said firmly, “We should kill it and be done with it.”
    “Let us speak to it,” Garvana said shortly, “It may be a great asset.”
    “We shall see…”

    As entered the grove once more, the group marvelled at the ruins of Jurak's shattered corpse. The treant still sat in it’s rest, motionless as they approached. Garvana summoned her arcana, touching Willow with the wisps of pulsating magic. As confident as she could, Willow approached with Pellius by her side, her voice loud and harsh as she spoke.
    “State your intentions!” she called, “We come to offer a deal.”
    The treant began to shudder, rippling vines swinging from its deformed top, roots slithering out from the ground.
    “So… hungry…” it groaned.
    Pellius tugged on the leash, yanking the peasant forward. He unclasped the chain, and with great strength, hurled their sacrifice towards the tree. The group cautiously stepped backwards as the powerful roots dragged the creature forward with remarkable speed. Willow grimaced as the treant hungrily devoured the screaming man, only shreds of flesh remaining as it finished its meal.
    “What would it take to ensure your loyalty?” Willow demanded, “To guarantee you would leave our people unharmed.”
    The tree croaked as it shuddered, dragging itself closer to the group, Willow felt the strangest touch of magic caressing her mind before retreating. She eyed the treant suspiciously, unsure what powers such a malevolent creature possessed.
    “Take me… to the food,” it groaned, “Feed me…”
    “Remain here and you shall have your food,” Bor interjected, sending Willow a silencing glance.
    She frowned, unsure what his plan was, but happy to have the conversation ended as she became frustrated with the precarious loyalty of such a creature. She followed his retreat, carefully watching the treant for signs of pursuit, leaving the grove without a word.
    “This is a pointless venture,” Bor said finally, as they made there way back to the spire, “We do not need the responsibility of feeding such a creature. If we are not to kill it, then let it remain a menace in the forest as it continues to feed itself.”
    Garvana sighed, “I still think it would be an asset to have on our side, but I concede, our resources are stretched thin feeding the creatures we are already housing.”
    “Agreed,” Willow nodded, “I will send a messenger to Elise to inform her people to avoid its location. We need not involve ourselves further.”

    The morning rays of sunlight pierced Willow's sight from beyond the slender window in her chamber. Begrudgingly, her eyes flickered open. She rolled herself away from the light, into the warm caress of Pellius’ heated body. Even as he slept, the sculpted muscles on his back carved their form across his shoulders. She gently traced their shape, drifting through the hollow between his shoulder blades. At her graze, his body stirred, still deep in his slumber but always responsive to her touch. With its own intention, his body rolled towards her, his soft breath confirming his lack of awareness. She softly slid her self atop him, looking down at him in something close to affection. His face was at rest while he slept, free from the burdens of his waking life, no battle nor war to fight. The great weight he carried seemed to leave cracks in his strong defence, as the repercussions of shouldering such immense responsibility took their tole. In his dreaming state though, his brow did not furrow, his will was not taxed. He merely slept, free from the worry he harboured.
    She traced her fingers along his chest, running them through the soft feathered tuffs of hair, marvelling at his striking physique. He was one of the few men that she had met that looked almost as imposing out of his armour as he did in it. She leaned forward, drawing along the scars that decorated his strong chest. Suddenly, his hands whipped up and gripped her own, his eyes flying wide in alarm. Willow smiled at his fierce grip, remaining still as he came awake into realisation. He tugged forcefully on her hands so her slender frame fell forward onto his chest, her face stopping in hover over his. She laughed softly at his raised eyebrows, laying a gentle kiss upon his lips.
    “Good morning,” she said quietly, “Did you sleep well?”
    “Indeed,” he said, his voice husky in its early morning strain.
    Willow sat back, thighs relaxing on either side of his. She returned to her exploration, fingers grazing over his scars. As they made their way over his shoulders and down his arms, they came to rest upon his marking of Branderscar Prison.
    “I treat it as a blessing,” he said softly, watching Willow's finger, “My release from Branderscar is a chance to bring an entire country to their rightful place under Asmodean rule.”
    She smiled, looking to her own brand, the fine white lines scarring her delicate skin. Her eyes trailed over his torso, noticing the spattering of scars across his wide frame.
    “So many times you've cheated death,” she commented, tracing the long raised scar upon his side.
    “Each one is a reminder, a lesson given to me, to always remember not to be careless. Deception is a tool. Deceive always thy enemy but never thy self.”
    Willow smiled at his words, looking down upon her own flesh, slender scars marring her skin. She flattened her palms against his chest and slowly ground her lower weight into him. At his sharp intake of breath, she smirked, continuing her rhythmic movements.
    “So what plans do you have for your day?” she asked casually, a playful smile upon her lips.
    He chuckled at her deceptive leisure, “I intend to further Garvana's training. She has proved her devotion and dedication to formal tutorage.”
    Willow leant forward, sensually kissing her way up his collarbone.
    “And what part,” she continued casually, quickening her lower movements, “Of your formal tutorage does she have to look forward to today?”
    “Mace and shield,” he growled in a breath, “Exhibiting control of others.”
    Suddenly, he gripped Willow by the waist and threw her to the side, guiding her beneath him and pinning her with his weight.
    Willow giggled, “Control over others? You'd be a very good teacher.”

    It was still early morning when they made their way to the throne hall, approaching the refurbished coat room that Garvana had claimed as her bed chamber. Willow remained slightly behind as to not interrupt Pellius’ lesson, but was close enough to over hear Garvana seemingly talking to herself.
    “…as the oldest and most powerful motes, became leaders and predators among all others, adding the ever advancing essences of their lesser brethren to their own, and in doing so growing always greater. I feel the pull to be that predator, a leader this world needs, yet I have been born into this world but a year…”
    Willow frowned at the intense words of Garvana’s spiel, the heavy weight accompanied by the eery prophetic tone she spoke in. Pellius cleared his throat as he approached the open door. Garvana greeted him, retrieving her armour and weapons, unbothered by having been interrupted or overheard.
    “Good morning, Willow,” she said, inclining her head.
    “And to you,” Willow said, eyebrow cocked, allowing her to pass.
    Joining them in their warm up, Willow mimicked Pellius’ strong agile movements, lunging deeply and using her dexterous flexibility to hold her centre. Pellius prowled around them watching their efforts, firm cane tightly in hand, ready to correct any flaws in their technique. Although the flowing movements and fatiguing stretches came naturally to Willow, even she was impressed with Garvana's improvement. When the warm up concluded, Willow sat to the side, kneeling motionless in her respectful stance. She watched as Pellius took Garvana through the basics of mace and shield tactics, the correct way to hold the weapons and the best use of their defence.
    “Let us spar,” he called, “And see what you have learned.”
    As Pellius called for commencement, Garvana burst from her preparation and erupted a brutal blow to his chest. With brute force rather than any finesse, he was launched from his defence and sent falling off balance to the floor. As he crashed into the training mat, a look of surprise painting his features, Pellius laughed in good nature.
    “Not bad,” he said, standing and preparing once again, “Let us see you duplicate it.”
    The second attack was not nearly as successful. Pellius had anticipated her over head full forced swing, knocking aside her weapon with ease, bludgeoning arm hand with his shield and knocking the mace from her hand.
    “Once more,” he clipped, as she retrieved her weapon.
    Again, Garvana went for the fearsome blow, rendering her shield and defence useless. Pellius shoved his shield into her chest, so hard that Willow saw the air propel from her lungs, her weapon dropping to the ground. The following attacks continued much the same, Garvana opting for might and power over control and strength. After an hour of the similar routine, Pellius sighed, lowering his weapon.
    “I feared this would be a long and arduous task. Hopefully your mind is stronger than your arm. Wash, then meet me in my quarters.”
    He turned to Willow as he strolled towards the door, offering his hand to her. She accepted it as he helped her rise, laying her hand over his arm.
    “Do you wish to accompany us, my lady?” he asked politely, “You will have to excuse me a moment while I bathe. I would offer for company there also, but I fear I would not make it back in time for chess.”
    Willow laughed as they strolled down the passage, “Indeed, it is alright, I shall summon Isa for tea while I wait.”
    “Very well, my lady.”

    Willow skimmed through the pages of a Chelaxian tome as she sipped on the fragrant brew. The book was one she had not read, the glorious telling of Queen Abrogail’s rise to regal might within the grand empire. The author was one who understood overkill of royal flattery. As powerful and clever as the monarch was, describing the queens beauty by likening it to the rarest gem glittering amongst the rabble, was a touch too far for Willow's tastes. As the door swung wide, Willow's eyes trailed up Pellius’ freshly washed bare chest. He wore only his tailored pants and tightly laced shining leather boots, his hair wet and slick, combed to perfection off his face. She grinned at the single rebellious curl that hung on his forehead. A knock on the door sounded as he pulled his white shirt over his head.
    “Enter,” he called.
    The door creaked open and Garvana appeared in the frame, wet hair wrapped up in a lazy messy braid. She stepped over the threshold and inclined her head in greeting.
    “We shall begin in a moment,” Pellius said, disappearing through the door on the far side of the room.
    “Sit,” Willow said, unable to help herself, “Allow me to fix that travesty of a braid.”
    Garvana chuckled, taking a seat and pulling free the mess she had made with her hair. It took Willow only a few minutes to tightly weave the long locks into a dignified intertwining plait, the finished result giving soft charm to her otherwise masculine features. Willow returned to her chair after she finished, just in time for Pellius to return to the chamber. He frowned for a moment as his eyes flickered to her hair, then nodded his approval as he took up his seat.
    “Third lesson,” he said formally, “Control your thoughts and mind. A priest of Asmodeus should be careful in their exercise and pursuit of power. Understand that an over extension will leave you vulnerable to those watching for weakness…”
    The games of chess were fast paced to begin. Garvana leaping into her turn, quickly deciding which piece to move, no thought or strategy to her tactic. With each move, Pellius corrected her mistakes, explaining where she had left herself open and suggesting a better alternative. The first two games, Pellius won by more than half the board. But by the third game, Garvana had calmed her rash decisions, thinking harder on her move, carefully planning out her approach. The battle was close, with only four pieces on the board, but she managed to trap Pellius’ king in a checkmate. Following her win, the games were evenly matched, Garvana proving that when she took the time to plan and strategise, she was able to match his wit.
    “Well played, Garvana,” Pellius praised, “As much as weapons need sharpening and armour oiling, the mind requires trials of wit to remain strong and agile. Do not neglect this aspect of yourself, for knowledge is power. Perhaps the most important lesson I can give you is to know yourself.”
    He stood from his chair, clasping his hands behind his back as he spoke.
    “Vox, one of my mentors, once told me that you must know your place. Be courteous and respectful to your betters, for you are weak to them. You are stronger than many, but not all. So protect your weaknesses, and use your strengths, unless your strengths are your weaknesses. Above all else, know your place. You are not weak, you are ambitious and powerful. Prove it to those who would hold dominion over you. Hail, Asmodeus."
    “Hail Asmodeus,” Garvana and Willow responded in unison.
    Pellius smiled at the pair of them, "Good words to live by, are they not?"
    “Indeed they are,” said Garvana.
    “My lady,” Pellius turned to Willow, “May I beg a moment in private with Garvana?”
    Willow quirked an eyebrow, “Of course.”
    She rose from her seat, bidding Garvana farewell and inclining her head to Pellius. She left the chamber, choosing to give them privacy as she headed for her own room. Their voices drifted down the hall, the topic of conversation peaking Willow's insatiable curiosity, stopping her steps as she left.
    "Now, I do believe you have not been respectful and are in debt to someone,” Pellius said formally, “In Cheliax, it is particularly ill-mannered not to offer a soul to a devil who aides you. As such, tonight I will teach you how to properly offer a sacrifice to our infernal brethren."
    “You are right, of course,” Garvana replied, “I have been told as much in my recent dreams. I will do what I must to honour my allies.”
    “Very well,” he said, “Return here after midnight and we shall proceed.”
    They said their farewells and as the door opened and Willow heard Garvana’s wide step in the doorway, a pause in her exit had Willow still listening.
    “Pellius,” she said seriously, “What you have started, I do not take for granted, nor does it go unnoticed. Until recently I have been alone and without direction, with only my dreams to hint at me what I am required to know. It is maddening, but it is my path to walk. To look to my side and see that I do not walk alone fills my heart with His infernal song. I will learn all you have to teach, and I will do this knowledge justice by laying the souls of Asmodeus’ enemies at his feet.”
    Willow could only assume he nodded in response, picturing his solemn professional expression darkening his face. Suddenly, she realised Garvana’s steps were coming her way. Sheepishly realising she had been eavesdropping, she ducked into the side room silently, and pressed herself against the wall. Garvana distractedly battered by her, unaware and wrapped up in her own thoughts. As Willow heard her masculine voice calling out the command word for the throne, another voice drifted to her ears.
    “Come, my lady, do not creep in the shadows,” Pellius called.
    She sighed, refusing to run away from her exposure. She returned to his chamber, approaching as he stood in the doorway, arm crossed over his broad chest.
    “Eavesdropping does not become you,” he said, almost sounding disappointed.
    Willow shrugged, “It was unintentional, but all too intriguing to ignore.”
    Although she sounded unapologetic, her inability to look him in the eye said otherwise. He sighed, and shook his head, lifting her chin with his finger to meet her gaze.
    “Do you wish to attend?” he asked, “I suppose it will be beneficial for you also.”
    Willow smiled, his touch softening the strange guilt within her, but she shook her head.
    “I have seen and performed my share of sacrifices,” she said, “I may be of Talingarde, but I grew up in a bloodline of Asmodean origins. It is also disrespectful to perform a soul offering of gratitude with an unwarranted audience.”
    “Very well, my lady,” he replied.
    Willow turned to head for her chamber, but stopped after a few steps. She turned to face him, a strange look on her face.
    “I…” she said carefully, “I apologise for my intrusion. It is most disrespectful of me to encroach on the privacy of those I… trust.”
    Eyebrows raised, Pellius smiled, “It is alright. I understand, trust does not come easily, I myself am struggling with the concept. I will not betray you Willow, of that, you have my word.”
    A small but true smile touched her lips, “And you mine, Pellius.”

  23. - Top - End - #23
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 17 - Treachery - Part 2

    Spoiler: Chapter 17 - Treachery - Part 2
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    After days of uneventful mediocracy, Willow observed as Cassandra sat with her hands folded in her lap, her head bowed respectfully relaying her information. She had rented a room at the Auld Briar Hall in order to better keep an eye on her target. She reported that Elise rarely left the inn, her elven guard a constant at her side, paired with Track attached as if on a leash.
    “She has caught wind of another adventuring group in town,” she said quietly, “But I am yet to find out what she plans to do about it.”
    “What of Trick?” Willow asked, “Has he made an appearance?”
    Cassandra nodded, “Only a handful of times, he does not return, or at least he does not return when it is explainable that I am awake and waiting in the parlour.”
    Willow listened to her update, impressed with Cassandra’s attention to detail, but disappointed to her lack of findings. They had met in the Golden Sphere, hidden in a booth in the rear of the establishment, within the walls of the private sectioned area reserved for members of the underground. Willow had morphed her disguise appearing as an elderly woman, greying hair arranged in a simple braid, plain pale blue robes and a heavy sash covering her shape. As the woman finished speaking, Willow's ears pricked at the muffled scuff of boots within the shadows of the drapery.
    “Thank you, Cassandra,” Willow said formally, tossing a silk coin pouch towards her, “That will be all. I will contact you again, keep at your task.”
    Cassandra snatched the pouch from the air, clearly pleased with the weight of it as her lips quirked into a grin.
    “Yes Mistress,” she said, bowing as she stood, “Thank you, Mistress.”
    Willow watched Cassandra strut out of the tavern before leaning back in her chair and taking a slow sip of her wine. She let the moment drag, waiting while she enjoyed the robust flavour of the expensive liquid.
    “Are you joining me,” she asked aloud, “Or is there something fascinating within the curtains that requires your attention?”
    Willow quivered at the sound of his deep rumbling chuckle behind her. Slinking from the shadows, Switch slid himself to the booth, helping himself to the wine. He eyed Willow as he lazily draped his feet upon the table, looking over the elderly disguise she was hidden under.
    “You make such a sweet old bird,” he said with a grin, “Innocent and humble. How deceiving looks can be.”
    Willow laughed as she released the illusion, the magic rippling as her face morphed into her own, her pale robes tainting into the black leather armour.
    “And to what do I owe this pleasure?” she asked, eyebrow cocked.
    Switch mockingly batted his eyelashes, “It's been weeks since we've spoken, I've missed you, my dear.”
    Laughing at his fluttering lids, Willow refilled both of their glasses, lounging back and raking her eyes over his toned physique. He wore his usual outfit, worn leather boots wrapped over tight fitting black slacks, loose black shirt unbuttoned low enough to reveal a wisp of chest hair. His head had been freshly shaved, shining skin reflecting light off the top of his head.
    “She's pretty good,” he said, taking another casual sip from his glass, “It took me a while to realise she was one of yours.”
    Willow shrugged nonchalantly, “She's got potential, but she's not competent enough for anything more than observation.”
    “Such a hard task master,” he chuckled.
    She smiled, “I give praise only where it is due. But I do have a question for you, seeing you were listening in to everything that was said.”
    “Ask away,” he said with a mocking half bow.
    “The man we were speaking of,” she said, raising her eyebrows, “Have you caught wind of him? I wish to speak to him, but do not have the time or resources to track him down.”
    Switch shrugged, “I have seen him about town, slinking in the shadows before disappearing. He seems to have access to plenty of deceptive arcana.”
    “Too much it seems,” Willow agreed, “For my men are incapable of locating him. Perhaps I'll do it myself if the need becomes paramount.”
    “I also have a question for you,” he said slyly, a smile on his lips.
    “Ask away,” she mirrored.
    “Do they all call you Mistress?”
    “The ones that wish to keep their tongues,” she replied menacingly.
    Switch’s dastardly laugh had a grin split upon Willow's lips.
    “Very well Mistress,” he said in mock formality, “I suppose I should request a moment of your time, rather than demand it.”
    “If you were to request anything of me,” Willow chuckled, “I'd assume you'd grown weak, and would be sure to take full advantage of it.”
    Laughing as he stood from his seat, he waited and offered his hand to help her up. Willow eyed his outstretched hand mistrustfully, cautiously accepting it as she rose. Just as she had suspected, he yanked on her hand, in one swoop dragging her from the seat and spinning her to pin her against the wall. He pressed his weight into her, his face looming close to hers, his breath warm against her lips.
    “You should know better than to assume anything about me, Willow,” he growled.
    The corner of her mouth quirked as her heart beat quickened. She had been ready for his approach, having silently withdrawn her dagger, clutching it in her free hand behind her back. She let her breath come in ragged bursts, allowing him to believe she had been swept away in his intensity, just as his ego eagerly craved. She kept her eye contact fierce, as she slowly lifted her chin, her lips reaching to caress his. She waited for the moment he dropped his head to meet for the kiss, before she dextrously slipped from his grip, slinking below his outstretched arm and whipping herself up behind him with the dagger at his throat.
    “Wise words, if one were to follow them,” she whispered silkily into his ear.
    She knew his greater strength would easily overpower her, if she had been truly intending to kill him, she would have slit his throat and retreated. So she giggled as he gripped her arm and swiftly spun around, using his force to slam her onto the table before dropping himself on top of her. His fearsome gaze pierced her from above before he lost his control and silenced her laugh as he crashed his lips to hers. Willow found her legs instinctively draping over his back, her chest rising to grind upon his, her tongue matching his in it’s passionate dance. As he released his grip on her wrists, his hands grazed their way to her throat. His kiss deepened its intensity, a ferocious need to his movements, before he suddenly ripped his lips away to stare down at her with chest heaving.
    “Every damn time,” he huffed, laughing as he shook his head.
    He tore himself from her, standing and turning away as he regained his control. Willow rose to a seated position, legs dangling from the table, relishing the maddening lure she seemed to have over him. He straightened his shoulders before turning back to her with as much formality as he could muster.
    “What time are you due back?” he asked, “You never stay the night in town anymore, I take it this visit is no different?”
    “After dusk,” she replied, eyebrows raised.
    “Good,” he nodded, “Come along, I have a task for you.”

    The task Switch had prepared was of a different sort to which he had previously given her. Usually, it involved fighting off bands of mercenaries or tracking single targets across the expansive city. This time it was one of subtly and silence. They made their way across the rooftops, quietly leaping from building to building, out of sight of the parades of people below. When they reached Caviller Green, they slinked through the bushes, leading to a large mansion built into the side of the wide hill. Naturally, Willow's eyes cased the perimeter, searching for guards and their rotations. Switch held his hand up to halt her as two guards meandered passed, talking loudly about the winnings of last nights game of cards. Once they had disappeared around the corner, he signalled to continue, sprinting silently to the lattice work and making his way to the roof. Willow followed suit, deftly scaling towards the top, listening intently for any drop in the guards conversation. As they cautiously made their way to the centre of the steep, they came across a tall brickwork chimney, still cold air feathering across Willow's face. She looked to the chimney, turning back to Switch with her eyebrow cocked in question.
    “Well,” he said casually, “In you go.”
    Willow had to cover her mouth to stifle her laugh, shaking her head as she chuckled.
    “And once I'm in?” she grinned, “Surely there is more to this training than seeing how well I wiggle through slender shafts?”
    Switch smirked, “One goal. Get out of the manor without being seen.”
    He pulled a wrapped scroll from his pocket, tightly sealed with a leather band, speaking as he handed it to her.
    “Use this if you must, but if you do, you fail. Do not set off any alarms or make your presence known, the chimney was cleaned this morning so you shouldn't have to worry about trailing soot. There are three exits to the manor, you must find the one guarded by the holy sun. I will be there, do not keep me waiting long.”
    Willow grinned, excitement bounding through her body, adrenaline racing through her veins. Stashing the scroll of dimension door, she turned for the chimney and carefully climbed to its cap, reaching for its grate. Switch roughly grabbed her by the chin and forced his lips against hers in a fierce kiss, dragging his teeth around her lip painfully as he pushed her face away.
    “Do not disappoint me,” he warned.
    Willow smirked and slipped her legs into the chute, speaking as she winked before sliding down the shaft, “I never do…”
    Her slender figure slinked easily down the widened chimney, her softened leather armour silently sliding against the freshly cleaned metal walls. She balanced her weight with her feet against the metal as she slowly lowered herself down. When she reached the bottom, she remained motionless while her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room, straining her ears to listen for any indication of guards. When she was confident the room was empty, she carefully crept out of the fireplace, thankful for the scuffed soles of her boots as they paced soundlessly across the hard wood floors. She was in a study, a large oak desk sitting centre of the room, walls lined with heavy tomes upon shelves. Reaching the door, she cautiously eyed the lock to determine if it was trapped, when she found nothing, she retrieved her pick from her belt and set about unlocking the metal mechanism. With a subtle click, she carefully opened the door into the hall, sealing and relocking it behind her. She made a mental note of the location of the study, before turning right and continuing, using the intricate golden rimmed paintings to identify each door she passed. Silently, she made her way through the winding halls, finding an open door into what appeared to be the kitchen. She could hear the banter of two cooks from within, busy at work on their nightly meal. She peered through the room to the door on the other side, Willow could see the greenery of the garden through the window, but saw nothing resembling a holy sun to identify the exit. On careful feet, she crept passed the kitchen, keeping her ears primed for any footsteps upon the shining floorboards. As she continued through the passage, she came across a large set of embellished doors, lined with immaculately carved borders. Pressing her ear to the door, she remained perfectly still as she listened. When no sound came, she gently unlatched the lock and peered through the opening. The vestibule sparkled brightly with its lavish decorations, large ornamental vases filled with exotic flowers, tall masculine statues of men she didn't recognise. From her vantage point, she could see the large entrance way, the doors sealed shut with two guards standing at attention. It was almost a relief when she failed to find any mention of the holy sun. From the distance, she heard the soft trail of voices and footsteps, heading her way. She quickly sealed the door and reset the lock, swiftly disappearing behind one of the large plants decorating the hallway. She folded herself down and became as small as possible, keeping her body motionless as keys rattled from the other side of the door. The door creaked as it swung wide, revealing two men in fine robes, busy in their political debate.
    “Sir Valin has taken control of his position,” one man said, “Fitting, given the pairs history.”
    “Indeed, my lord,” the other responded, “Most fitting.”
    “Arkov was a strange man,” the first continued, as they passed Willow's hiding spot unaware, “I was never sure if what he did for the orphans was for their benefit or his, but at the very least, he removed them from our streets.”
    “It is odd, my lord, for a large portion of the orphans disappeared after the Baron’s demise.”
    “Perhaps they are afraid to incur the wrath of the dragon,” the first replied, his voice trailing down the hall, “They were not the most innocent of adolescents…”
    Willow smirked as she silently unfolded, creeping back to towards the turn off in the hall she had passed. She carefully made her way through the labyrinth of hallways, dodging guard patrols and chattering servants. She hid behind the drapery in a large sitting room as she heard a group of guards rushing passed, clearly in search of something or someone. Willow swore under her breath, frustratedly thinking she had been noticed at some point. She had been careful to stay silent and lock every door she had found in that state. She cursed herself for her failure, but refused to give in so easily. When she reached the only possible opening in the building, she almost laughed at the sight she came across. A large chamber lined with potted plants and rows of trestles of grape, four servants busily tending to the flora, gardeners weeding and trimming. The large doorway leading to the outside portion of the greenhouse, was decorated with a looming carving of Mitra, a large sunburst hanging above the door. Willow eyed the surroundings warily, carefully formulating her approach. She retrieved her vial of invisibility, swiftly drinking it down and returning it to her belt. As quietly as she could, she crept behind the servants, silent careful feet as she made her way towards the door. She neared her target and frowned, struggling to devise a way to open the door without being noticed. As if in answer to her question, a cold chill pierced her bare skin, the breeze drifting in from an open window. She grinned, slinking towards it and quietly lifting herself through its slender opening. Dropping to the hard dirt beneath the window, she quickly skimmed along the garden towards the open gate. She made her way through it just before her invisibility vanished, revealing her black leather form deftly running across the open field. As she made it to the edge of the clearing, she sprinted into the dense forestry surrounding Caviller Green. Suddenly, she was gripped by the throat and spun in the air, forcefully crashing into the foliage beneath her.
    “Not bad,” Switch grinned, his grip on her throat frightfully tight, “They didn't manage to find you.”
    “I don't know how they managed to detect me,” she rasped under his grasp, “But they didn't find me.”
    Switch laughed, dark and menacing, “They didn't detect you. I warned them you were coming.”
    “You what?!” Willow laughed as a wheeze.
    “Five hundred gold to the one who found you,” he chuckled, “Lord Angsely is a friend of mine, seems no one gets the gold though.”
    Willow couldn't help but grin, cursing at his deceit. She sighed under his grip and swiftly launched her weight from the bottom up, surprising him and flipping him off balance as he tumbled into the brush. She was quick to roll towards him, straddling him between her thighs, dagger pressed into his neck. Her victory lasted only mere seconds as he recovered, tearing her hand from his neck, gripping her waist and ruthlessly throwing her to the side and returning her throat to his clutch.
    “You are getting too good at that,” he huffed, the wind having been knocked from his chest.
    He slid atop her, his free hand roaming up beneath her blouse.
    “Either that,” she chuckled, sharply inhaling as his nails dug into her flesh, “Or you're getting too slow…”

    Returning to the Horn as the last desperate light of the sun gave in to the smothering darkness of the night sky, Willow climbed the amass of stairs into the entry upon the second level. She entered passed the croaking boggards who remained in the guard rooms on watch for trespassers. They eyed Willow warily as she strode passed, silent in their vigil, weapons at the ready. She grimaced at the smell of their oozing skin, continuing to her chamber, distracted thoughts filling her mind. She was surprised to find Pellius leaning upon her doorframe, legs crossed in a relaxed and casual stance.
    “Ah, my lady,” he greeted, reaching for her hand to place a small kiss on her knuckle, “I was wondering when you would return.”
    Willow smiled and inclined her head, aware of his keen gaze, knowing too well the armour she wore did not reach high enough to hide the red handprints around her neck.
    “Did you learn anything of import from your contacts?” he asked, eyebrows raised, gaze locked on her throat.
    “Of some import,” she said casually, gliding towards her door as he stepped out of her way, “Elise has learned of a new adventuring party around town, and Trick has been seen, but still remains aloof.”
    She stepped into her chamber, leaving the door open behind her, beckoning Pellius within.
    “Sir Valin has taken control of Vandermir's position,” she continued, pouring only herself a glass of whiskey at his polite refusal, “He has seized the property and most likely the wealth.”
    “Curious,” Pellius commented.
    Willow frowned, turning to adjust the tight buckles upon her chest piece, “It is actually fairly appropriate for this land. The ranking member of society takes over the holdings when no heir is in place. I do not believe the Baron had any children, well none that are legitimately recognised.”
    Willow shivered suddenly, as she felt his presence close behind her, his fingers trailing over the markings on her neck.
    “It is curious that you managed time to source any information,” he whispered menacingly.
    Slowly turning to face him, a sly smile played on her lips.
    “Where is the fun in this life, if we make no room for pleasure amongst our business?”
    His eyes flickered down to her throat again before a dastardly grin tainted his expression. Willow felt the thrum of his infernal side, pulsing from deep within. It brushed against her flesh, caressing her bare skin, forcing her heart to throb in tune.
    “Indeed, Willow,” he said quietly, his finger lifting her chin so her face was angled to his, “We all enjoy a little pleasure. And when it comes to you, I seek mine within the discipline of consequences for dissipation.”
    Willow couldn't hide the quiver that racked her body at his dark promise.
    “And I seek mine within receiving such discipline,” she breathed, limbs tingling, heart racing.
    As if frozen in time, they remained perfectly still, the tension in the room heavy within the air, her ragged breathing sounding like thundering rasps to her ears. He was barely touching her, yet every inch of her flesh was shuddering in anticipation, sweat forming in droplets along the top of her spine. His eyes flashing with intensity, their red glow adding to his menacing appearance, his infernal charm fuelling her desire. As his hand dropped, he turned from her, almost regretfully, a sense of duty morphing the carnality.
    “Come along,” he said formally, only a hint of a smile on his lips, “We have a shift in the sanctum.”
    He offered Willow his arm as they strolled from her chamber, locking the door behind her, her heart still strumming and blood still racing. He subtly leant towards her, his breath warm and wet upon her ear.
    “Once we are finished,” he warned, “We shall deal with your lechery…”

    It was the sound of a long drawn out signal horn that awoke Willow from her slumber in the twilight hours before dawn. She leapt from her bunk, quickly ripping off her night slip and beginning the task of strapping on her armour. Looking around the throne room she saw Teelee and Pellius doing the same, Garvana and Bor already geared in their watch within the sanctum. It took Willow only a few moments to completely don her leather, dropping her Asmodean pendant around her neck before swiftly attending to Pellius and helping him dress in his bulking heavy armour panels. As she tightly fastened the last of his buckles, the signal horn blew again, two short bursts indicating the invaders where making their way to the second level entrance. When the group prepared at the entrance, primed and ready for the attack, Bor and Garvana arrived through the portal of the throne.
    “We've been betrayed,” Bor said quickly, “They were aware of the entrance from the caverns, and they were warned it had been sealed up in stone. There are four of them, a dwarf, a ranger and two spell casters.”
    “Try to keep one alive,” Willow replied, unsheathing her daggers, “We’ll find out what they know.”
    They waited in silence until the faint sound of a lock clicked from the passage. Willow waited, perched behind the wall, ready to spring in from behind when they made it through the gates. As the door opened a crack, Teelee leapt into the hallway, prematurely summoning a pellet of fire and launching it through the opening. Willow swore under her breath, once again their plans had faltered, rendering the defences and traps obsolete. In consequence for her rash action, the attackers launched their attacks directly at her, being their only visible target. Two arrows shot in unison, flew through the air and pierced Teelee through the torso. She tried to leap out of the way, as a small gnome chanted his incantation, throwing crushed petals and sand into the air. As the arcana reached out to caress Teelee like a spiral of feathered wisps, Willow watched her eyes droop and her body slacken, before she shook herself forcefully and strengthened her will against the magic. A thundering ripple shook the ground, hundreds of vines furled from the stone work, green foliage cluttering the chamber they were standing in. Willow weaved through the entanglement, her lithe form gracefully avoiding the coiling mass. The dwarf charged into the entrance, slashing his axe through the arrow slits and easily slaughtering the croaking boggards within. The ranger stepped forward, cocking another arrow and relentlessly firing each one with shocking precision. Teelee’s eyes flashed with determination as she called for another fireball, launching the sweltering mass into the attackers, scorching flame searing upon their flesh.
    “Fall back!” squealed the gnome, “Let's not throw ourselves at this meat grinder!”
    Quickly in sync, the four of them retreated out of the entrance. Garvana called forth her magic and vanished the entanglement of the vines.
    “Grumblejack,” Willow beckoned, “Will you carry me? We need to track them from the air.”
    True to his name, he grumbled as he begrudgingly agreed, stepping out onto the ledge of the entrance. As Willow stepped forward, a sudden flurry of attacks launched at Grumblejack as he came into the view of the adventurers. Scorching rays of arcana flew towards him, lightening ricocheted through the air to the metal upon his body, but his mysterious magical barrier seemed to absorb both assaults. Willow refused to fight on the staircase, so she retreated back inside, calling for Grumblejack to do the same. She sighed, knowing he wouldn't have heard her over Bor’s ferocious battle cry as he charged out into the battle. Suddenly, his frame rippled, rendered completely immobile. Before Willow had time to react, the ranger leapt forward and shoved Bor over the edge, sending his frozen form plummeting to the ground below.
    “Grumblejack!” Willow commanded, “Fall back!”
    A huge frustrated huff sounded from his chest as he withdrew from the attackers range. As he made it back inside, the ground shuddered again as the vines rippled and filled the room once more.
    “They're retreating,” Willow said quickly, “We must track them and find Bor. Come along Grumblejack.”
    She dextrously slipped between the gripping hanging vines, reaching the entrance with little effort. Opposite to her approach, Grumblejack brute forced his way through the vines, ripping the coiling tendrils as he pushed through them. Willow carefully peeked around the corner, checking for a clear path before climbing upon the ogres back. He leapt from the edge and soared into the twilight tinted sky, completely unbothered by Willow's light weight upon his shoulders. The wind ripped through her hair, flicking the short strands against her forehead, as they veered down around the enormous spire. As they spotted the retreating enemies, two arrows came hurtling through the air. The blade on one splitting the skin across Willow's cheek as it tore passed her head, the other slamming in her side, piercing through her armour only far enough for the point to nick her flesh. Willow ripped the arrow free as they soared towards the ground, landing heavily upon the marsh, unsheathing her dagger as she sprinted at the group. Bor came hurtling out of the forest, a feral rage shuddering his face, his blade high over head. As enchanted words slipped from the gnome’s lips, Willow cursed as once again Bor's form rippled, freezing in its fearsome approach.
    Metal clashed and grunts of strain rebounded across the expanse, Grumblejack laughing as he parried the dwarfs attacks, responding by brutally swinging his backwards sword towards the short man. Blow for blow, they matched each other, a battle of strength upon strength. As Grumblejack swung his mighty weapon with glee, the dwarf frothed from the mouth as his attacks grew more savage and desperate. There was no finesse in either of their onslaughts; an untrained ogre hefting his weapon with clumsy innate power, and a man festering with rage, slashing his fury through his strikes. He cried his anger through gritted teeth, sweat dripping from his forehead, fingers white with strain. He fought with no care for his life, committing to each attack as if it were going to be his last. The duel fought on, the might of a dwarf against an ogre.
    Willow focused on the spellcasters, diving in behind the gnome and slashing her daggers in fierce unison, hacking through the small creatures flesh.
    “No!” cried the druid, eyes wide with shock.
    As the gnome crumpled to the ground, Willow turned to the druid, lashing out as she attempted to cast her arcana in vain. Her face contorted as she mourned the loss of her friend, her heartache morphing into fury. The blades cut deep into the woman as she called forth shimmering lightening that rippled towards Willow with shocking intent. Quick on her feet, Willow dashed out of its path, leaping forward to cut down the druid, hacking her blades low. The druid’s wrath was cut short as she fell, her cries silenced as life faded from her eyes. As Willow withdrew, she growled at the sharp pain of two arrow heads as they pierced her back. Grumblejack roared as the dwarf cleaved his mighty axe with frightening brawn, slashing open the ogres chest. The duel ended as he fell to the ground, a loud echoing groan rasping from his lips, as the dwarf cheered his battle worn delight. Willow raced passed as Garvana appeared from the staircase, charging to meet the dwarf’s celebration, flaming mace splitting the air as it carved it’s journey.
    “The power and greatness of Asmodeus cannot be denied!” she roared, lashing out.
    Their weapons collided with a shattering crash, fearsome strength radiating from the pair.
    “I hate spellcasters!” growled the dwarf.
    The arcana summoned by Garvana appeared to rebound from the dwarf, as if a shield had repelled the wisping assault. Undeterred, she launched herself against him, righteous fury guiding her hand.
    The ranger fell quickly to Willow's blades, the fatigue of the wearying battle proving too great, her bow offering no salvation at such close range. Finally the group converged on the dwarf, his frothing rage redoubled, his last breaths spent screaming his anguish. He fought to the very last ounce of his life, attempting to take at least one of them down with him. It was Willow's final strike to his jugular that had him fall to his knees, straining to swing his axe as it dropped from his hands, life draining with the blood from his neck. He spluttered his last words through his wheezing chest, unintelligible mumbling, falling to his demise.
    The magic holding Bor vanished, his raging form feral with wrath. He charged to the gnome’s crumpled corpse and launched it across the expanse. Looking somewhat calmer, he heaved his breath, cursing at the arcana that had held him so helplessly.
    Willow checked each of their attackers for any signs of life, frustrated to find no survivors. While Garvana tended to the unconscious Grumblejack, Willow searched the packs and pockets of their four victims. It was in the sash carried by the gnome, that she found the most intriguing bit of information.
    “Come along quickly,” Willow said sharply to the group, heading for the stairs, “We must meet now, we have exactly what we need…”

    When they convened in the passage, Willow read the journal entry that had excitement flooding her veins.
    “He delivered his pitch,” she recited to the group, “And then gave to us an immense pile of information, including maps, names and so much more. Really he did give us everything but the keys to the front door. He claimed the angels had driven him to stop the wickedness in the Horn of Abbadon and rally us to our ‘destiny’. I had Vethia follow the ‘holy man’ and our fears turned out to be justified. She saw this angel-speaker slip into a side alley and transform back into a dark haired much younger human…”
    “It must be Trick!” Garvana snapped.
    Willow smiled, a wicked and sinful grin, “It gets so much more delicious, just listen. She followed the young man to a rendezvous with a strange white haired woman with a white raven on her shoulder, he called her Z. They didn't say much to each other, all he said was, ‘It is done, the Ninth are finished’…”
    Turning the journal around, she showed the group the perfect sketches of both Elise and Trick’s faces, detailed and exact replicas on parchment.
    “I will kill her!” Bor roared, “She must die for her disloyalty!”
    “Indeed she must,” Willow responded, “But do not be so rash, we must inform Thorn of her treachery, and abide by his decision. I cannot imagine he will let her live.”
    “Bah!” Bor spat, “I do not need his permission to kill her!”
    Willow snapped, “He is our master! We shall seek his permission and kill her on his wishes!”
    “Willow is right,” Pellius interjected, “We must inform him first.”
    Placing a gentle hand on his forearm, Willow spoke quietly to Bor, “We shall kill her regardless of his answer. I promise you that.”
    “What of the others?” Garvana asked, eyebrows raised.
    “The elven guard and Track will no doubt follow her to their death,” Willow mused, “But perhaps Trick is salvageable. His loyalty to Asmodeus may win out over his loyalty to Elise. If I am correct in my assumption, he was merely following her orders. We have no reason to believe either way, if we can determine his loyalty before Elise faces her judgement, then it is all the better…”

    The group gathered upon the bloody battlefield with Thorn’s clay seal in hand. Willow knelt upon the muddy expanse, taking a deep breath before shattering the seal. Only a moment after the clay slipped through her fingers, the air rippled fiercely, and suddenly a wave of splintering infernal energy sapped Willow's breath from her chest. Cardinal Adrastus Thorn stood in his fearsome might, eyes of fire and fury, a look of immense ire upon his regal face. He looked over the group, as each of them dropped into low respectful bows, before looking up at the foreboding spire that was the Horn.
    “Why have you summoned me?” he snapped, a displeased gleam to his tone, “You clearly are not finished in your mission!”
    Willow pushed aside the searing pulse within her as she spoke, keeping her voice as steady as her amorous swelter would allow.
    “I apologise, master,” she said respectfully, bowed low to the ground before looking up into his consuming gaze, “We would not bother you were it not of immediate importance. We have discovered compelling evidence that the Seventh Knot has betrayed you. We have suspected their disloyalty for a time, but chose not to act without irrefutable proof of their misdeeds.”
    Snatching the journal from her outstretched hands, Thorn quickly skimmed the contents of the diary, eyes livid as he turned the page to the portraits.
    “I have no time for this infighting!” he roared, “We are so close to victory!”
    He growled, the fierce sound crashing against Willow's ears sending shivering ripples through her flesh, a small ardent whimper escaping her lips.
    “The Knot Hibernal is declared broken!” he said fiercely, “In accordance with the Pact of Thorns, I release these traitors. They are no longer bound to my service or enjoy my protection.”
    The air shudder around him as he drew an intricate pattern into the air. Suddenly, two creatures bled into sight, fierce and regal might. Both beautiful women, mockingly angelic in their appearance, soft crystal white skin littered with bruises and scars. Black stained wings hung delicately from their shoulders, flaming scarlet eyes piercing their surroundings. The devils were of a graceful crude beauty, like the twisted morphed sisters of their divine counterparts. Willow was transfixed by their terrifying splendour, the allure so strong within her, she struggled to draw air into her lungs.
    “I send to you, my Nessian Knot, my furies. Make them suffer for their treachery and then return to the work at hand. Bring me the daemon’s gift!”
    “Thank you master,” Willow breathed, bowing her head low, “It will be done.”
    With a terrifying wave of infernal heat scorching across the expanse, Thorn vanished once again, leaving the two fearsome devils behind. Willow stood from her perch, a feral and dark grin playing on her lips, turning to the members of the Ninth Knot.
    “Let us exact our revenge,” she said menacingly, “And serve their retribution in blood…”

  24. - Top - End - #24
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 18 - Exordium

    Spoiler: Chapter 18 - Exordium
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    In the wake of their master’s departure, the sweet taste of vengeance lingered upon the lips of the five bound servants. His fury and harsh reprimand had left the group eager to dispense his retribution. Leaving the boggards to deal with the carnage of their prior battle, they quickly scaled the stairs to the second level, followed closely by Thorn’s two fiendish furies. When they convened in the tavern, they dismissed the staff before turning their attentions to their task.
    “Shall we attack where they rest?” Teelee asked, “Or shall we attempt to draw them out?”
    “Let us hit them quickly,” Garvana clipped.
    “It would seem they threw everything they had into that attack,” Pellius mused, “They would have to be aware they would be discovered if it failed.”
    “So there is no point in trying to be subtle,” Bor added.
    While the others began to plan their attack, Willow watched with interest, as the two devils stood on guard by the doorway. Both strong warriors, baring sculpted toned physiques, elegant, terrifying and foreboding in their vigil. Though their might and regal air were certainly alluring, it was their eyes that had her captivated. Piercing gazes flickering through the room in tandem, scrutinising and calculating, constantly aware of their surroundings. On the way to the tavern, Pellius had said to Willow that the devils were called erinyes, mocking the form of angelic hosts in their exaction of vengeance and bloody justice. Known to the pits of Hell as executioners, not judges nor jury. Willow smiled, they were a fitting aid in the group’s mission.
    “It is settled,” Pellius said formally, bringing Willow's attention back to the present, “The furies shall restrain Elise first, while we focus our attacks on taking out her raven.”
    “Have you given any more thought to Trick?” Willow asked, “If what I suspect is true, then his loyalty to our Infernal Lord may win out over his loyalty to her.”
    “What do you propose, my lady?” he replied with a frown.
    “Let me talk to him first, alone. I should be able to convince him, or at least, the erinyes should provide adequate proof of our word. I truly suspect he has been misled, simply following his orders.”
    Pellius’ lip quirked, “You are most merciful, my lady.”
    Smirking in response, she replied, “Not merciful, merely resourceful. He has proven quite talented in his deceit. He would be a beneficial ally, should his loyalty prove true.”
    “And how to you propose to find him,” Garvana interjected, “Let alone speak with him without Elise knowing?”
    Willow’s smile tinted sly, “Leave that to me. I shall arrange to meet with him tomorrow evening, we will launch our attack regardless of his answer once I return and dusk has fallen.”
    “Very well,” Pellius concluded, “Do as you must. The plan is set for tomorrow eve.”
    Willow nodded and rose from her seat, approaching the erinyes with as much authority as she could muster in their fierce presence.
    “I require you to accompany me tomorrow evening,” she said firmly, “To a meeting with a potential ally. I shall give you the location and time, you are not to harm him until I say so.”
    The penetrating gazes of the devils continued their search for prey, not ever meeting Willow's line of sight, as they nodded sharply in unison. She turned back to Pellius as the others left the tavern for the night.
    “I shall make for town this evening,” she said, “There is a tavern by the Auld Briar called the Frozen Shield, I'll meet you there after dusk tomorrow.”
    “Of course,” he said as she turned to leave, “But a word of caution Willow, do not be too trusting. It may be that Trick is unaware of his treachery, but it is also likely that he was a willing participant. I would be more comfortable with this plan if I was to accompany you.”
    Willow smiled, laying a hand on his forearm, “You must trust me Pellius, I will not hesitate to kill him if he cannot be salvaged. Besides,” she said with a smirk, looking out at the two devils retreating to the chamber they had been given, “I will not be alone.”

    As the sun sank below the horizon and twilight shimmered through the air, Willow disappeared into the shadows of the underground market of Fareholde. She approached the office with her hood drawn low along her brow, a slender scrolled parchment her pocket. She had scripted a note to be delivered to Trick, a proposal of a truce and a private rendezvous, giving her word by their Infernal Lord that no other member of her knot would interfere so long as no member of his did. Martin sat at his desk, head buried in his large tomes as she approached the entrance.
    “A moment of your time?” she asked politely.
    His welcoming smile blossomed as he looked up from his book, “For you, my lady, always.”
    Willow closed the door behind her and gracefully took her seat. Martin stood from his chair and shuffled to the steaming pot of tea on the side table, setting two cups upon their saucers, before chanting his quiet incantation as the sound beyond the office disappeared.
    “How may I be of service, Lady Kathryn?” he asked with a smile.
    “I require a messenger,” she said, accepting the tea gratefully, “One who is able track down the message’s recipient.”
    Martin raised his eyebrows, “Ah, intriguing. And who may this recipient be?”
    “He goes by the name Trick,” she replied, “Dark hair, no older than twenty five, your men might have seen him scurrying through the back streets.”
    “I know the one,” Martin nodded, “He has been here on occasion. Very charming, smooth talker?”
    Willow chuckled, “That would be him.”
    “Very well, when would you like this message delivered?”
    “Tonight, or tomorrow morning at the latest.”
    “It shall be done, my lady,” he replied formally.
    Willow smiled, laying the scroll gently into his outstretched hand.
    “To your prior enquiry,” he said, “My men have sourced all the information they could on your associate’s comrades and their fate within Matharyn. They are being transferred to the Mines of Bakkar, two dozen of the shipmates have survived. They are due to begin the journey within the month.”
    “Thank you, Martin,” she replied warmly, “My associate will be most pleased.”
    “I am glad,” he inclined his head, “But my dear, it is good you have visited, for I have another matter to discuss with you.”
    Willow raised her eyebrows in interest.
    “I have a client,” he continued, “Who is seeking someone of your particular talents. As I do, I first sought out Switch, but he has informed me that you would be most suited to these particular tasks. I will be given a list of contracts that need to be fulfilled. Is this of interest to you?”
    “It is,” Willow smiled slyly.
    “Very well, my lady. I shall send word through Switch when I have negotiated the payments. The need is not pressing, it may be a few weeks before I have any word. But alas, it will be a pleasure doing business with you.”

    The following evening, Willow made her way through the shadowed backstreets of Auld'lrey, towards the bustling nightlife of the Golden Sphere. She had given details of the private back rooms to Trick and the erinyes, prepared for their meeting at seven o'clock sharp. She inclined to her to the barman, gracefully walking through the busy tavern, slipping behind the curtains. He followed with her usual bottle of velvet wine, pouring her glass before closing the door behind him as he left. Willow felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise, only a moment before a voice came from the shadows.
    “Hello,” Trick’s cheerful voice said, before his form rippled into sight in the opposite chair.
    Willow smiled at his skill, “Good evening Trick.”
    “And to you,” he replied with a grin.
    “Thank you for meeting me,” she said formally, “I have given my word that the Ninth Knot will not interfere, do I have yours that you have not informed the Seventh?”
    He nodded, “Peculiar, but yes, you have my word.”
    “Good,” Willow clipped.
    She let out a sigh, unsure where to start.
    “Trick,” she began, “I have called you here only because we are aware of your loyalty to our Infernal Lord. You would not be given this chance were it not for that.”
    Trick cocked an eyebrow, his grin still sly on his lips, but beckoned her to continue.
    “I do not know if you believed you were following Cardinal Thorn’s orders, but you were not, the Seventh Knot has been declared broken by the rule of disloyalty. He has released each of you, and ordered us to exact his retribution.”
    Trick laughed, “You surely don't expect me to believe that?”
    Willow pulled the incriminating journal from her pouch, laying it upon the table, opening it to the page with the sketched portraits of Trick and Elise.
    “Your treachery has been discovered,” Willow snapped.
    Suddenly, the air in the room shuddered as the two erinyes flashed into the room. Their eyes snapped to Trick, hungry gazes latched on to his form, ready to pounce.
    “Thorn’s furies,” Willow said, sitting up straighter, “They have come to retrieve his vengeance.”
    Trick’s charming smile faltered, his mind appeared to race with the implications of the devils arrival. Slowly, his features morphed from disbelief into fury.
    “The witch,” he fumed, “Tricked me?”
    “Indeed,” Willow replied, “And now the traitorous scum, and those that follow her, shall pay for her betrayal in blood. Your loyalty to our Prince of Darkness is the only reason you are being given a second chance, prove your worth, help us exact his judgement.”
    “I must speak with my brother,” Trick said urgently, “Once he learns of the witch’s betrayal, he will surely turn from her.”
    “And if he doesn't?” Willow asked coldly.
    “He will,” Trick replied, standing to leave, “I am sure of it.”
    “And if he doesn't?” Willow snapped, “Are you willing to remain loyal to our Prince?”
    He staggered in his retreat, his brow furrowed, thoughts swarming through his mind.
    “You are treading upon thin ice, Trick,” she warned, “There are those who believe you do not deserve a second chance. Your brother is besotted by her, are you willing to do what is needed if he cannot be salvaged?”
    Willow watched his eyes flicker as he warred with himself over what he was prepared to do. As he appeared to come to a decision, he looked up into her eyes, no trace of the joking easy attitude he was known for.
    “It will not come to that,” he said with certainty, “I shall speak with him this evening, I'll take him away from the inn, while the Ninth does what it must. But be warned, she is a powerful witch.”
    “The raven,” Willow asked, “It is an arcane familiar?”
    Trick nodded, “Yes, it is attuned to her. Now I must go.”
    He quickly scurried to the door, a look of worried determination painted on his face, unbothered by the consuming gazes of the erinyes that tracked his every movement.
    “Trick,” Willow called, as he reached for the handle, “Our Prince does not know mercy, his vengeance is swift and true. Do not squander this second chance, for there will not be another one.”
    With a short nod, he fled from the chamber, leaving Willow alone with the two erinyes. She sipped from her glass as she considered their options. Trick would make a worthy ally, were he to prove loyal. Having Track along side would certainly aid their cause, yet Willow doubted he would ever knowingly turn against Elise.
    “You may return to the Frozen Shield,” she said to the devils, “I shall meet you there shortly, let us go and finish this…”

    Watching from the blackened alley, Willow waited as she saw Trick leading Track from the Auld Briar Hall. The brothers hurried their pace, voices low in hushed urgent whispers, as one lead the other from the building. Once they had rounded the corner, Willow crept through the street towards the grand inn, peering through the window. She smiled as she saw Cassandra sitting at a table in one of the common rooms, sipping from a crystal wine glass, a strangely coloured liquid swimming within. Willow signalled the others to wait, while she casually walked into the building and sat herself beside the spy.
    “My lady,” Cassandra said, recovering swiftly from her shock, “How lovely it is to see you.”
    “And you,” Willow replied, subtly scanning the occupants in the room.
    “May I order you a refreshment?” she asked politely.
    When Willow was sure no one was taking any notice of them, she leant her head closer and spoke in an even yet quiet voice, keeping her body relaxed and her eyes grazing the room.
    “Where is she?”
    “She spends most of her time in the other common room,” Cassandra said quietly, “They have rooms in the back. But the twins just left, right before you arrived.”
    “Good,” Willow replied, “Your task here is complete, you may head back to the spire when you are ready. But I would advise you to leave quickly, you do not want to be here tonight.”
    Cassandra paled visibly, giving a short nod before swiftly grabbing her pack and heading for the door, leaving whatever she had in her room behind. Willow casually stood from her seat and left the common room, catching a glimpse of Elise by the fire before exiting and finding the group hidden by the elaborate garden at the front of the large building. She could hear the flapping of wings high above them, as the erinyes circled eager for their prey. Feeling their arcane telepathy synced to her mind, she mentally informed them of their targets position. She smiled to the group, inclining her head as she turned for the door. As they entered, Willow lead the approach, slinking forward on light feet. Elise noticed their arrival and stiffened in her chair, rising to her feet, her tall elven guard mirroring her movements.
    “Good evening,” Willow said, meandering forward.
    Shrewd eyes met her gaze, as Elise tried to discern her motives.
    “Good evening,” she replied cautiously.
    “You know why we are here,” Willow said softly, “Shall we deal with this in private?”
    Willow motioned to the innocent bystanders through out the room. Suddenly, Elise chanted in fierce hurry, hands carving intricate patterns into the air as a wall of ice shot out from the ground behind Willow. The freezing structure rippled to the ceiling, blocking out the entry of the rest of the group.
    “Perhaps now you are alone,” Elise said arrogantly, “You will be more reasonable.”
    Willow smiled as she saw the image of the two erinyes outside the window. Suddenly, a rope hurtled through the glass, shattering the shards through out the room as the twining fabric furled around Elise. It gripped her as it snagged and rippled around her limbs, controlled by the might of the fiend’s magic, it’s eyes latched in a penetrating gaze upon the with.
    “Oh I am not alone,” Willow grinned, “The master protects those who are faithful.”
    In retaliation, large eleven man let out a cry of rage, charging his bulking figure towards Willow. Though she was quick and nimble, the reach of his sword was further than her dodge could muster. As the blade came carving deep into her shoulder, she gritted her teeth against the pain, pulling it down inside her and letting it fuel her determination. As the second devil rippled into sight beside Elise, the elven man gave up his attack on Willow, his loyalty to his mistress overcoming his need. As Willow sprinted passed him, she leapt onto the table and sank her daggers into both sides of Elise's collar bone. Tearing them free, she heard the sound of ice shatter as Bor smashed his way into the room, before leaping over the bar and charging into the fray. He roared his fury as he sprinted his thundering way towards the elven man, his axe hefted high over head as it soared through the air. He cleaved it down into the man, skin ripping open as he let out a powerful grunt. Weapons clashed as the two bellowed their rage, both frothing from the mouth, both calling their cries of frightening wrath. The white raven soared into the air, pecking in maddening panic at Bor's neck. Willow struck out her daggers as she saw the arcana wisping its iced white magic, as if it was sapping the very life from the hulk of an orc. The magic spiralled its way back towards Elise, rejuvenating her, healing some of the wounds that had been littered along her skin. A flaming arrow flew toward the witch, striking her in the chest, piercing deep through her flesh. She cried out as the flame seared her skin, a strange steam and smoke curling from the wound, as she clutched at her chest. She threw her hands out and screamed a furious incantation, freezing blasts of air filling the room, wisps of ice lashing across Willow's bare skin. The blizzard whipped and tore at her clothes as it traveled through the room, blocking the entrance and freezing the unlucky bystanders as they hid beneath the bar. As Garvana's voice chanted from the other side of the room, Willow's mind was filled with blissful images of Hell’s terrifying abyss. The comforting images seemed to cement her will and warm her heart, yet her reaction was not shared by the witch and her elven guard. Their faces contorted with fear, colour seeping from their skin, trembling shakes racking their bodies. Screams of pure terror sounded from the room, as the bystanders that were under the tables were struck with the fearsome images. As Elise fought to free herself from the erinyes tightening grip, her eyes flickered through out the room. She spared no thought to the elven man in his feral duel with Bor, as she reached for a potion within her pouch. While she was swift and quick, Willow was quicker. She leapt forward and plunged both daggers into the witch’s side, ripping them outwards and tearing a gaping wound across her torso. The potion slipped from her fingers, gently clinking to the ground and rolling away. Her stance slackened, her weight falling into the bindings of the rope, her eyes wide as the blood drained from her side. Willow was not willing to take any risks, she sprang forward, both blades flashing through the air as she descended and plummeted them into the witch’s slumped form. As the blood poured from the wounds, Willow inhaled sharply, watching the red liquid solidify and freeze over as it trickled along her flesh. Her body remained motionless as a crusted coat of ice formed around the wounds, a cold chill radiating from her. As the final wail of agony was cut off short, Willow looked to the elven man. The second erinyes had gripped the rope around his neck, tightly binding his airways, as Bor’s axe embedded deeply into his chest.
    The sound of whimpering drew Willow's attention back to the bystanders. She sighed as she shook her head. Though Elise's arcane blizzard had killed a few of the witnesses, the ones still living could not be left that way. Pellius seemed to realise the same thing as he stepped forward with a solemn face and took care of what he must. Willow could hear the commotion of panic outside of the window, the townsfolk crying in fear as they sprinted for the watch.
    “Take her body,” she said quickly to Pellius, “And get back to the spire. I shall search their rooms and recover anything that would incriminate us.”
    “Very well,” he said, “Do not linger, my lady.”
    Willow turned to the erinyes, standing taller and speaking formally, “Thank you for your service. Your task is complete, you are dismissed.”
    Both devil’s nodded sharply as the air rippled and their forms winked out of sight. Willow wasted no time, quickly morphing into her disguise and making her way to the bed chambers. It didn't take long to find Elise’s room and the piles of information she had kept on the Ninth Knot. She worked as swiftly as possible, stuffing all of the parchment into her pack, collecting every book upon the shelves to be sure she missed nothing. Once the room was clear, Willow slipped through the window, sealing it behind her. She casually melded into the crowd now surrounding the inn, mirroring their shocked expressions, as she slowly left the scene. As she made her way through the backstreets, she quickened her pace, reverting back from her disguise. When the edge of the Caer Bryr came into view, Willow smiled, sprinting into the darkness and disappearing into shadowed caress of the night.

    In the wake of their sweet vengeance, the week passed uneventfully. Life in the Horn continued at a slow pace, as each passing ritual brought them closer to the completion of their mission. It was on a chilled winter morning, the group found themselves standing upon the stone steps of the throne room, looming above a handful of boggards that had requested a word with their masters. Duko Five Croaks, as he introduced himself, had apparently taught himself enough common to communicate with the group. He approached warily, struggling in his confidence, clearly unsure of his choice to speak with them now he huddled under their scrutinising eyes.
    “Hunting been slow,” he croaked, “Not enough food for boggards, we need weapons, need more food.”
    Willow raised her eyebrows, almost impressed with his audacity. He had attempted to write a list, filled with gear and items they were asking for. She skimmed her eyes over the list, guessing the total to be worth roughly three thousand gold. She had little patience or care for the boggards, thinking them no more than filthy savages.
    “Shall we kill him?” Willow suggested to Pellius bluntly.
    Pellius smiled at the look of fear that racked the small frog.
    “He shall be of no use to us dead,” he said, “Let us take his tongue, it will serve as warning to the rest of them, and remind them that this is no charity…”

    Time trickled by as the end of their grand ritual grew nearer, the days filled with preparation, while the nights filled with restless sleep and anxious worry. The quiet was almost more discouraging than the drama. Willow found herself in constant frown, unable to relax as each day passed and the Horn of Abbadon remained unmolested. She had not forgotten about the fearsome silver dragon that had killed Baron Vandermir. Nor was she naïve enough to assume that he had been the sole target of its enquiry. The only thing she was sure of was that it would certainly attack; the question that remained was when.
    Pellius and Garvana had taken their religious roles within the organisation to heart, committing to educating their servants, teaching them to read and write while schooling them within the teachings of Asmodeus. Although Willow found the idea tedious, she could not fault the logic and benefit of having better educated slaves.
    As the moon lingered high in the sky, she lay amongst the silken sheets, her body languid and content after spending the earlier hours of the night in strenuous worship with Pellius. The scratching of quill on parchment roused her from her stupor, the flickering of candlelight drawing her eyes open. His sculpted form sat hunched over his writings, the wells between his muscles upon his back patterned by the dim light, his hair tousled and free from its usual tight impeccable grooming. Willow slipped her legs over the side of the bed, pulling the silken sheet around her chest as she rose, the cold chill to the air feathering along her bare flesh. The strands of her sable hair had grown in the passing weeks, the lengths now skimming the corners of her throat. She held the silk along her front as she glided towards him, the soft material draping low along her back. When she reached him, her fingers instinctively traced the deep hollow of his collarbone, as she leant forward to rest her chest upon his back and her cheek upon his.
    “What is this you’re working on?” she asked quietly, her voice husky and gentle.
    He had sketched a grid and list on the parchment, two columns of official titles, lined under the headings of martial and theological chapters.
    “A hierarchy,” he replied, continuing his sketch, “If we are to raise an army, there must be order. We are best to initiate the doctrine from the beginning.”
    As she read the lines of the list, her fingers gently dug into the carved muscles upon his shoulders. At his deep appreciative grunt, she continued her methodical paced massage while she spoke.
    “Pellius Albus, First Paladin of Asmodeus,” she read with a smile, “An immense title, a grand feat to live up to.”
    Her eyes skimmed down the page, as she read the second heading of the theological chapter, a frown touched her brow.
    “First Bishop of Asmodeus?” she asked, tilting her head, “Do you believe Garvana will ever be worthy of that title?”
    His strong hands lifted from their script, he gently took Willow's own and guided her around to a seat upon the desk. Looking into his eyes, she could see the tired wear tinting the cemented determination.
    “She is competent enough to become a leader,” he said seriously, “Though you may not see it now.”
    “I see the stubbornness,” Willow chuffed, “But if anyone would understand that stubbornness breeds determination and strength, it is I.”
    At that, he smirked, lounging back into his chair.
    “I believe what our dear sister has lacked so far is direction and motivation, and so I give you power and competition. Perhaps she will flourish, perhaps she will flounder. Of only one thing I am certain, we will smile as we watch it unfold.”
    “Indeed,” Willow grinned.
    Her eyes raked down his bare torso, lingering on the feather of light hair across his chiselled chest. Before her mind ran away from her, she shook her head with a sheepish smile and returned her sight to the parchment.
    “What are you planning with all of this?” she asked, motioning to the list, “We hope to raise an army, raise a nation, yet I know little of war and tactics.”
    “As we loosen Mitra's grip on this land, Asmodean rule needs to be established. I do not want some ice witch, boggard worshippers or death cult taking subjects from our Prince. And as we claim lands and subjects, we need to be able to enforce a vigil over them. They could also aid us in the future. Infiltrating cities, converting villages, providing safehouses, the list is endless.”
    His eyebrows raised as his tone deepened, “And loyal to us, not Thorn.”
    Willow grinned as she traced her finger along his jaw, “Your conviction is most alluring.”
    Still holding the silk across her chest, her eyes turned to the list of servants he had littered down the page.
    “It is such an ambitious undertaking,” she said, “Do you believe you can really curb this scum and command them to be worthy of our Infernal Lord?”
    A slow grin spilt his face, “We sit here summoning an Archdeacon so we may conquer a continent of hostile inhabitants, and you think me teaching some men to read and hold a shield is the ambitious undertaking?”
    His dastardly laugh sent sweet chills tingling her spine, yet she rolled her eyes as she shook her head and chuckled.
    “I was referring to raising an army, commanding a legion with might enough to conquer this land. Do you truly believe it possible?” she asked with genuine curiosity.
    “I do,” he replied seriously, a fierce resolve to his words, “Even if we are to fail, we must attempt this. We must put everything we have into it, we must strive for His glory, we must endeavour to bring this land back under His rule.”
    The words lit the spark within Willow's beating heart, she felt the warmth of the Infernal fire simmering low in her stomach.
    “For He is the first and rightful ruler of everything,” she recited, lifting her leg sensually and sliding wrapped in silk into his lap, “And all shall bathe in his hellfire…”


    As the sun ascended and the snow upon the canopy began to melt, Pellius began his initiation. He had formulated a test to help select ten suitable candidates for indoctrination into their Chapter of Asmodeus, which he had aptly named the Church of the Forsaken. As the final ten were selected and he stood atop the stairs within the throne room, Garvana by his side, they both stood tall in fierce authority. Willow clasped her hands behind her back, standing to the side respectfully, observing the proceedings.
    “You,” Pellius called, his deep baritone voice strong and commanding, “Are the chosen few selected for the honour of spreading and upholding Asmodean rule. This is an opportunity like no other. His word is right, His judgement final. He is the First, and rightful, ruler of everything. Our mission, is a holy one. We are tasked to bring this blasphemous land back under the heel of our Infernal Father. Your accomplishments, will be met with ascension. Be warned, your failure or disobedience will be met with merciless punishment…”
    Watching the servants as Pellius’ voice echoed through the silent chamber, Willow was mostly impressed with their reactions. Although some eyes fell heavy with fear and dread, the majority of what she could see was ambition and hunger for power. Straight backs filled with confidence, determined chins lifted, sharp nodding with ears drinking in Pellius’ righteous speech.
    “Hail Asmodeus!” he bellowed.
    “Hail Asmodeus!” Garvana and the servants mirrored.
    As they split the group and both teams of five followed their leader, Willow was struck with an idea. Although their newly founded church covered the martial and theological chapters of the organisation, their beginnings of an army was lacking a key component. Once the days lessons were underway, Pellius lecturing the men and women on the principals of Asmodeus and Garvana seeing to their literacy and numeracy, Willow chose a different approach. After the successful mission that she had Cassandra undertake, she saw the benefit in having her own small network of spies infiltrating each city on their organisations behalf. Leaving the hall and their lessons behind, Willow gathered her own three candidates. Cassandra, Willem and Terris were eager to follow her with the promise of a mission to fill their time. Her instruction differed from the task of words and principals, for the art of remaining unseen and unheard was not something that could be taught on parchment. It was an instruction that reaped swift rewards, for as Willow spent her time testing and scolding, she had little room in her mind for pointless worry. Her team of three seemed the perfect trio of stealth and subterfuge. Cassandra was a brilliant liar. Though her natural air of arrogance would struggle to hide among the commoners, she had a knack for wearing it with pride in a way that no peasant would dare question someone who was clearly their better. When it came to Willem and Terris, they had been raised among the streets, two thieves with quick hands and quicker feet. They were used to remaining hidden, slinking within the shadows, melding into the background.
    Together, the three of them left for town on their mission of observation, to keep an eye on the Mitran forces left within the town. It was only on their fifth day that their first opportunity presented itself. Late in the evening of a cold winded night, Willem returned to the spire. Willow was sitting at her desk within her chamber when the sharp knock rapped on her door.
    “Enter,” she called, closing her journal.
    “Mistress,” Willem said politely, bowing his head, “Sorry fer the intrusion.”
    “You have news, I expect?”
    He nodded his head, approaching her cautiously, bowing shakily as he dropped a scroll upon her desk. The parchment had been bound with a wax seal baring an insignia Willow recognised.
    “The Brides of Light?” she asked, frowning as she unrolled the paper.
    “We intercepted a message head’n to the capital, Mistress,” he said in his hard lilt, “Cassandra thought it be best to see what they’d be send’n.”
    Willow skimmed the contents of the page, eyebrows raised.
    “And the messenger?” she asked.
    Willem quirked his lip, eyes still downcast upon the floor, “No one be find’n him any time soon, Mistress.”
    Willow smiled, rolling up the scroll and placing it back onto the table. She stood and glided towards her chest, reaching into the lock box and lifting out a silk pouch of coins before tossing it towards him.
    “Very well,” she said shortly, returning to her seat, “Return to your task.”
    “I'll be thank’n yer Mistress,” Willem said with a bow, quickly backing out of the room.
    As the door clicked shut, Willow unrolled the parchment again. The Abbess Temperance Avagail of Saint Cynthia-Celeste had grown worried. Through divination spells and many nights of prayer, she had become certain that a foul ritual was taking place within the Horn of Abbadon. She had written to the Church of Mitra, asking for aid, fearing that the strength of her sisters would not be enough to quell the evil. She spoke of her worry at having heard nothing from Inquisitor Harkon, the slaying of Sister Marta within their very walls and the disappearance of Sister Larnta. Willow smiled, knowing well that the scroll in her hands meant there was no aid coming from Matharyn. Knowing the letter was bound for delivery by ship, she guessed they had four weeks before it would have arrived, and at least that many for reinforcements to have made it back to Farholde. She figured with Abbess Temperance would hold her assault until then, certain that the Church of Mitra would rally to her side. Willow knew they had not faced their last trial in the summoning of such a vile daemon like Vetra-Kali, but having no army of righteous do-gooders turning their eye upon the Horn, made their task far less complicated.


    Winter arrived to the green fields of the Caer Bryr in a white tint of feathered snow upon the canopy. Weeks passed by as the air grew colder and the nights stretched longer, the sun barely warm enough to melt the fleece of sleet drifting through the skies. Within the clustered mass of white tipped craning oaks, the spire still stood in its menacing glory, emerald flames still rippling in glaze along the teetering peak.
    Twenty seven weeks they had spent in ritual and prayer. As the sun rose each morning they had bathed the divine seal in putrid unholy broth. As the sun set they had repeated the lines of blasphemous decent. And as the moon clung directly over head, they had called to the darkness, begging it to strike out and devour the purity that held their target at bay. The Horn throbbed with malicious intent, a beat of its own heart thrumming in tune with the abyss, opening its void to its master. Each night, sleep grew more distant to Willow. The hours of darkness no longer holding their comforting caress, replaced by the impending doom they were seeking out to restore. The immensity of their mission was weighing on all of their minds, the stress and trepidation showing in their snapping attitudes and short tempered conversations. Even her nights spent with Pellius had changed. Where once they had simply enjoyed the carnal satisfaction in their infernal union, the joining of late had been more of frustrated release and fettered impatience.
    When word returned to the Horn of a fair coming to the town of Farholde, the group latched on to the chance of a respite. Leaving Grumblejack to guard the sanctum, they left the spire early morning, shuffling through light snow that had fallen through the canopy to touch upon the brush of the forest floor. They had made it half way to the town when the sound of trampling hooves ricocheted to their ears. Breaking into the clearing, seven knights in glistening silver armour trotted into arrowed formation. They wore garb of Mitran blue, flags of the holy sun tied to their long piercing lances. Leading the charge, upon the largest horse, sat a man they recognised as their third and final sacrifice – Sir Valin Markadian. The seven men slowed their horses and pulled to a stop while their leader and his steed stepped forward.
    “I can sit by no longer,” called Valin, “This evil must be destroyed, this stain upon our fair land must be cleansed! We challenge you, to honourable combat!”
    As the group slowly continued their approach, Valin’s eyes locked to Willow’s, a sad look upon his face as he recognised her.
    “Ah, Lady Kathryn,” he said gently, shaking his head, “You leave me disappointed, throwing yourself in with this lot. Your smile so bright, hides a heart as black as night.”
    Willow smiled softly, a quiet menace to her voice, “Not black, Sir Valin, but red. Red as the very flames of hell.”
    Shock rippled his brow for a moment, before he frowned deep, his chin lifting higher in his righteous conclusion.
    “You call for honourable combat,” Willow continued, “Yet I count seven of you and seven steeds. What is honourable of fourteen on five?”
    Valin chuffed a laugh, “My lady, if you were so worried of specifics of honourable, you would challenge me to single combat!”
    Willow smiled as she saw Pellius’ chest inflate in the corner of her vision. She looked to him, eyebrow cocked in question. He contained his eagerness, and at his swift nod, Willow's smile widened.
    “Is it not customary of this land for a lady to select a champion?” she asked regally.
    “It is,” Valin replied, his eyes sizing up the man adorned in gleaming ebony full plate.
    “Then face my champion in single combat,” she called, “Pellius Albus!”
    Pellius stepped forward, bowing formally to his opponent before turning to Willow and bowing to her. Willow bowed in return, eyes alight mirroring his in their hell fire.
    “For the glory of Asmodeus,” she rasped.
    “For the glory of Asmodeus!”

    The duel that followed was one that Willow would have called legendary. Sir Valin regally atop his steed, his shining silver armour glittering with divine right, his lance long and sturdy. Pellius firm in his ominous stance, his black layers of hard steel tinted with the touch of blazing red, his mighty warhammer blazing with flame.
    The steed threw itself into a charge, it's powerful legs launched it barrelling towards Pellius, dirt and snow bellowing in its wake. The ground shook with force as the tip of the lance crashed into his shoulder, the weighted drag of his armour making the dodge impossible. As Sir Valin turned his horse to come around for a second charge, Pellius readied himself. The clamber of hooves sounded as a ferocious battle cry shrieked, Pellius called for the darkness, summoning the will of Asmodeus within his weapon. As the steed continued its charge, he leaped into his own sprint. He cleaved the warhammer through the air with fearsome might, the cry propelled from his lips as he smited the caviller, the profane arcana spiralling its blackened wisps in tendrils around the cold steel.
    Willow had both daggers clenched in her fingers, itching to launch into the attack, the terrifying aura radiating from Pellius leaving her trembling in anticipation. Time seemed to slow as his warhammer swung wide and the lance was galloped forward. The explosion of metal on metal rang out across the expansive forest. A cheer of proud glee escaped Willow's lips as she watched the hard surface of his weapon collide with the knight’s chest. Too comfortable atop a horse, Sir Valin seemed merely inconvenienced by the attack.
    One after another, they exchanged brutal blows back and forth, until both were wheezing and wounded within the blood misted air. The caviller turned his horse to the battle, his eyes straining open, a finality to his posture. As they took their position, it was clear that one of them was not going to make it passed the charge. Red stained the shining gleam upon Pellius’ armour, a spilt lashed along his cheek, fatigue and exhaustion taking their toll upon his face. His lips began to move, a rhythmic beat to their movements, and it took Willow a moment to realise that he was chanting the Chelaxian hymn of Asmodean pride. As Sir Valin kicked his heels into his horse, Willow chanted along with Pellius in Infernal for support. With each stride, the impending assault closed in, her heart thumped in time. Drawing his sword in his left hand and his lance in his right, Sir Valin strided forward. Pellius stood with the warhammer gripped in both hands, his fierce gaze locked onto his target, his stance wide and anchoring. The lance splintered into shreds as it impacted upon Pellius’ chest, yet he refused to flinch. He hefted the warhammer and swung wide with a mighty force. Willow's stomach sunk as she watched his aim go too far left, the caviller ducking under the hit, launching his own sword towards the head of his target.
    Time slowed to a trickle as the blade propelled down diagonally. Sir Valin's aim was impeccable, carving directly towards the join of Pellius’ head and neck. For only a moment Willow fought the overwhelming urge to hurl her dagger towards the knight in hope of stopping his onslaught. But her fingers pulsed in frustration as she refused to deny Pellius the honour of dying in glorious battle. Suddenly, as if guided by something more powerful than mere blades and hammers, Pellius’ warhammer lifted from its rest. He cleaved it upwards with spectacular force, sundering the blade within the caviller’s hand, pushing through and caving into Sir Valin’s head. The impact tore at the reigns attached to the steed, screeching it to halt as its riders grasp failed. As blood poured from the collapsed face of the knight, he slowly slid from the saddle, falling to a heap upon the ground.

    Relief and pride bounded through Willow's chest. Her heart beating rapidly as the other knights launched into attack, shocked and outraged that their leader had been felled. The group cut down each of the cavillers, chasing them down and denying them the chance to return to the city or call for reinforcements. Once all had calmed, and the last of the knights lay unmoving, Willow checked Sir Valin for signs of life. The gentle pulse of heartbeat was a blessing, for it meant their final ritual could be completed now their sacrifice was detained and still breathing.
    As the others gathered anything of worth from the bodies of the cavillers, Willow approached Pellius as he unlatched his armour to bandage the wounds upon his torso. She let the pride she felt radiate through her smile, her amorous delight at his imposing might visible within her eyes. She lay her hand upon his cheeks and pressed her lips fiercely to his. As she pulled away, her grin widened.
    “And when one serves His might,” she recited, a true warmth to her words, “They serve His power, and bask in His glory…”

  25. - Top - End - #25
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

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    Mar 2016
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    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 19 - Beginning of the End

    Spoiler: Chapter 19 - Beginning of the End
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    As the winter blazed its frosted ember and the iced sleet hailed into the jagged stone of the spire, it was the clicking sound of a door lock that awoke Willow from her sleep. Her eyes fluttered open as dawn slowly approached, the sun having not yet lifted from its slumber behind the horizon. Flickers of light and shadows pulsed throughout her room, turning her head to see a lit candle upon her dresser. She rose from the bed, silently reaching for her daggers that lay upon the nightstand. Her eyes skimmed over her empty chamber as she prowled, quickly opening her door, peering out over both ends of the corridor. The hallways were silent and still. She crept back towards the dresser, frowning as she noticed a neatly bound scroll sitting centre next to the candle. She checked it over carefully, before delicately unwrapping its binding and unfurling the parchment. Roughly scrawled elven script littered down the page.

    W
    Being an assassin is more than just secrecy and subterfuge. Sometimes we are required to eliminate whole ranks of targets, sometimes we are required to send a message. So, this I task you with. Our employer wishes to send a message to his rival, a message that says that his rival cannot protect those he favours, for his eyes do not see everything.
    Destroy the Keepers of the Accarian Beacon. Kill their leader, Sir Bonder of the Beacon. And every man who stands in your way. Leave none alive. The sooner the task is completed, the better.
    The rules are simple. You have one week to perform your task. Any later and it shall be deemed a failure. You must complete the task in one night. This is not a task of infiltration, this is a slaughter. You must do this alone. You may gather information, but do not speak of this task or enlist the help of others. Any outside interference will be deemed as a failure. Allow none to live or escape. Leaving even a single survivor will be deemed as a failure.
    You know what happens if you fail.
    S

    Willow frowned at the parchment. Not only had Switch entered the spire undetected, but the mission itself was daunting, she had never taken on such a large task by herself. She stared at the elven script and felt a hint of nerves creep into her mind. She would attempt it, of course, and she refused to fail. But anxiety set in, the more she thought of her task.
    The sun graced the sky through the frost etched clouds, as Willow sat and pondered by her dressing table. She concluded that she needed to gather as much information as she could as she strolled the streets of the city that day after she had completed her shift within the sanctum. She took the parchment from the dresser, reading its details one last time, before setting it alight in the fireplace. She watched the note burn into unrecognisable ash before she began her preparation for the days task.

    Twenty eight weeks she had spent biding her time within the walls of the Horn of Abbadon. Inactivity had stretched her patience thin, testing her strength of will and self control as the monotonous drone of life carried on around her. The thrill of a task set by her sadistic counterpart, was a delicious tease of a respite.
    Arriving in town, it was the first piece of information she gathered had her frowning. She had asked one of her contacts of Sir Bonder, and he had revealed a great deal of information. An ambitious and ruthless man, he had apparently been recruited by Baron Vandermir himself. Willow smirked, thinking on the complications her mission would have aroused had the Baron still lived. She continued her search for information subtly, never asking too many questions to the one person, acting only mildly interested in their answers. By day's end, she had discovered that the lighthouse known as the Accarian Beacon was manned by at least fifteen guards, one of which was confirmed to be some kind of spellcaster. She had also procured a map of the lighthouse and a description of its surroundings. Willow returned the room she had rented for the night, and dined with Pellius in the parlour. He had asked to accompany her stay, claiming time for his personal ventures in town. During their meal she sat her knife and fork down, keeping a casual air as she spoke.
    “I will be gone for a day or two,” she said softly, reaching to fill their wine glasses, “I have a personal matter to attend to, I shall not be away long, but may I ask you to cover my time within the sanctum?”
    Pellius’ face slightly contorted, as he tried to keep the suspicion out of his voice, “Of course my lady, but I must ask, is it a matter I can aid you with?”
    Willow smiled gently, “No, I must attend this on my own. But thank you for the offer. I may return sooner, but will be gone no longer than two days.”
    “As you wish, my lady,” he said politely, “I shall return to the Horn tomorrow, but do not hesitate to ask if you need assistance.”
    Willow inclined her head as she returned to her meal, delicately slicing her roast duck, slipping a slither into her mouth. She could feel Pellius’ intense stare as he tried to read her. This was the problem with letting people get close to you. They began to know you well enough to discern when you were lying or evading. They began to understand you better than they ought to.

    Willow excused herself early, claiming exhaustion from the days tasks and reluctance at her early start the next morning. She planned to leave before the twilight hours of dawn, sail across Lake Scardynn in a small rowboat she had bought, and find herself a decent hiding spot for her to spy on the lighthouse and its occupants. In between retrieving her information earlier that day, Willow had scoured the blackmarket for the items she needed. She already carried the wand imbued with silence, so all she needed were potions of invisibility and scrolls of dimension door. She had packed her bag with supplies to last for five days; food rations and waterskins, poisons and potions.
    She retired for the night as dusk appeared, dropping into a quick slumber, light and restful. As twilight began, her eyes strained open, her hand covering her yawn. Willow tiredly dressed in her armour, strapping the belts tight and fitted, sleepily stretching her muscles awake. She trudged her sluggish way down to the docks where her small rowboat was tied. As she dropped her pack into the hull, she sat herself upon the beam and lifted the oars. As the waves crashed around her, the fatigue had little choice but to vanish. The rocking of the boat upon the restless water was enough to snap her into concentration, for it took all of her wits to keep the boat from tipping. The sun had not yet risen as Willow reached the opposite side of the bay, she dragged her boat ashore and wrapped its tie around the thick base of a tree along the edge of the small beach. Hiking up the hill, the great beacon of the light house came into view. The fiery blaze so bright it could be seen from hundreds of miles away. Willow drank down one of the skins as she approached the towering light, she found a patch of foliage along the ground close enough to see the outside members of the crew known as the Beacon Watch. The patch was blackened by the salt from the sea poisoning the local flora, whipping it's briny tang across the once green brush. Willow slid amongst its cover, almost undetectable in her black leather armour. She set her bag up for easy access as she laid in wait and observed the patrols.
    As the sun finally made its way over the horizon, Willow watched life spawn from the lighthouse walls. She counted five men in the group that left towards the town, two standing guard by the entrance, and three arranged around the very top of the tower. Willow squinted up through her glass lens at the men sitting around a small table next to the flaming beacon on the top balcony. She recognised Sir Bounder instantly. If his expensive outfit were not enough to identify him, his striking facial features that had been described to Willow certainly would have been. A greying moustache sat proudly upon his lip, thick and curled as it protruded to a point on each side of his face, matching bushy eyebrows hanging like curtains over each eye.
    She debated with herself whether to attack now, or wait for the cover of night. At present, she had a clear view of Sir Bonder; her primary target. She could simply dimension door behind him and take him by surprise. The draw back of this would be that every man left in the lighthouse would be awake and quick to rally once her edge of surprise was gone. Willow felt exposed enough, lying out in the open, the piercing rays of the sun through the clouds a menacing deterrent. She decided to wait for the welcoming cover of darkness.
    She chewed on some of her dried fruit and cured meat rations as she waited out the sun. Early afternoon she saw the five men returning from town as the others changed shifts. She counted fifteen men as she watched their rotations. Sir Bonder still sat at his table, merely exchanging one rival card player for another. He was relaxed lounging high upon his balcony, he clearly felt safe from up there, sure that their position would give them view of any approaching attack. Willow smiled as the sun sunk below the horizon. The night was ominous and dark. The clouds crowded the sky, the moon hidden beneath their smothering embrace, low rumbling thunder disguising the sounds of her breath. She waited until it was late enough to assume that some of the crew would have turned in for the night, giving Willow the opportunity to catch them unarmed and unprepared. She pulled her vial of invisibility and her wand of silence from her pouch. The spells would last for roughly five minutes, she would have to be ruthlessly quick. She lifted herself from the foliage, strapping her pack on as she prepared herself. In quick succession, she drank down her potion, cast the wand’s magic upon her person, and leaped forward into a deafened sprint. The sky seemed to open up as she approached, the thundering roars of the heavens shaking the ground. Rain started to bucket down, pelting around her, eliminating any chance that she would be heard as she reached them. Willow took it as a sign, the dark forces were watching this deed, their approval visible in their aid.
    It was indeed a slaughter. She swiftly approached the two guards at the door, lunging in between them, thrusting both arms out and skewering them through the head. They dropped to the ground with looks of lifeless terror permanently struck across their faces. They died instantly. Willow was pleased that they did, for not only did they make her task to remain silent much easier. Soundlessly, she opened the door and prowled inside. Two men sat around a dingy table, enthralled in their battle of cards, small piles of gold layered next to their hands. As Willow stepped towards them and her silence followed, the sound of the raging storm came bounding through the open door. Both men looked up from the table, in time for her to leap towards them, slashing one across the throat and impaling her second blade into the other man's heart. The silence around her had the bodies slump across the table soundlessly.
    In a section of quarters, Willow took out six guards while they slept peacefully in their bunks. She quickly made her way to the second floor, choosing to leave the looting for after she had completed her mission. With the magic still surrounding her, she opened a door into a recreation room, filled with guards and their tankards of ale. She hadn't refreshed her invisibility, so when she entered, three of the guards looked up at her in panic. She saw four guards at the tables, and a single man in decorative robes, walking unaware towards the far door. Willow knew she had to get rid of the spell caster first. She sprinted towards him, the deafening silence masking her footsteps, she slashed out and took his head clean from his shoulders. Unfortunately, she had moved too far from the others. The reach of her quieting magic had allowed one of the men his voice.
    “INTRUDER!” he screamed.
    Willow charged at the man, her magic once again encompassing them all. With only a few scratches to herself, she dispersed three of the guards. A single man managed to make it passed her as he ran for the stairs. She was quick to the railing, unstrapping her bow and unleashing a flurry of arrows. The stairs blocked most of her attacks, but a single arrow pierced his hamstring, sending him crashing down the fourty foot drop. Willow could see his body crumpled, unmoving as it laid in a mess of unnatural angles. She did a sweep of the level before making her way up to the next. She came upon a door made of a finer cut than those of the lower levels. As she approached, her arcane quiet wore off. She could hear soft voices of the other side of door, the soft chanting of a spell followed by a warning to the others.
    “Get ready,” said a deep voice quietly, “Don't fire unless I say so.”
    Willow gently tested the handle, finding the door locked. She silently withdrew her lockpicks, taking extra care to keep her movements slow and quiet. As she unlocked the door with the barest of clicks, she paused and listened intently for any sign that she had been heard. When none came, Willow drank down another vial of invisibility. She slunk behind the wall next to the door, and in swift motion, unlatched the door and swung it wide, sealing her body against the wall.
    “Fire!” bellowed the deep voice.
    Two arrows flew through the doorway, followed by a searing stream of blazing flame. It scorched the wall across from the doorway, leaving charred blackened soot in its place. Willow waited for a second attack.
    “Grab the furniture!” barked the same man, “Make a barricade at the door!”
    While Willow listened to the shuffling of footsteps, she prowled into the room. With light steps, she made it passed the two guards before they began to drag the table towards the door. She looked up at the man in charge. He wore fine robes of cyan, lined with soft golden trim, intricate patterns scrolling their way to the floor. He looked no older than fourty, greying wisps starting to creep upon his temples. As Willow crept towards him, a frown pulled his brow tight. He threw up a hand as he spoke.
    “Halt!” he called to his men, “There is something already in here!”
    As he reached into his robes, Willow pounced. She used her weight to propel her daggers forwards, both slamming into his torso at once. He fell backwards with a thud, and as Willow's form rippled into sight, he quickly read the incantation from his scroll.
    Suddenly, a blinding flash of golden glitter exploded through out the room. It's sparkling mist coated everything in sight, including every inch of Willow. She sneezed as she inhaled fragments of glitter, but laughed at the way she sparkled.
    “Gold has always looked good on me,” she said with a smirk.
    She leaped upon him before the two guards could react, thrusting her dagger through his throat. She leaped back as the two men circled her, one of the men lunged forwards in a feint, forcing Willow to step backwards into the blade of the second man. He called out triumphantly as his sword sliced across the skin of her waist. Willow ignored it, slashing her daggers out in unison, her hooked blades piercing both of their stomachs.
    “Who are you?” one man cried, “Why are you doing this?!”
    Willow merely grinned, wicked and sinful. She didn't bother to try to block their swords as they hacked towards her. With her daggers still imbedded in their flesh, she ripped into a pirouette, hacking open gaping wounds on each of their sides. As they dropped, Willow wiped the blood from her face. One of them had managed to swipe his blade across her cheek, and the other across her neck. Both superficial cuts, but both would add to the swiftly expanding collection of scars she was amassing. Quickly searching the remainder of the level, she came across a locked door. She deftly picked its lock, springing her hands back just in time to avoid the needle that sprung from its keyhole. Willow had not even noticed the trap. She disabled it, managing to avoid the leaking poison now dripping from its handle. The room was arranged in a much finer manner than the rest of the lighthouse. An ornate bed sat in the corner, silken chairs and an oak desk sat by the far wall, hard leather tomes lining the bookshelf. Sitting centre of the room was a medium sized iron banded chest. Willow carefully approached, keen eyes searching for an alarm or trigger. She found one in the form of a slender copper wire, neatly casing the iron bands covering the outside of the chest. She pried the copper from its hiding spot, cutting off the trap from its mechanism. When she opened the lockbox, a small spark of electricity shot out. But without the copper to act as a conduit, it merely dissipated, leaving the contents ripe for the taking. The Beacon Watch’s treasury, in total about five hundred gold arranged in platinum, gold and silver. Willow left the prize where it was, she needed to take care of the leader before she worried about gold.
    As the glitter faded and its spell ended, she drank down her last potion of invisibility, slipping silently up through the trap door to the beacon. She scanned the occupants of the balcony and formulated a plan. One man stood inside the room encasing the fiery blaze, a single guard packing more wood upon the heaping inferno. Sir Bounder stood facing another armoured guard outside on the slender balcony’s ledge. A single man in fine robes stood facing the sea, leaning against the railing, relaxed and calm in contemplation. Willow knew that to use her scrolls she needed to take out the guard loading the fire first. With the aid of her magic, she crept behind him, one dagger at the ready. She swiftly wrapped her hand over his mouth and drove the dagger through his throat. His moan was muffled by her hand as his weight fell into her grasp. Gently, she lowered his bleeding body to the ground. With her attack, her invisibility vanished. She prepared both daggers in a backhanded grip and whispered the incantation upon the scroll of dimension door. In a breath she had been thrown through a portal of otherworldly magic, blinking into existence behind Sir Bonder of the Beacon. Without hesitation, she plummeted her daggers into both sides of his neck, killing him instantly. The guard leapt at Willow, his own dagger managing to slide passed her breastplate and pierce through her shoulder. She yanked her blades free of the leader and span low, ripping the dagger from her shoulder and slicing through both of the guard’s thighs. He screamed in pain as he stumbled backwards, toppling over the railing and falling with a howl to his death. From behind her Willow heard the muttering of an incantation. She turned on her heel to see the man in robes, now split into five. Willow smirked as she recognised the spell that Switch had used.
    “Be reasonable!” the wizard called, all his images mirroring his movements, “There is no reason that both of us cannot leave here alive!”
    Willow smiled as she prowled towards him.
    “And how do you suppose we do that?” she asked menacingly.
    “Well,” he huffed, “You just go back down those stairs and leave!”
    He ran to the other side of balcony as Willow circled slow and steady, allowing her footsteps to be heard.
    “And what incentive do I have to do that?” she asked.
    “As you can see, I have quite the array of spells, you'll only end your own life by continuing!”
    Willow chuckled, low and rasped.
    She heard him whisper another incantation as she quickened her pace and caught up to him. She cut down one of his images, just as the four remaining reached out to her.
    “Aha!” he proclaimed, “I've got you now!”
    The hands glowed with flickering blue magic, spirals and wisps of shocking electricity sparking from their fingers. Willow attempted to pirouette out of the way, but the lightning arced from his fingertips to the point of her daggers. Willow felt the jolt of the magic sting the skin of her hands. Rippled shock waves blackened the tips of her fingers, scorch marks furling towards her wrists. Willow ignored the numbness in her hands as she slashed out with both blades, one cutting into thin air and the other into solid flesh. The man cried out as a large wound opened across his chest. Willow allowed him to stumble back and take a few steps to right himself.
    “It may seem we are evenly matched, but I warn you!” he called dramatically, “Retreat now, you have one last chance, before I unleash my arcane devastation on you!”
    Willow smiled, dastardly and malevolent, mockingly bowing, “Unleash away…”
    As he clasped his hands together and chanted in a deep ominous voice, Willow charged. As she leapt, she soared through the air with both blades flashing. The thundering sky seemed to pick up as its wind guided Willow forward. From the wizard’s hands, a searing ray of burning flame pelted Willow in the chest. The scorching burn was not enough to slow her momentum. The flame licked her flesh and singed her hair, skin split and smouldered, but still she did not stop. She flew between the pair of images and slashed both daggers at their throats. One blade fell through a vanishing man, but the other hacked deep into the real man’s throat in a shower of blood. Willow rolled with her landing, springing up and spinning on her heel. Her attack had knocked the man to his knees, his breath struggling to exhale through the gaping wound in his neck. He clutched it tightly, a look a true fear on his face as she approached.
    “Please,” he coughed, “My legacy cannot end here. Stay your hand, I beg you, I beg you for mercy.”
    Willow approached him slowly, looking over the snivelling man with disgust. She lifted her blade and pointed to his throat.
    Viciously, she said, “You are not worthy.”
    She slashed out with her dagger, spinning in an elegant pirouette, cleaving his head from his shoulders with her second.

    Willow stared out to sea for a moment, the wind whipping her hair against her face, the carnage of death all around her. The salt water crashed against the rocks far below, with such intensity that the sprays reached her side. After a moment, she gathered her thoughts and made swift work of looting the men and the tower. With her contacts in the blackmarket she could fence just about anything. She would have to be careful, if Vandermir caught wind of her involvement, it could jeopardise their alliance. She took what she could carry, taking a few of their packs to cart the more valuable weapons. As she made it to the bottom floor, she was struck with a crude and unsavoury idea. One that would confuse the men of Farholde and strike fear into their hearts. She used the blood of one of the guards to write a message upon the lighthouse floor.

    Mitra will cleanse the impurities from this land.

    She left the lighthouse by the aid of her last scroll, appearing in the shadowed alley beside the blackmarket. She used the magic of her circlet to hide the blood smeared upon her person, changing her appearance to that of an unknown ordinary woman. She draped her hood low across her brow and proceeded to sell her ill gotten wares. She had retrieved enough of the gear to cover the cost of her mission. Willow smiled as she left the warehouse, pockets now lined with gold. She crept through the darkness of the streets towards the inn, disappearing into the shadows of night.

    Switch was waiting for her when she returned. As she entered her room, she saw him lounging upon her bed in his usual relaxed and casual way.
    “If you're returning, I must assume you were successful?” he asked.
    She locked her door behind her and began unloading her gear as she spoke.
    “I am not naïve enough to think you have not made sure of that yourself.”
    He chuckled, “You are correct of course. A brutal massacre certainly took place in the Beacon. Not a single survivor.”
    Willow smiled as she closed and locked her chest, now filled with blood tainted gold.
    “The message was a pleasant surprise,” he said lightly, “It will certainly keep them guessing.”
    “That was the idea,” she said, rolling her eyes.
    She pulled off her boots and began to unstrap the buckles of her armour, gritting her teeth against the sharp aches as it scratched along her wounds. As she reached for the ties on the back of her corset, she felt Switch’s firm hands take over. He spoke softly into her ear as he unlaced the garment’s bindings.
    “Our employer shall be pleased with the deception, it would seem as if a particularly zealous Inquisitor has turned his eye upon his enemy.”
    “Was there ever an employer?” she asked quietly, enjoying the short pierces of pain as he pulled tightly on her corset.
    He chuckled, low and rumbling next to her ear, “An answer you will never know.”
    The garment fell to the ground, pieces of the material ripping skin that had been latched on by blood. He slid his hands around her waist and began to slowly unfasten the belt to her trousers.
    “You did a fine job tonight,” he whispered, “Better than I expected. Once again Willow, you have impressed me.”
    Her name from his lips slithered like a kiss to her ear. He slid her pants to the floor, guiding each leg out of their traps, leaving her standing only in her black lace slip. Gently, he pulled it up and over her head, revealing her blood smeared flesh naked as she stood in the centre of the room. Willow frowned as he left her still while he fetched a bucket of warm water and cloth from the bathroom. The tenderness and intimacy were deceptively sincere. She remained where she was, her mind racing as she stood utterly vulnerable, trails of blood seeping from wounds across her body. She nearly jumped when she felt the touch of the warm wet cloth pass over her waist. He was uncharacteristically gentle. He softly dragged the cloth along her side, cleaning the crusted blood from the slash on her torso. He carefully traced the cuts along her neck and shoulder. For a moment, Willow could almost just enjoy the welcoming embrace of his tenderness. But she was smarter than that. As the cloth reached for the gash on her cheek, she quickly gripped his hand and spun around, in the same movement ripping the ruby dagger from his belt and forcing it up against his throat.
    “What is this?” she demanded.
    Unbothered by her aggression, he merely chuckled, the dagger pressing itself into his skin as his throat moved.
    “Am I not allowed to show my admiration?”
    Willow's frown deepened, “There are many ways I would expect you to show it, none of them include you tenderly dressing my wounds.”
    He grinned, dark and handsome, “Do you not trust me, Willow?”
    Willow scoffed, still pressing the dagger into his neck firmly, still gripping his wrist as she arched it painfully backward.
    “There are many things you are Switch,” she said low and menacing, “But trustworthy is not one of them.”
    He laughed, a true and honest chuckle, “True enough. Then perhaps it is a selfish move.”
    Willow raised her eyebrows in question.
    His voice dropped to a sensual wicked whisper, “Perhaps I wish to run my hands over every inch of your body and take you in every way possible.”
    Willow quivered at the intensity of his words. She didn't need magic to see the truth he spoke. Whether he had intended to do that tonight, or whether he simply meant it in general, the longing he spoke of was true. Slowly, she released his hand. She kept the dagger firmly pressed against his neck. He raised his eyebrows as a delicious grin spread across his lips. He didn't move away from the blade as the cloth continued its slow motion down her body, down her chest and torso, lingering as it reached her pelvic bone. She stared into his eyes, blackened wells of unending depth, fierce as a predator with his hungry gaze. Willow groaned as the cloth dipped lower. Her grip on the dagger tightened as he began to consume her, the feathering fleece of the cloth, like a ragged gateway to her own debauched hell.

    His tenderness had a short expiry. For a man who prided himself by his self control, he had very little of it when Willow was around. She lay upon the bed, breathing raggedly through her chest, more scratches, bruises and cuts than her mission had given her. As usual, Switch remained almost fully clothed. He'd lost his boots and his armour, but he simply lay next to her, trousers and cotton shirt unbuttoned but still worn.
    “That was not how that was supposed to go,” he chuckled.
    Willow's mind tried to pay attention through her hazy stupor. Switch stood from the bed and retrieved a small black wooden box from his pack. He held it in both hands as he approached her side of the bed. His eyes raked hungrily down her naked frame before he shook his head and seemed to snap into professionalism.
    He placed the box upon the floor and held out his hand for Willow. Intrigued, she allowed him to guide her up and followed his lead as they knelt facing one another.
    “You have succeeded in your task, you have performed well and completed the final stage of your apprenticeship. I have witnessed and can attest to this.”
    Staring into her eyes, he gently unbuttoned the rest of his shirt, peeling aside its layers to reveal an intricate scared mark upon his chest. Willow’s eyes opened wide as she recognised the pattern of an ‘S’ in the centre of the design, paired with five straight lines forming an inverted pentagram. He picked up the small black box and handed it to Willow indicating for her to hold it out to him with both hands. Slowly, he spun a hidden wooden plate from the centre of the lid, clicking it in and releasing as it seemed to open at its own accord. A small ruby plated knife lay in the centre of a silken wrap, surrounded by slender vials of what appeared to be salt. Switch carefully lifted the knife from its holdings, it's slender blade the same shape as the bloodletting knives Willow had used in her past rituals. He took the box from her and returned it to his side, indicating for her to rise onto her knees. He began to chant in a dark language she did not recognise, strange sounds with a similar slither to Infernal but with a heavy throaty rasp unlike Hell’s grace. He used the silk wrap to wipe down her chest, a strange tingle burned in its wake. Willow felt the knife pierce her skin delicately, like fine strokes of fire as he carved his intricate design. As he sliced the five lines of the star, his chanting grew intense. His voice crackled into a malevolent husk, the words seared her mind as his blade seared her skin. He continued to chant as he reached for one of the slender vials, carefully opening it and tipping its contents upon the wound. The salt seemed to be drawn to the blood, not a single grain fell to the floor as each was suctioned into the cuts. The scorching grew fierce as an Infernal drum sounded throughout her body. A sweltering pulse began to reverberate through her limbs, centring and stemming from her chest. As it grew to an almost unbearable apex, Willow’s lips began to mouth words of their own violation. Suddenly, her voice began to join in the chanting. A language she had never learnt, flowed from her lips like a silken caress. Where Switch’s voice was deep and rasping, hers was sultry and smooth. Her throat made sounds she wasn't aware it could even make, like a velvet purr from the depths of Hell. They finished the chant in unison. Willow's body slumped back on her heels, her mouth dry and parched. As she sat there, fighting the fatigue that had swept her soul, Switch fetched her a glass of water. He wore an air of pride as he handed her the glass, laying an affectionate hand on her cheek.
    “You are now and forever, one of us,” he said quietly.
    Willow looked down and marvelled at the perfectly healed brand. It lay delicately on her sternum, dropping just below her breasts. The design was barely visible to the eye, the finest of white lines forming its pattern.
    “What was that lang-
    Willow started. She was speaking the language they had been chanting. She had not noticed that Switch had been too, and she had understood him clearly.
    Switch chuckled, “Your contact had been correct in saying the Coterie wrote in a lost ancient language. They also speak it. A boon for their service, given at their initiation. It is the way we identify one another, for no other soul on this plane can speak it. It cannot be taught or studied, it just is.”
    Willow frowned as she traced her fingers over the scars.
    “The mark cannot be removed. The skin cannot be regenerated, not by normal healing or magic. The entire flank of skin must be cut from the flesh to remove it, and once it is gone, it will kill you. You are one of us until death.”
    Switch turned and began to redress himself, speaking as he strapped on his boots.
    “The mark is guarded by subtle magic, dampening magic if you will. It can not be seen or felt with normal hands or eyes, nor simple arcane tricks for detecting trace magic, only powerful magic like that of true seeing with allow it to be revealed to those not of the Coterie. And that is only if the flesh is bared to them. You may reveal it if you will it, but I would advise never to do so. Keep your identity hidden, always.”
    Slowly, Willow lifted herself from the floor and wrapped herself in her nightgown before pouring a heavy nip if whiskey.
    “You spoke of a boon for service,” she said quietly, “Surely the simple services of eliminating rival nobles are not worthy of such a boon.”
    Switch grinned as he buttoned his shirt, “Your mind is turning as usual. I could barely say my own name in the hours following my initiation. You are right, of course. Such tasks are not worthy of our reward. But it is not simple humans that require our services, at some point you will be contacted by our masters and you will be given a contract that trumps all others you are following. You'll understand when they come.”
    Willow frowned, sipping down the whiskey, enjoying it's burning path down her throat. Switch approached her, a look of oddly placed longing on his face. She set down her cup as he reached for her. His hand gently caressed her cheek, his other slid around her waist. He looked deep into her eyes as he leant forward to kiss her. The kiss was soft. Slow, delicate, his tongue caressed hers in a tender touch. Willow felt the finality of the kiss. She pushed aside her suspicion and let herself fall into his embrace. Gently but firm, he pulled her body against his, his hands slowly tracing the shape of her waist and neck. She found her own hands wandering, finding their place as they ran through his hair. As his tongue slowly retreated, his lips drifted against hers. He pulled his mouth away, resting his forehead against hers.
    “I must go,” he said sombrely.
    “Where?” Willow heard herself ask, her voice sounding sad to her ears, her heart aching.
    He smiled, “I have other tasks that need my attention. You must go ahead on your own, you do not need my guidance. You have done well, you will make a fine assassin. Don't fret, I will see you again, Willow.”
    Suddenly, he vanished. Willow was standing alone in the room. The strangest sensation came over her. She frowned as she tried to regain her bearings. She was not heartbroken, she was not sad. She would miss the fun and mischief she had with him, but her heart did not ache as it had while he spoke. Her frown burrowed deeply as she tried to sort through the mess of her emotions.
    “I told you I'd take you in every way possible…” Switch’s voice slithered into her ear.
    She spun around, not really expecting him to be there. She laughed as it dawned on her. He had been manipulating her feelings with magic.
    “Bastard,” she muttered with a grin.
    Her grin widened as she saw the ominous ruby dagger still laying upon the bedside table.
    With her glass in hand, she strolled to the mirror and opened the front of her robe. Willow had never desired a tattoo, even a mark to show her dedication to the a Prince of Darkness did not tempt her. While her skin was clear, nothing could be used against her. But this mark, felt right. She could still feel the lingering burn of her Infernal Lord in the welts of the design. Willow smiled at her reflection. This one suited her; this one, was who she was, who she was destined to be.


    The weeks flowed into one another as each day passed. Switch was true to his word, he had moved on from the town of Farholde and had made no further contact with Willow. Although she had kept her initiation into the coterie a closely guarded secret, she used her training to pass on her knowledge to her growing team of spies, readying them for their move to wherever their next target would be. Pellius and Garvana spent their days continuing their teachings within the Church of the Forsaken, making steady progress with the illiterate servants they had chosen.
    As dusk descended upon the grand pinnacle of the spire, Willow and Garvana sat upon the altar in the sanctum, methodically searching the scrying lens of the statue. The sudden shudder of the stone beneath them, sent both of them toppling from the slab. Trembling racked the teetering structure, splintering cracks rippled through the walls, violent shaking ripped chucks of stone from their rest. As rocks and debris pelted from the ceiling, Willow ducked and dodged the falling mess, leaping out of the way as a bulking boulder plummeted into the ground. A piercing screech echoed throughout the chamber, sounding from the alabaster carving of the Archdeacon himself. Willow eyes were drawn to the ominous statue, she sucked in a sharp inhale as she saw three pairs of claws tear into the material realm from beyond the abyss. As if the plane itself rebelled against the intrusion of such vicious evil, the earth quaked and convulsed, the silver seal rattling upon the base. The claws lashed out and tore shreds of metal from the divine guardian, before an ear piercing squeal slit into Willow's eardrums as the claws retreated. The sound of stone collapsing ricocheted and bounded from the halls of the spire. Slowly, the trembling subsided. The pulse of malevolence reverberated across the expanse, lingering in viciousness, a vile and heavy stench within the air. In horror, Willow stared at the seal. The claw marks remained upon the dense metal, thick gouges marring the shining silver glisten. She knew, there was no turning back from this point. The way was opening; Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes would enter the realm, and bring his pestilence to the world once more.

  26. - Top - End - #26
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NinjaGirl

    Join Date
    Mar 2016
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    Female

    Default Re: Willow's path; The Way of the Wicked - Campaign Journal

    Chapter 20 - Cessation

    Spoiler: Chapter 20 - Cessation
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    Small fragments of stone trickled down the side of the teetering spire, as the dust settled and cleared, the remains of the wreckage of the Horn of Abbadon were unveiled. Walls had crumbled, stairs had collapsed, gaping holes exposing the safety of the menacing abode. Willow brushed off the powdered rock from her shoulders, wiping the soot from her face. She looked across to Garvana, eyes wide in shock. Together they quickly scrambled across the layered debris and summoned the scrying circle of the Eyes of Vetra-Kali, scanning the crumpled levels of their home base. They saw Pellius in his chamber, unharmed and alert, clearing the debris blocking his exit through his door. They found Bor in the hall upon the second floor, lifting rubble to free someone from under the collapsed stone. When they directed the eye to the third floor, searching its rooms for Teelee, they saw two alarming sights unfolding. The western wall within Teelee’s chamber had given way and toppled its stone chunks across the room, landing upon her bed as she had relaxed upon it. They could see her struggling to free herself from the mess, weighty rock too heavy for her slight frame to budge. Troubling as it was, as they scanned the eye along the hall, they saw something that made Willow's heart shudder and her temper swing her into action. The ceiling within the cell block had taken the brunt of the force, the violent tremors had bowed the structure and ripped the sturdy doors from their hinges, opening the way to freedom for their prisoners. Amongst those subjects, was their final sacrifice. Their key to finishing the ritual, the last piece of their wicked puzzle – Sir Valin Markadian. For only a moment, Willow watched his movements through the eye, as he gathered the others and began to move through the cells.
    “Quickly,” Willow snapped to Garvana, “He must not escape.”
    “We must assist Teelee,” she replied, clambering towards the stairs, “Valin cannot get far.”
    Rolling her eyes, Willow followed Garvana’s lead down the spiral staircase, swiftly climbing over the fallen stone in their path. Passing a grumbling Hexor and Vexor, they reached the collapsed chamber and scanned their eyes over the scene. Teelee had managed to free herself from the trap of the large beams crushing her bed, she sat upon the wooden edge, moaning in dramatic agony. Garvana rushed to her side, healing hands reaching for the slender woman. Willow cocked an eyebrow, noticing that Teelee had received barely a scratch. She leant casually back upon the doorframe, crossing her arms over her chest.
    “Oh it is awful,” she wheezed, “That I am injured so!”
    Willow scoffed, “I think you shall live another day.”
    As the warmth of the healing arcana soothed Teelee’s apparent wounds, the door to the teleporting circle flew open. Pellius rushed in to the hallway, eyes stark and alert, accessing the situation as he patrolled.
    “You are all well?” he asked, a frown furrowing his brow.
    Willow's lip quirked, “Yes, we are all well.”
    Garvana stood from her crouch, “I have done what I can, I cannot sense any further damage,” she said to Teelee.
    “Well let us hurry,” Willow clipped, pushing off from the frame, “Valin will be half way to Farholde by the time we actually make it to him.”
    “Valin?!” Pellius asked in alarm.
    Willow spoke as she strode into the Horsemen shrine room, where Grumblejack had made his foul nest, “The cells buckled under the weight of the collapse, the prisoners are free. The other ways are blocked, we must go through here. They must not escape.”
    Striding towards the eastern wall, Grumblejack approached the group.
    “Good,” he said, hefting his oversize weapon, “Been ages since Grumblejack killed something.”
    “You may kill the others,” Willow said sternly, “But you must leave Valin alive.”
    Grumblejack huffed, scuffing his foot against a pile of rocks, “Never get to kill anything.”
    “I don't care what you do with the others,” Willow snapped, “Can you smash through this wall?”
    The ogre gave Willow a slow feral toothy grin.
    “There's no need,” Garvana interrupted, “I can make a doorway.”
    Grumblejack sighed in frustration, growling as he stepped away. Garvana lifted her hand to the solid stone, chanting low deep methodical tone, wisps of laced arcana spiralling from her fingertips. As the magic melted into the wall, the stone began to shudder, rippling away from her hand, parting in jagged shards forming a crude archway into the adjacent chamber. From the other side, the wide expanse of the