[The following roleplay is rated mature for reasons that may include, but are not limited to, violence, blood, coarse language, sensual situations and drug use. Reader discretion is advised.]
A usual crowd was gathered for a Tuesday night. People bustled around the dimly lit room to share food, drinks, and anecdotes with close friends, family members, total strangers. The sweet smell of sweat and alcohol permeated through the stiff air, overpowering the cheap candle the bartender had bought. He looked out on the gathering crowd, still multiplying even this late into the night, and he sighed. This was his busiest night; exhausted merchants and proud buyers found comfort in the Moonlit Dragon after the chaos of the market that swept through town every Tuesday morning. The echoing chatter and thundering laughter did little to alleviate the bartender's headache, but the shrill clink of glasses sliding against each other or crashing against the bar was enough to drive him mad.
The wall torches cast the room in a soft, dull glow. Men mostly gathered tonight, their firm jawlines accented by the shadows of flickering flames. Tourists and locals alike filled the tables and stools, though tonight, origins meant little. Under the roof of the Moonlit Dragon, every man was equal. Everyone chatted and laughed with a smile, all but the busy bartender. He kept up with orders effortlessly, tossing specialized drinks and dodging drunken babble while juggling coins into his apron. As he looked out at the bar, at the fathers and sons, bosses and employees, even the occasional couple, he recalled a time when he, too, was nothing but one of those carefree men, forgetting about life just for a while.
An unexpected breeze brushed through the room, silencing the torches and casting the bar in darkness. Confused chatter rose from the patrons. Small balls of light rolled onto the single stage of the bar, drawing eyes to the scuffed, aged wood. Soft footfalls descended onto the platform. The lights were too weak to reveal the identity of the person, but they did reflect off flowing, shimmering black pants, bare brown feet. The chatter grew, questioning this individual and speculating about their purpose.
Amid the swapped whispers, a sword appeared on stage. The curved blade was drowned in flames, dancing and reaching towards the sword’s wielder. They shone dully on the performer’s face and lightly illuminated a deep, spiraling tattoo on their chest peeking from the cusp of their top. Gasps fell from around the room at the fiery sword and the fearless sword bearer, making the performer smile. Slowly, they raised the sword above their head, pausing to build the anticipation in the room. Then, in a single, swift movement, the sword fell from their hand and tumbled to the ground, eager to consume the wood and, with it, the entire bar.
But it didn’t. The performer swooped in and caught the sword, hand just below the blazing blade. They brought the sword back to eye level, spurred by the gasps and applause of the crowd. No one would be able to see the smirk peeking from their lips in this darkness. Their motions were fluid, elegant, but every so often a jerk or drop of the blade had the crowd gasping again. The entire room was captivated, eyes glued to the burning blade. Through the darkness, the sword appeared to be moving all on its own, slicing through the air in a graceful display, leaving ribbons of sparks in its wake. The dance continued for several minutes, not a single pair of eyes daring to miss a second. Even the tired bartender, hands wiping absently at an empty glass, stared in awe at the dancer.
For their finish, the performer raised the sword above their head again. They looked out at the silhouettes in the dark, the shining eyes, the glint of a toothy grin. They turned back to their sword, the brown and blue of their eyes sparkling under the dangerous flames. They closed their eyes, feeling the anticipation in the room, the excitement, the fear. Then, in a single motion, they dropped the blade. The fire soared only breadths before their face, warming their cheeks. Just as the sword was about to hit the stage, the fire vanished without a sound, leaving the entire room in awe.
In only a few moments, every patron erupted in cheers and applause. People shot from their seats, loudly showing their appreciation for the performance. Most of them had never seen anything like the exotic dance they’d just witnessed. The torches flickered back on, as if by magic, allowing all the fans to see the person deserving of their adoration. The dancer looked out at the room, at the smiling faces, the shining eyes, the bouncing excitement, and they smirked. Another undoubted success. They gave a low bow, the beads and trinkets on their top clattering, then straightened and tugged at the sheer fabric of their pants to curtsey. As they scanned the room again, pride puffing their chest, their gaze locked on familiar, stern brown eyes. The owner of them, an older man, crossed muscular arms over his chest. The dancer straightened, panicked. Something was wrong.
Leaping from the stage, the performer made their way to the man. Their father had only ever visited their workplace once before. The man had never approved of his child’s lifestyle, of the way they moved so provocatively, how they captured the hearts of men and women alike. Casting a hand through their hair, the color of soft chestnut, shaved and swooped to the side in a style their father had always hated, the performer swallowed hard. Their outfit was another source of disappointment: black, billowing pants made their legs shapeless; a tight, glimmering top formed an arrow under their breasts and did little to hide the hated tattoos snaking across their arms; stomach exposed, all could see the swelling, masculine muscles, the graceful, feminine hips. Even the paint used to outline their unique eyes would surely anger the man. But, as the performer stood face to face with their father, they saw neither disappointment nor anger behind those eyes. Their frightened eyes had learned to fear the face they stared into, but never before had they seen fear there, too.
“Your brother,” he said, his voice shallow and foreign. “He’s gone to the forest.”
“What?” The performer’s eyes widened. Their fingers absently flew to their neck, to two identical scars dipping under their collarbone. “He wouldn’t do that.”
“He left a note,” their father replied. “He’s alone.”
The performer’s gaze fell to the floor in confusion and disbelief. “He wouldn’t do that,” they repeated. Looking back up, they asked, “You’re sure?”
Their father scoffed. “Lec,” he said sharply, sending a shiver down his child’s spine. “Go find your brother.”
There wasn’t time to change. Lec shot out of the bar, pounding the cobblestone outside with bare feet. The moons had risen by now, two soft silver orbs in a blackened sky. Lec looked to them, letting the celestial bodies guide them. The forest was half an hour away running, and Lec had no time to lose. How long ago had their brother left? They just didn’t understand. He wouldn’t wander into the forest, the land of the enemy, not again. It didn’t make any sense.
Lec lived with their family in Evimaire, the capital port city of the country of Sthenorn. The prosperous port lay at the tip of a peninsula connected to the rest of the continent only by a rainforest. This rainforest, Lucet, belong to a tribe of shapeshifters at war with Sthenorn. Lec didn’t understand the war well; as far as they’d been told, the Lucet were stingy with their bountiful natural resources and attacked anyone who tried to share in them. As far as Lec was concerned, the Lucet people were a tribe of murderous, shapeshifting hippies who hated Lec and their people. As a result, Lec had never ventured beyond their city, unable to afford a trip by sea and unwilling to enter the forest of the enemy.
No, there had been one time. Lec had ventured into the forest before. Their brother had wandered that way out of curiosity, a child born with an imagination too vivid, and Lec had been tasked with rescuing him. Back then, the two had run into a spirited Lucet girl with hatred in her scarlet eyes. She’d chased them through the forest, and once she’d had them cornered, she’d transformed into a lynx and attacked. Their brother was unscathed, but Lec hadn’t been so lucky. They retained scars from it, pale ugly marks that marred their neck, but the mental scars stung far longer. Now, five years later, Lec couldn’t imagine why their brother would cause them that kind of pain again.
There were no streetlights past the border of Evimaire. Lec looked down at their hands, not breaking their stride, and mumbled a few rushed words. A ball of light appeared in them, similar to those they had used onstage. The dull glow would allow them to see where they were going but would not be too bright as to alert any beasts of the forest. With that as their only guide, they plunged themselves into the undergrowth, praying their brother was unharmed.
They couldn’t know how long they were out in that forest. The gentle earth tones of their skin and the darkness of their clothes kept them hidden enough, but they feared for their brother. The child was too pale, would stick out like a thumb in the darkness of the forest. What if they were too late? Just what would one of those demons do to a child? Lec could still perfectly picture her dark eyes, her sharp fangs, the bloodlust in her roar. They could feel their throat closing in. No, they told themselves, grabbing at any distraction they could think of. Now was not the time. Shoving through leaves and vines, eyes everywhere at once, they struggled to find their most important person in the world.
And there he was. Curled against a large blue stone, tears flowing freely to the earth below, was a ten-year-old boy. Red stained his too-white arms. Half his shirt had been torn away, and a leg was missing entirely from his pants. Relief washed away by panic, Lec dove for the child, clutching him into a tight embrace and shrouding him from view. “Soren,” they breathed, “by the gods, Soren, why are you here?”
The child peeked his head from under his sibling’s arm. His silent sobbing was ceaseless. He struggled to free his arms. Though his hands were quivering, his signs were clear: “There’s someone here."
Lec straightened. Their eyes surveyed the darkness. The ball of light they’d used had slipped from their hand and rolled a short distance away. The grass rustled and the trees howled. With a wave of their hand, they killed the light, leaving them in the dark. They grabbed for their brother’s hand, speaking into it only words the two of them could hear. “You’re going to be okay,” they signed, though their hand shook too wildly to make the sign language convincing. Those red eyes, those giant paws, the suffocating pressure of claws at their throat…
“Lec?” It was the sign the two of them had developed together, a name sign, a semi-closed fist rubbed against a cheekbone. The child looked up at his sibling, blue eyes petrified. He was trying to sign, but Lec wasn’t watching him, wasn’t catching his words. “Lec,” he tried again, cursing his inability to speak. “Lec, please. Are you having an attack again? Lec?”
Lec started choking, kneeling over and spitting out what they hoped was the reason they could not breathe. Now was not the time for a panic attack, they kept telling themselves. They tried to focus on Soren, on those gentle eyes, on that childish face, but his face morphed into one of theirs, his eyes into blood. Lec panicked, jumping away from their brother in a confused and frightened frenzy. Just don’t look at him, they told themselves. Rising, Lec offered a hand to the child. “Soren,” they said quietly, “we have to go.”