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Thread: |M| {The Light within the Dark} |1x1| Alura x Siks |

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    Fantasy |M| {The Light within the Dark} |1x1| Alura x Siks |

    Palm. Palm. Heel. Palm. Heel. Toe. Palm.

    Narcerena chanted to herself as the small, smooth geode she carried with her bounced from point to point. There were several chants that fighter candidates used for these games meant to exercise their dexterity, though usually they were played with sharpened blades instead of geodes or stones. When traveling however, a stone was quieter and worked just as well. Though the Darklighter saw combat often enough, it was just as well to practice when she could.These practices kept her sharp to defend herself when she returned home. It was common, after all, for apprentice Fighters to attempt to overwhelm proven Fighters at the borders of Darklighter territory as they returned from their various missions away. The smart ones banded together, but those exceedingly rare individuals who could succeed alone reaped the prestige along with the right to demand to participate in the next Culling.

    A quiet yawn broke Narcerena's forward stare and she paused to stretch, quickly tucking the little geode she had found out of sight. It looked like a plain, muddy fawn-coloured stone. Once it was broken open, however, she wondered what crystals lurked inside. Regardless, it would make an excellent addition to her collections. Blue, that's what she hoped for the colour. She had various shades, purple her favourite of all, but not a blue amongst the lot she had hoarded away in her secret troves. This one had been partially exposed in a tunnel composed of volcanic rock, though the volcano itself had been extinct for as long as she had known of the passages. Some, like the one that had the little geode embedded in the floor, were composed of chalky and porous black stone that had a distinctly sulfurous smell lingering about them. Some were marvelous black glass-like halls of the kind that would make any monarch jealous. Or, perhaps, places like that were perfection for temples with candlelight illuminating the sanctuaries. In any event, for someone on a mission of stealth they could be nerve-wracking for all the subtle reflections cast back that could fool you into thinking your shadow was an enemy chasing you along the paths.

    She would bring back pieces of that stone to her little grotto someday, she told herself, but that sort of thing required planning and equipment. Perhaps some day when she retired from service to the Darklighter Church she told herself, full well knowing that the life of a Fighter tended to be notoriously short. Ah, well. No harm in the thought. Perhaps she would venture above Nyx and bring back treasures from the overworld. If such a place had anything left to retrieve, that is. For now, objects like her little geode would have to keep her satisfied.

    Having spent nearly a fortnight skulking through Lightbringer territory, avoiding patrols and collecting information on their movements and watches, she was excited to bring her newest treasure to her closest treasure cache. It was not her favourite, but there were none so dangerously close to the MagInk bastards's domain as this one, so it often contained the best of her finds not yet stowed in safer places. Perhaps she would even stay a day or two at this one before returning back to the Darklighter stronghold that housed the Darklighter Church's Clergy seat. There would be the usual debriefing and the usual arguments over her absence. That particular rope had become tighter and tighter about her throat - so much so that she wondered when it would become impossible to venture out on these missions without either an apprentice tagging along or a direct order from the Clergy.

    A quiet, defiant voice that was still quite small asked again what the Clergy would be willing to do to bring a Nightstrider into line. Of all their strict rule of the Darklighters, the Fighters were more powerful when there were no tattooed Inkkin from which to draw power for the Channelers. What would they do, if the Fighters ever refused to obey? Burying the heretical questions deeply, Narcerena refocused on the details of her own situation, and recent shifts in the Fighter clan.

    Not only had her own situation become more restrictive, the candidate training had taken a more urgent tone in recent days. Those candidates who had the mettle to both survive the initial lessons and pass The Trials to become a proper Fighter's apprentice were the only ones trained up and given the opportunity to distinguish themselves from the pack. The rest usually retired into tradecraft and learned a valuable skill set to support the Darklighter community. It was vital to maintaining their community, but the transition was difficult for many who had been part of the Fighter lifestyle since childhood.

    Some time between her last several scouting missions, Narcerena noted that the apprentice pool had become unusually large - and many of the Darklighter youths who comprised their numbers were unfit to learn. How was it possible that they had even survived The Trials?

    After a few discussions with one or two of those tasked to train the candidates full-time, she had discovered that The Trials had become more of a suggestion than a necessity. Furious, she had nearly come to blows with one of the Nightcallers that served as the Clergy's representative with the Fighters clan. As a result of the outrage of the Nighstriders, The Trials had resumed, but the candidates who had been admitted into apprenticeship during the lapse were allowed to remain. As punishment for her outspoken position on the matter, Narcerena had been called upon to spend even more time dedicated to shaping up their fighting force. There was to be a time when all would be needed, were the cryptic Nightcaller to be believed, but it would be a warm day in the darkest corner of Nyx before a Nightcaller made any obvious sense.

    Frustrated, Narcerena had taken out her irritation on the younger Darklighter Fighters who had passed The Culling. Those newest to the Fighter's ranks after that final testing would spend at least a year serving as a trainer for the next group of apprentices. In the same way some candidates did not pass The Trials, some apprentices did not pass The Culling. Those who were unsuccessful but managed to survive their failure and return would follow in the footsteps of candidate wash-outs before them, retiring into civilian life among the general populace. More than a few who survived their failure never returned home. If they were not caught and killed by Lightbringers, most quickly became corpses to litter the byways of Nyx, forgotten in the dark. Occasionally Narcerena would stumble upon one and find a nearby place to build a little burial mound of stone. The skulls, along with the medallion worn by apprentices undertaking The Culling she would return to be interred in The Ossuary in the catacombs below the Darklighter Church. There was little peace to be had in the life of a Fighter, but it was a small way to honour their efforts and assuage the grief of their family.

    What even many candidates did not know, however, was that the Darklighter Church's apprentices with Channeling abilities ultimately had to participate in The Culling as well. It was generally held that the end result was the only piece of that test that mattered. How one achieved the object of the test was entirely up to them. For Channelers, it was a test of their MagInk abilities - or rather, how well they could use their natural gifts to siphon and exploit MagInk through Inkkin able to cast of their own tattoos and volition. For Fighters, it was a test of whether their skills had been honed to the level that they could compete with their magical counterparts. Easy enough to understand why the survival rate was considerably lower for Fighters.

    It was also why the uptick in apprentices concerned Narcerena. Even with the best training, those who were incapable of developing to the equal of the traditional Fighter force would be a liability. At best, most of them would die anyway in The Culling. At worst, they would be a blight on Darklighter defenses if and when there were ever a time they needed to defend their primary stronghold and the outlying Darklighter settlements in the part of Nyx known by outsiders sometimes as the Blighted Caverns. Unless, that is, the Clergy planned to vest them as true Fighters without that very important testing. In any case, that the Clergy would meddle in the affairs of the Fighter clan to inflate their numbers, and that apprentices would listen to their sometimes nearly fanatical babblings, sat poorly with the Nightstrider. Loyalty to the Darklighters and to the Clergy were sacrosanct, but equally so was the obligation to clan. To fight alongside and die with your brothers and sisters in the effort to stem the violence and cruelty of the Lightbringer tide was honourable. To let the manipulations of the Channelers govern those relationships was a slippery slope to chaos.

    Pausing, half-balanced on a rock, the Darklighter woman pulled herself out of her thoughts. Something felt wrong. Surveying the tunnel through which she was passing after a quick glance over her shoulder, Narcerena realised that the rocks she arranged near her caches to serve as warnings of tampering had been adjusted. Some were in place, but a few of the smaller ones on the floor of the cave were shifted and fanned out as if someone had recently passed through the tunnel. Narrowing her eyes, she flattened herself against the wall, using the shadows in the uneven surface to slink towards the end of the tunnel. One more left turn and she should find herself at one of the entrances to her nearest little hiding spot.

    Hopefully it was nothing but a small wandering creature. Even better if it were edible. A rest sounded delightful, and a warm fire with a bit of meat would be welcome. A delay because of some would-be thief would not only make her more irritable, her next nearest cache was a good five kilometers away and she had little patience with the idea of wandering all that way tired and hungry. Fingers brushing the dagger hilt protruding slightly from her greave, she slipped the oil flask she kept for sharpening her weapons out of its belt pouch and carefully edged it around the final bend in the tunnel, hoping that whatever might have ventured into her haunt would reflect to her from its mirrored metal surface.

    Spoiler: Completely Unsolicited, Contextual Praise Definitely not Acquired via Torture 

  2. #2
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    The lonesome wind howls across the flatlands of Nyx. It was the height of Black Night( the Nyx version of our nighttime.) So the only light for miles in every direction came from the slow lumbering figure of a man. His almost pinkish glow illuminating the ground around him for five feet, though as with all Inkkin the darkness held no secrets. Naturally born with the ability to see in the perfect darkness of their homeland. But the MagInk Glow was not something they could control, made them easy prey for Glow Beasts who could and Darklighters who had no light to project.

    These two facts are why most Inkkin stay within the safety of their settlements, behind big walls and patrolled by Guards and Lightbringers. Most who are foolish enough to venture out alone are looking for an honorable death. But for the singular figure braving the darkness tonight, it is not by choice that he wanders. He was abandoned and discarded very young, the outside and all it's fears and dangers were all he knew. Forcebreaker had named himself...trained himself...taught himself to never trust others, his MagInk was unique and this uniqueness scared the huddles masses squatting under the teachings of the Beacon and the Inkkin Church. He won some favor among the Pillar and his army, but the balances of power in Nyx are always teetering. While the Beacon and her cronies might be content in ripping the thin fabrics of the Inkkin to shreds to suit herself, the Pillar and his guards only wish to protect the Inkkin people and insure their people live on. So they are not able to openly help someone the Church deemed The Forsaken. It would be tantamount to a declaration of war in the eyes of the Lightbringers.

    At first it was hard and spent most of his youth hiding in caves around the underground kingdom. Stealing food from settlements, scavenging off the kills of Glow Beasts. Whatever he needed to live through the the Black Night. But like all untamed beasts he adapted to his harsh life, became one of the Glow Beasts rather than a lost Inkkin. He embraced his unearned title and became Forcebreaker the Forsaken. His MagInk of Force aiding him tremendously in his fight to survive, keeping enemies at and protecting himself when he gets overwhelmed. It is the only thing that has kept him alive all these years. But even then he sometimes needed to fall back on the skills he learned in his youth, scavenging. And the goal of his journey at this moment was to return to a cave he found a few days ago. It was some kind of stone collector's treasure trove by the looks of it. Full of shiny geodes and crystals, very pretty in color, but largely useless unless you find someone willing to buy them in a nearby town. But the cave also had a few days worth of supplies in food and water. It also had a few fine blade oils he could sell or use himself.

    He did not recognize the mixture of the oils, but that isn't too big a surprise considering his experience in smithing goes no further than sharpening and maintaining his own Runic Sword and shield. But you scavenger long enough you can see value in most things. And that cave was full of value he just needed to bring a bag to carry it all in. He had marked the cave with some rocks so he could find again easier. Upon reaching the cave he unslung his sword, shield, and cloak and put them to the side so he could begin pilfering the cave without them getting in his way. So with just his kilt, boots, and gloves on he began filling his large rucksack with the caves food stores first.


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  3. #3
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    The flask did its intended trick, pink light glinting from it and revealing a mountain of a man. One would assume cleverer than the beasts that roamed Nyx, and with sticky fingers for Narcerena's collection no less. Nostrils flaring in annoyance, she briefly considered her options. She was tired, though fighting through fatigue was not beyond her. Still, he would take a fair bit of effort to bring down assuming the glow of his tattoos were a sign of his Channeling abilities. Even if she felt confident that she could overwhelm him, prudence suggested that giving up the cave as lost and heading the distance to her nearest sanctuary would be the better option. No matter how insignificant a battle might seem, through fate or fickle fortune it could always be the last.

    Tucking away the flask, she reached behind her and unfastened the swordstaff that she kept lashed to her back. It slipped into her palm and she moved on silent, cat-like feet to stand in one of the two entrances to the little trove. Watching silently for a moment, her eyes glittering in the dark and reflecting back that abhorrent pink glow, she considered her course one last time before revealing her presence.

    He was dressed strangely, for an Inkkin, not quite like any Lightbringer she had seen. Had they been hiding some new sort of scout or was he lost? Mad, maybe. No way to tell without a conversation, but she had little interest in getting to know a caster, let alone give one a chance to conjure up one of their nasty spells. Speaking before fighting was enough of a risk, but if his lack of proper clothing belied his lost and hungry state then perhaps he would be mollified by her plan. If not, she would have to drive him away.

    He looked strong, not the emaciated sort who had languished alone in the caverns, which was odd enough. She was on the cusp of Lightbringer territory, but she could not remember the last time she had seen one venture this far towards the Darklighter strongholds. She shifted her ankle, sliding aside some small stones intentionally as she kept her feet shoulder width apart, rising onto the balls of her feet. If he decided to fight instead, she would not be caught flat-footed against a Channeler.

    "Take the rations, if you are hungry. The rest stays." Narcerena instructed. As if her deadly staff were a mere walking stick, she leaned a little weight on it and feigned a more relaxed posture. If he made no move to his sword, she had little reason to attack. If he were proficient with it in addition to wielding MagInk, giving away her element of surprise might prove a little riskier than she had hoped.

    Spoiler: Completely Unsolicited, Contextual Praise Definitely not Acquired via Torture 

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    Upon hearing the voice behind him his instincts took over jumping away from the voice he shot a ball of force in it's direction. He grabbed his bag and slung it over his shoulder. The Force ball was a wild shot, but it would emit heat and force as it flew past.

    As he landed he threw up a protective dome and actually studied where the noise came from. A female Darklighter, anger flawed within him and he summoned up more force in his hands. "Darklighter." Was all he said staring at the woman. He didn't expect to find a Darklighter this close to the Inkkin lands. He'd spent most of his life fighting them, but aside from a few especially mad cases they never came this far into Lightbringer territory.

    Scanning his memories this is only female Darklighter he's come across. She looked a formidable fighter, most of the Darklings were mad raiders, half-starved and babbling messes. "What are you doing this close to Inkkin lands?"

    Ready for attack once the man was startled, Narcerena slid into a split and lowered her staff in the same move, dipping safely below the wild shot. The heat was palpable as it passed above her and the force left a mark of its passage along the wall behind her. With the sound of the impact still echoing in the path behind her, she sunk the butt of her staff into the dirt. Lifting herself back to her feet easily, she remained low in case he tried for another ranged attack.

    The grey-white powdery silt of the cave clung to her dark brown clothing and she lifted a hand to secure the veil more tightly about her face. She studied the expression of the demanding thief for a moment, taking her time and giving no indication she had even heard his question. Hooking up a stone between two fingers she flicked her wrist to send it towards the dome at his feet, more out of curiosity than intent to harm.

    Blowing out a derisive breath, she dared not look away from his hands long enough to see what damage he had done to her collection.

    "You must have forgotten where your borders lie, Lightbringer. This land is unclaimed." She waved a hand to his sack. "The same cannot be said for everything in this place. Return what you have taken. Keep the food if you wish, and no harm will come to you... not this Blue Night."

    If she ever caught his filthy little Channeler hands on her things again, however, she did not intend to be so diplomatic.


    Forcebreaker scoffed as the woman slung a rock at his barrier picking it up with his MagInk he crushed it to dust. "Do I look like a Lightbringer to you darkling?" Seeing her trepidation at his ability he realized he might have the upper hand here. This woman looked like a fighter, her moves practiced and assured in their placement and intent. But Darklighters do not have MagInk, the ones he's fought before relied so heavily on close combat that he could rip them in half before they landed a hit.

    What defense did this woman have against that sort of thing? Darklighter culture was never something he even thought existed, maybe she was the greatest fighter among those wretches. But she would not be able to touch him so slinging his bag upon his back within the dome he began advancing on her. The dome blinked out of existence as he passed it's border and his tattoos glowed brightly in the dim little cave. He would ready his Rip ability and end this quickly. "I've killed as many of those light sick fools as I've killed your inferior kind. Though I will admit this is the first I've seen a female Darklighter, hope I won't be killing a one-of-a kind freak. You might be worth something...in a physical sense." He knew they were created once an Inkkin lost their ability to Channel the MagInk, and he'd seen Inkkin women fall among them. But this one didn't look like she'd even been an Inkkin. Her tattoos while intricate held no spark whatsoever they were merely ink. Failed Inkkin as the Darklighters were sometimes called still held a weak glow about their ink as the MagInk is made with fusing an Inkkin's soul to their tattoos. And since they are still technically living their soul still radiates through the ink, though it is far to weak to channel and eventually even that ember of a glow dies out if the darkling lives long enough turning them into mindless beasts.

    Now within a few feet of his adversary he quickly ripped stones up from the floor of the cave and began hurling them rabid fire at the woman.

    Ill equipped to disarm a MagInk-generated barrier, Narcerena began pondering what she might bring to bear to remove that obstacle. Narrowing her eyes as the man asked her if he looked like a Lightbringer and began to advance, she thought to herself: You look like a Lightbringer mated with a glow beast by the measure of you, but despite appearances a thief you are for certain.

    Fortunately, she did not have to ponder how to penetrate his defenses for long since he inexplicably dropped the shielding dome. A smirk curled her lips as her fingers tightened on her staff. Perhaps he thought her weak. Good. He could scoff all he wanted when his skull was filled with glow worms in some forsaken corridor of Nyx.

    She lunged as soon as the magical shield winked out of existence, but her foot had not fallen before the floor of the cave seemed to erupt, stones rising in invisible hands before flinging themselves towards her. The first she dodged, completing her step and dropping her shoulder so that it whizzed by her right ear.

    The second was less fortunate. Unable to reverse her stride in time, it caught her across the upper left part of her torso and sent her hard into the nearest wall, winding her momentarily. Gasping for air, she kept her spear raised and managed to deflect a third stone, though it scraped along her vambrace leaving uncomfortable heat and a thin bloody line along her upper arm in its wake.

    After she inhaled deeply again, furious, she managed to regain her feet. Kicking off from the cave wall, she rallied, right shoulder a little stiff and bloodied where she had impacted with the uneven stone surface behind her. The sticky dampness of the blood only made her angry to have been caught over-anxious for a strike. Though she was travel-weary and irritated to find unwelcome company, she must set those things aside if she wanted to avoid being the one to underestimate an opponent and doing herself harm in the process. She kept herself between the man and his weapons. He was dangerous enough with his MagInk. She had no intention of further allowing him to arm himself.

    The next stones that shot by her she dodged, evading neatly with dexterity born out of years of perpetual practice. Finally finding a rhythm, she twirled her staff and threw the open palm of her free hand backwards into one of the stones as it began to pass by her. Returning a smaller rock with a deft swing of the shaft of her spear she used the impact of her weapon and the weight of her own body to rotate and curl her fingers around the edge of the larger of the two stones in the air. Navigating it around her body like a human sling, she redirected it, knocking it back towards the fighter who had sent it sailing her way with a swift, sharp kick. The smaller stone went wide of her mark though it had served its purpose and she continued to dodge through the hail as the larger one soared at the man.

    When the stones stopped coming, Narcerena flexed her sore shoulder and lowered the tip of her swordstaff towards the magic-wielder. The sharpened edges glinted green-black in the light of the MagInk that surrounded the larger fighter.

    "Have you begun the killing part yet, Thief? Or will you take this final offer to leave what you have taken and go back to your own lands?"


    She was indeed a quick one, obviously a trained fighter. The way she maneuvered around his thrown rocks was like nothing he'd seen from a Darklighter before. Only Lightbringers and Aurora Guard showed such skill. As the stone was redirected at him he quickly used another rock to smash it aside. "Impressive darkling, but out here are my lands. So it is you who are the thief, and we don't give warnings to thieves in my lands!"

    Summoning up more of his MagInk he reached further back into the cave and pulled larger stones from the cave hurling the massive boulders directly at the Darklighter woman. But as the rocks came loose another sounds joined the rumbling of the rocks as they came loose. A deep bestial roar, reverberated around the rock walls. Forgetting his attack Forcebreaker recognized that sound. "Oh fucking night!" Spinning around he hurled the rocks back into the cave. They vanished into the darkness, but impacted something large and moving. A few seconds later a Glozard rampaged from the black recesses. The giant reptiles usually sleep through this time of the year, but their yelling and fighting must've woken this one up.

    Had she been able to read the man's thoughts, Narcerena would have been outraged by his comparison to Lightbringers. There was more information on troop movements and watches to be had from tracking those self-righteous militants than fighting them most of the time. Once in a while the more oblivious ones would speak to each other on their patrols and it was curious what bits of gossip you could collect from those careless lips. The lone couriers and small units sent out for missions in the caves beyond the Lightbringer territory, however... Perhaps a few of those who had encountered a Nightstrider failed to return over the years. The lucky ones died. The less fortunate were returned to the Clergy.

    Brows furrowed in annoyance, lips parted to rebuke the thief for his nerve, Narcerena steeled herself against the warning rumble. She should have run him through when his back was turned. That would teach her to offer food to strangers, to take the kinder path rather than the peaceful one a simple slit throat could have brought her. Considering the corded muscles of his neck, however, she guessed that that would also have taken more effort than it was worth. Still, she did not have very long to consider at all before boulders came flying towards her. Spinning around her staff for momentum, she flung her body into a sideways vault back into the tunnel she had used to enter the small cave. The reverberation of the walls became her biggest concern as she waited for the boulders to collide with the wall she had been standing by mere moments gone.

    The sound of small, loose gravel shaking along the walls and unsettling the floors of the nearby tunnels was renewed by the bass call of a glow beast. It sounded angry. No doubt shaken out of its slumber. With a sneer Narcerena admitted she could relate to such a feeling. Rampaging beasts, however, were good for no one. Aggressive, they tended to rampage until any sign of immediate threat was dead. Even if it did her the courtesy of taking out her thief, she would be in as much danger herself. Much as it wrankled, she took a moment to re-fasten the swordstaff into her baldric and adjust it on her back. Carefully gathering a long, fine chain from about her waist she ran back the way she had come. She paused to brace her feet when the roaring increased at the impact of the MagInk-wielder's boulders.

    As the Glozard's murky profile loomed into clearer view in the mouth of the small tunnel, Narcerena looked across her left shoulder at the Channeler. The uncomfortable itch of drying blood reminded her that she was likely to be a more attractive target to hunting creatures in the subterranean world. No help for it now. Perhaps the mountain of a fighter would be scared off by the creature and she could salvage something of her trove.

    Unfurling a length of the chain in her hands, Narcerena swung it like a lasso at the Glozard's neck in an effort to use its bladed end as a grappling hook. Swinging her body upwards, she ran her feet up the edge of the tunnel entry it was emerging from and flipped towards the back of its scaly neck.


    As the Darklighter went into her overly flashy flipping and lasso display Forcebreaker scoffed. "You Darklings spend too much time showing off." He shouted to the woman and quickly grabbed up his sword, shield, and cloak. Once he was properly kitted out he took a wide stance and summoned up his MagInk. His power flared wildly it was bright enough to dazzle and stun the Glozard a little. "The best way to kill these things it quick." Summoning up his will he gripped the beast's front legs and with a loud roar ripped them apart. The sound of large bones snapping and the pained screams off the Glozard echoed around the cave. The Glowbeast fell to the ground screeching loudly in pain, but life in the Darkness had made F.B. quite cruel.

    Once again summoning up his power he clamped his Force MagInk over the beast's mouth silencing it's cries.

    Having landed her mount of the scaly Glozard, Narcerena slung the other end of her chainblade around its neck and gripped it up as if she intended to ride it. She braced herself as it stamped about, struggling to reach her staff without releasing her hold. A knife wouldn't be strong enough to pierce through anything vital and she wished to make the kill quick and clean. Her head jerked up as the man's tattoos glowed again in the dusty cave, her eyes flickering over his retrieved weapons.

    Astride the Glowbeast as she was, the Darklighter felt and heard the agony of the creature and the vibrations of rending muscle and tendon. Pressing her lips into a flat line, it took all of her considerable balance to hold her seat without being scraped off onto the walls and close roof of the cave. When it finally fell, screaming in pain, the MagInk touched it, muting the screeching.

    Sparing a glare for the MagInked interloper, she finally managed to release her staff, making quick work of sinking the blade into the base of the creature's skull. Magic was many things, but she trusted the cold efficiency of a real weapon more than the manipulations of Channelers. Their powers could often kill more easily than a blade, but those with the power often did not have the same respect for life as those who took it with their own hands. The face of the Nightcaller with whom she had recently fought flickered through her mind and she wrenched free her swordstaff and slid down the side of the dead creature to prop it against the wall in order to recover her chainblade from under the fallen beast and free her hands.

    She used the embedded blade to cut a gash in its throat to drain the blood before setting it aside with her staff to be cleaned. The Darklighter was careful to leave the weapons at her back and out of easy reach of the man who looked half-beast himself.

    "Cruel over clever seems to be a common vice of Channelers." Pulling the knife from her greave, Narcerena sank it sharply into the Glozard's side and ran it neatly below the skin, opening it. Despite the mess there would still be meat and other usable bits within it, she hoped as she continued, "Running and fighting seems flashy to an Inkkin who stands out of reach as he collapses an entire cave to kill a single traveler when he's done stealing from her? Clearly I have much to learn."

    If half of her baubles were broken on the floor of the cave and the other half were in the clutches of the MagInk-wielder, at least she would get a hot meal out of it after all. Much as she was loathe to return to the Darklighter stronghold to give her reports, at least there would be a hot bath to be had. Perhaps she would stay away a few more days until her shoulder healed fully. She rotated it to be sure she could, and confirmed that it was more sore than seriously injured. The quiet sounds of wet work rose from under her blade - which was not suited to the purpose, but sufficient - soothing some of her irritation in the familiar ritual. Still, even were she uninjured, getting attacked by a slew of zealous apprentices was not something she cared to do without a proper rest.

    The MagInk-wielder was lucky that he could use those tattoos or she might have tried to lead him back through the borders so they could make quick work of him. Hard to say, if he could use that sword, however, how much of his skill was training and how much MagInk. She would pit most of the traditional apprentices over most not of Darklighter descent, but not if the risk of their deaths were real. Thus, no MagInk-wielder was ever brought back at her hands unless they were unconscious or dead.



    Forcebreaker sneered and scoffed as the woman pouted and went about cutting the Glozard up for food. "Mighty high words from a Failed Species such as you Darklighter." The man's obvious disdain only amplified the cruelty in his eyes. "I've seen your kind do far worse to lost children than what I did to this mindless beast. And mindless beasts should always be put down, but I'll let you live today." He lifted his pack and shook the contents about a bit that same smugness still on his face. "I've reclaimed what was taken from my lands." Turning his back on her he began walking from the cave, just before he would leap down from the ledge he glanced back. "But cross me again Darkling and death will be a gift you will beg for once I'm done with you." It might've sounded like a jest or pure bluster, but the dangerous glint in the wild man's eyes left that kernel of truth behind his words.

    Before the woman could muster up a retort or try to attack him he vanished over the ledge the sound of his feet sliding down the rockface the last thing she would hear.

    The Darklighter had lifted her eyes intently as the rattle of her little collection clinked from inside his bag. If looks could kill, no MagInk could have saved him.

    You see very little beyond the end of your nose. Narcerena mused to herself once he had dramatically thrown himself from a ledge. If only the ledge were higher. Rolling her eyes, she applied herself more sincerely to the task of dressing the oversized lizard. She foraged a few strips of leather and some materials for a make-shift sled and piled what she could upon it.

    The heavier work done, she took her time cleaning and sharpening her weapons. Her eyes were heavy, but the path before her was long and made more difficult by the weight she needed to carry. Deciding to forego her rest, she took one last look around the ruins, picking up half of a pink geode and nestling it in her pouch beside the unopened one she had found on this foray. At least she still had a fair bit to show for her efforts, and information not so easily stolen.

    Let the mouthy MagInkker cross her again, and he had better prove true to his word. If he turned his back to her again, he would find that she seldom made the same mistakes twice.

    Despite her foul mood, the rest of her winding journey was uneventful, though it was made longer by her perpetual twists and turns navigating around to shed any pursuers. No one ever followed, but she never gave them the chance even so. When she crossed into the borders of the Darklighter caverns after another blue night or two had passed - time was tricky beyond the caverns she knew best - she was pleased that the promise of the bounty distracted any would-be attacks from the apprentices who had set out a watch.

    She was so exhausted by the time that they had returned to the stronghold and she had gone through the formalities of presenting her gift to the Clergy and giving her report by way of the Nightcaller liaison that she did not have the strength to do more than strip off her bloody armour and clothes and pour clean water over herself before she collapsed onto a bed and gave herself over to sleep. Let the Nightcaller representative come calling again for her more detailed report: the Clergy could wait until she was ready.


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  5. #5
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    Many days dragged on from night to night after Forcebreaker encountered the Darklight woman. Despite his bone and blood deep dislike for the wench he found himself thinking more and more on her. She really was the first female Darklighter he'd met and the only one that could hold a conversation. The rest were raving lunatics more creature than man.

    Dirty, slavering, howling for blood and MagInk. Things best put down quick and burned afterwards so as not to attract Glowbeasts. They rarely had anything of value on them so as soon as they were a pile of ashes his concern ended. They were gone and worth no further thoughts, but this woman...was different. She intrigued him as much as she inspired hatred in him, he'd been a loner most of his life. Lived alone, hunted alone, and as far as he could tell he was born alone, the early years were marred by wishes of family and companionship of some kind. But a young boy can only take so many shovels to his backside or fireballs at his feet before he learns the folly of wanting other people around. He was stronger, tougher, and far more alert alone than he'd ever be in a family or with a comrade.

    The less lives hindering his the better. He learned to find solace in his own thoughts and camaraderie in his strange MagInk. It had been his constant companion and had never betrayed him, sure once he got older...other needs replaced the ones from his lonesome youth. But those were far easier to meet once he found a town that wouldn't throw him out as soon as he passed the gates. Inkkin Women were attracted the power and mystery and F.B. had both in spades. He'd have his fun and be gone before Blue Night. Hearts were surely broken, but they weren't his concern, some lessons stick with you and the lessons he got about letting anyone have some kind of power over him would never leave him. He needed his freedom and love was a prison unlike any other, be it sexual or familial love it would only imprison and hurt him so why give anyone the chance?

    His long walk across the darkness was uneventful and when he returned to his homey cave he began sorting through the woman's treasures deciding what would be good sells.


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    "Arsenthia has been hovering at the doors like a phantom," complained another Nightstrider to Narcerena as her awakening form stirred through the heavy veils that screened her from one of the communal fires in their section of the network of caverns that composed the Darklighter stronghold. "She's haranguing any of the Apprentices who come too close. Sometimes I think she's The Culling."

    Snorting a sudden laugh, Narcerena yawned and staggered across the cold, neatly swept stone floor towards the wash basin. The mosaics beneath her feet were inlaid with precious stones and the patterns were etched by skilled hands over much time. Seven generations or better had lent a lot of time to the lonely and forsaken to build up their exiled world, and they had done so in earnest. Splashing water onto her face, she shivered.

    "Is there water on the fire, Brasciel?"

    There was a pause and the sound of metal on metal as he must have peered into the heavy cauldron often kept there for cleaning, tending wounds, and bathing.

    "Mm, you may be in luck: it appears the others haven't returned from training yet."

    He chuckled at her eagerness as she scampered through the veils to the fire and dipped a heavy pitcher into the cauldron, couching it in her hands by a folded bath sheet to keep from burning herself. He sucked his lower teeth in order to muffle a laugh when she tangled herself in the veils draped over her doorway in her hurry to transport the steaming liquid back to the little metal tub she kept tucked away in the room.

    A sloshing sound was followed by the snap of fabric, a splash and a deep sigh as the Darklighter woman unfurled the bath sheet to protect her skin from the metal and plunked herself down into the waters. Letting her head loll back, she felt her eyelids drooping again. The scrapes and cuts stung a bit with the heat, but the ache and stiffness in her left shoulder was eased by it.

    Reaching up a hand to the little table near at hand, she added healing fungi and a handful of small whitish crystals to the bath, watching the water turn a milky colour around her. She took a deep breath and relaxed, when footfalls stampeded across the common floor. At first, Narcerena simply assumed the other Nighstriders were returning with some of their Apprentices. When the hour was late, Apprentices were not allowed in the Nightstrider quarters, but the favoured ones might sometimes be allowed to venture for a bit around the common fire with their mentors.

    The footfalls, however, were accompanied by quiet bickering and one high, nasally string of protests that was impossible not to recognise. Narcerena slid lower in the bath and took another deep breath, determined that if she could only successfully ignore the other woman, she would simply vanish.

    Or perhaps Narcerena would be fortunate and she herself would drown here in this delightful bath.

    "Nighstrider Zolykur! Present yourself."

    No such luck, then. The Nighstrider cracked open her eyes as a woman wearing enough robes to wardrobe an entire patrol of Nightcallers barged into the chamber. If they ever deigned to patrol anything, eheheh... Fracking tunnelers, I must have actually smiled.

    The scowl darkening the otherwise pretty woman's brow matched the intricate dark tattoos that laced her skin. Unlike those of the Nightstriders, which were purely decorative, the Nightcallers were most often tattooed with colours close to the natural dark tone of the Darklighters. It was an impressive sight when they were all powered up, though hard to enjoy when it was always at the expense of some wayward brigand or worse.

    "Arsenthia, welcome! Have you come to scrub my back while I prepare myself to report to the Clergy?"

    The other woman's mood was not improving as she moved what she likely hoped was menacingly closer. Narcerena rose, smile vanishing as the other approached her.

    "Nightcaller Veluk, and you know it. Whatever disorderly hierarchy you-" There was a shuffle of anxious feet, a clear sign that Apprentices and others were gathered at the door. "Whatever sort of game you are playing at, you know that there is a clear etiquette for how such matters are handled."

    Grabbing a dry bath sheet, she flung it at the other woman, sneering faintly at the white tattoos patterned over the other woman's body.

    "Not a social visit then, Nightcaller? Pleasant as always to have you. Though as someone so concerned with etiquette, I am sure you know the penalties for a Channeler caught consorting with the Fighters, particularly here. The very lion's den. Do you not fear what might happen to you?"

    Narcerena stepped from the tub, not moving further towards the woman beyond the step, but the menace was clear. Arsenthia seemed to recalculate her approach. She grasped the talisman that hung from her neck in both hands and her skin illuminated faintly. One hand clasped Narcerena's injured arm and another rested on her shoulder. The Nightstrider felt the itch, the inflexibility, and the pain of a healing wound through a painful few seconds as her body knit itself. Horrified, she realised that the talisman was a pendant wrapped in tattooed skin, which also glowed faintly. It must be recent. Such a thing would only work for the most skilled Darklighter Channelers and only for a short while when removed from the host. For all her faults, Arsenthia's skill could not be denied. Her intimidation of the Apprentices and some of the Nightstriders themselves was undoubtedly why the Clergy enjoyed keeping her in the position of liaison between their factions.

    "There," Arsenthia said haughtily, "Nightcallers are permitted within the Fighter residences to offer healing when required."

    Harumphing and brushing the other Darklighter woman's hands aside, Narcerena attired herself in a simple black robe with a ceremonial dagger at her waist. No doubt Arsenthia found her tastes far too tame for someone of their stature, but such things brought Narcerena little joy. It was the covenant of the Fighters to be allowed to wield these daggers in the presence of the Clergy. All others would be stripped of them, but as a supposed symbol of fraternity and good faith, Nightstriders were the exception to the rule.

    Following the shorter Nightcaller from the room she had taken as her own more because it was available than any right or preference, as was common for the communal Fighters, Narcerena rolled her eyes to Brasciel, who gave a little salute with the knife in his hand. The returned Trainers and Apprentices managed to hold their curiosity in until they were almost out of earshot. Almost.

    It was not the first time the Nightcaller had barged into her rooms uninvited, but Narcerena was determined it would be the last. Such behaviour was also a breach of etiquette - one far more serious than recovering before reporting to the Clergy, but still... Arsenthia was not wrong. Narcerena had known and had simply not cared. As her feet followed the steps of the other Darklighter, Narcerena heard Arsenthia address her again.

    "They will not tolerate this forever, you know. You are gone longer each time you go when you know there is need of you here."

    "Easier to have me out of the way while green Darklighters bypass the Trials, is it not? Do you not prefer to be unfettered while you consign our citizens to death in the Culling? Do you not remember your own?"

    Arsenthia was quiet for a moment, then, "We all remember ours. There are many things you don't yet understand, Narcerena... In time, you will see that what the Clergy does is in the best interest of us all. Someday we will be the leaders of our clans and when that day comes we shall have to work together. You must be reasonable."

    "Pliable, you mean? And anyway, rule of law is your concern, isn't it? What need have I to understand it?" There was faint bitterness there. In many ways, it would be easiest not to care - but the Nighstrider genuinely wanted what was best for her people. There had never been a Darklighter who could master both of the primary factions' skills. It was no mystery, really. To Channel was to sear out something of yourself - or so it must be. Narcerena had never met one without the same hollow disregard of the lives they took. To be unable to fan the Spark into power and choose to match it through will and body was the only way the Fighters could compare. All others were citizens, important to the survival of their kind, but with the two in unison... Well, there was a reason their ancestors had arranged governance of their kind as they had.

    Blowing out a deep breath as Arsenthia paused before two gigantic carved marble columns, the two women finally faced each other.

    "Try not to make more trouble than you already have, if you want to keep going on these little jaunts of yours. Though why you would want to delve out there alone is beyond me." The Nightcaller stepped through the heavy doors and called, "Nightstrider Zolykur". There were three resounding taps on the floor of the inner chamber and Narcerena walked in as Arsenthia backed out from the Altar.

    As her eyes adjusted to the deeper dark, Narcerena saw heavy chains binding a partially disfigured Inkkin to the raised altar in the center of the holy place. The sound of heavy fabrics sweeping and sliding against each other filled the Nighstrider's ears as the members of the Clergy seemed to turn in unison. There were eight of them, the entire sitting council - though they could number by law up to thirteen. It took a good deal of effort for Narcerena to keep her hands at her sides without reaching for the hilt of the dagger.

    The Clergy were not only all accounted for here, they were able to lay hands on a Conduit in order to Channel. Tiny bumps peaked on the Darklighter's skin as the air seemed to grow colder with each revelation.

    "Nightstrider Zolykur," entoned one of the hooded, robed figures, "It has been many nights since you last came to us."

    "Yes, Cleric," Bowing her head, Narcerena inclined her body towards them deferentially, "So it has."

    "We have been awaiting your return most expectantly. We were told you returned rather a while ago..."

    "That is also true." Narcerena hesitated. If she told them of her encounter, of her injury then it would be a potential hook to try to draw her back to the stronghold on a more regular basis. But... If she could cast it in a positive light... "Forgive my tardiness. I needed time to reflect."

    "Reflect? Reflect on what?" The Cleric looked to the others.

    "On this journey..." Began Narcerena slowly, "You have no doubt already been made aware I returned with the remains of a glow beast, one of the great lizards. I encountered it during a battle. It was not a long fight, but the encounter was rather strange."

    "Strange? How so?"

    She considered carefully still, dancing around the truths that might ensnare her, knowing her typical honesty would only trap her if she was incautious. "The fighter I encountered was like no other I have seen. He had the marks of the Inkkin, a Channeler of some skill, but he carried a sword and shield as a Fighter."

    "A Nightbinder?"

    "No... no, there has never been such a thing. I do not think that is what he was. He was certainly no Darklighter. He claimed not to be of the Lightbringers. He has encountered others of us before. Though I suspect he has only seen those betrayed and cast out by the Church or lost to us in The Culling. We should kill him, but... If what he says is true, then perhaps he would be more of an asset to us breathing. As an ally rather than an enemy, someone who can channel without need of a Conduit..."

    Keeping her head inclined to avoid any whiff of implication that needing such a thing was weakness at all, Narcerena kept her breath slow and hoped for the best. After a silence that seemed like eons, the Cleric finally spoke again.

    "If you have battled him and lived, he must not be a Nightbinder as you say. Still. Perhaps we should send an emissary."

    In a moment of completely inappropriate glee, Narcerena picture Arsenthia attempting to have a conversation with the savage thief. She doubted he would care for the woman's imperious nature, but it might be amusing to see her take a smack or two from his little sailing stones trick. Perhaps it would knock some-

    "Did you hear me?"

    Shale. "Ahem. Y-yes, of course."

    "Good, then. You will make an overture to this Channeler you speak of, and report back to us so that we may consider further. If he proves to be an enemy we shall be forced to require the Fighters neutralise any threat."

    "Understood, Cleric. I... I do not mean to question the will of the Clergy, but am I truly the best candidate to approa-"

    "If we did not believe you equal to the task, we would not have asked you. Your former mentor was possibly the best Nightbringer commander to ever serve the Darklighter people. We foresee a day when you will accept your place, here, with your clan where you are needed. You will need to be able to employ diplomacy instead of just fist and blade. The time comes soon, Nighstrider Zolykur. Prepare yourself."

    "A pity," murmured the Cleric nearest to the speaker's left. "Such an old family, the spark is just a whisper. Were you able to fan even the tiniest flame you might prove to be a formidable Nightbinder yourself."

    Narcerena remained silent. It was a jibe at her inability to even do more than sense the most obvious of magic. Seven generations, and if they were correct that every Darklighter held a spark then hers must be guttering somewhere deep inside with no hope of being fanned. Besides, while the title of Nightbinder was the only way a Fighter would ever rate above the Clergy, unifying both clans, there had never been one in the history of the Darklighters. She had no desire to fill such a role. Leave that for generations after them - so long as they secured that future, that possibility, without sending young citizens to their deaths in The Culling.

    "You may make your report and go, Nighstrider Zolykur."

    And so she did, reporting the usual movements and measures she had taken of the Lightbringers and highlighting what further information she hoped to glean on her next foray into their territories. When she was dismissed, she moved through the heavy doors and past the blathering Arsenthia to make a beeline to the Fighters' caverns. Brasciel brushed aside the veil partitioning her room from the commons and leaned heavily in the doorway as he watched her trade her hated simple robes for her usual armour and kit herself out for another foray into the world beyond their stronghold.

    "What?" She snapped.

    "Worse this time, was it?"

    Licking her lips and violently spinning her veil about her throat before snatching up her swordstaff, Narcerena shrugged. Her fingers fidgeted at her backstrap before she finally managed to get her staff secured and placed onto her body. She straightened her armour and started her final checks. She hated that the Clergy got under her skin. Arsenthia she could handle, but the Clergy when they wanted something were impossible to put off forever. She felt her throat tighten as if she were being slowly strangled.

    "Come on now. We aren't all that bad. It could be fine, being here, you know?" He took her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake.

    She sulked faintly and slapped his hands away. They had been children together in the Fighters clan, had grown with others of their age, and were the only two of their age who had both passed The Culling and survived to see new generations flourish up beneath them. The Nighstrider caverns were still too empty, though. It was a hard life, strenuous. No matter how much the Clergy meddled, it couldn't remedy the lack of capable natural fighters - something required not just to fight, but to become a true Fighter capable of going head to head with those who could channel MagInk.

    Beneath it all, though, Narcerena just felt exhausted. Sighing, she stoically endured the hug of her friendly Darklighter peer, finding it difficult to be annoyed at his easy encouragement.

    "Perhaps one day when I'm old and too weak to lift a staff. Then someone can finally see the armoury is kept in decent shape. I saw you sharpening that knife and I think I heard it crying for the sweet release of de-AH!"

    Skirting a thrown pitcher that crashed into the wall and then the floor, Narcerena exited laughing. She made it to the edges of the Darklighter caverns and stepped into the Nyx once again, cheered by her comrade and yet still heavy of heart. Set aside the call to remain home, she had no idea how to set about the task of persuading a half-animal Inkkin thief to befriend the Darklighters. If it was necessary to retain her freedoms, though, she was game to try. Let him be their little golden talisman - she wanted no part of the Clergy or the Nightcallers' "gifts".
    Last edited by Alura; 10-20-2020 at 04:07 PM. Reason: T-T For the Gram'.

    Spoiler: Completely Unsolicited, Contextual Praise Definitely not Acquired via Torture 

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