i_love_freddie: (Freddie)
“Step up, place yer bets! We 'ave a treat for you tonight, folks.”

The tavern patrons paused in their conversation and card games, one or two even lowered their ale as the battle-scarred dwarvern bartender continued roaring excitedly. He knew that his clients were bored and restless, eager for any excitement no matter how depraved.

“A deathmatch right 'ere in our own pit. Borgan the Cruel – ruthless slayer of men, women and children - will take on blademaster Kane Theaza in a battle to the death. Only one can survive. Place yer bets now.” A cheer of approval went up amongst the crowd, for rarely were the fights so bloodthirsty.

As there was a sudden surge of activity, Cory Daemae sat alone in the corner chewing on a broken thumb nail. Only his best friend could be reckless and foolhardy enough to take on an opponent who was obviously some kind of half-giant; easily twice his size. 'How could you let him do this?' he could almost hear Valia lecturing him. That was hardly fair – as if there was anything he could have done to stop Kane. Rampaging minotaurs could not stop the reckless warrior once he got any kind of idea in his head.

Frowning, he watched the bored tavern rabble quibbling over the likely winner and fumbling drunkenly in their pockets for coins. Was life worth so little, he wondered idly, that destroying another in pitted combat was seen as no more than a sport? Of course the answer to that question was one he already knew. In a society where a few people had everything and most had nothing, those with nothing found solace where they could; in crime, alcohol, prostitution and senseless violence. This was just another night of ruthless entertainment, another attempt at finding some purpose in their lives. Cory could see the despair etched in their faces and he suddenly felt nothing but loathing for the city.

“Yer not betting tonight, half-elf?” the bartender gruffly asked, placing another tankard of ale on the battered and sticky wooden table. “Not like one of yer lot to hedge yer bets on a fight like this.”

“Doesn't seem fair to take your money, when I already know who will win.”

“Confident tonight, eh lad? Hopefully your boy won't get too cocky out there – Borgan sure ain't one ta mess with. Rumor has it he once took down three ogres single-handed.”

“I'm not worried,” Cory lied, though his slender fingers were dancing on the tabletop, absently tracing a brownish stain that could have been dried blood. “Kane has fought worse and survived.”

“Ah, true. I am countin' on him to give us a good show. But don't fool yerself: for every skilled warrior there is always one final battle.” Giving a grin that revealed many missing teeth, he picked up the empty glasses and elbowed his way roughly through the crowds.

“Thanks for that cheerful thought,” the young half-elf muttered to his retreating back. The dwarf spoke the truth, but that did nothing to calm his nerves.

Seeing that people were beginning to gather around the circular stone structure that served as the fighting pit, Cory abandoned his bitter-tasting ale and weaved his way through the throng of bodies. The smell of dirt and sweat was almost overpowering especially when mingled with the scent of blood rising from the pit. He was used to it, but it still made him feel a little sick. The spectators were getting rilied up, pushing each other and waving their fists in the air.

“Fight, fight, fight!”

Nimbly he ducked under a pair of flying arms and squeezed himself into a small gap right at the front. Although he wanted to be anywhere else but there, he knew that he had to watch.

The crowd temporarily fell silent as the challengers stepped into the pit. With his head held high, Kane gave off waves of confidence that were hard to ignore. The black outfit he wore – the armour cleverly crafted from the scales of a shadow dragon – complimented his pale skin, his wavy black hair and the dark eyes that burned with fire on the battlefield. Some rumours said he was a vampire and his reputation preceded him – he feared no one and turned down no challenge. With no regard for the whispers in the crowd, his eyes fixed solely on his opponent, sizing him up for weaknesses and not even giving the people a glance.

Borgan the Cruel was far too large in both height and build to be fully human. At over eight feet tall with broad shoulders and bulging muscles, his very presence seemed to fill the arena. One eye glared at his opponent and the eager spectators; the other was lost in the sea of scars that covered his face and framed a nose that had obviously been broken several times. The massive hairy hand that gripped a bloodstained hammer had two fingers missing.

He looked Kane up and down and his face twisted into a sneer. “Are you serious?” he proclaimed to no one in particular. “Too easy.”

“Appearances can be deceiving,” Kane said quietly, his voice cold but measured. He was very tense, Cory could see that his friend held his upper body stiffly. That was not a good start. “May the best man win.”

“Have at it,” the bartender roared.

Kane drew his swords from their scabbards with a hiss of steel and took a single step back, turning them in his hands. Borgan strode forward purposely, swinging his hammer with some force. There was a violent clash of steel on steel and Kane was knocked back slightly by the force of the blow. The half-giant pushed forward in an attempt to crush his opponent against the side of the pit, but Kane knew his plan and gave a sharp thrust of one blade. Although the blow was deflected, it gave him valuable seconds to spin away. Striking out again, he managed to find a vulnerable spot under the arm and pierced the flesh, drawing blood. Despite it being a superficial wound, Borgan roared with pain and hit out with his arm, catching the warrior in the face and knocking him sideways.

As the spectators cried out excitedly, Kane quickly regained his balance and wiped blood from his bottom lip. The hammer came down again and this time he avoided it – the gravity of the weapon took the half-giant off balance and so the warrior ducked under his arm and elbowed him sharply in the ribs. Winded, Borgan doubled up, although not before managing to headbutt his opponent in the face, before bringing his hammer around for another swing.

Cory found himself biting his thumb again, forced to watch as the two danced back and forth for what seemed like hours. Kane was faster and fought fluidly, but Borgan, although slower, seemed to have skin made of thick hide and nothing seemed to deter him for more than a few seconds. The pit was too small for Kane to constantly evade and eventually the hammer found its target, slamming into the warrior's chest with some force and knocking him back into the furthest wall.

As he struggled to his knees, on straw that was slippery with blood both recent and old, Borgan advanced gleefully, raising his weapon to bring it down for the final blow. The crowd hushed waiting eagerly for the kill. The only sound was the ragged breathing of the two combatants.

The hammer came down, and it was what Kane had been waiting for. He raised one long sword to stop the hammer and immediately launched into an offensive attack, hitting the half-giant's chin with the hilt of his second sword – and then taking advantage of his stunned state to hit his torso repeatedly with both weapons. Slowing down at last, he paused for a split second before forcing one blade up and through his eye socket. Borgan grunted and fell, causing the whole tavern to shake when he landed.

Kane retrieved his sword and turned to look at the audience for the first time. His hair was dripping with blood, his bottom lip beginning to swell and everyone could see an impressive bruise on his right cheekbone. He swayed as though he was about to fall, and Cory immediately turned and pushed through the cheering mob of bodies to get to his friend. Suddenly he felt strangely relieved that he had refused to bet; refused to have any part of such mindless violence.
i_love_freddie: (Freddie)
Kane Theaza groaned and opened his eyes. And then blinked and shook his head, confused. Everything was completely black. He raised a hand up to his face – nothing. What happened? Am I blind?

“It's all right,” Benny's voice was a reassuring sound in the darkness. “Jonas, can we have some light?”

There was a low murmur and finally a faint reddish glow pierced the thick blackness. Benny was kneeling over him, looking concerned. Jonas stood a little way back, holding his staff up to provide the light. He looked more than a little annoyed. Cory, the half-elven assassin, was sitting on the ground a little way off – his wrist roughly bandaged. Valia was looking around groggily, her face scratched and bruised.

“Glad to see our leader is awake and in one piece,” Riandur said drily. He and his smaller companion, Phellan, were over by a wall that Kane realised was made of rock. “I hope you are ready to hear some really bad news.”

“I...” Kane sat up, feeling a sudden stabbing pain in his ribs. “Where are we? What happened?”

“Well, here's the thing.” Benny sighed before reluctantly continuing. “You remember that dragon we were fighting? It went a bit crazy and brought the whole ruins down on top of us.”

“In short,” Riandur continued expressionlessly, “the entrance is blocked and we appear to be trapped down here.”

As the disorientation wore off, Kane was able to get a good look around him. They were in what appeared to be a series of small rocky caves. At one end was just solid rock, at the other was a pile of mud, stone and rubble. The roof was low, at six foot tall he could just barely stand up straight without hitting his head. “Oh rats!”

“Yep, that's what I figured,” Benny nodded, “they are way too big for mice.”

“What? Where?” Looking around the dark cave, Valia let out a piercing scream as she saw the furry black bodies slinking away. She hated small furry things with a passion.

Riandur charged after them, pouncing and spearing them both with his sharp claws. Within seconds both were dead. “We might want to eat these later.”

Valia, Cory and Jonas looked slightly sickened at the thought.

“Well, maybe we shouldn't jump to conclusions,” Benny tried to be the optimistic one. “Let's all search a bit of the cave and see if there's any exit before we all start panicking.”

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Freddie)
To survive is just a basic human instinct. Nothing is too bad, too degrading or too difficult when there is no other option but death.

That was a lesson that Kane Theaza knew very well. It was something that he had learned from experience, and he had the scars to prove it.

Triggers: mention of violence and rape, non-graphic )
i_love_freddie: (Freddie)
There was never much greenery to be found in a large city. A few trees here and there, a small few patches of grass fenced off where the children sometimes play. Some of the wealthier estates had small gardens with brightly coloured flowers. But for those who wanted to experience nature without going outside of city limits, their options were limited.

There was one such place of refuge – at least for members of Howling Wolves assassin's guild. On the roof of the huge building that served as the hideout to their headquarters, the guild has created their own garden. Using a combination of nature and magic, they grew fruits and vegetables, various herbs for use in making poisons and antidotes, and a few bushes and plants – including batflowers, a plant that looked like it had multiple eyes, and a very large venus flytrap.

Benny could often be found there; when there were no targets for him to take care of and his friends were all safely occupied with other matters. He enjoyed all the noisy and buzzing activity of the city – up to a point. But when they stayed too long, he was overcome with a yearning to be back in the wild; where he could engage in his shapeshifting at will, roll in the grass as a cat, run through the trees as a graceful leopard, or howl at the moon as a wolf. In a world where there were no others like him – and more fear and mistrust than understanding – it was hard to balance his human side with his animal urges.

And even with good friends around him and a lover within the city, sometimes the assassin felt lonely. He would never admit it, even to himself, but it was what it was.

------

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Freddie)
It had been hate at first sight.

From the moment Kane Theaza entered the Howling Wolves assassin's guild, recruited from the streets at twelve summers of age, he found a rival in Jonas. Both the same age, they loathed each other on sight. No one ever really knew why; though it was speculated that Kane was envious of Jonas' relatively stable upbringing within the guild, while Jonas was jealous of Kane's confidence and his ability to fight anyone and anything that got in his way.

“You are such a show-off,” Jonas muttered, having overheard Kane being praised for a nice bit of sword-work.

“And you are a stupid little creep,” the street-boy shot back, “and I know which I would rather be.”

“Your mother was a filthy whore!”

Kane laughed. “You are hardly one to talk. At least I knew who my mother was.”

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Freddie)
“No boss, please – not the chair! I'll do anything, I swear! I'm innocent!”

The young man's panicky pleas could be heard throughout the main floors of the guild headquarters. Assassins paused in their training, those who were sleeping briefly opened their eyes, the ones who were eating stopped in their tracks. Then, registering relief that it wasn't their turn, they resumed their tasks.

“Seems like Lance is in trouble,” Kane Theaza observed, setting down his tankard of ale. “What's going on, Benny?”

The shapeshifter glanced around the table. The only others in attendance were the half-elven assassin Cory and Phellan the young wolf-man; Riandur hated the city and was hunting rats in the catacombs, Jonas was studying scrolls at the library, and Valia had gone shopping. Leaning forward, he lowered his voice.

“You know that smuggling job last night? It was a set-up. The guards got several of our boys and now they are in the city jail.”

“Someone betrayed us?” Cory asked, wide-eyed at the thought that one of their own men would turn against the guild. It was an unwritten but very strong rule that thieves watched out for their own, and backstabbing was never tolerated.

“It looks that way,” Benny said seriously. “The guards knew exactly who was there and what was happening, information that could only have been given to them by someone involved in the planning.”

Kane nodded, pondering this for a while. “What an idiot,” he said finally. “So Randal - ” referring to the cold, calm and highly effective master of the entire guild “- gets to do what he does best, huh? A few minutes on the chair will make them crack.”

Cory nodded, looking terrified. “No one could stay silent when faced with that thing. It is so scary.”

“A chair?” Phellan had been listening intently, but something was puzzling him. “Like what we are sitting on? What is scary about a chair?”

That was quite a question. Every man in the Howling Wolves assassin's guild knew of 'the chair'. Made from solid oak with a straight back and two thick arms, it did not look threatening at a glance. But a closer look would reveal the strong leather wrist and ankle restraints, the adjustable mechanism that could be adjusted so that the sitter could be gagged. Once restrained, varying degrees of torture could be used to encourage the subject to talk.

It had been in the guildmaster's chambers for as long as anyone could remember. They called it 'the confession chair' and many of the men had been subjected to it at one time or another. It was the ultimate punishment.

Kane, Benny and Cory exchanged a long look. “Want to take this one?” Kane directed at Benny.

The long-suffering man only sighed.
i_love_freddie: (Freddie)
Why are we going here? What is a desert? Why is it hot? Doesn't the sun like us? Can I have some water? What is this yellow stuff? Why are we hiding in the dark? Why do they want to kill us?


The Bountiful Bosoms,” she read out loud. “What sort of name for a tavern is that?”
“It’s not a tavern, it’s a whorehouse,” Cory said absently without thinking. He quickly regretted it when Valia turned to him with a horrified expression.
“It’s a brothel?”
At exactly the same moment, he felt a nose nudge at his leg to get his attention. “What is a wh… whorehouse?” Phellan asked. The young wolf-man – new to the ways and the language of humans - had previously been content to lie quietly by Cory’s feet, but hearing a new word had aroused his curiosity too much for him to stay quiet. “Why is it not a tavern?”
“Well, it’s… it is like a tavern, but there are many women in there.” As he stumbled over the words, the half-elven rogue could feel his face heat up with embarrassment. “And those women can be… men give them money and the women do things for the men. Like sexual things.” Seeing that Phellan still looked confused, he added, “You remember when I explained how men and women made children? Well, they do that sort of thing.”

… …

Phellan had been thinking a lot about what Cory had said – it didn't all make sense to him, but he thought that he finally had it figured out. So he waited until the evening when the group had stopped to rest, and then hit Valia with his question.
“Are you a whore?”
Valia looked stunned. Across the camp-fire, Kane started to laugh. Benny raised an eyebrow and looked over at Cory, who hid his face in his hands.
“Where did you learn a word like that?” Kane finally spluttered.
“Well, Cory said that women who don't wear many clothes and who do things for the men are whores. So I thought that Valia must be a whore too, and she might know all about them.”
At this point, the young druid got up and fled into the trees, sobbing loudly. The men watched her go in silence, a silence that was only broken by Benny.
“I think further explanations are needed,” he said with a sigh.

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Freddie)
It had just been innocent fun. Cory and Phellan had not meant to cause any trouble – and yet their inquisitive natures had gotten them into trouble yet again.

“Oh dear,” Phellan said sombrely, as he watched the monkeys they had accidentally released flee from the caravan. “This is bad, isn't it?”

“Yes...”

“Hey!” Jonas cried from somewhere outside. “A monkey just stole my staff! Cory – I know this has something to do with you.”

The half elf swallowed nervously. When he spoke, his voice was almost inaudible. “This is very, very bad.”

-----

“Run this past me again,” Jonas said bitterly. “Why do we have to round up these horrible creatures, when it was their fault - ” he glared at Cory and Phellan “ - that they escaped in the first place?”

“Because if we don't deliver seven live monkeys, we don't get paid,” Kane said impatiently. “And I haven't escort this caravan across thirty miles of wilderness just to lose our reward now.”

“But - ”

“Everyone takes one monkey,” Benny suggested, ever the voice of reason. “We need to round them up before they run off too far, or get eaten by wolves or bears. If we take one each, it'll be done in no time and no one will be any the wiser. Hey, think of it as a bit of light relief. We have fought dragons, zombies, vampires and giants recently - so how difficult can capturing a few monkeys be?”

As it turned out, it seemed that he had spoken a little too soon...

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Freddie)
The piece of parchment was pinned right in the middle of the adventurer's guild noticeboard, its placement intentionally obscuring several older jobs. The request was written in bold, strong lettering but it had a rather frantic element to it:

Urgent! My only daughter had been kidnapped by a vampire lord and taken to his castle in Witchwood. Large reward for any adventuring group brave enough to bring her back to me.

“So what is the deal with this one?” Kane Theaza asked the half elf who just happened to be in charge of the guild that day.

“Ah, that one only came in the morning. Lord Elgetor Armorsmith is convinced that his daughter has been kidnapped. She disappeared at some point yesterday evening and then a threatening note was left on her father's doorstep this morning. He is offering a lot of gold, a special weapon from his personal armoury and a plot of farmland to anyone who can find her and bring her back. But Witchwood is reported to be cursed, so I doubt there will be many takers.”

The raven-haired warrior grinned. “Can I see that threatening note?”

-----

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Nano)
Keep Calm and...

The most successful adventurers, mercenaries and guild-masters all had one thing in common. Not age, or race, or their basic profession. Not even gender – though women being as good as men at things was still seen as quite surprising. No, each and every one of them had all reached the heights of success by following the unwritten but golden rule: Always keep calm.

Surrounded by monsters? Keep calm. Discovered an assassination plot on your life? Keep calm. Lost in the middle of nowhere and can't find the map? Keep calm. An invisible demon is causing havoc in your guild? Keep calm. Your party wizard just woke up five golems, your thief has his foot caught in a snare, and your ranger just fell down a bottomless pit? Keep calm.

Because in a world where monsters roam freely, bandits launch attacks on unsuspecting travellers, those in a position of power are frequently threatened, and every man must look out for himself... anyone who loses their head in a crisis stands a very good chance of physically losing their head. And no one wants that.

------

Situation 1 – Keep calm and kill zombies

“Benny?”

The shapeshifter was standing quietly at the far edge of the silent market square. Staring into the thick trees that surrounded the border of the town, his head was tilted slightly to the side and he seemed to be listening for something – not even responding to his friends. His expression was tense, wary.

“What is it?” Kane tried again. “Do you hear something?”

Finally Benny acknowledged them, but his first words were not what they wanted to hear. “I think we need to get out of here now.”

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Nano)
“I need a real man.”

Cory glanced down at his plate of uneaten bread and cheese. He had no appetite. All he could think about was her, the beautiful blonde young woman he had met in the marketplace. He had not spoken to her himself, but he had overheard her conversation with her female companion. She was lonely, she stated, and her family were pressuring her to find a husband.

His companions were worried. The half-elf – the youngest member of their small group – was always cheerful and happy. To see him moping around and off his food was strange, to say the least.

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Nano)
What Doesn't Kill You...

It is hard to be the voice of reason, all the time. But that is how things have worked out. There are seven of us; and four of them view me as a father figure. I was partly responsible for training Cory and Jonas, back in the days when I was a teacher in an assassin's guild. And Kane is as much my son as it is possible to be without being related by blood. As for young Valia, her own father used her as bait to carry out a plot for vengeance... so it is hardly surprising that she would look elsewhere for a substitute. And of course, Phellan from the wolf tribe is constantly looking for knowledge and approval – so although I am not his mentor, it is hard not to feel responsible for him as well.

They don't go out of their way to make my life easy. Cory's curious nature constantly lands him in trouble – often Phellan too. Valia can be emotional and struggles being around men all the time, with no other women for company. Kane can only be described as hot-headed, reckless and impulsive. Jonas never quite managed to pick up the skills of getting on with people.

All things considered, it is ironic that the two most stable members of the group – the two of us who keep everything together – are me the so-called 'demonspawn', and Riandur, the stoic and silent wolfman who rejects most elements of human society. He is the one I trust to watch my back... and the one who understands how hard it can be to care for someone.

They are like my children. Sometimes they drive me crazy, but I want to protect them. It is hard, but it is my life and I wouldn't have it any other way.

-----

There are moments when I feel helpless because of events that I was unable to control. When a rash of killings and disappearances broke out in the city – and Valia mysteriously vanished. We tracked her down, of course, and found out that the monster responsible was a lich with a thing for human women. Unfortunately by the time we battled through his hoard of undead creatures, she was naked, bruised and bleeding.

Such things are not uncommon in the life we lead. We all have our scars to bear, both physical and mental. But when brutal things happen to those you care about, you always wonder if there was something else that could have been done. If only we had been faster, if only someone had picked up more clues earlier, if only someone had been with her, if only...

Kane likes to be alone when things get too much – he was an abused child and bottling up emotions is second nature to him. I know where to find him; sitting on the roof of the inn even though the night is cold and rain has started coming down lightly.

“Are you okay?” I ask, settling by his side. He glances over and gives a brief, tight nod. “How is she?”

“Not so good. She won't speak or eat. I don't know what to do. Cory and Phellan are with her now.”

Understandable. As innocent as they are, I doubt that either of them really understand what happened to her; and that is probably for the best. But Cory is very sensitive and they are both caring.

“She is probably in shock. I can't even begin to imagine what she went through”

The raven-haired warrior stared out into the distance, though his eyes saw nothing. “I can. There was blood, Benny, so much blood. She said... something about a knife.” His hands, involuntarily clenched into fists, were shaking. “He branded her... tortured her. I should have been there... I was too late...”

The blame, always the blame. I feel it too – but I am better at hiding it. After all, what will happen if they see me fall apart? “It is not your fault, Kane! The only one to blame is him, and he will suffer for what he did. I swear it.”

That gets him to look at me. “You aren't going after him alone?”

“None of you can fight a lich. And I can't take him on if I am worried about his magic killing you. Leave him to me.”

“That doesn't seem fair,” he mutters, but I can see there will be no real fight from him. “I should be the one to take him down.”

“You know what I think would help more? Go to Val. She needs you, I think being with you will help.”

-----

In the shadows, I watch as he enters the darkened room. She is sitting on the bed, knees drawn up to her chest. Warily Kane approaches her and says something I cannot hear. He reaches for her and finally her tears are released.

It will be hard, but I sense that she will be fine. The scars will heal, in time.

That's the thing about being a in the position of responsibility. You want to wrap them up, keep them close, protect them from the world. But they need to learn. Need to have the freedom to make their own path in life, even if that ultimately leads to suffering. To be broken and then heal... it is the only way to build true strength.

As I ponder the task before me, there is a sudden flash of grey fur and Riandur appears silently at my side. He has watched the events unfold but has said nothing. He doesn't understand human emotions, nor is he big on sympathy. But nonetheless, he is here.

“You need someone to watch your back. I will come with you.”

There will always be cracks. But by standing together, we can be strong enough to overcome anything.
i_love_freddie: (Nano)
The boy shivered and placed his foot on the first step. 'One...'

Jonas paused and glanced at his appreciative audience. His younger half-brother Cory, and the young wolf-man Phellan, were listening to him intently. On the other side of the tiny camp fire, their companions seemed to be sleeping soundly despite the light wind and the rocky ground.

One by one, he counted down his steps while his friend waited anxiously at the top. 'Two... three... four... five... six... seven... eight...'

There was a slight chill in the night air. Cory shifted closer to the fire, grateful for the heat that the flames provided. The wizard continued with the story, his voice low.

There were ten steps in all. Nico waited, almost holding his breath, as his friend ventured down. 'Nine...' came the slightly frightened voice from below. There was a pause. 'Ten...' Nico gave a sigh of relief and was about to call down when something stopped him in his tracks. His friend's voice continued in a flat tone: 'Eleven... twelve... thirteen... fourteen...'

“What happened?” Cory whispered.

“No one knows. According to the account, it was first assumed that the boy was messing around and a full search of the cellar was made. But no trace of him was ever found. Supposedly a true story.”

“It really happened?” Phellan asked innocently, his eyes wide. Having spent his whole life in a tribe of his own kind, so much of the way of humans was new to him – and so he was more than a little naïve.

Jonas nodded. “There were other stories too – apparently staircases are really common in tales of random disappearances. Another I read was about this shack in the wilderness. It is old and falling apart, but all the furniture remains inside – like the owners just upped and left one day. Behind the shack is a set of broken stairs that seem to lead down to nowhere. Some say the bodies of the former residents are buried down there, others say that you will meet the shadow monster down there.”

Phellan stared at him. “Shadow monster?”

“Yep,” Jonas was really getting into his stride. “Legend says that all you can see of him are two red eyes lurking in the blackness. If you offer him something – like your youth or your wisdom – he will grant you a wish and let you live. Refuse, and he will take your life.”

Seeing that he had their full attention, he continued. “Another story – I actually read this one in a book - is about a staircase somewhere in the countryside. It is supposedly difficult to find because everything around it is overgrown; but certain people will stumble across it. The steps lead down to the deepest reaches of the hells, where all the torture takes place and demons run riot. One rumour says that two young men found it one spring day, and when one of them started to descend, some unseen force grabbed him and dragged him down screaming. He was never seen again.”

“Wow... that is kind of creepy,” Cory said quietly. Phellan said nothing, just stared at Jonas with his eyes wide.

“I know,” the wizard said nonchalantly. “Well, that's enough story-telling for tonight. It is time for me to sleep. Goodnight, pleasant dreams.”

“Cory?” Phellan whispered nervously. “We won't have to go down any stairs again, will we?”

-------

It was during the next afternoon, while they were wandering the forest looking for herbs for Valia to use in potion-making, that Cory, Phellan and Jonas just happened to discover the stone steps leading down into the earth. Covered partly with bushes, there were no buildings or foundations or anything – just those stairs leading down into darkness.

“Cory?” Phellan eyed the staircase warily. “Will there be a monster down there?”

“I don't think so, Phellan.”

“But maybe the stairs will just go on and on and never end? Maybe we will be trapped forever? And just have to keep counting and counting?”

“I think that is very unlikely. Those were just stories. But if it makes you feel better... we could always push Jonas down them and see if he hits the bottom.”

“Hey!” The wizard glared over at them. “That's not funny.”

“Well, this is your fault,” Cory shot back. “You and your stories. Now get down there and show Phellan that there is nothing to be afraid of.”

“I don't want to go - ” Jonas started. At that moment Riandur came out through the trees – concerned that they had maybe gotten lost - and crashed into the man. As Jonas stumbled forward, his boot caught a tree root and he toppled down the slippery stone steps.

Riandur sighed. “Why was he standing there?” he asked no one in particular. Cory and Phellan exchanged a glance, trying not to laugh.

“Are you all right down there?” Cory called down to his half-brother. A groan came back in response. “I guess it isn't a never-ending staircase then?”

“Any monsters down there?” Phellan asked.

“Just a lot of mud and slime. And I'm not okay. Everything hurts.”

Cory smiled at Phellan. “You want to go down and help him?”

The young wolf-man regarded the steps uneasily. It was hard to know what scared him more; the scary stories or seeing Jonas flying down head first. “I guess so... I really don't think I like stairs though.”
i_love_freddie: (Dogs)
The large and sprawling graveyard was unkempt and overgrown. Some individual graves had been lovingly tended, but most of the place showed the deep signs of years of neglect. Brambles and weeds grew wild, and several of the stones had been eroded by wind and rain. The two statues which had once marked the entrance had almost crumbled away to nothing.

A new graveyard had been erected in the centre of the city, only a few years before. Small and neat, that was the place everyone visited now. The old bone yard had been forgotten, except by the wildlife and the few living people who still had a loved one buried there.

There were many rumours about the place. Talk of wailing and crying on stormy nights. Claims of white ghostly figures gliding through the tombstones. Tales of a large black dog with red eyes, who caused death to come to anyone who saw it. Rattling chains, bumps and moans, the restless dead in the crypts below. Sometimes young children would climb on the rusty railings surrounding the cemetery and dare each other to enter.

At the very back, behind several overgrown hawthorn bushes, was a single isolated grave. The headstone was tiny and several withered daisies were strewn across it, but it was quite well cared for compared to some of the others. Often, particularly on summer evenings, a very small girl with long blond hair could be found sitting there alone. It was usual for her to remain there for hours, just sitting.

She had no fear of ghosts or black dogs or things that went bump in the night. Sometimes she witnessed the scared children or the superstitious folk who scurried away from the place as the sun set, and she had to laugh. People were so strange. The graveyard was supposed to be a peaceful and relaxing place.

“Ghosts,” she said aloud, shaking her head. “Whoever heard of anything so silly?”

Carefully she pulled away a few weeds, revealing the roughly chiselled writing upon the tiny stone. The family had never had much money and it showed. But there had been just enough room for the simple inscription: Here lies Lucie Casper. Died at six summers of age.

Resting her cheek against the cool stone, the little girl sighed. She often found herself drawn back to the simple little grave, for it was all that was left. Sometimes her brother came visiting. He left flowers and talked to her, and she liked that. He hadn't been for a while though, and sometimes she got lonely. Still, she came every day, waiting and hoping for a glimpse of him.

As the sun slid down the sky and darkness covered everything, she gradually faded away until there was nothing left but the weathered stone. A peal of childish laughter rang out, breaking the silence of the night, and then there was nothing but the single grave of a young child.
i_love_freddie: (Cory)
(Disclaimer: Most characters here are mine, but Riandur and Phellan belong to my brother who kindly lets me play with them.)

There is a saying in guildhalls: you can tell who the most skilled and dedicated warriors and rogues are simply by counting how many scars they have. Each scar, each mark, tells the story of another monster and another battle for survival.

******

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Dogs)
It was just the luck of the draw – everybody knew that. Some days were good, some days were bad. Some days were boring. Some days were long and tiring. Other days brought excitement, riches and danger. Such was the life of a travelling adventurer.

And then once in a while, there would be a day where every single thing went wrong.

-------

They had stumbled upon the vast ruined mountain temple purely by accident. A snowstorm had caught them off guard, and most of the group were struggling against the terrible weather. Riandur and Phellan, the two wolfmen, were able to push ahead a little, and it had been Riandur's sharp eyes that had spotted the snow-covered stone steps and the remains of the large statues which stood marking the temple entrance. It made sense to seek shelter there until the storm subsided.

Unfortunately the harsh weather caused an avalanche. The only obvious entrance to the temple was completely blocked with rock and earth and snow, leaving the seven companions trapped inside. Left with no other choice, Kane led his friends deeper into the temple in search of another exit. They cut through undead and spiders and giant bugs, and evaded traps, and finally discovered another passage. Carved out of the rock, it twisted and turned for miles before opening out into the cold air of the mountainside. Right into the middle of a small valley.

A valley which just happened to be home to a vicious mother dragon and her nest of eggs. Despite their fearsome reputation, dragons generally did not attack unless provoked. However, female dragons were extremely protective over their eggs. She and her mate both. As Benny put it: “There's nothing quite like being stuck in between two really pissed off dragons, and knowing that your chances of coming out alive are not good.”

Of course, they did. Barely, with quite a few injuries between them. It was just one of those typical days where one bad thing led to another. Just a standard day full of adventure and excitement.
i_love_freddie: (Dogs)
The Wandering Wench Inn was pretty much as down-market as the name made it sound. Located in one of the rougher parts of the city, it was clean but basic, provided food and drink which was simple but cheap, and medium sized rooms for low prices – if one could overlook the odd rat or two. And it provided entertainment – a fighting pit for those who wanted to prove their strength or resolve conflicts, and dancing girls in skimpy clothing for those who wanted to sit back and enjoy something more visual. Unsurprisingly it was always fairly busy and most of the patrons were a little on the shady side. The regulars included a handful of assassins, an elderly warrior who had long conversations with an imaginary animal companion, a short human merchant whom everybody ignored, and a talkative mage who always showed up wearing a funny hat.

Kane Theaza's mercenary group were another regular sight. They didn't have to stay there, they could afford better, but most of them felt uncomfortable mixing with the nobles and so they stayed away from the more expensive areas of the city. Not all of the group enjoyed such places, however. Jonas, the group wizard, flounced off to his room with his books and spell scrolls, muttering about refusing to drink with the common rabble. Valia didn't like it either – she was the only woman in the group, and there weren't many girls in the inn, and so she felt very out of place and quickly tired of the men leering at her. Riandur, the wolfman, refused to sit and socialize in human establishments, and so had left to spend the night prowling the streets. That just left the other four to amuse themselves.

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Dogs)
One of the best things about arriving back in the city after a long journey away was that money was plentiful. Ancient ruins and caves and dragon hoards had a way of yielding plenty of treasure; gold, gems, artefacts, rare tomes – all of which brought in a fair amount of money. Which was needed when one lived the life of a travelling adventurer. Weapons needed to be maintained, clothing suffered wear and tear on the road. Valia needed herbs and bandages to aid her in the role of group healer. Benny sometimes needed to replace his stock of poisons, Cory needed lockpicks to open doors and chests. And of course they all needed food, and working pots and pans to cook with.

Read more... )
i_love_freddie: (Dogs)
They were the children that no one ever really saw. The children who were passed by in the streets without a second glance. Some of them had no home to return to, some had no parents. Some lived in poverty, with families unable to provide clothes or food. Some lived in daily fear of violence or abuse. Some lived without the dignity given to animals. Some lived without love, some without hope.

Yet they endured. They survived. And generally they accepted their life for what it was, for they knew no other way.

-----
Minor mention of abuse and parent death, nothing graphic )

----

They were the shadow children.
i_love_freddie: (Dogs)
Finally wrote something. It's not great, it's meant to be funny more than serious, but... well, it is what it is. I don't have any more time to work on it.


Second Chance )

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