Last call before the shadows fall

Seek the places where light meets dark, there you will find tales of inexplicably intertwined realms both near and far.

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Claire Gallows
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Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

((This thread was originally posted to DM in September of 2017. Somehow when transferring everything over, we missed it so I thought I'd bring it over. Please note, many posts herein were originally written by others and where that is the case, it will be noted who is the author and when it was posted originally.))

September 18th, 2017 - Posted by Cooper Gallows

A great many things end the way they began. History has a habit of repeating itself in ways worse that what came before. Take that to heart. Learn from it, not just in your heart and mind, but in your body in soul. You?ll need to understand that in the years to come, respect that wisdom, or it will surely kill you. Be better than your fate. Give the land its due and its heart.

-The Old Man
, Words Seldom Heeded




It took the loss of their sacred place for reality to set in.

But the corruption had started long before that. Too long. It had started near the heart of the shrine, perhaps at the heart of the place long ago dedicated to the great Bear spirit, with the browning of leaves in the dead of summer and the rictus rigidity of dry, dying tree limbs. The slowly spreading blight blackened great patches of grass and stole the song of the forest creatures from the air. The wood once entrusted to Cooper and then pilfered from him had become a sickened mockery of its former splendor. In his heart, the cowboy knew it was happening long before the terse reports from the reclusive woodland vampire started, but when Kurran started painting it all in a more detailed light, he could only shake his head.

"Ain't muh place anymo'," he told the golden-eyed undead, who had long since become something of a grudging friend after his connection to Jessica kept the pair from killing each other outright. "I was taken from the land and given over t' Mangi. M' his creature now, fo' as much as I skirt the boundaries'a his demands."

"But you can totally play house with the immortal and her welps, is that it?”

It had been a conversation ender, leaving months of silence between them. Kurran didn't need to offer any more details anyway. The connection Cooper had forged at the springs, the free life he stole by the ounce to play at being whole and living, had offered in more insight with the passage of time. He eased the pain of his hypocrisy with his joy but there were still nights the wilds called to him, screamed his name on the wind and cried for salvation. It flew in the face of everything he was told was no longer his. It wasn't until his connection with the life springs was abruptly severed that he was forced to heed the call. Hauk's Shadow Lords were suddenly all over the city, overtly plaguing places the family frequented like some scuzzy epidemic. They looked off. Terrible. Wrong. They had made a play at Claire, though she hadn't realized at the time.

Staying on the sideline was no longer an option.

"Took you long enough." The old Gangrel was waiting for him on a thickly forested hill, high ground that gave a perfect view of the surrounding land without being too obvious. He was dressed for battle and obscuring the glowing cherry of his cigarette with a cupped palm while eyeing the cowboy sidelong. "Finally comin' to get your hands dirty. You gonna make this right?"

Cooper was silent for long moments before finally replying.

"This is strike three. Lose-lose. But everthin' that matters begins and ends fo' me here. S' time t' put this all t' bed once and fo' all, make even the Mother and Mangi stand up and look. Yeah, m' gonna make this right." He reached for his phone. "M' just not naive enough t' think I can do it alone. S' other folks with a stake in this. Other folks who owe."

"Or just ones who'd be put out if there was a big to-do and they weren't invited."

"That too."

That was the start of how everything ended.
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Re: Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

September 18th, 2017 (Continued)

Cooper spent two hours staring at the brown, stagnant waters of the life spring, the once bright pool of clear, bubbling water that allowed him to prolong paying his dues to Mangi; it had given him the opportunity to play at something resembling a normal life. It had been literal fountain of hope.

It had made the little piece of new life in Claire's womb a reality.

He had maintained a placid, almost furtive expression from what time he spent there, drinking it every detail and sightlessly following it back in the direction of the source with the turn of his chin. He could have lamented the creeping feeling of his own life fading, resuming that slow, disheartening wither to its promised end. The cowboy would go back to a half-life or no life at all, he could finally become the guardian spirit the Death Bear had foretold he would be. He wasn't concerned with himself. Instead Cooper let his stomach churn noxiously over blacker thoughts, of the consequences that could still come from decisions that felt as if they were made a lifetime ago. Hell, even decisions he had made recently. It was all going to end unless he acted.

Stupid vampire and his stupid wisdom. Stupid Old Man, why couldn't he be here now, when Cooper was so ready to lis--

Huh. Ironic.

A half a pack of Marlboro Reds had been burned up in a chain of one lit off of the other during the time it took him to drive back to the city, back to the new home he and Claire had made for themselves. For their family. I didn't feel like home, not really. Not the place itself. Only the people in it did. He'd build them something better someday. It was a silence promise to the stars twinkled above him, through the windshield and far beyond. Phone calls had been made during that time, with voicemails left and text messages sent (Claire wasn't there to scold him for texting and driving but, hey, nobody died), a start of the call to arms. He only hoped it would be enough this time.

This time it wouldn't be a ragtag band of would-be heroes. This time, they would be warriors.

During the walk to the door, he had been so full of purpose, an aggressive gait that strangely faded to nothing the closer he got, until the monolith of a man was forced to halt before the immaculate portal. His forehead hit the door with a pensive thump. The conversation that came next wasn't going to be a pleasant one.

With a frown, Cooper stepped inside.

It had been a quick, unexpected drag over a handful of days, nothing and then everything all at once. With the twins, she spent most of her pregnancy in a state of foggy fatigue if only because she had expended so much of her energy into other things. This time around, it had been significantly easier, a pleasant change if she said so herself.

Until it wasn't.

It hit her midway through a tournament on the Isle, a sudden feeling of wrongness that seemed to worsen every time she expended a bit of her own magic. At the time she chalked it up to churning out six matches in a night but even the Diamond Quest with her full bodied proxy hadn't taken that much out of her. It didn't let up either, rendering her a surly tangle of bedding until early the next afternoon when Aemilia dropped by to check on her. It made a morning of bedrest turn into a begrudging afternoon of couch-rest (a compromise after all) and an evening snuck out for air and a quick visit to the Annex before returning to her so called "rest" orders from her elven midwife. The twins were down, Cordellia and their Glaive detail had retired for the night, though the latter didn't go terribly far. Still, it meant Claire was left alone with her thoughts and the vague flutters in her stomach that Aemilia had bade her pay attention to in the event of changes. When he got home, the TV was off and only a side table lamp lit up the living room, bathing her in a warm glow while she toyed with this and that on the phone balanced on her stomach. She heard him before he even opened the door so it was no surprise to find her tired gaze lifted to the entryway when he finally came in.

"How'd it go with the leech?"

Cooper shook his head but his expression said what words couldn't. There was a warm, unkindled anger brewing beneath the stress limning his features. When he closed the distance and bent down to kiss her in greeting, the heavy flavor of cigarette added credence to the levels of his stress and when he finally reached down to lay his hand against her belly, it was to stretch out the silence and try to find some solace in the moment.

She didn't even need to ask it seemed. Her mouth pulled into a frown to match his, broken only by the tobacco flavored meeting of their lips. The subtle wrinkle of her nose was lost to the return of her concern, her chin lifting for her gaze to meet his. A hand slipped her phone off her belly then settled over top of his hand, moving it slightly to one side where she felt the stronger movements. Maybe there he would find what he was looking for. "He's been quiet today but still wriggly."

"Mmm. Strong kid." And that made him smile a genuine smile, crooked as it ever was. He knelt down next to her moments later, slowly pushing the shirt up over the massive swell of her belly to press a kiss to her skin. "Not that I'd expect anything less from us."

The silence dragged on again for a time until the cowboy was slowly dragging his dark gaze back up to her aquamarine eyes. "The spring is gone. The forest is corrupted. The shrine's corrupted. Fauk and his Lords've gone off the deep end. I can't ignore this." She knew what that meant. Cooper always told her everything. Full disclosure. She knew he was forbidden from getting involved. She knew what doing so meant.

"Stubborn." She corrected with a wan smile, her gaze dipping down to the soft press of a bristly kiss to her skin. Cooler than typical, she was running closer to her normal temperature, five or six degrees below human average instead of the warm norm that had come with the new life within her. It seemed to drop further with his revelation, a palpable energy sink that found her gaze locked on his face. The spring was gone. Their place, the start of it all... gone. But slowly she nodded. "When do we go?"

"We? Claire, m' not lettin' you near that place with the little one still in yo' belly." Cooper shook his head vehemently, his gaze on hers unwavering. "Any other time, I'd very bat an eyelash 'bout havin' you at muh side in any scrape. You're one badass lady. But what if somethin' happened to..."

He rubbed her belly gently. "I know you're hard to stop. I dunno 'bout the kid."

"Letting?" She repeated, her brows lifting. Surely she hadn't heard him right. When had anyone ever been capable of keeping Claire Farron (now Gallows of course) from doing anything she wanted to do? Letting. Right. Her scoff said it was hardly his call.

"Nothing's gonna happen to me and nothing is going to happen to him." Her hand stopped over his again, holding him still against the apex of her bump. The movements beneath their hands were subdued, not nearly as strong as they had been through the entirety of her pregnancy. "The spring's as important to him as it is to you. The further away I am when you do what you gotta do, the longer it's gonna take me to get there and keep him going. Unless you just wanna hope it doesn't matter."

"It matters," Cooper rumbled in reply. One poor choice of words deserved another, it seemed. "I just can't fathom the thought'a somethin' terrible happen t' either one'a you. I just... Damnit, Claire, y' know exactly what I mean. If'n you're down there in the thick'a the fightin', anything could happen. There's no tellin' what they've brewed up down near the caern. Kurran's down there now tryin' t' find out. Where I should be."

He sighed. "We're gonna need some sorta fo'ward operatin' base. Close enough t' matter but not close enough t' be in the heat'a the ***. Would... please consider coordinatin' efforts from there? If'n it gets bad enough, you're still gonna be close enough t' make all the difference. You'll be close enough."

"Nothing is going to happen to us." She insisted. Claire would sooner die than let something happen to the baby she carried and, fortunately for her, that very event wouldn't happen anyways. Besides, she needed to get a little payback for the stunt the shadowlords had pulled a few days prior. His sigh though drew her gaze to his face, a small frown pursing her lips as she lifted her hands from his for the sake of touching his jawline. What he offered was a compromise and wasn't that what this was all about? She too sighed. After a moment she nodded. "Fine. Yeah... just... fine."

"M' gonna make everythin' right." He had to, didn't he? Both hands rose to lay over hers, on that very belly be had caused to swell up so beautifully. "I promise, Claire. M' gonna make everything the way it's supposed t' be."

"And I'll do everything in my Power to help." She said softly. It was as good as an oath for all the conviction it held. "Now please answer my original question. When're we doing this? And also, how else can I help?"

"We need to pull in any hitters who care or who owe us favors," he told her without missing a beat. "This is gonna be big and I don't wanna take any silly risks... I want to ****in' destroy every last one'a those ****ers. Every. Last. One. Can you call Gio and have him start supplyin' us. Medical. Ammunition. Weapons. Support gear, mundane or magical."

That would be a long list. Such a fact had her smiling of all things as she felt around for her phone somewhere next to her. Once she found it, she unlocked it and began flipped through screen after screen. "I'll have to steal Raven away and I imagine Aemilia would want to be on hand just in case. Doc might be a good one to have, depending on how many you're calling in. Ummm, let's see here... I'm gonna leave the dueling crew out of it. But I can have Gio on the horn and working on things tonight... on one condition."

"Name yo' condition." He had nodded along as she began ticking off names and notions, not finding anything to disagree with. If they were going to do it, they needed to do it right. And the more people he was allowed to surround his wife and unborn child with, the better. "I'll agree if'n I can."

A few messages were tapped out, vague for the time being as to the cause of her late night communique, but those receiving them would understand in due time. Setting her phone aside, she looked back up at him. "You come to bed with me instead of waitin' up tonight like you do when you worry... don't worry 'bout this tonight... make us pancakes in the morning and we can "sleep" in for awhile... just me and you and the twins."

That was his Slugger. She had him figured out. Had him pegged (minds out of the gutter, people). It was enough to produce a low chuff of laugher from Cooper, with a shake of his head that was meant for the moment and not a denial of her request. Big arms scooped her up right out of the chair and he stole as many moments as it took to hug her tightly and ply a long, slow kiss to her mouth before he answered. "S' take a long bath first. I feel dirty and wanna just lay with you like that fo' a while. Then bed. Then pancakes. We'll invite Belle over fo' breakfast. Our whole family."

"Long bath it is. With bubbles. And those stupid aromatherapy candles." She might have liked those more than she wanted to admit. Letting him carry her without argument, she wrapped her arms around his neck and peppered his beard with kisses. "Be nice and invite Oz too?"

"I don't see a ring on her finger," Cooper grumbled and then, a few very drawn out moments later, he relented. "Fine. She can bring Oz."

It seemed as though the prospect of a bath with her, the rest of the night, and the following day to come were enough to lift the gurahl's spirits.

But beneath his skin, Cooper still stewed.
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Re: Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

September 20th, 2017 - Posted by Cooper Gallows

In a land riddled with as many cliches as Rhy'din, the twin moons should have been bright in the sky, casting radiant beams of moonlight through dense, roiling fog that rolled over the hills and through the trees, playing the part of spotlight in a drama of heroes and villains. Or, conversely, the skies should have been shrouded in fat grey-black clouds that pounded the earth below with a heavy, oppressive rain that made every step difficult, as thunder shook the earth and lightning forked across the sky. Those were the openings of great sagas.

This wasn’t a great saga.

The midnight sky was mostly clear and dotted generously with the tiny pinpricks of distant stars, obscured only near the far off horizon where a late summer mist rolled in off of the mountains and disappeared into the dark treeline many miles off. A faint breeze stole some of the warmth that still clung to the balmy season, a final taste of perfection before the turn of the season that brought pumpkin spice everything. It would have been a perfect night for stargazing. Or sharing stories around the campfire. The smell ruined the illusion. The smell of decay was part of forest life, as one living thing died to make room for the next, a sweet, pungent smell that mixed with the rest of the wild and just seemed right. But in this wood, once so great and strong, where there was the smell of decay, there was no sign of new life to balance it out. In the right light (and there was precious little to see by), the trees were bent and bowed with rot, their leaves withered brown things that flapped in the breeze and broke off in sporadic, patternless bursts and dissolved into ash. The grass was browning in large swathes where the ground wasn't rent and bloated like a putrefying corpse. The chirp of crickets and other insects, the hoots and howls and chitters of the wild, the din of the thriving woodlands, they were long since gone. No life of significance called this place home now.

The invaders, would-be heroes, had gathered on a thickly wooded promontory overlooking the deep bowl of the forest’s heart, crisscrossed with leaning, sickly oaks, thick enough still to offer some protection from most mundane prying eyes and attacks and lichen-covered outcroppings of coarse stone. Below, the decay of the trees had stolen away some of the cover that would have blackened the terrain in deep shadow; what should have been a dense canopy of foliage had thinned out to let the minimal starlight through in faint, sickly patches. It made the long stretches of darkness created by bent boles all the more sinister. It gave way to the crenellated mass of dead-forest stone that rose above the treeline and its silent, yawning portal a more ominous bent. The lack of resistance so close to the goal had been disconcerting, with no signs of life (or unlife) having presented themselves to lend any credence to the notion the sacred (profaned, Cooper had spat that word out for them) place was occupied. It was a motley but formidable force the Gurahl and his wife had assembled, a collective of friends and family, hired hands or the guns and blades of favors owed, and now called in. They were Gaian shifters, the Fera and other cousins discovered and sheltered in the realm. They were cutthroats and witches and shadow warriors, symphonic sadists and Dueling icons. Mercenaries and loyal guardians. They were mages and cartwheelers and holy soldiers, knife-ears and Krater-makers. It didn't matter if they came for Cooper and Claire or were just spoiling for a fight. It didn't matter if their blades were wet with altruism or their magazines were loaded with dozens of debts ready to be settled.

It only mattered that they came.

When the fighting finally started, the killing, it was with an otherworldly howl that broke the pregnant silence of the once lush caern. They poured from the broad entrance of the shrine like an anthill kicked in fast-forward, a broken tide of inhumanity that spread out over the open ground in waves. They were broken men and women given over to the Wyrm, mutated and horrific. They were once proud garou, Shadow Lords and other kin, those who walked the Spiral willingly or otherwise and twisted to corrupted purpose. They were eldritch horrors big and small, legends and fairytales twisted into pale images of bedtime stories. They brought to bear tooth and claw and blade, fell magics, and twisted augmentations.

Man, woman, and monster bled. Died. No side escaped unscathed.

No legends were written of that night, only the quiet, private stories they would tell weeks, months, years later, and perhaps only in small groups over a round of drinks raised to the fallen. The significance was in the words of the storyteller, about a great battle or a righted wrong. About the sacrifice or the body count.

Cooper himself had disappeared beneath a tide of bodies during the height of the fighting, trading blows with something so like himself that, with all of the shapeshifting between man and beast, it had been nearly impossible to discern one combatant from the other. In the end, one was reduced to nothing, a pile of wilted, decaying dust scattered across the land by the wind, and the other disappeared back into the chaos of the fray. The confusion raised a terrible cry amongst those closest to the personal battle’s culmination.

Within the great stone caern itself, another battle was waged, a moment of truth and the end of a long journey, when the earth shook and heaved, releasing a long suppressed fount of energy that permeated the foundation of the holy site and bled out into the surrounding forest in a palpable wave that was felt more than seen. Even as the battle ebbed towards an unfortunate end for the corrupt defenders, new life bloomed beneath the bodies of the fallen and the feet of the fleeing, with the Wyld breathed unapologetically back into the land.

By sunrise, all that remained was the victors in their various states of health and the fallen they mourned on newly greened grass around the caern.

It wasn't a complete fix.

But it was a start.

That was life. The Cycle. A never ending series of endings and new beginnings.
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Re: Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

September 20th, 2017 -- Late Afternoon

“With all due respect, Light, ya aren’t goin’ in there.” Remigio said with an uncomfortable shift of his formidable weight from foot to foot as he watched his boss do a third run through of the veritable armory they had packed.

"With all due respect, Rem, it's not particularly up to you..." Claire said absently, checking a pair of magazines before stuffing them into the seemingly shallow pouch fastened around her hips. It joined several others and a matching bag on the opposite side. The whole rig was then buckled beneath the swell of her stomach and over the thin layer of graphene spider's silk armor fabric that looked no different than polyester dri-fit material.

"You can pull rank on me all you want, Commander, but I took an oath to a man who ain't here to put his foot down anymore, Etro rest his soul, and I'm gonna abide by it." The lift of the lycanthrope's stubbled chin held a defiant tip to go with the setting of his shoulders. It wasn't often her enforcers stood up to her if only because they knew better. There was a slow rise of her gaze to meet his, a brow arching with it. Regardless, the fire in her eyes didn't dissuade him from his course as he continued. "You gotta trust in the big guy to get the job done. I know he doesn't like me much but I like him, if I'm bein' truthful. I'm also not lookin' forward to what he'd do if somethin' happened to you or that baby'a yours."

"This is bigger than me or Jacob at this point, Remi. Also," she paused, not for dramatic effect but rather to tilt her head and listen for a moment. Thirty seconds later, she shook her head and continued. "Had you let me finish before trying to play valiant knight, you'd know I'm not going in there. We're setting up an operational checkpoint well away from the bad shit and that's where I'm staying. You, however, are going in there."

"Respectfully, Lady, I'd like to stay on your detail. For peace of mind." He spoke up again, once more earning Claire's ire and a heavy look as she waited for him to finish, her teeth grinding audibly. Remi noticed and hushed, deferring back to her with a diffident nod to continue.

"Raven and Henry will be with me and we'll all be armed. The less people we keep behind, the better. As such you and li Fonti are to cover Cooper. That, Rem, is how you can help me. You stick to his ass like white on rice, that is an order. Do you understand me?" Claire looked up at the towering man who gave her a single nod in trade. She mirrored it and leaned down to remove a metal ear cuff from its casing.

"Every step of the way, Light. We got him. You sure you're gonna be good back here? I can call a few more'a the guys in to cover you." While his boss was an incredibly capable fighter, much of that was also contingent on not being a million months pregnant. He worried for her and her unborn child both. When she offered the metal cuff out to him, he looked it over then eyed her inquisitively. "Wha's this?"

"My link to you. Please wear it? It'll pick up audio from where you are and send it back to me. It'll also allow me to reach out to you if needed. Peace of mind, you know?" She said, relaxing slightly as he eased it over the bulk of his ear's cartilage. "Thank you, Rem. Look out for him for me? And for each other."

"On my life, Light. I swear it."
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Re: Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

A Ranger who is no Stranger to Danger

Posted Sep 27, 2017 - Posted by Gren Blockman

“ . . . of course, a Hydra’s weakness is its legs. If you keep hacking away at its heads, they just grow back. Or you can try the poetry of D.H. Lawrence. That one about the snake? They love that. Just don’t try it if their stomach is empty though, eh heh heh. You know what I mean.”

Gren was trudging through the blighted woods with the rest of the warriors that the Gallows’ had enlisted to help them. His paranoia had gone full blast when he was told of the various wicked denizens who now inhabited the place, so he made sure to pack every known ‘silver bullet’ to give him an edge in the upcoming battle. He had an oversized backpack filled with secret weapons that he had cheerfully lugged down the forest paths until they came to the thickly wooded promontory that was their gathering spot. Being a Ranger, his natural instincts had kicked in as he noticed the dead and decaying foliage, and he unconsciously peered into the dim recesses of the trees, looking for threats and enemies.

Suddenly, Gren heard the howl that caused him to jump and stare in the direction of the shrine. He gaped slightly as the menagerie of monsters sprang from its entrance and rushed towards them. Three vampires came running in his direction, which caused him to defensively reach beneath his grey cloak and frantically pull out a flask.

“Holy water, I’m ready for you . . .”, but just then the vampires veered off in another direction. Gren huffed and tucked the flask back. Then he noticed two trolls shambling towards him with wooden clubs.

“Hah! Fire! I got this . . .” He pulled a flint and tinder out of his backpack and lit a torch, turning to use his newly made weapon, but the trolls had jumped on some other poor adventurer.

“Darn it.” Unfortunately for Gren, his focus on the vampires and trolls had left him oblivious to the garou that had snuck around his flank. He heard its growling and turned in time to see a shadowy form leap onto him. Desperately lifting his arms to protect his face, he then resorted to grabbing the creature’s neck and jaws trying to stop it from ripping his throat out. He knew he had brought silver arrows, a precaution due to his adventure with Noira where he wished he had more than one, but the garou being right on top of him meant he couldn't use them. Luckily for him, he had brought a silver warhammer, seeing as how that particular weakness wasn’t exclusive to werewolves. Managing to grab the creature’s maw with one hand, he used his other to fish through his cloak and withdraw the weapon, which he swung towards the garou’s head. The monster yelped and fell backwards, allowing Gren to get to his feet. More misfortune befell Gren, as the werewolf landed directly onto Gren’s discarded backpack, causing its contents of potions and other gadgets to explode and shatter.

“Agh!” Gren slapped his hands against his face. “What’ll I do now?”
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Re: Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

To War

Posted Sep 30, 2017 - By Eden


Eden stood next to Ransom beneath the canopy of decaying trees, waiting for the inevitable battle to begin. She did not wait with as much rebellious glee as the last time she'd gone to war for Cooper (had it really been a decade ago?), but with grim determination to come out alive on the other side. At her fingertips were the chosen tools she'd brought on this particular campaign: two handguns, a collection of knives, golf ball sized grenades lodged into a belt at her waist, and enough extra ammunition to take out a couple hundred combatants.

A more sinister addition lurked in the trees around them. Shifting phantoms slithered restlessly through the broken boughs, sometimes visible to the naked eye, most times not. Their presence added an otherworldly chill to the air, a cool brush of death against any exposed skin.

And then it was time.

She rushed forward into the open the moment the beasts spilled from the mouth of the shrine, plucking her first grenade from its pouch with nimble fingers. It soared through the air in a high arc, propelled by all the strength Eden's throwing arm had to give. But it was the whisper of magic that fell from Eden's lips that added more distance and height, that allowed the grenade to fall into the densely packed horde, well away from other friendly fighters.

Boom.

Body parts flew everywhere. Five, six, perhaps seven deaths, all at one time. Not much of a dent in the grand scheme of things, but that was seven fewer bodies to face on the battlefield. Every one counted.

From then on, it was a more personal war.

She utilized her guns, magic, and phantoms in alternating rotations, sometimes in tandem with Ransom. They'd made their own game plan before the start, battle tactics suitable for double-teaming the enemy.

When it got really ugly, when they were bloody and battered and in close, hand to hand combat, she relied on the blades and magically created illusion: one of the once-humans thought it was attacking her here, when in reality she was over there, slashing a throat. During one especially nasty confrontation, Eden suffered five large gashes across her back, claw marks that shredded straight through her vest, shirt and deep into skin. Just one more wound to add to the many bruises and scrapes that littered her body.

At the end, as the sun rose above the horizon, an out of breath Eden stared across the killing field. She leaned against Ransom as they surveyed the damage.

“Ready to head home?” Eden asked. “We can catch up with Cooper later.”

They receded from the battlefield as quietly as they'd arrived.
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Re: Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

To War (Cont.)

Posted Sep 30, 2017 - By Ransom


The wait leading up to the battle was fraught with tension. Ransom stood at Eden?s flank, surveying the clearing and the shrine beyond. The pervading scents of death and decay set his teeth on edge; they made it difficult to smell anything else at all and forced him to rely on his eyes and ears. One hand lingered over the hilt of the knife strapped to his thigh, ready to draw at a moment’s notice.

Like his wife, he had kitted himself out for maximum carnage. In addition to a pair of pistols, extra ammunition, and a bandolier full of explosives, he wore a high-powered rifle resting across his back. His knives, however, were his preferred method of combat, and he had more than half a dozen of them hidden upon his person.

In the minutes before the first enemy appeared, Ransom set his hand upon Eden’s shoulder and squeezed, a silent reminder of the things they had said during the trip over.

I love you.

I have your back.

Always.


Their moment together was far too short.

As the first of the twisted beasts lurched out of the shrine, and as Eden darted forward and threw the first of her grenades, Ransom drew the rifle and began to pick them off one by one. He walked as he fired, keeping the distance between Eden and himself to a minimum. The last bullet to leave the chamber struck a former human square in the face, dropping him before he could reach Eden. Then Ransom holstered the rifle and rushed forward into the fray.

It didn't take him long to exhaust his pistols? magazines and the extra magazines, as well as his supply of explosives. That left his knives and he used them with savage glee, slashing and stabbing his way through the onslaught. Through it all, he remained within Eden’s orbit, sometimes working directly in tandem with her as they had planned, and sometimes merely dancing bloody rings around her.

The creature who managed to dig its claws into Eden’s back met a vicious end. Ransom felled it with a two-handed strike to the backs of its knees, severing tendon and sinew, and rode it to the forest floor, where he sawed through the connective tissue surrounding its cervical spine. Then he tore the head off of the body with a howl of rage and lobbed it across enemy lines as a warning.

For all the good it did.

That creature was the first to lose its head, but it wasn’t the last. Ransom resorted to decapitating each monster he could reach after a couple of them took headshots, then got back up and continued on fighting.

By the time the sun was on the rise, Ransom was covered in gore, both the enemy?s and his own. His body was riddled with wounds caught in various stages of healing. He slung an arm around Eden when she came close, pulling her back against his front, and together they took in the killing field.

“Yeah, let's go home,” he replied. His voice sounded rusty, as if with disuse. “You smell like you’re still bleeding, and I’ve got some nicks I need you to look at.” They had such a romantic morning to look forward to-- a morning full of first aid and stitches.

He kept an arm around her and kept her close as they left the battlefield. He looked back only once, hoping Cooper and his wife were okay.
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Re: Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

A Debt Repaid

Posted Oct 05, 2017 - By JC

When it came to debts, Jin Chae did not like owing anyone a single thing. For so long she had claimed self-sufficiency that accepting help on any level seemed like an affront to her very being. Still, some debts linger for years, unpaid to a colossal degree and compounded heavily with interest. It was that sort of debt that brought Jin to a battlefield that she otherwise had no right or responsibility to fight upon. It took little convincing to persuade Charlie Nine to come with her. He owed a debt of his own after all and much like Jin, he was not keen on anyone having any sort of leverage over him, no matter how seemingly benign it was.

However when she was pressed on just why she joined the motley crew of “warriors”, her answer was a coy smile and a diffident shrug of a slim shoulder, only a few words offered as explanation.

“Cooper’s my friend.”

Whatever the reason may have been, she stuck close to Charlie until the first spill of monsters poured from the mouth of the shrine. It was then that she drew away and engaged the trigger on the nine tailed fox backpack worn on her shoulders and buckled across her chest. It was the only thing she had brought with her other than the Takamine-made wakizashi on her hip. Little by little though, the backpack unfurled around her, wrapping the little Korean in protective armoring. All that she needed to complete it was her helmet but that had been left home if only for the sake of movement. After that, the chaos of battle stretched every second into an eternity while making a handful of hours no more than a trio of blinks.

Funny how time works sometimes.

To make one thing perfectly clear, Jin Chae was not a killer. At least not for fun. But she would do it out of necessity if it truly came down to it. Today it came down to it. Still, a steel blade was hardly the most ideal weaponry against these sort of abominations and more often than not it was instead used to redirect them to one of two fates. The first, the jaws and claws of a shadow cloaked displacer beast that was all too keen on tearing them to shreds. The second, and it was hard to say whether it was preferable or not, came in the form of the glowing salvation of Charlie’s omniblades.

Salvation. Damnation. Semantics.

The pair (along with Charlie’s “familiar”) made for quite the Dance partners, a fluid grace evident in each and every step. It wasn’t necessarily perfect, of course, especially when separated. At one point, a swipe of razor sharp claws at her head grazed across her cheek and sent her skittering for a hastily torn tear in the shadow-veil. On her way she passed everyone’s favorite ranger and called out, “Hi Gren! Bye Gren!”

On through the shadow realm she dove, disappearing in a blink. When she reappeared, it was on the other side of the forested bowl around the shrine in prime position to drive her waki straight through a scale wrapped something or other. Whatever it was, it was uglier than sin. Like, uglier than some of KC’s worst clients. That bad. But it was dead, which was all that mattered when it came down to it. After what felt like the longest client appointment ever, it seemed things were dying down. There were less explosions, less screams, less chaos. Lots of dead things, but that was to be expected. It didn’t seem anyone got away perfectly unscathed. Also expected. Pleasantly, it seemed the good guys had done a better job than the bad and as a result they had sustained fewer injuries and casualties. When she reunited with Charlie, she waited until they were well away from the blood soaked forest to retract her armor.

“I’d call that a debt paid, don’t you think?” She asked Charlie softly. He was likely just as worn as she but still he afforded her a moment of deliberation and then a nod. It was enough for Jin to continue.

“She saved my life once-- I’m not sure if I can ever pay that back, but this was a start.” Ducking beneath the offered loop of his arm, she felt its weight settle around her shoulders, leaving their hips to bump as they walked. His silence was always good for her rambling. “Four years, you know... man, almost to the day. I went to Ishi about Morgan... ended up his bartering chip instead. They had only known each other a few months but Morgan went to Claire to ask for her help. She didn't ask questions... she simply helped. Said if it were her sister, she’d want someone to help too...

“I don’t remember much of that week… it was pretty rough. Hell, I barely remember the night they got me out. Ishi dragged me out into the market like a beaten dog... collar, rope, everything. At least he let me wear clothes. I remember praying for Morgan... for his strength and for him to get out of there without getting hurt. Every word hurt... come to find out, he’d broken six of my ribs.” Jin chuffed a humorless excuse for a laugh and shook her head. Charlie’s arm tightened around her as they tromped further and further away from the shrine.

“One moment, one of Ishi’s men is kicking me in the ribs again and the next? I hear these pops. I thought it was fireworks. Little pewpewpew sounds, you know? Like in the movies. And high up I see these little twinkling lights for each one. Fireworks... no, not fireworks. They were muzzle flashes, I guess. Ten shots, ten men dropped. Not Ishi... they left him for Morgan to deal with. Noct came and cut me free while Morgan and Ishi Danced. Morgan managed to do most of it... but I got his soul... I still have it, you know?” By now she was more than rambling, lost to a story never told. It had been hell but tonight seemed an appropriate night to relive it.

“She made sure Morgan and I had the best doctors in the city... kept us at their actual house until we were better. Huge fucking place outside of the city, that place was massive. But she made sure we were okay... never asked for a dime for it. Never asked for any favors... nothing. People don’t do nice things without wanting something in return. They did.” She nodded a little and glanced back. They were far enough away that she finally slowed their pace and eventually they stopped walking altogether. Before them a tear of the shadowveil offered them a quicker way home.

“So, I guess that’s why I came.” Jin shrugged. Charlie nodded. Together they stepped through the veil and left the forest behind.
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Claire Gallows
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Re: Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

Posted Oct 08, 2017 - By Mesteno

There stood in the Gallows’ Army a man who prowled the knife edge too closely for comfort. He might have seemed displaced, better situated amongst the villains who poured from the profaned site, and the Gaians (save for Cooper) thought him little different from the Spiral Dancers. He was cognizant of their disgust, comfortable with the danger of this transient alliance so long as it afforded him chance to keep the gurahl amongst the living.

There were those amongst the loyal he recognised, men and women as long associated with Cooper Gallows as he, and he knew even before they charged the enemy that the toll they’d take would be nothing short of massacre.

Mesteno didn’t pretend that war was difficult for him. A killing calm had settled in his eyes, an unnerving serenity incongruous with the savagery of his assault. He cared less for grace than for butchery, dispatching those who stumbled his way with an uncompromising inclination to make them hurt before they fell; he’d made an art of sadism for years, and rarely had he found a more deserving target.

The screams spiked thin and ragged where he fought, the mutilated trampled into the dirt long before he served them with death’s silence. His scimitar saw no less use than the shadow-wrought blades he called from the Umbra, and he fed as he sliced his way closer to the caern, indiscriminately gorging on souls cut loose, until the energy seethed under his scar-wrecked hide like thick smoke.

It was no challenge to find ways to expend it.

The enemy swarmed beyond count, and where they attacked beyond his reach he found other ways to thwart them. Insidious, he tweaked the puppet strings of undead to turn them on their own, or spilt his own blood to pollute the ground with rot that clawed its way mercilessly through the ranks of any opposition who floundered through the slicked mire.

He was too focused on the slaughter to keep track of those he knew, and did not see the confusion of Cooper’s disappearance. Heard nothing of it until the sun rose on the killing grounds to leech away the anonymity of the survivors. There was nothing left to kill, and with the absence of that sick joy, he felt hollowed out. The gurahl’s fate was a murmured question on many lips, and none he interrogated could offer him a definitive outcome.

He lingered, barely recognisable beneath the night’s gory war-paint, until the wyld came to cleanse the woodland of the corrupted taint. Mesteno didn’t know what it implied, this spring-like renewal beneath his battered boots, but he suspected it was precisely what Cooper had fought for, and what he had gathered his army to achieve.

Still he would not rest easy until he learned the cowboy’s fate, and it was only with reluctance that he quit the woodland for the desert, there and gone in a blink with the dry hiss of sand against the trees.
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Re: Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

Posted Oct 08, 2017 - By Kruger

Time, given a day or two Kruger would have been able to call in favors, or promise them in trade for enough equipment to outfit everyone. If he’d had a week he could have done so himself, though that would require him to lose more than a little sleep. He hadn’t been afforded that luxury when the call came in. He owed them nothing, but Claire was his friend and he was going. He’d go alone if he had to, but there was no one he’d want with him more than Aludariel. Maybe she understood, he hoped so even if explaining the why of it was difficult. It was true that Claire and Cooper were friends, but that wasn’t the core of it for him. If he were pressed then he’d admit that it was even more personal to him. The bond forged between the children drove his anger. Claire, Cooper... all of them were capable, and it was highly unlikely that anything would happen to them. Except that if it happened without his being there to stop it he’d blame himself. They were strong, powerful probably beyond his understanding, but for all of that he had something that they did not. Niko, Roland, Hayden... they had both parents. Maybe there was nothing he could do to keep things as they were. He’d do what little he could.

The forge was dark, and he did little to light it up. They would only be there long enough to prepare. In Ali’s case that meant exchanging her familiar bow with a crossbow and as many bolts as possible. If only they weren’t facing something that required silver to bring down, but he had the new tips. They were untested, or at least against the living. There was plenty of evidence that they were effective against armor, leather and plate. They were nasty things, silver at the core with steel sheathing the blades. Impact would compress a spring forcing the steel to spread outward into barbs leaving the silver to do its work, and making it all but impossible to remove them without causing severe damage. They were meant to be just in case, Rhydin had seen its share of undead and other invasions. Kruger took all that he had, offering them up to the dark haired elf.

For himself, he went with what he knew best. A pair of hammers with heads that looked more like daggers than the spikes he’d normally create. They shone dully in the scant light of the forge, damascus steel sharpened to razor keenness on handles of angled dark stained hardwood. Keep it simple, and effective that was key. Still he hated the armor, but she’d insisted and he wouldn’t deny her knowing that she was right and he would need protection from blade tooth and claw. Leather and the remnants of materials left to him after creating suits out of materials provided by Charlie Nine. It had been all he’d needed for payment. Shoulders elbows and forearms were surrounded by it. It would have to be enough.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve done this?” Hell he’d still been just a teen and far too eager. Maybe some things hadn't changed. He could feel a little of that old excitement in his blood. There was something else there though, something he pushed out of his head.

“It has... it’ll go well this time.” She said. As was so common, she had taken to quietude while he made his preparations. Battles like these against corrupted shifters and who knew what else weren't exactly out of the norm. Back home, over the years she had taken many a job where such things had been encountered and now they were simply another item on a long list of annoyances. This time though, she had him at her side. It simultaneously excited and terrified her. What if something happened to him? What if he was taken from her again? What would she do then? They were questions that she had to force herself to put aside, boxing them up and locking them away so that they wouldn't shade every look she gave him. After one last check of her equipment, she drew closer to him for the lingering touch of her forehead to his, one hand touching lightly against his chest. “Promise me, it will?”

He took a moment to pull her against him, kissing her once before answering. “I promise, though tonight you’re the one who will be watching my ass.” It was a role reversal that should have amused him, would have made him laugh if things weren’t so serious. Instead he just licked his lips, gave her a squeeze before letting go. “There’s no one I want to have near me more than you.” It wouldn’t be like the last time he’d seen her, it couldn’t. Kruger stepped back, looked Ali over and managed to pull out one of those too cocky smiles that Ali could see through. If things went the way they planned, that sword at her hip would never need to be pulled tonight. They had plenty of help for this, maybe even enough. Time was getting in the way again. Maybe he should find a way to make that go away too. You ask for too much, Kruger.

“At the very least make sure it looks good.” She said with a playful swat to the aforementioned backside. With that she drew away from him for one last (for real) check of all that she carried. They were both well outfitted for the most part and from all she had been told, they wouldn't want for reinforcements. There would be plenty standing with them and this was important to Kruger for reasons she didn't always understand, so with that she gave him a final nod, ready to depart.

Kruger was used to the acrid smell of the forge, and getting used to the scents of the forest behind their new home. It was a shame that they were in neither of those places now. The bowl they trudged through smelled of decay and death unmuted by forest life. He breathed through his mouth to keep from gagging. He began to understand how visitors to his shop felt, except that smell would have comforted him. He tuned out the conversations of the others, turning his thoughts inward. There would be no cheers tonight, no raucous music or ignitions of pyrotechnics to amaze onlookers. This wasn't that kind of fight though, it was far deadlier. There would be no holding back, or backing off at the score of a point. There would be no Kraters thrown from him tonight either. One on one it was a good move, but the last place he wanted to be tonight was on the ground. He checked a look towards Ali feeling like the other shoe was about to drop and all hell was going to break loose. An apt analogy for the flood of creatures that came pouring towards the group. A mass of shapes flowed through the fighters with snarls, growls and roars meant to intimidate. They might have done just that, if things didn't suddenly feel like they were moving in slow motion.

Kruger halted, the hafts spinning in his grip as he watched the space between himself and the creatures dwindle. It sent images through his head of what he was fighting for, a distraction he certainly didn't need. The sound of laughter drove them from his mind and he became a flurry of motion never realizing that the loud cackle was coming from his own chest. His hammers whirled like a top, striking and striking again as he put up his wall of defense that would leave Ali to do her thing.

It was a march oft taken though seldom with so many other boots at her side. An eerie tranquility had settled over the little elf, her ever present worry pushed to the back of her mind in favor of something more primal, more instinctual. This was war, a veritable hell on earth that had to be dispatched before it could be allowed to spread. The Qualinesti were an earthen folk, intertwined with the trees and the forests and the very dirt beneath her feet. This? This was an abomination, a very affront to the order of things. It couldn’t be left to stand, not if Ali had any say in things.

The unfortunate part of her setup with the smith was that it required distance from him, a fact she gave up begrudgingly as the tide of filth spilled forth from the mouth of the shrine, further defiling the hallowed ground. The lip of a hill proved beneficial at first, giving her a higher ground from where to fire, bolt after wicked bolt delivered with deadly accuracy to drop one, two, three, and counting. It wasn’t until she felt the creep of presence behind her that she knew she had to reevaluate. She turned just in time to fire point blank into the gaping maw of a leaping fiend before twisting away to escape before its corpse ever hit the ground. The solid sole of her boot planted firmly atop a fallen tree and the jump from there allowed her swing an arm over a low hanging branch above. A blur of black and leather saw her scaling to the perfect perch and it was from there that she caught back up to Kruger. Balanced on a limb, her count increased, a clockwise pattern creating a circle of slaughter at the man’s feet.

Movement was his ally, and the only one that kept him from getting in the way of the projectiles coming in. They were close enough for him to feel the wind of their passage, and always that satisfying thunk as Ali hit her mark and the scream that accompanied it. He had no real claws, though he used the wicked blades on the hammers to rend and tear flesh. There were too many of them to avoid taking hits, leather shredded where it wasn't protected. At least his arms were protected, and his shoulders still able to drive in low and lift a body to the elven archer. He was aware of the others, even through the almost maniacal glee of the fight. Always in the back of his mind was the thought that he had to hold his line, to keep her from being overrun. A pair of powerful arms snaked their way around him crushing air from his lungs until he managed to drive the business end of a hammer into the massive throat of the beast. When it dropped, it pulled him down with it, the place he knew he didn't want to be. Things moved quickly then, the creatures sweeping in to engulf him, but one by one they dropped the fletched ends of bolts blossoming from them at incredible speed. It was enough time to rise and continue, only he could find no more enemies, just the forms of those who’d come to fight panting.

It wasn’t until there were for sure no more coming Kruger’s way that she left her high up perch, a graceful hop dropping her to a lower limb before she leaped from that one and hit the ground in a quick roll. It spread mud and blood through her hair and down her back, a spread of gore that painted a tale of sacrifice and success in the name of life and light and good. It seemed the forest was waking from its deathlike sleep and though she could feel its rise in her bones, she was more intent on Kruger than anything. She climbed a pile of fur and flesh as if it were no different than a hilly shift in the terrain before dropping off it beside him. It was there that she looked him over, her hands feeling for any legitimately concerning tears in his ensemble. When she found none too deep, she exhaled a soft sigh of relief and offered him but a few words. “We’re getting you real armor next time.”
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Re: Last call before the shadows fall

Post by Claire Gallows »

Posted Oct 14, 2017 - By Cianan

When Cooper's text reached him, Cianan immediately fired back texts about asking how necessary pants were for this encounter. To humor himself, and quench the internal fear of going into another battle, while still struggling with his injuries from his last encounter with the Drow a month or so ago. There was also fear for his friend, Coop tended to only call him in when the *** was there was no other option.

There would be a quick visit to each of the storehouses he had in the city, and outside of it. Packing essentials for what he felt would be needed for this encounter. His bag was packed, his resolve, mostly set with some wavering in there, regardless, he pushed forward, weighed down with a big of gut wrenching fear, for all the possibilities, and enough weapons, magical, silvered and mundane to arm a militia.

He wouldn't be the first at the meeting spot, all of his hiding spots were spread out, but when he got there, he'd drop the duffel bag down, and grip the zipper opening it up. Magical goodies for anyone who wanted something. This was for a good cause, and most of them were just sitting, collecting dust. They'd finally get a chance to serve their purpose now, and it'd be a good one.

He'd make no call for their return, no check in to see who would grab or to keep track of anything, “Take what you need.”

Cianan stood there for a while on the edge of the battlefield, surrounded by the twisted branches of a dead tree. Staring down a mass of enemies that it was hard to distinguish from. Which was for the best. No faces. Just a blur of activity, even if the faces were monstrously contorted and twisted with banes, spirits and those most wretched of sciences. He could feel the undulation of movement on both sides as they prepared to set forward.

There was always another battlefield.

He had been called to do, what he had been raised to do and there he was, standing in the midst of another battle. It wasn't long before Gallow's bellow, and the sides started to twist into each other. Cianan's feet stayed locked there there in the corrupted soil, letting the wave of people head on first. The growls, sound of heavy blows on armor, and the chatter of guns, it all just blended in to a white noise, steady and constant. Clashing magic, and weapons lashed out.

It almost felt like home, and a bit unsettling how it all just felt, normal? Comfortable.

The clash of bodies, the sound of fighting. Even the eruption of firearms and explosives, the clash of metal and soon after the smell of blood in the air. It all just felt, so natural. There was a small ache in his person, it all called out to him, beckoning him to jump into the middle of it, to dive in to the swell of chaos and ride it.

He resisted the urge, with clenched teeth. He couldn't treat this like he had, a million times before. The sounds of clashing metal, and howls of pain, called out, told him how he belonged. It pulled him forward like a siren's song, coaxing him to leap into the middle, swing at everything in sight. Rocking up onto the balls of his feet, he almost stepped forward again. His legs were coiled, ready to spring, ready to.. do nothing.

He was still at the back of it all, watching Lycanthropes, and Fomori, Banes and other things creep along and move to the side. He had to do this smart, he was no longer young(er) and invulnerable being able to fight Lycanthropes and vampires in the parking lot of an Inn getting thrown into cars, and bones shattered for fun. He had to make it out of this. There was a very real feeling of mortality, that didn't often creep into his heart, and it was giving him a hard pause. Weakness. Frailty. His fingers were clamped down on a wand, clenching and un-clenching as he watched things move, taking it all in.

It was time to act. He could put in his time, and he could go home.

A toothy grin curled his lips, that went along with his nasally cackle when one of his spells landed, or there as a lovely torrent of fire from an explosion. He kept to the back, preventing flanking from enemy forces. One wand after another was used up, torching, freezing, and zapping trying to put a dent along the sides.

When the charges were used up, the wand was dropped, and soon the ground under his feet was littered with them.

Crossbow bolts were next, silver designed for those rather rambunctious black spiral dancers. He'd keep shifting from side to side. Aiding where he could, backing people up to make sure they stayed strong. A hand crossbow wasn't very strong, but it could bring some pain, and stall out some opponents who were at a distance, slow them down, and keep them out of arms reach. Bigger, and more melee centered people, or those with fire arms could mow them down.

Back and forth, side to side on the battlefield, it would continue, with Cianan slowing down as things wore on. His limp was becoming more pronounced, not having the energy to keep up the facade, the war of attrition in the battle not only effecting his physical health, but his ammunition and magical items as well.

As the battle dragged on, there were no more wands. There were no more crossbow bolts, and there were still enemies up and about. His hand came to rest on the pommel of his sword. The sickly sweet siren's song was ringing his ears now, working it's tune down to the marrow bones. It had him. He couldn't after all just walk away now that his quivers were empty and his wands were used up. There was still more to do. There was always more to do.

There had been so many promises to be careful, so many quiet pleads for him to mind himself, but, the battle? It called. It sang. It whispered those sweet, impossible things to him. It wasn't just the song that tempted him. There was a need here, not just for himself and his desire for the chaos of battle. He looked on at the continuing battle, and then, once back over his shoulder. The way out. The escape, safety.

Drawing the on his back sword, a relic left over back from his Judicator days with the Drow, he held it ready. It still crackled with the residual energy, what was left of the power of a now-dead God. Cianan approached, both hands on the hilt, the energy crackling up. Lifting the sword high up, he charged forwards, planting his feet into the earth to push off and dive sword first into battle.

It would be the first strike of many. Crackling with magic. Thunderous. Filled not only with his desire to fight, but his desire to fight, once more, for a friend. Mortality be damned.
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