Love, bound and broken, dreams vivid nightmares til the end of time
Courage, shattered, always struggling, cannot right the wrongest crime
Rage descends to bloody murder; Hatred forever burns... cold
Atop a cliffside, a group of adventurers waited in a suitably heroic pose, overlooking the next town. The normal group for such a thing was, of course, a warrior, a thief, a healer, and a mage-- and this one was no exception. They'd be immediately recognized as adventurers by the town, and the town would simultaneously rejoice and cringe at their arrival. After all, they were there to solve problems that the town could not easily solve themselves, and yet, at the same time, they always brought trouble with them. Thieves were the most obvious trouble, having earned their name quite well, but so too could warriors cause mischief, being arrogant and boastful of their martial prowess. While the practitioners of the healers' white magics were welcome almost anywhere, mages practicing other forms of magic were all mistrusted, because most of them were highly destructive-- while they could be used in constructive ways, so few of the adherents did so that they were essentially unheard of.
Although full of vices, they were also full of virtue as well. Those cursed with the adventuring spirit were simultaneously blessed with it; thieves made it a code of honor that they would not take more from the poor than was necessary, and often gave to charity what wasn't needed-- indeed, anonymous and questionable donations were oftentimes the only thing keeping some charities running. Warriors put their lives on the line to defend those weaker than them, simply as a matter of course, and many a town had given one honorable burials. Healers would work themselves exhausted to mend those in need, and mages would work in the background to protect the people from things best left unknown. Thus was the world of Ametrias kept in relative peace... and stagnation.
For the village of Hendric in the nation of Masrica, however, the heroes would be too late. Not that they had any warning... the several dozen individuals that made up the little hamlet went on with their lives, not knowing how soon they were all going to be snuffed out.
"Kind of a shithole, isn't it?" "Be polite, they're going to provide you with tonight's meal." The Knight and the Rogue had the same argument they had always had, every time they came across one of these villages. Invariably, the Sage and the Wizard stayed quiet. The former because she was trying to resist bashing the two over the head with her staff for their constant bickering, and the latter because... well, no one knew. The Wizard never talked. No one knew what they looked like underneath that hood, and not a single inch of skin was revealed. Knight referred to them as "the most powerful mute in the world", as a jest-- without a voice, however, the Wizard was very restricted in what spells they could cast. Still, Wizard had never failed them, somehow always casting the right cantrip for the situation, the weak yet versatile spells only useful in specific situations. "Hey Wizz, magic us some featherfall will you? The cliff looks steep." The Knight shrugged. He would of course have no problem, even if he fell down the hill his armor and undeniable toughness would get him through with little more than scratches. And it's not like he was worrying about the Rogue, whose athletic and acrobatic abilities led to many circus related jokes being given out by the Knight.
But the Knight, of course, loved the Sage-- she had yet to return his affections, citing her oath of celibacy, and her dedication to healing. The Rogue shared his affections for the Sage, but was perfectly happy with using his charms to seduce the natives of the various villages they went to. It was almost too stereotypical, in fact, and in fact, and the group found themselves considered so generic that no one really remembered their passage. The only thing really unique about them was that no one knew anything about Wizard. No one knew his name... or even his gender-- it was assumed that Wizard was a male because almost all mages were male. it just fit the stereotype that the group seemed to embrace so well. The group struggled to define themselves and push themselves out of obscurity, but it seemed as if they were destined to fade away.
And then... Rogue noticed the Wizard's response. A hand outstretched from within the cloak Wizard always wore had a single outstretched finger, pointing towards the town. As everyone turned to look... it was burning. Quickly, Wizard started climbing down to the town, Rogue following shortly afterwards. Knight grabbed Sage's hand, and they all began to move down the treacherous path far too quickly for comfort. Hendric was not a major town, more of a small collection of hovels really, but where other adventurers would simply skip by it and see it as beyond their help, the adventuring spirit was far too great in those four meager adventurers.
As Rogue began opening doors and windows to check for survivors, Knight burst through walls to rescue those he could see that were in the greatest danger. Sage began to set up a triage, and Wizard summoned snow upon the village, directing the cold winds of a snowstorm to the biggest of the fires. But Wizard seemed distracted... "What's wrong, wizzy? Wolf got yer tongue?" Wordlessly, the spellcaster pointed down the street... at the being that had caused this fire. Four adventurers... dark shadows of what they had become. Draped in black armor, Blackguard's cruel laugh echoed throughout the firestorm. Baron tossed the coin he was flipping in to his bottomless sack, and took out his dueling blades with a wicked grin. Assassin, ever-quiet, was already cloaking herself in shadow, as Necromancer's bonecrafted armor glowed with a sickly green light.
"Laven, get out here! I think we have real trouble now!" The Rogue shouted to the Knight, as he drew his twin daggers. Magic blades he earned from an Elven lord, through entertaining him with feats of prowess. They shined brighter blue than he had ever seen them glow. Warrior's greatsword, too, shone a soft silver, as Sage shielded her companions. Wizard began making hand signals, and the Rogue and Knight nodded to Wizard's plan. After all, when Wizard got a plan, it always worked. Though a mysterious mute who never took off their mask, Wizard was considered the most trustworthy of the four adventuring companions, at least by the companions themselves. Wizard, after all, would do whatever it takes to both complete the mission and get everyone out alive in the process. Even if it meant that Wizard had to suffer for it-- and suffer they did.
First up came assassin, striking where she should have been unexpected-- at Sage's back. Rogue, however, already predicted the attack, and with Wizard's warning, he was ready-- parrying the vicious poisoned claws of the assassin, and beginning a duel that would impress royalty. Knight, however, had already received his orders, and worked in concert with Rogue to force Assassin to dodge his blade-- right in to the awaiting daggers of Rogue. "Nice work, Rowan. Wizard, keep an eye on the others!" The two continued double teaming the assassin, cornering her and bleeding her out one by one, as Wizard began to place elemental barriers between them and the rest of their dark counterparts. Necromancer and Baron were quite willing to simply wait for the spellcaster to waste its energy on containment, while Blackguard marched through as if immune to anything Wizard would do. And so Sage stepped in. Her staff enchanted to be as hard as iron, she knocked Blackguard's swing wide off of the Wizard, and released a blast of pure magical force to knock him back in to the wall of lightning.
Forcing Assassin to withdraw-- too injured to fight on-- the two fighters rushed forward to protect their beloved, although the highly defensive Sage seemed to be having no problem pushing aside the Blackguard's attacks even if she could never land a hit. Assassin slinked away, abandoning her erstwhile allies, as Blackguard found himself cut down by the efforts of Rogue and Knight. But even in his last breath, he grabbed his backup mace and smashed it against Rogue's head, sending him flying back. "ROWAN! Laven, cover me!" "Right!" The knight finished off the dying Blackguard, as the Wizard's spell ended. Baron rushed forth with the appeal of a swashbuckler, countering every strike that Knight delivered, inflicting many ,many minor wounds upon him.
Necromancer and Wizard began a duel of spells and counterspells, their quiet duel showing them standing still as Necromancer's sickly aura grew and grew... and yet Wizard never showed even the slightest spark of magic outside. The sigils and magic words from the Necromancer slowly become more and more visible, more audible... as Baron finally forced Knight to yield, dropping to one knee from his injuries, and Sage cried out "Laven!", the Necromancer released his true spell.... from all around, the dead villagers began to shed their skin. Even those that were alive did so while screaming in agony, as they had all been marked for death by the Necromancer's poisonous treason days before. It was to be the first of a glorious undead army... Blackguard the general, Baron the financier, and Necromancer the powerhouse. Assassin taking care of anyone who got in the way. It still would, mused Necromancer.
But now with his "allies" killed, he'd resurrect them and control them directly, giving HIM more power. He would have to thank these adventurers, by making them also generals within his glorious army of death. And so he did not warn Baron as the first Skeleton thrust its bone sword in to his neck from behind, making Sage scream and back away as she saw the horrors that Necromancer had summoned. Cruelly, Sage felt blows on her back as well, bony hands beating her as the Necromancer listened to her screams. All the while, Wizard was stuck in a complex trap that had been lid, and was unable to help. As her eyes blurred from the pain, Sage looked at Wizard, and thought she saw their face for the first time, hiding in the shadows under their black hood. And the last thing she heard was a woman's voice...
Knight was the first to awaken, his unbelievable durability allowing him to see the final part of Necromancer and Wizard's duel. The bone army had been decimated somehow, charred bones, blasted splinters, and shattered slurries of bonemeal were the only evidence of their existence, as Wizard unleashed spell after spell after spell upon the Necromancer. Despite the horrors that had been inflicted, Knight could not help but feel pity for the fool, as he struggled to maintain his defense against the onslaught. How much had Wizard been holding back until now? The hood was down, to reveal long, flowing brown hair, and in her hands-- and the face was definitely female, albeit scarred up by torture-- was a sacrificial dagger.
And then it was over-- Wizard thrust the dagger in to Necromancer's heart after distracting him with a flash-bang cantrip. Pulling it out, Wizard stood in shocked horror as he watched the dagger draw the blood from his body until he withered in to a dessicated corpse. Moving back, Wizard whispered "Rest, Laven." and he felt the tiredness return, and slumped over once more. Wizard sighed and rubbed her throat, the scar preventing her from speaking without the aid of magic. It was going to be annoying answering questions from them after this. But she dare not risk using an amnesiac spell on someone so injured as this. Besides, she LIKED these people. And so she began using the blood magic stored within her dagger to heal them ,and sheltered them from the snowstorm in a stone building whose walls withstood the attack.
It would be days of recovery before they could move, both physically, and for Wizard, spiritually. The use of blood magic on those with evil hearts is never pleasant, and she needed the time to purge the Necromancer's evil from herself so she did not succumb to his own rotten ambitions. She answered no questions from her allies, becoming mute once more. Perhaps they'd reject her like her previous group did. As she sat there in self-loathing, Wizard dozed off, leaving the rest of the group to wonder at what exactly their mysterious companion was. Knight explained what he saw and heard, as did Sage, and even Rogue confirmed it wit ha subtle look under the hood-- Wizard had either forgotten or didn't have a chance to recast the illusion over her face this time, so tired she was from the duel.
"Personally, I think we should trust her still. I mean, blood magic is bad but... she only used it to help us. I think her heart is in the right place." "Stop thinking with your crotch, Rowan. She needs to be turned in as a witch... I mean, I don't really want to, but it's the law. Blood magic is banned." Sage sighed, and shook her head. "I don't think she WANTED to use it, Laven. Besides... we all saw her face now. She may not have learned it willingly. She's a wizard, not a witch, and I know I'm going to treat her that way." Knight and Rogue looked at eachother, and shrugged. They could always go against Sage's wishes... there was no appointed leader of the group. They were just friends... and yet that's also what kept them from acting on Knight's suggestion. "Fine... I don't really want to do that to her anyway. Rowan, where are you going?" Rogue shrugged as he headed out. "I'm going to loot their corpses. At the very least, we should separate the tainted stuff from the good, and destroy it."
"Good idea, Rowan. Laven, go help him. I'm going to stay by Wizard, maybe talk to her when she wakes." The look of utter self-loathing on Wizard's face was more than enough to move Sage. She had seen that look before... they all had. Most of the time, it led to suicide, and yet curiously, Wizard had shown no evidence of trying to commit suicide over the months that they had spent traveling with her. She couldn't help but hug the woman, trying to comfort her in her dreams. Perhaps someday she would open up a bit more, but Sage doubted that would be today. Still, she had to try.
"The thrice-damned evil bastards here don't have a single item untainted. All of it will make you evil by using it." "What Rowan means is that it is powerful... but comes at a price. It increases the bad emotions when you use it. I've come across this before... nothing good comes of this kind of thing, no matter how well intentioned you are in using it." "Really, Laven, you have? Want to tell the story?" "No. Also, don't touch me. I'm not sharing your bed." "Hah, you old flirt." Annoyed once more, and yet also to some extent amused, Sage bapped both of them on the head gently with her staff, letting it clang against their respective helmets, steel and leather. "Quiet, you dorks. Any survivors?" "What, other than us? Yeah, we found one girl in a well. We were actually coming back to find a rope or something." "Poor thing looks like she's been down there since before the attack... I wonder what happened?"
Certainly she was eager to get out. Cold and wet, she had to sit by a campfire made by Wizard, who had still said nothing to any of her teammates, and let herself be wrapped in one of the extra cloaks that Rowan kept (pretty much for this specific kind of situation). "Well Jenna, we can bring you with us, at least until the next stop. I don't think you're much suited for adventuring, at least not in your current state." "Uhm... thank you. And, well... I was practicing to be a ranger... then one day, a wizard came by... looking just like... that one over there... and my mother pushed me in to the well at night and told me to stay quiet." She took a hunk of bread and ate it, a little too quickly. After a few coughs, she continued. "I heard a fight going on, and then it was quiet for a day... then everything was on fire. Then you helped me out."
"So, just like Wizzy over there? Hm. Did you catch a glimpse of their face?" "No... I uh... I didn't really get a good glimpse of his face. I did hear his voice though... it was... soothing. Compelling even... I think he mind-controlled the village." "Hm ,maybe it was that necromancer? But I didn't find any robes in his gear that would match Wizzy's." "Besides, he was much bigger than our Wizard anyway. Perhaps it was an ally of the evil adventurers? sent ahead to cause trouble...crap. I'm going to be on watch tonight, aren't I?" "Hey, good guess, Laven. You have some thinking meats in there after all!" Laven punched Rowans' shoulder and the two laughed, making the girl smile. "I think I'll go with you then. I don't really want to hang around a village of skeletons...
"Well, welcome aboard, Jenna. We'll see if we can scrounge up some ranger gear for you, so at least you'll be able to take some low level contracts once you get to the next town over. Just... try not to get depressed. None of us are that good at talking people out of suicide..." "What? Oh gods no, I wasn't contemplating suicide. I might stick with you though. At least until I get good enough to work on my own." "That's fine with me. What about you, Felicia?" "Yes, welcome aboard our little circle of friends. Get some rest... you need it. We all do. Except for you, Laven." The Knight groaned, and the group had a good laugh at his expense... even Wizard seemed amused.
Perhaps, Wizard thought, this group might work for me...