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About Lightsnowe

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    The Sloth
  • Birthday 04/28/1988

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    Rhode Lightsnowe
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  1. Disorganized, undisciplined. A hierarchy determined by age at its heights, and strength down in its dregs. Asimenios' knowledge of the fishmans and what desperate acts of vandalism sufficed for their culture was scant and unreliable, but it didn't take an Inquisitor to observe the small interactions. Elders pontificated and stroked their tentacle beards, making a grand show of aged consideration. The younger ones watched this display with open greed, hungry for the long-off and probably unlikely day they too would make big fish choices for the school. I do not know you, fish-folk. But I do know an un-knit unit when I see one. Lets pull some threads, see what unravels. Then, whump whump whumpywhump. The bard's emancipated tail tapped out a drum solo that made the Au'ra's sensitive horns buzz. He eyed D'hezrel pointedly. The imperious coil of Asime's scaly brow might have been sufficient to convey his relief at the catte's safety. The squirming bundle of bard was cleverly untying itself, a comical pointer-tail snaking up to indicate D'hez's prized bow some paces away. The very tip of his tail protruded in a couple of urgent jabs, with all the conspiratorial gesticulating of a bar-mate singling out a pretty beau from across the room. Asimenios shot him a look, you know the sort, then waved vaguely at the fish wearing the bow like an undeserved badge of the highest honors. 'Wouldn't touch that if I were you. Cursed, you see. My friend here used to be a Lallafell, three feet of pure bastard, until that horrible bow released its magic and shifted his shape into what you have before you.' He gestured to D'hez, and every fish head in the camp turned to gawp at the Miqo'te, who may very well have waved at them then and there and they might not have noticed the absence of his bindings. 'I for one would very much like to see one of your numbers polymorphed into a cat-boy, but I don't imagine they are much fond of swimming.' When they had gotten to burbling bickeringly amidst themselves, D'hez had fired Asime a 'can you believe this shit' to which the stoic warrior squinted and shrugged out a 'lets be done with this already i am hungry and it is making me cross'. The captive pretzel-fish started to return to its senses, and jurbled a bit before Asime cuffed him back into a stupor. Something about his posture, a fair hint in the ease of his stance and the steel of his manner, plainly signaled his intentions to semi-captive D'hezrel. If negotiations failed, or if this watery burbling continued much longer, he was simply going to weaponize the limp body in his grasp and begin beating every water-dweller in sight to fish paste.
  2. Owl and Kit did their best statue impressions, while the boss took his time. Giving the pink-haired cyclops the once-twice over. If he was impressed by her audacity, it didn't show. The chilly impatience of her stare lost much of its sting in the presence of his tranquil gaze, like an icicle melting away before its sharp length could pierce the unsuspecting skulls below. An apt metaphor; left to its own devices this particular little sliver of frozen nature would undoubtedly stab somebody, for fun or profit who is to say. Inquisitor Bloodwing was if nothing else pragmatic. The other members of his august organization would chastise his ethically murky methods, but the results of his work spoke to their efficacy. So when he found himself staring down a borderline psychopath, all bright hair and suede eyepatch and impatient stares, he could only see potential. Opportunity. The kindred glow of a soul unashamed of doing what needs be done, damn the cost. At least that's what her case history showed. There was always the possibility he had the wrong girl. He would know sooner than later whether he would have need of the silver cuffs tucked into his wool overcoat. When he spoke, it was privately. By some mechanism or magicka, his voice reach her ears and her ears only. 'Direct. I can appreciate that. In approximately...' he turned his wrist over, inspected the analog time-piece strapped therein. 'Two hours fourty three minutes there is going to be a break-in at this address. You will recognize the estate as being the 'Inshabel Manse', a residence of the very same Raeph Inshabel. You may know of him, a minor political player in this salt-forsaken city. Raeph has a great many things stowed away in his private vaults and libraries, earning the interest of some very powerful people. The sort of people who would hire the best talent gil can buy, the sort of people whose careers have been spent invisibly. A group of such professionals will be hitting the manse, and I expect you to use that opening to procure -this- from Raeph's primary library.' Liore had held eye contact the entire time he had been speaking, blinking slowly and deliberately whenever he saw fit. He was unrushed, explaining in a manner that would be easily memorized. While doing so, he had begun scribbling something out on Flora's napkin; firstly an address, followed by what appeared to be an ornate leather satchel, and at last an amount of numbers followed by an improbably amount of zeroes. Presently he tapped the satchel with the tip of his pen. 'You will not open the satchel, or otherwise peruse its contents. You will keep it on your person until such time as I collect it. The other intruders, cold-blooded thieves and bastards to the core for a certainty, mustn't know you've followed them in. Sabotage their goals if you must, I do not care. We would prefer the authorities believe the hired hands responsible for the disappearance of my little.... item. 'Do this thing for me and I will reward you with this amount,' he tapped the ungodly sum on the napkin, circled it with a deft flick of the fingers. 'Do this thing -well- and I will see about persuading my peers into looking elsewhere with regards to your latest.... excursions. You know the ones.' His fine blonde brow twitched once. Whatever he knew, was impossible to judge. He may have been a gargoyle, for how little he emoted. And nothing of this conversation left room for argument or negotiation. There was neither any manner of threat, should the free-willed woman decide to make a fuss. It spoke to the confidence, arrogance perhaps of the Officer of the Holiest Inquisition that he hardly seemed to have considered she would argue.
  3. 'Hng,' the noble Au'ra had delivered in response to his companion's awakening. Followed soon by a clever 'Mmmmmngggh'. Truly a paragon of silver-tongued repartee, Asimenios rumbled like a displeased cavern. He'd slept sitting upright, for the few hours he'd managed. He was slumped when D'hez got to him, though in those vulnerable and blurry pre-wakened moments time moved oddly. By the time Asime had -actually- woken up, or at least approximated coherency, the bard and his lovely birb had already taken to the trail. Luckily, he didn't catch D'hezrel's devastatingly awful pun, else the morning might have proceeded much differently. The old warrior loitered, just a bit longer. Rubbing his stiff thighs with his sore palms, gazing about the makeshift campsite blearily. The more years gathered on his shoulders, the longer it took him to divorce his fitful dreams from waking reality. There was another timeline in his private dreamscape, another world where the events that dragged him here hadn't happened. When the time came, as every morning it did, to shake off this fantasy and return to the hard earth, well he was rarely glad to be back. Absorbed, tired. Miserable. His long fingers pinched and prodded at the carefully grilled corpse of the unfortunate rodent provided him. Some of it made its way into his belly. As D'hezrel had silently observed during his own morning tasks, some foods were more easily sculpted than eaten. If hunger is a spice, perhaps guilt is a bitterant. So distant and self-piteous was he, Asimenios hardly noticed Layla's frantic approach until she was nearly hopping on his cowed head. Her brilliant feathers came into view, and one by one, sense by sense, the veils over him peeled themselves away and he returned to the present with startling clarity. The fire was crackling, the wind was whispering. Very distantly, the water was burbling. The ground was quivering where Layla's broad feets were pounding and raking. His shoulder was being nudged by the hard edge of her insistent, worried beak. 'What is it? Where is your-' A bit slow on the upkeep, but he figured it out eventually. The disheveled arrangement of her saddle was hint enough, but the harp is what captured his attention first. Numbly, mechanically, he stood and reached out, adjusting the saddle as to be comfortable for her. 'Easy- easy. There she is, there's my good girl.' Asime unsheathed the little skewer from the corpse of his breakfast, a thin shaven twig with a nasty little point to it. The squirrel's remains he offered to Layla, awarding her loyalty. And palming the small twig he made for the very obvious footprints leading away from camp. First a step, then a trot, then a jog. Leaning into a sprint. His body took some negotiating, the stiffness of a poor night's sleep made for a stubborn hurdle. As for the fishmen, congratulating themselves and cavorting around the prone figure of their most worthy sacrifice, their own encampment was a meager handful of logs fashioned into out-facing spikes walling a small clutch of leathery tents. A single altar sat in the center of the encampment, grey stone speckled with rust-colored bloodstains. The ministrations of the previous night's 'worship' were still spattered around the mud beneath. Evidently the Sahagin were more far more effective with sacrifice than carpentry. A whole knot of the creatures bobbed and danced about, waving crude weapons and bleating like they'd just won something significant from the Gold Saucer. The trio of elders watched on wistfully, stroking tendril-beards and burbling at one another in their cryptic water-tongue. This one had plenty of fight in it, they observed as D'hezrel waged war against his bindings. The Deep One would be pleased to be offered such vigor. Things were looking pretty good. It was going to be a productive morning. And then something dark and awful stormed into the camp. The elders turned to gawk at it, a black cloud which cast their people around like the fabled waterspouts of the ancient ocean. It drew nearer, silent and hateful. Two bright stars glimmered balefully from that darkness, pinning them with authority and intent. They bubbled fearfully, called their strongest to gather in a knot around them and the sacrifice. The dark thing came to a stop. One of the young ones, blessed by the Deep and filled with indignation, scrambled forward and jabbed into the darkness with a rusted trident, squawking an oath. Asimenios purposefully slowed his movements, then. This was now a display of force, and he intended all to see. He simply kicked aside the clumbsy thrust, and with three sharp movements disarmed the stringy-limbed fishman and twisted it into a reversed arm-lock. It thrashed violently, all tough lean muscle and animal fury. Asime jabbed his breakfast's skewer between its wrists, impaling them up into the meat of its lower back. It squalled and thrashed no longer, arms pinned. Helpless. Still, it tried to twist and lunge at him. He simply stomped one of its ankles, then cuffed the side of its temple, and it soon sagged on one good foot, eyes rolling. Asimenios gripped the fishman by its pinned wrists, and presented it to the tribe with a grand gesture of his free hand. 'This belongs to you,' he shouted clearly. It'd been some time since he had raised his voice. He was not unpleased to see it could still have an effect. 'And THAT,' he pointed at D'hez's valiant form. 'Belongs to me.' Weapons were gripped and ungripped nervously. The elders watched on, cruel intelligence in their aquarian eyes. Asime gave his captive a small tug, one that couldn't have possibly been comfortable. 'I am interested in trade. Just as the Sons of Charybdis once traded with the Sleeping Serpent of the Far Water, a trade in honor of the Old Way.' It was a gamble, of course. Dealing with fish folk is not often a sure thing. They had him with their numbers, but he had the advantage of astonishment. If watery eyes were fixed on him, they wouldn't be searching the brush for a certain sneaky Chocobo, or watching a specific catte squirm out of his bindings. And they certainly wouldn't spot the harp tucked away in the folds of the noble's tattered cloak, ready to be tossed at an instant's notice.
  4. They moved in on her then. Abruptly, silently. One from across the bustling pub, winding like a displaced shadow between passing patrons. The other from behind a support column, drifting like morning mist. Forgettable, and forgotten. In an instant they were upon her, one blink and the vacant spaces at her little table filled with two unwelcome occupants. Two chairs shrieked as they were drawn, two figures clanked upon them. They were nearly identical, grey and a dull hunter green swathes of cloth and scarf-like ornamentation coiled around coal black chain. The plates of armor covering shoulders and heart showed wear and use, deep hoods steeped over masked faces. Adventurers of every make and model strutted around the dusty city; these two may have easily passed for some secretive members of a wealthy and well-equipped rogue's guild. The only differences between them were the masks themselves. They were flimsy and thin, papier mache. The one bore the grinning face of a snarling fox, the other a wizened barn owl. Flora's two new friends said nothing, merely occupying the opposite end of the table. They lounged casually, comfortable. Cocky. Confident in their unmannerly display. Only after enough time had passed for things to become awkward did the third figure emerge from a thicket of bodies, a third chair dragged over and placed between the two shinobi. The chair made no sound as an elfin man scraped it along the stony floor, not even a creak. It didn't dare. Such was the weight of the Elezen's imperious air, just his presence seemed to dim the world around him. He was dressed in a finely tailored suit of deep navy, complete with a pale necktie over a dark button-up, and shouldering a sturdy black overcoat with its empty sleeves swaying at his sides. He sat with all the graceful dignity of his people, pressed his elbows into Flora's table and steepled his long fingers in front of the thin line of his mouth. The eyes that surveyed her were as stormy and unyielding as the oceans whose deep blue hue they mimicked, their intensity enhanced by a single jagged rip of a scar running parallel beneath them. The old wound traced the bridge of his nose, a warm pink juxtaposed against the pale skin. The blonde crop of his hair was short and well-maintained, pulled back over a healthy noble scalp. There was a quality to him, something about the surety of his posture. There was an inevitability to his manner that portrayed power and responsibility, a long-lived aura that suggested years upon years of hard refinement. As for his two well-kept goons, Owl and Kit kept their heads tilted downward in deference. For his part, the elf assessed the pink-haired beauty evenly. Whatever judgment he arrived at, only he could know; his own face was as blank and unknowable as the masks sported by his minders. It would remain unmoved during their entire exchange, neither lifting in smile nor settling in scowl. For all time. 'Hello,' he said eventually, in a voice of honey and steel. 'I am Inquisitor Liore Bloodwing. And if you are who I believe you are, I may have work for you.'
  5. ‘Never say never,’ Papa always told me. ‘Never becomes again. And you’ll soon be stuck saying, I hope that doesn’t happen again!’ That was Papa for you. Unfathomable. Dropping one last kernel of wisdom before disappearing forever. It was his last, greatest mystery. Left behind for me to unravel and puzzle over and even now I can’t make sense of it. Something to do with accepting anything as possible, no matter how outlandish. The notion had some sense about it, touched by the warm wisdom I remember him by. Still. There were some things I swore I’d never see, or do, or feel. But after that first terrible week at the Akademy, after all my nevers had been gathered up and tossed in the bin, I understood. The possibilities in life are as infinite as the stars, laughing at us from far overhead. And amongst all the great things I aspired to, one of my nevers sprung up from nowhere. Something had happened that I hoped would never happen again. ~~ We had arranged to meet at the train station, early. The station itself was as small and unassuming as our little town, well-made and functional in its own rustic way but unornamented and plain. It was a wood-clad platform raised beside the gently winding tracks running north to south. Tidy rows of benches laid out beneath an overhead shelter, which in turn stretched over the small, single-seating office. An unimpressed attender flipped through the morning’s paper, immune to our enthusiasm. I had packed what seemed sensible, an imperially large bundle compared to Trestle Tres’ own little baggy. She had tut-tutted me back at the station, ‘Less is more,’ the Lalafell chided while flipping her smart little shadeglasses up onto the smoky blonde crop of her hair. She was immaculate in her dark plume overcoat, the stark white of her painted nails flashing with her little, abrupt gesture. ‘Less is more, Guppy’. Why did everyone in my life have some wise idiom loaded and ready to fire at a moment’s notice? ‘Good morning. And you’re one to talk anyway, probably magicked up that small purse of yours to be wider within than without.’ She made a big deal about fuming over the accusation, without actually denying it. I got her pretty good with that one. Mages of the Black were known for such tricks, little sorceries by which to cheat through the day. Purposed undoubtedly for the leaving of sufficient time for the tutting of us simple folk and our mundane labors. And if it was a tut for me, then Tres had one big emphatic TUT prepped for Eclipse, who called from down the steps and threw both arms in a wave. Evidently she had been running behind. Literally, as it turned out. She came trotting over, coated in a thin layer of glossy sweat despite the lingering chill of the early morning. Careful Eclipse had been our third conspirator for as long as any of us could remember. Teal skinned and ivory haired, as tall and powerfully made as any Roegadyn. A prodigious crate, the sort you’d expect to find guarded on the highest floor of any dragon’s castle, had been strapped to her broad shoulders. Each of her graceful, powerful motions cast a ripple of metal clanks and clonks from its contents. Her smile was as white as her unruly hair, and she padded over to us, winded. Shrugged off her load with a thud that rattled the flagstones beneath our feet. ‘This is it,’ she stated, gazing around in her reserved, intelligent manner. ‘Yeah,’ Trestle agreed. A bundle of nervous energy, she had paced a fine stripe beside an unoccupied bench. ‘I just hope we get there before nightfall. They say the setting sun isn’t something to be missed.’ ‘Silly bean,’ I smiled. ‘There are plenty of sunsets ahead. I wouldn’t worry about missing one.’ ‘You wouldn’t, not with your nose in that eye-tube of yours.’ Eclipse mimed a very frail old maid, clutching at a phantom prop with gnarled ancient talon-fingers and licking her lips noisily. We laughed at the foolish but rather well-rehearsed display, I reached out and pinched her hip in retribution. ‘Telescope. It is called a telescope. And it a valuable addition to any aspiring Astrologian’s kit. Some would argue the humble scope remains a more effective tool for divining meaning from the heavens than the tarots themselves. In fact the great Starseer Featheroux-’ Tres paced harder, gesticulating grandly. ‘Here she Feather-goes…’ ‘And when she will stop, who Feather-knows?’ Eclipse shrugged, towering over us. ‘Well pardon -me- for having an interest in-’ I started. ‘...sometime soon, I Feather-hope.’ Absolute monsters, the pair of them. I coiled, glancing between the two. Waiting to see which of the masterminds would volunteer the next, final pun. My admiration for, and in fact love of the great Bethamy Featheroux was a long-storied fact amidst my friends. It was no secret I studied the great Starseer’s works since I could gaze up at the night-time sky, often forsaking my patient companions to do so. It was this love for her works which inspired me upon this very path, to seeking a formal Astrologian education at the lauded Akademy Majestica. It was their most favored pressure point, mainly for its reliability. I was wound up in an instant, ready to declare war. Careful Eclipse, of course, read me like one of her trashy pic-novels and sneered. Her powerful fists pressed against her balanced hips. ‘That’s gonna be one big Featherno for me, yall.’ She barely finished before I lunged at her, foaming. I tried all my best moves. I went for the ribs, I flailed at her sharp ears, I thrashed with all the savagery my Hyur frame would contain. I threatened disorder and mayhem in the first degree. She laughed, and laughed. Contained me with a single hand. I felt the floor pull away from beneath me, and after a few moments realized she had me up by the scruff of my sweater. I pawed harmlessly at the air for a while, before yielding with a whimper, my fury spent. ‘....hate puns,’ I gasped. ‘We know,’ my two dearest friends said. They each patted me on the head, and I swatted away their pity, smiling despite myself. ‘I’m so excited,’ I decided after we settled back down. ‘I am -so- excited.’ My heart was humming. I hummed along with it. Because after the youthful years of study, after perilous exams and strenuous research projects, we were finally on our way. Eighteen years of hard work, plus or minus one or two to account for infancy, had unravelled for us the path to our dreams. Akademy Majestica. Regarded by all nations as a hub for knowledge and learning. Where the brightest and the best (that’s us!) could gather in study and camaraderie, and plot a course to a prosperous future for all. Trestle Tres, I knew for a fact, would go on to perfect her thaumaturgy and witchcraft, her power guided and encouraged by the old Masters. And Careful Eclipse, with all the athletic prowess of some ancient warrior-queen, I could see her adorned in the spines and plates of a full Dragoon, leaping high into the heavens and raining down spears upon the unjust. As for me, well. The girl I had glimpsed in my morning mirror was mousey and small, but I knew the determination in her eyes. I had seen where she had come from, where she would go. I had seen her gaze into the heavens, marvelling over their chaotic order and infinite beauty. That very girl, with her dark curls and lopsided dimple, was going to meet Bethamy Featheroux, the best Astrologian in Eorzea, and study beneath her directly. I hopped excitedly. Triple-checked my luggage. Patted myself down, nearly panicked when I couldn’t feel my house-key. Then remembered I had left it tucked in the Porter’s mailbox. A throb of guilt and longing plucked at my heart. The tiny single-room home wasn’t much, but it was mine. It’d seen me through my schooling, and as many winters as it took to get here today. I wondered if its next resident would be someone as doe-eyed and wistful. I wondered if she would stow away her secrets in the loose floorboard by the bed, or if she would know to let the sink run a minute before showering. I wondered if she too missed her papa, how she whittled away her sorrow on those bleak nights when the candle was her only company. I would miss my quiet town, I decided as the thoughts ran their natural course. I would have liked to think it would miss me, too. I helped where I could. The cards would not tell me much, but they showed me the portents of the seasons. And folk are always eager to know when the rain is coming, or when the thaw will break. And we had our little hill, where my conspirators and I would loiter and lay and peer into the eternal cosmos. Tres dreamed of boys and Eclipse of barbells, but I dreamed of the above. Of harnessing the ancient wisdom of the unknowable stars. And finally, finally that wisdom was coming. Speeding along to me as quickly as the conductor would allow, carried along by a great engine. Before long, the tell-tale steam whistle shrieked from down the tracks, and the train trundled into station. I glimpsed my girls. Little Tres was all smiles and cheer, stoic Eclipse nodded devotedly. ‘I am so excited,’ I murmured. If I had any real idea as to what lay ahead, I would’ve picked up my two friends, marched back to my little cottage and tucked the three of us under my neatly made bed, to cower and quail the years away until a peaceful passing at the hands of old age.
  6. The woodlands were not his domain. The further D’hezrel guided him, the more clear that became. One passing shrub was for all intents no different than any other, an entire congregation of looming trees indistinguishable from one another to Asime’s untrained eye. Which is not to say the morose fighter disliked the forest. Quite the opposite, in fact. There was a gravity to its silence he could appreciate. Everything in its proper place, each twig or piney needle serving some specific purpose, though their intricacies escaped him. The woods were a fine reprieve from the meaningless noise of the city, the errant bustle of its single-minded inhabitants, the sheer waste of its unequal splendors. How have I come to spend so very much of my time in a place so ill-suited to me? How many of our kind disparaged the woodfolk and their uncouth manner? What rubbish. I would trade a year in those courts for a minute anywhere else. Yet, he had stayed. It did not take him long to puzzle out why. The memory shamed him, tightened his indifferent frown into a pained sneer. He reached, grasped the flank of a healthy oak and sheared away its hard bark with a tug of his scaled hand. It felt no better to have lashed out and hurt another being. The shame deepend. Asime dropped a fistful of crushed bark and marched along with his head hung. The time came, minstrel D’hezrel proposed, to encamp for the night. Distant, Asimenios murmured his assent. He turned this way and that, surveying their little site. The lapping of the lake and the notes of stirred freshwater hinted at their general location, but for all he knew they could’ve been in the prior inn’s backyard. The nobleman cast about for a proper place to sit, judged the nearby cluster of boulders too high and stalked into the nearby brush. There’d be an apocalyptically loud crash before he returned with a massive log tucked beneath either arm. He dropped one before D’hezrel’s firepit, and the other at an L beside it. Satisfied, he crouched down with a quiet grunt and a pop of the knees and sat on the forest floor, his back supported by his designated log. He would not move again for some hours. And he would’ve been content to enshroud himself in the gargoyle-like stillness of silent fire watching, his statuesque features drawn in tragedy, were it not for his companion’s thoughtfulness. Humble D’hez, kind D’hez. The bard provided a little leaf-plate laiden with road-worn sundries, arranged in an all-too familiar interpretation of a certain Au’ra. Asimenios neither smiled nor scowled deeper, impassive as he ate a bite of this and a bite of that. He procured some jerked meat from another of his mystery pouches, then measured some out onto his improvised plate. He didn’t eat much, not much at all. Much of his time leaning over his leafy plate was spent prodding at the cheese and breads and jerk with his fingertips. Stirring, arranging. Eventually he would return the remains of his makeshift meal to D’hezrel and resume staring into the fire as though in contest over whose eyes would cool first. The food on his plate had been re-arranged in a perfect portrait of a running miqo’te with a bow, being propelled along by the gusting winds of his own farts. Maybe sometime between now and then, Asime turned his horned head and fired off a wink. Maybe not. Some time passed. The warrior did not account for its passage, still as a statue. D’hezrel excused himself to sleep, plunked down with all the exhausted relief of a weary traveller. ‘Goodnight minstrel,’ Asimenios murmured as quiet as the campfire’s crackle. ‘May you find in sleep the peace denied you in these past waking hours.’ For his part, Asime wouldn’t find sleep for some time. It would need to creep upon him, catch him unguarded. The embers were smoldering their last glow when his lids finally shut, at last too heavy to hold open. They were upon him instantly. The things he would see behind closed eyes. The content of his nightmares, moving and accusing and coiling around him. He lasted for as long as he could, and as he descended into sleep he prayed to whatever godliness remained it would be a quick night.
  7. They were just three voyagers, ambling along the winding road. D’hez took point, and good thing too as Asimenios Dies’Irae would have marched them right back to the inn from which they’d departed. The stoic fighter had a sense of direction, but only just a sense. He could navigate his way out of a blanket, perhaps. Or a paper box, provided the walls could be punched through. He’d lapsed into a comfortable, companionable hush as the miles marched by. Layla’s crunching footsteps, guided by powerful avian legs, metered out a steady drumbeat. D’hezrel busied himself with the mysterious and almost arcane occupation of proper ranging. Asime witnessed the minstrel prodding and pinching a plump plume of greenish moss, but what the lad could divine from the humble substance was beyond the warrior’s own uninitiated ken. He would soon return to the comforts of his own distant thoughts. While his body shifted effortlessly through the earthen paths of the wood, his mind treaded the hallowed vaults of haunted memory. How much time had passed, he couldn’t be certain. But D’hez came to a halt, abrupt enough as to nearly be bumped into. Grunting, Asimenios emerged from his unpleasant revery with a rapid flurry of blinks. Casting his gaze to and fro, black and pink seeking any potential dangers in the uncomfortable domain of the deep forest. ‘What is it,’ he hissed. Perhaps more harshly than he’d intended. When D’hez turned and delivered his inquiry, Asime deflated ever so slightly. He breathed an apology and looked elsewhere. Anywhere but the earnest curiosity beaming back at him. He seemed to shrivel before it, like some horned bat cowering beneath a beam of sunlight. ‘That is bold,’ he admitted, stalking over to a flat tree stump and wafting his cloak out to sit upon it. ‘But not undue. A portion of your payment was to be furnished with fiction, after all. A story, my story. As with any fool’s errand, this story begins with a man in love. And ends, as you plainly see, in loss. ‘Once there was a man of faith, and of action. An Inquisitor of the Holy See, he rooted out corruption and evil, punished the cruel and championed the freedoms of the common. His was a creed of mercy for the deserving, and mercilessness for the wicked of heart. The youngest of his peers, he established a reputation for thoroughness, for even-mindedness, and for justice. ‘The Inquisitor gathered colleagues and associates along his career, as any upholder of law is wont to do. Among the closest were a mercenary and a scrivener. The pair assisted him on many, many of his cases, to the point where the three became inseparable. The mercenary was a jokester, but the finest swordsman of the era. And the scrivener, she was brilliant and beautiful, drawing connections which escaped even the seasoned mind of the young Inquisitor. For years upon years, they three stood proof against the cold cunning of The Enemy. A bastion against the tides of chaos, working ever to bring peace and order to the realms. ‘So well known, so beloved had they come to be in the eyes of the people, the noble trio rose in fame, or notoriety. Larger, more insidious cases of Chaos and Heresy sprung up across the land; cultists conjuring up facsimiles of their horrid Gods, plague-mutations warping farm-life into hungering monstrosities, languid noble families practicing blood rites in the heart of their own cities! The unthinkable foe became the ordinary for our Inquisitor and his band. And in the fires of their trials was forged a deep, deep love. ‘The call came, in time. A village engulfed by the walking forms of the dead. An old, intelligent evil was raising itself an army. Possessing the minds of neighboring innocents, driving them to march upon their fellow man. Our heroes heard of this unholy occurrence and made for the captive village, a fateful place. A place where the end would begin, a nightmare none could have forseen.’ Silence, then. Asimenios swallowed hard. He found his throat had suddenly become dry, nurtured himself with a pull from the round canteen at his hip. ‘That will be all, for now,’ he decided abruptly. The weight of his tone and the unfocused hate in his eyes would brook no negotiation. He rose from the stump, enshrouded again in his cloak. Nodded at the path, suggesting they resume their march. He would be surly for a while, quieter even than before. Were such a thing possible.
  8. Little drifting ribbons of smoke twisted and coiled in the air, brushed away by the delicate broom of a small maiden of a breeze. The occasional leaf plucked itself from above, came spirally down in lazy circles before coming to rest on the forest’s floor. Asimenios stared a withering hole through D’hezrel, his jaw slackened and his scaled brows taut. It was a miserable tale. The frequency of its like in these ages made it no easier to swallow. Vivid of imagination, the Au’ra could see the blood pooling on that favored inn’s floors, feel the sharp prick of the cold knife against the lad’s throat. And though still as a draconic statue, the old warrior’s heart ached with the deep, haunting sorrow of unmitigated fury. His scaled hand crawled into a fist so tight, the powerful fingers creaked against themselves. Some time was allowed to pass. Airing out the intensity of D’hezrel’s unhappy tale. Distant and withdrawn, Asimenios remained very, very still. Until abruptly he sighed some smoke, leaned over. He snatched up an unsuspecting pinecone and lobbed it at the bard, aiming for a headshot. ‘I disagree. I believe you were very heroic. And to this day remain so.’ He shuffled uncomfortably, flicked the smouldering ash from out his pipe and crushed it beneath his heel. He busied himself with flicking the ornate little trinket clean, tucking it back into one of his concealed pouches. Avoiding eye contact, pursing his stern lips. ‘It takes steel to hold that much pain in you, takes bravery,’ he continued after some quiet had been permitted to pass. ‘If it gnaws at you, you do not show it. If it burdens you, you do not seem slowed. I have known men to been split in half by less things than the loss of the only loves they’ve ever known. I have seen the dark they turn to, to feed their hunger for vengeance. To fill that emptiness punched into them, in the shape of their beloveds.’ Drawing his shoulders back, he tilted his horned head just so to inspect the clenched fist before him. He raised the mutilated hand aloft, gradually willing the digits to uncoil. He flexed them, wriggled them. Inspected them distantly. ‘Nothing can sate it. Nothing can warm you once you’ve given yourself to the burning flames of hatred. When they run cold, with nothing left of you to feed from, there is nothing left. Nothing at all. You’re a brave man, Master Saephica. To refuse the temptations of hate and remain determined towards that which is good and kind.’ Asime lurched, rocking himself back onto his feet. Somewhere along the way he managed to gather his cloak back up, drew it over his half-clad shoulders until he was a dark shapeless blob with silver feet. He crossed the distance between himself and the bard, pressed a single fingertip into D’hez’s chest. It’d feel like being prodded by a steel rod, or jabbed with a metal skewer. ‘And you -are- good, D’hezrel. You are good, and I believe your parents -all of them- and your master would be proud of who you are becoming.’ The cold, hard shimmer of his eyes twisted around the open copse of trees. Hungering for detail. It would seem the dual-headed monster was in fact the ringleader of their slimey foes. Under other circumstances he’d have suggested they clear the nearby tunnels of the rotted mineshaft, but the urge to move along was starting to wriggle itself in the back of his subconscious. ‘If not for your self-actualization and steadiness in the face of danger, then for your talent of archery and pathfinding. Of which we’d best be employing the latter, sir. I am no astrologian but I judge some hours left to this day, and I am certain there will be diversions aplenty ahead. We needn’t tarry here much longer.’ The warrior regarded the minstrel with an un-knowable expression. It wasn’t quite pity, it wasn’t indifference. It was something approximating a measure of kinship. Real recognizing real. He pinned D’hez beneath the intensity of this stare for a moment or so longer than could’ve possibly been comfortable, then selected a random route back into the woods. Striding away at his brisk pace, a dark cloud of seething silence.
  9. Gradually, steadily, he got his lungs back. The heaving and huffing diminished to a more nasley sniff, the great rise and fall of his powerful chest easing down as to be imperceptible. In not so many words, Asimenios designated this a proper time for a brief respite. Prying fingers probed his sturdy travel pack for something particular, and eventually plucked out an exquisitely carved pipe. A little baggie materialized from somewhere, Asime pinched out a generous heap of greenish hue and was soon exhaling a thin streamer of smoke from between unhappy, pursed lips. He regarded D’hezren, seemed to debate something within himself. Ultimately he offered the pipe, a scale-clad brow shifting upward. He searched the dusty annals of his memory for a Haummont, came up wanting. Amberley would have remembered. And you, by proximity. He frowned. Engaged on the present topic, if just to speak over his dour inner monologue. ‘Ramble on, Master Saephica,’ he grumbled, voice turned to gravel by the cloying, sweet smoke. ‘That was beautiful. I have not heard its like in an era.’ Hard eyes shifted over to Layla, loyal Layla. It should be said Asime made no effort to conceal away his relief at the chocobo’s unharmed return. Hardly a feather out of place, she’d also navigated the field of combat without mis-step. He’d shudder to imagine how the tide may have turned, should the Hulk Jelly Guy have encountered her first. Well, she may have simply stomped its heads in and have done with it. Asime permitted himself an amused smirk at the thought, saluting the majestic creature with his steadily dwindling pipe. ‘Car la force des audacieux, est récompensée par des lauriers.’ He repeated the line in his warm growl, absent any of the art or melody with which the bard had masterfully delivered. ‘You sport a laurel of your own, mm?’ A thumb-less hand drifted up to his own face, traced an invisible line miming D’hez’s prominant scar. ‘What boldness rewarded you with -that- little reminder?’
  10. 'Oh good, you've made it,' Asime snarked, twisting underneath a devastatingly wide club-swing. 'I've got this fiend on its last legs, but figured you wanted the last hit.' In truth, heaving and bleeding from a handful of minor scrapes, the Au'ra was not faring well at all. He found even his finely honed stamina was threatening to deplete. A chilly numb was spreading from heart to limbs, and his chest couldn't seem to hold its air with any rhythm or steadiness. He'd been worn out before, he'd experienced what it was to be exhausted but still require the steely will to stand and fight. But he was at his apex, then. Sourly, Asime suspected he would never quite reach that peak again. He found some strength left, kindled by the anger of his bruised ego. Squared up and traded more bone-shuddering blows with the hulk. D'hezrel's arrows were finding their marks, cleverly dividing the lumbering monstrosity's attention. When the bard drew its ire, Asime found an opening to hammer away at its jellied flanks with his hard knuckles. He laid in with a staccato of punches, furious blows that would have crippled a normal man. The double-headed thing hardly seemed to take note, trudging at the offending source of its slowly growing pin-cushioned state. Then, quite suddenly, the plink of the bowstring was traded for the delightful pluck of the harp. D'hez appeared to be lending his voice to song, an old battle litany the words of which were unfathomable but unmistakably potent. Unbelievably, Asimenios felt his very spirits lifted, the burden of heavy breath easing. His racing blood settled warmly, the ache stretching along his shoulders and hips soothing away. He did not waste any time being baffled, lept at the Hulkplasm with a shout of renewed vigor. 'Whatever THAT is, I would have more of it!' Energized, and without concern for barely dodging that oppressive, monstrous club, Asime returned gratefully to the offensive. Leaning his weight into each blow, he laid down seven strikes in the span of a breath, then whirled and hove whirling kick that sliced the very air around them. 'Rip ANd TEAR?!' the bellowing beast burbled, off-set and hesitating uncertainly. Whenever it attempted to shift towards D'hez, it found itself being pummeled by three angles at once. Whenever it turned to swing at the pummeller, its heads would be knocked all about by the impact of hailing arrows. 'Hah. Twould seem after all two heads are not better than two other, separate heads.' Enough raw damage had connected with its bulky body, the massive ooze was beginning to leak. Thin ribbons of brightly colored gel-flesh sloughed off its skeletal frame, bearing a frustrating bubble of agony. Asime shifted tactics again, purposefully striking deep holes in the jelly body to expose pieces of bleached white skeleton, prime targets for the bard's whistling arrows. Bit by bit they whittled down the skeleton within, almost vertebrae at a time, dissecting it with whirling, surgical precision. At long last, enough jiggling blue meat had been peeled away to expose one of the two skulls. D'hez filled its hollow sockets with feathered missiles, splintering it beyond recognition. For his part, Asime gripped the base of the skull and heaved with a growl. He tore it from its neckbones, then proceeded to bludgeon the remaining head with the satisfying clack of two coconuts. The great club whomped heavily as it fell from dying gel fingers, and at last the massive monster burbled its last. It slumped to its 'knees', before melting away. The too-wide skeleton remained poised on its knees as the ooze sizzled away, one arrow-filled head fused to the other. Asimenios grumbled an inconvenienced oath, surveyed the immediate area. When he was satisfied no further unwelcome friends would come shambling out to beat at him with sticks and stones, he heaved a weary sigh and slumped down onto his bottom in the sod and churned grass. Panting. Unsightly with wounds and melted clothing. Still, his shoulders were square and his back straight. He closed his eyes, sucking air into his belly and willing it to spread feeling back into his worn-out limbs. 'I'd be remiss to pretend you did not just save my life, Master Saephica. And a fool to boot.' Asimenios peeked over at the bard with one knowing eye. 'Presuming the Lovely Layla remains equally unharmed, you have conducted yourself masterfully in the face of death and danger. I commend you. 'And that song of yours. I cannot place the language, but I know of the melody. It is old. Boldly I would suggest, older even than you. How is it exactly, that you have come to know it?' Perhaps he was governed by whims of humor and curiosity. Perhaps he was seeking an excuse to rest a moment longer, catch his wind. It was impossible to tell, though as the adrenaline wore off it would appear the noble's grim expression softened considerably the longer he watched his new bardly companion. Softened no doubt by the young man's antics, manner, carefree charm. The skirmish had cost him some of his enthusiasm for the road and much of his good mood, but the accompaniment of D'hezrel threatened to replenish both.
  11. 'Ex-cellent shot man,' Asimenios exclaimed with an enthusiastic fist pump. 'Two points, House Saephica!' He mimed the efforts of some excited referee, awarding accolades and praise to the rightful champion. Even so far as to cup hands over his scowling lips to mimic the approving hiss of a distant, cheering crowd. The Au'ra seemed pleased with himself. It must have been the adrenaline. More creatures announced by burbling guttural sounds emerged, were summarily put down. Asimenios wavered in uncharacteristic hesitation. Displaying an uncanny amount of insight, D'hez assured him he and Lalya had the scene under control, encouraged him to get along with whatever it was he seemed itching to do. Under other circumstances, with a lesser companion perhaps, Asime might have bickered or lingered on a moment or so longer. But this skirmish, however brief, had illuminated D'hezrel's skillset. When the bard called out that he'd catch up, the noble believed him. And was gone the instant the final syllable dripped from D'hez's honeyed voice. Taptaptaptaptaptap. Silversteel greaves sped him along the forest's floor, winding in and out of tree-filled cover. The woods blurred by at an unthinkable speed, dotted here and there by the unnatural form of a mis-stepped Skeleplasm. They were a breadcrumb trail that swelled from brush and undergrowth, shuffling along at random. As Asime encountered them, he adjusted his course, smashed a skull or bent a spine, then darted along. The flow of actions became monotonous. Sprint, kill, turn. Sprint, kill, turn. His thoughts turned inward. He reminds me of you. Or the ghost of you. Bittersweet, a thing like that. Memory. You put those summer years behind you so effortlessly, but not for me the forsaking of old loves and brotherhoods. Scrape as I might, their etchings in my heart have become permanent. Were we able, were the impossible achievable, would you relive those days with me? Filled with piss and vinegar, ready to take the world by storm. Would we still be whole, if she had met me first? Something glugged and swung at him from behind a passing tree. Asime twisted beneath the almost comically slow swipe and in the same movement threw his heel into its center. Dislodging the skeleton from the ooze seemed to unmake whatever union bound the two. By simple economy of hitting it very hard, he'd put this observation to use several more times along the wooded side-path. A fair trail of broken and bubbling forms would render following his trail of destruction laughably simple. -- Some time later, Asimenios came skidding to a muddy stop in an unexpected clearing. The trail of wandering monstrosities had lead him here, to a trampled glade where the sun beamed down upon a hollowed out cluster of boulders that signified the entrance to an underground mine. Discarded wheelbarrows and pick-axes littered the immediate vicinity. They were rotted with age and neglect, untouched for several seasons. Likewise the broken boards criss-crossing the old mine's entry way were speckled with moss and fungi, the torch-sconces flanking them worn almost entirely down to splinters. Asime gathered his breath, stalked around to pick up as many minute details as would present themselves to a cursory investigation. Countless footsteps spread out in every which direction, grass bent and burnt, stone eroded and melted into the vague shapes of humanoid feet. Why would an ooze opt to walk? The creatures were clearly not graceful or balanced enough. It would save them all manner of energy to simply roll or slither along like others of their kind. Were they skeletons who wore oozes, or oozes dwelling upon the structure of skeletons? Neither seemed a very pleasant option. The state of the tools suggested they had simply been left behind, a rotted picnic table had been cast upon its side with a few acidic score-marks burnt into its wooden flank. Clearly the... things.... had come from the mines. As he assessed the scene, another Skeleplasm came bubbling and swinging into view, glad to prove his point. It stumbled along aimlessly, before by some unknowable stimulus detected the Au'ra and adverted itself in his general direction with raising arms. The skull bobbed about like a buoy in high tide. Asime side-stepped its clumbsy swipe and swatted it into broken heap some yalms away. 'Whatever unrighteousness stitched you together, aught to have done so with a little more care.' He stomped its face into the mud with a squelch. 'To what end were you made manifest?' 'rEnD aND tEAr!!' Something hard hit him between the shoulders, actually cast him hurtling through the air. The blow was ferocious and entirely unexpected, and though a dizzying knot of pain squeezed his head from impact Asimenios kept wits enough to stick his landing. Twisting, draconic tail lashing for balance, he landed in a crouch against the tree he was surely meant to crash into, threw a withering glare at whatever had managed to get the drop on him. It was another Skeleplasm, though much, much bigger. The ooze that slurped around its form was nearly thrice the width of a large man, sporting twin heads which howled with baleful fury. It was clad in rusted old chainmail which strained and stretched beyond capacity to restrain its sheer bulk. Its massive mitts clutched a prodigiously large column of stone improvised into a club 'REND anD tEAR!' the heads repeated in unison, their unholy voices undulated beneath the bubbling acid within which they were suspended. 'Sage advice,' Asime muttered. He coiled his legs beneath him and shot off the tree, drawing back his smashin' arm for some good smashin'. Only this time the twin skulls, chattering with mindless hate, turned to track his lighting movements. It actually twisted up its stone club in time to parry his grasping claw, turning him aside with a powerful flick of its wrist. He tumbled lightly, cast a hand-less cartwheel, lowered his posture again. Well this is alarming. The brawler darted to the side, then juked in quickly, closed distance with the hulking Skeleplasm. He threw a series of seven strikes, fists and feet. The ponderously slow creature somehow turned aside each of them, and managed to sneak in a haymaker swing of its own with a limb it sprouted from its barrel-shaped chest. Asime found he had to twist away and retreat a hop or two back, only to have the creature lurch forward and press its attack. It was horrifyingly quick for its weight. The acidic pseudo-flesh coating it seemed denser than the usual variety he'd been thrashing around all afternoon, and the steel of its armor was doing him no favors. A minute of hard combat trudged past. Another. A third. Asime was beginning to tire. His strikes were becoming less and less precise. Whenever he shifted to the defensive, the hulking ooze would bubble its gleeful refrain ('rEnD aND tEAR!!') and close distance like a masterful fencer, wallowing in with its heavy club. The weapon missed Asime's head by an inch, crashed through a young birch like it were a toothpick. A spray of splinters peppered the nearby brush, the deafening crash of a falling tree echoing through the forest. The Au'ra threw himself into a long roll, spun back to his feet just in time to parry aside a brutish smash and counterattack with a riposting jab of his stiffened fingers. Unbelievably the monster leaned its armored bulk into the blow. Asime's fingers punctured through the steel and dug into the painful acid below. He shouted in frustration and pain, diving again to evade a cross-swing. Thrice-damned creature. Had I my blades, a letter-opener even, this would've been decided before it ever began. I curse you, Liore Bloodwing. I took your smile, you took my thumbs. But at the very least you can still hold a damned sword! 'REND AND TEAR!' bellowed the Hulkplasm, swinging again with tireless enthusiasm. Asimenios nearly turned his ankle, he dodged so gracelessly. He was having difficulty finding his wind. It had been some time since he'd been in his peak shape, he doubted he'd ever reach that level of fitness again, even were he to survive this unexpectedly stubborn encounter. 'Im TRYING!' he roared back, ducking beneath a whooshing backhand and responding with a desperate flurry of toe-kicks.
  12. Established stories are usually off-limits, but in terms of what COULD happen anything goes. I remember the WoW community being -very- strict on what is and isn't permitted by DA RULES and they needed a constant reminder that gatekeeping went out the window the same day space goats came crashing down from space on their city/ship. Avoid being the love child of Y'shtola and Urianger, anything else is fair game. The stranger the better, if you can pull it off believably. Be an inter-dimensional wanderer, tossed from game to game, why the hell not. Just be interesting.
  13. The simple command to ready himself was the last attention Asimenios paid to his guide, diverting his full attention to the foreign creatures shambling in alarming numbers from the cover of the forest. Their movements were erratic and inefficient, and though guided by no obvious means of sight or sound they seemed drawn to the living. Having some small experience with the un-living, he presumed there may have been some greater hand controlling the small company of oozey hosts from elsewhere. His head turned this way and that, trying to assess some pattern to their movements that would betray their supposed master. He did not have very long. A misshapen gelatin arm lurched back then lashed forward in a whiplike spray. Almost simultaneously, a pair of thick ooze arms came smashing down from above, and a gout of mist-like filth sprayed from a more distant Skeleplasm. The three independent attacks rained down upon Asimenios’ unmoving cloak. Long streamers of smoke hissed and bubbled as the material melted, twisting about itself as it was pummeled. It was empty. Somehow the Au’ra had simply moved out from under it, leaving the garment hanging in the air to divert his opponents. Three separate impacts, loud as the whip-crack of thunder, snapped out just then. And three Skeleplams were simply filleted, the transparent thick flesh shaved away and the exposed skeletal structure scattered like dice in the grass. They did not rise. Asimenios Dies’Irae’s movements were brief and difficult to track. He could be seen here, poised behind one of the lumbering creatures and suddenly glimpsed elsewhere, turning and twisting with an athlete's grace. Both targets, some ten paces away from one another, exploded outward like a popped seed, their bony structures revealed and disassembled. Impossible to follow with the untrained eye, he was a blur of motion punctuated by thunder and crushed bone. Each small movement was calculated by unblinking pink eyes, shimmering with silent intensity that did not reach a dispassionate face. Every little gesture betrayed years upon years of hard discipline, tempered by a lifetime of struggle and sharpened in the fires of war. One instant he was striking the ribcage out of its host’s gelatin body, the next he was wheeling in a graceful aerial twenty yalms away, smashing a vacant rotted skull down the fleshless throat of its undead owner. One of these abrupt motions drew him beside D’hez, as the bard wielding his harp and lent his voice to an old and invigorating battle litany. Without his tattered old cloak to conceal his frame, Asime was all lean, angry muscle. A dulled silver half-breastplate hugged his slender chest, the bared skin above and beneath crisscrossed with clean bandages. Equally silver greaves extended to his knees, heavy metal. Heavier than any man should move so quickly in, at the least. Nimble as a leaf on the wind, Asime was there then gone, visible than not. ‘I am fond of that song,’ he stated in passing. His voice reached D’hezrel from four separate angles, each accompanied by the percussive crunch of a Skeleplasm being broken. ‘One of Goldenbrau’s ballads, isn’t it? His earlier works were always so… rousing.’ A burbling ‘plasm belched and swiped at where he had stood an instant ago. Asime slid effortlessly around to its flank. His stiffened fingers gestured towards its shoulder from behind, and with an echoing gunshot the limb burst off. He whipped his body in a sharp backflip, his heel catching the ooze-bleached chin and launching its skull off into the heavens. He didn’t seem to be carrying any firearms, nor any weapons of any kind. What then was the cause of those noisy whip-cracks which accompanied each of his empty-handed strikes? A pair of shambling fiends broke from the treeline, rushing in unbalanced and sloshing wildly. Asime was busily pulling another skull apart the way one might tear into fresh bread. They heaved upon him as a duo, dripping sizzling acidic goop on the earthen path. The Au’ra cursed again, threw his left arm up and braced his heels beneath him. There was a harsh bubbling sound, the distinguished hiss of a substance boiling away instantly. His bent arm bracing against the two bodies, the bandages wrapped around his limb disintegrated immediately, shredding away inside the Skeleplasms and melting away in their goopy frames. Asimenios bared his teeth in a rictus of pain and reached even deeper into his assailants. He punched through the spine of one to reach the ribcage of the other. Then YANKED so hard he pulled their whole skeletons out in one tangled mass. The ooze maintained its humanoid shape for a moment before sloshing to the ground. He whirled and whipped the two fused skeletons across the way, where they clanked along like a xylophone kicked down a flight of stairs. Up to this point, he had been engaging with the enemy without ever actually touching them. Each of his brutal punches, or whirling kicks, had enough force behind them the very air he moved through cracked and snarled. He had been restraining his blows just inches from their oozy bodies, letting the wind of his strikes do the work for him. It seemed the most efficient means of dealing with this disturbing matrimony of clawing undeath and broiling ooze-kin. But it appeared he had gotten carried away and now half his arm had been melted off. Or at least it would’ve been, had it not been composed entirely of scales. From shoulder to nail, his entire left arm was composed of a tight mail of natural dragonscale, its peculiar coloration depicting a series of twisting draconic heads snaking through crashing waves. Like the tattooed sleeve of some gang minder, but grown naturally, unless Au’ra had some secretive method for inking their scales. Asimenios seemed more self-conscious of his arm than the thumbs missing from either of his hands, scowling and clutching at what slick remains of his bandaging sizzled along the exposed limb. Demurely, only now did he shift his gaze to his bardic companion, to measure how he was faring against this unusual foe. D’hez seemed to be enjoying himself, taken to the fray with his pitch-perfect voice and all the entertained confidence of a master duellist. With the time-honored encouragement of bribery Layla too was promoted to vanguard. They made an impressive pair, Asime noted briefly. Arrows found their marks swiftly and effectively, beak and talons unphased by sizzling ooze plucked skeletons apart or smashed them to the earth beneath powerful avian feet. The respite was short-lived. Despite the shame of his revealed arm, there was still work to be done. Though the herd had been thinned, a clutch of the Skeleplasm things still milled forth from the forest’s depths. Forsaking his earlier grace and sound-barrier-smashing efficacy, Asime opted to simply pummel his remaining targets with his draconic arm. He darted at a three-some in a vengeful smear of dark hair and hateful eyes. Gouging the empty sockets of one skull, he tugged the creature off-balance, tossed it into the other two. Five abrupt motions later, and he’d beaten the lot of them into a messy, powdery substance. D’hezrel, Lalya can manage the fleeting remainder. I must set myself to divining from whence these creatures have spawned. The road can wait, t'would be negligence to overlook so clear and present a threat. He had his back to D’hez then. One of his ears twitched, and without turning he whistled sharply to the bard and pointed straight up. The skull he’d booted into the stratosphere earlier had finally returned from orbit, falling steadily like the world’s most obvious skeet shot.
  14. Moving out into the gently sloping pathways extending beyond the small pub, Asimenios shrugged his cloak against the coming afternoon chill. The movement of his concealed arms cast a pair of ripples through the thick material. Its frayed hem twisted and mangled, hanging just about the knee. He frowned thoughtfully up at the descending sun whilst D'hez delivered his own little self-pep talk. The youthful minstrel clearly eager to begin a new adventure, he was simply vibrating with enthusiasm. It was nearly contagious. When D'hezrel introduced Layla, the stoic noble found himself smiling almost involuntarily. While the chocobo regarded her keeper with the frank disapproval of something she may have accidentally stepped in, Asime merely strode over and reached to rearrange the brilliant plumage just beside her throat. Combing the lush feathers between his bandaged fingers, enraptured by the majesty of the testy bird. 'Ah Layla. Of course you are. Beautiful creature. A most wondrous specimen.' Caught in his doting, Asimenios collected himself, withdrew his hand with an apologetic cough and made for the thicket his guide had indicated with outstretched finger. It was just as well pride should reassert itself; surely the chocobo was an instant from pecking another of his digits. And they of such short supply. Rendered down to a pointer and a pinkie. Well equipped for the concert-going scene, surely. Accompanied by the crunch of gravel and the whisper of wind, the trio marched onward to the forest's skirts. Where the archer flashed a cheerful grin, stoic Asime returned a dutiful nod, and the journey was begun. ~~~ 'What was that?' It was the first he'd spoken since they set out, his growling tone seething across the air with warm suspicion. Asimenios' march came to an abrupt halt, his head tilting sideways to aim his horns at the nearby clutch of trees. Hollow as a lonely heart, his horns amplified the vibrations of movement, granting and impeccable sense of hearing. Thus when the grimy shuffling sloughed its way from between the infinite rows of evergreens composing the forest's twisted paths, Asime knew his paranoia was justified. 'Steel yourself,' he said, and put action to his own advice by placing himself between Layla and the source of the approaching rustle. No had he moved than a wriggling, gelatinous figure shambled out into view, stumbling and fumbling with faltering inhuman balance. The sight of the thing drew Asime's previously withdrawn pout into a disgusted scowl, his harsh eyes narrowing as they assessed the horror before him. It was some unrighteous marriage between a man's skeleton and an ooze's figure. Sculpted in the ever-melting shape of a broad-armed Hyur with 'skin' and form composed of transparent green jelly, its skeleton was clearly visible, the hollow jaws working soundlessly. It appeared to be wearing some semblance of clothing, the hard liquid of it writhing and sloshing in the shape of arms and legs. 'Some manner of... skele...plasm?' Asime peeled his eyes away to regard D'hez, wordlessly inquiring whether he'd ever seen such a thing. When he glanced back, two more had joined the first, and still others could be heard shambling behind. The skeleplasm in the lead reached out its irregular, misshapen arms, questing around like the blind. Whatever foul senses guided it were sending it closer and closer to the trio, and when it was within range it lurched forward with startling speed and intent, issuing a wet burble of a roar. 'Shit!' Asime cussed, swaying lightly out of the thing's reach. He spared a final glance at D'hez and Layla, recalling the lad's earlier words and confidence. Well, there was no time like present to put faith in the archer's ability. Pushing concern from his thoughts, he eased into a comfortable stance, punched his fists together. The shock of that simple motion shot his cloak out all around him, a small wave of displaced air issuing from the force. 'Come then, creature. For I and mine shall be your undoing.' The Skeleplasm convulsed and bellowed with a phlemgy ooze throat. Its kin stumbled forward, numbering a dozen at least, lashing out at the adventurers with mindless, purposeless malevolence.
  15. Ah. Transparent, yes. But not without his own cleverness. ‘Low cunning’, isn’t that what you called it? How derisive. There is plenty of cunning in this one, and nothing low about it. Asime had affected a fond sort-of smile while D’hezrel attended to his appetite. An effortless wave of the hand dismissed the expected string of thanks bubbling forth from the bard. While Asimenios did not at all doubt his sincerity or gratitude, he could find no esteem in having merely provided what the kingdom should have provided some time ago: stability. No man aught be cast out to the wanderer’s road, for hunger and lonesomeness to grind the soul out of him. They deserve better. You knew that, once. Before your love of salvation overran your love of sanctuary. D’hezrel would find his host drifting off into these quiet reveries, dwelling in them almost longer than he seemed to inhabit the present. Fifty-fifty, at least. Which is not to say Asime was impolite; he responded with appropriate grace and prattle. He even breached their low, private tone for a hearty chuckle at the minstrel’s cleverness. ‘Your payment for my services arrives just now!’ he had said grandly, metered out perfectly to the arriving clink and clank of several dishes with such impeccable timing as to have been concocted from the mind of a professional musician. Gradually the meal’s contents diminished, and the empty plates gathered. For his part, Asime had collected up a small bowl of peanuts, occupying himself with shelling them between unsteady fingers and arranging them in a tidy congregation on the table’s dark surface. The task was ponderous and seemed to require much of his attention; a simple task made exponentially difficult for want of proper hardware (namely his thumbs), the stoic Au’ra took to pinching the shells between his knotted knuckles and simply squeezing fingers together until the strain crushed the little nuts out. D’hezrel was not without his own industry, squirreling away some bread and cheese and stowing them for the road. Practical, too. And earnest to boot. A sweet enough tonic, proof against the bitter isolation of the open road. The Au’ra listened while the catte expressed his thanks and outright joy at having a filled belly, guaranteeing a muted ‘naturally, you are welcome, sir’ in response. And displaying the coy observance of a natural survivor, D’hezrel lowered his voice and delicately broached the as yet undisclosed subject: What are you running from? Asimenios weighed his responses carefully. It was not for lack of trust, no if D’hezrel were being deceitful then he deserved to win whatever con he was running because he was the most convincing companion to have ever been devised. Liars, bastards and selfish men alike were as numbered as the salts of the sea, and Asime had met every manner of them. The bard before him was cut from a different steel entirely, of that Asime was certain. No, the Au’ra hesitated because he struggled with the truth himself. It was all much to process, and here in this humble little pub did he suddenly realize he hadn’t prepared himself to explain any of it sensibly. To his own satisfaction, much less that of a newcomer to the tale. In his hesitation, a deep dark brooding set itself in his expression, a silent intensity so forlorn as if to have been the stuff of the old playwrights. Distractedly, he pressed one of his lean fingers into one of the peanuts on the table, stuck it to the digit and guided it steadily to his mouth. Munch munch. ‘I suspect, Master Saephica, my business may very well become your business, should you embark with me. Not to dissuade you, but to inform you honestly, the worst of the matter has already been lived through, survived. But as with all things there are repercussions, ripples that will reach out on and on once the stone has been cast. Who is to know how far they will stretch? Or whether more stones are in flight.’ Another bandaged finger prodded at a little nut until it stuck. Another supplicant drawn from the congregation and sacrificed to the God of Munchies. Chew chew. ‘But I am mincing words. Stalling, perhaps. You are a minstrel by trade, yes? Or rather you possess the bearing and charisma of one, the discretion and conspiratorial manner of a story teller. Accompany me, and I will permit you to write my story. It could do with some editing, for a certainty. A bit at a time, until such a time has come when you are satisfied with the truth, or we have had our ways parted.’ Eyes drifting to the table, the noble hunted another worthy sacrament. This effort included flicking about the undeserving, the unfit. Those peanuts roasted too darkly, or too misshapen, or simply unlucky. He skewered his choice on a fingernail, reeled it in. Crunch crunch. ‘Am I wicked? Some would say so. Am I a danger? Yes. Am I dangerous? Not of late, and insofar as I can help it, rarely again. Am I -in- danger? I do not believe so. I have been wrong before. So very, very wrong. The city holds no love for me, nor I for it. And thus must I away, and in departure so leave behind all that I was, and all I would have become.’ As if that explained everything neatly, straight-backed Asimenios regarded eager D’hezrel unhappily. Clearly unused to describing himself, or his comings and goings. Clearly in desperate need of a listening ear, a steady shoulder. A guide, through the tangled wood of his pain. He cleared his throat. Banished yet another little peanut to join its kin in the Lifestream. ‘Encouraging more questions than answers, I am sure. Forgive my theatrics. For the cost of tolerating them, for the cost of one meal, and Gods-Be-Good, mayhaps for the cost of your own safety, will you join this crippled old soul Northward, D’hezrel Saephica? My tale may very well make you a wealthy man, some day. If you've the steel to undertake it.’
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