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Literature
The End
“Alright, lights out, ya degenerates!  Time to close them peepers!”
“F*CK OFF!  I SLEEP WHEN I WANT TO SLEEP!”  
Keeper Lawson rolled his eyes and shouted back “Suit yourself!  You fall asleep on the clock tomorrow, it is NOT my problem.”
Silence met his ears, causing Lawson to smirk in satisfaction.  
Sometimes, he really did love his job.
Walking down the prison hallway to the break room, Lawson let out a yawn.  Soon after he entered, the previous shift, a bespeckled, copper-skinned man with a mustache, waved to him from his locker.  Returning the wave, Lawson sat down at a bench and began preparing himself for the night, casually engaging his fellow guard.
“So, things look alright so far.  Anyone I need to watch out for?”
“Eh, a few.  Prisoners one through twenty five weren’t too much trouble.  Starting to get frustrated with Tim, though.”
“Wait, Tim?  Again
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Literature
Part 3
“-I’m just saying, even with your rapid healing, I don’t think you should push yourself while we’re in the End Lands, at least for most of the first week.”
“Eh, Nick gave me the all clear; Besides, you packed the usual medical supplies, so I can manage.”
A deadpan tone accompanied the turn of a page.
“Do be careful, Mr. Vaulen.  Fate is always within striking distance.”
The days leading up to it had been a bit more...eventful than usual, but the time had come for the Escort job.  Others like it were met with more apprehension than most others by the more experienced Abaters, but still: a job was a job.  The newer Abaters were usually more enthusiastic, though; after all, it was a chance to travel the world, explore it beyond the Haven you were born in.  In this particular instance, it was a trip southeast to Bloom Haven to deliver a shipment of lumber, paper, and a few other goods.  Not a terribly drastic ch
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Literature
Record 5: Part 2
Rounding a corner, he practically slammed himself against the wall, gritting his teeth, and clenching his fist
‘Come on, focus!  We’ve got a weapon, the entrance is most likely covered, so let’s see if we can find someway to tip off Ma about where we are!’
Pouring over what he had gathered, Lucas hurriedly shuffled off, getting as much distance between himself and the unconscious cultists as was possible.  Periodically adjusting his speed to avoid raising suspicion from the other cultists, he kept his eyes open for the telltale markers that indicated what each room was for, making a turn here and there as he followed the indicators.  Coming to a halt in front of one door in particular, he looked around before drawing closer to it.  
‘This is the room where I saw something shine!  Not really getting any bad vibes from it, and I’m still trying to piece together where they keep their radio, if they even have one…’
Ma
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Literature
Record 5: Part 1
Record 5:  As Beyond, So Within
“LUCAS!!”
Elated at the sight of the recrafted barrier finally shattering, Nora charged forward through the fog, revolver swiveling left and right as she desperately searched for her son and the perpetrator behind the slowly fading fog.  
While the cold weather of the season had made them ignore it initially, the instant it became apparent the fog wasn’t natural, the Enforcers stationed around the area (herself included) had dropped their cover and raced forward, warning bells going off in their heads.  An unseen recrafted barrier, however, had resulted in several Enforcers suffering concussions from impact, with the rest being spared only due to the yells of pain and surprise from the newly injured.  After testing out some rounds on the barrier to no avail, Nora had grown restless by the time a few recrafters had been gathered to take down the obstacle.  It had taken almost thirty minutes before their labor bor
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Literature
Record 4, Part 2
‘I’m beginning to remember WHY it’s been so long since we went to Calwill together.’  Nora dryly noted, mentally, cracking open her right eye to peek at Lucas Lucas as he prayed.  Well, him and the dozens of other people within the Calwill, all sitting down for the bi-weekly gathering.
The holy building was a bit small compared to the other places of worship within High Beacon, but it suited the practitioners of Fall-Girism, as they themselves were a small faith compared to the main faith of Girism.  With dim lighting, an inwardly curved ceiling, and very few people wearing formal clothes, however, it felt rather humble, comforting even, compared to the other, prouder temples that were located in the South Eastern sector.
“...As he walked upon the piteous path he had since come to accept, so did the those who he passed look upon him as his shadow cast atonement.  The self-inflicted chains whispered assurance from his encased hands as he
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Literature
Record 4, Part 1
Record 4:  A Wolf and His Mom
‘Ma’, as Lucas had called her, walked up to him.  Bracing himself for what was to come, Lucas…was enveloped in a hug, and given him several pats on the back.
“Luke, Luke!  For Gireld’s sake, how’ve you been?   They treating you alright at W.I.S.S?”  she asked, clasping both hands on his shoulders
Blushing slightly in embarrassment, Lucas let out a groan of exasperation and replied “Yeah, yeah, I missed you too, ma.”
“Um, Chief?”  
Blinking, Nora turned around and saw an officer pointing at the thief she had just hogtied.
“Ah, right, right.  Hmm, let’s get her back to the fort, see what we can get out of her.  Vanesa, Olie, you two on her side, and Carlos, watch her back.  I’ll tag along behind you and cover things.  Luke, walk with me, we’ve got some catching up to do!”  Nora order, grinning at Lucas and dra
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Literature
Part 3
Breaking into a run, Lucas looked back at Vicky and barked “You and Alex guard the rest of the workers; I’ll try and get some of the patrol to help kill the Slug!”
“Okay, but take this!  It might come in handy!”  Vicky responded, tossing the freezing shortsword over to him.  
Using her spear to stand up, Alex protested, to no avail, as Lucas raced after the Incarnation.
“Trust me, Lucas’ got the best shot at saving her!”  Vicky stated, giving Alex a firm look, scanning the surrounding area for more threats in the process.
Raising an eyebrow, Alex asked “I get that the affected longsword he has is useful, but I can create blockades in the river-”
“-Which the Slug can just jump over, or swerve around!  Besides, you’re assuming you’ll be able to keep up with it!”
Somewhat baffled, Alex retorted “ And he can?  How?”
Before she could reply, Vicky saw something happen
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Literature
Part 2
Finishing her sandwich, a thought occurred to Keiko. “Wait, shouldn’t you already know that?”, she asked
“What do you mean?” Alexandra replied, raising an eyebrow in confusion.
“You know, now that I think about it, you should have already know about that when you first got to High Beacon.  I’d assume they hand out pamphlets with need-to-know information on them at Goldscrap for important information on other Havens.”  Lucas stated, giving Alexandra a curious look.
Blinking, Alexandra pondered the statement for a bit before realizing something, and scratched the back of her head sheepishly.
“...To be honest, I left it to my brother to get the necessary information on High Beacon; he’s the more well read-one between us.  I’ve never been a fan of reading myself, and have always preferred to get the hands-on experience.”
After a moment of awkward silence, Keiko tried to break the ice.
“...So, If yo
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Literature
Record 3: Initiation, Part 1
Record 3:  Initiation
You’d think that living in High Beacon for so long would mean Keiko knew the place like the back of her hand.  
Apparently not.
All around her, the trees seemed as uneven (in terms of height) as it got.  Some seemed to reach the skies themselves, while others were barely taller than a two story house.  And speaking of the skies, not a shred of sunlight was showing, clouds completely blocking the sky.  
Walking over to another tree, Keiko put a hand to it and frowned as she looked around, wondering why everything seemed so...silent  Gathering supplies, especially with the bonus she received for doing a great job helping Millie, had been a fairly daunting experience - more so than she was used to, at any rate. There had been more people than she was used to in the market, and a few of the usual merchants had hired new help - and interacting with new people was always a bit of a chore for Keiko. Taking a walk through the trees hadn
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Literature
Chapter Three Preview
You’d think that living in High Beacon for so long would mean Keiko knew the place like the back of her hand.  
Apparently not.
All around her, the trees seemed as uneven (in terms of height) as it got.  Some seemed to reach the skies themselves, while others were barely taller than a two story house.  And speaking of the skies, not a shred of sunlight was showing, clouds completely blocking the sky.  
Walking over to another tree, Keiko put a hand to it and frowned as she looked around, wondering why everything seemed so...silent  Gathering supplies, especially with the bonus she received for doing a great job helping Millie, had been a fairly daunting experience - more so than she was used to, at any rate. There had been more people than she was used to in the market, and a few of the usual merchants had hired new help - and interacting with new people was always a bit of a chore for Keiko. Taking a walk through the trees hadn’t calmed her down as
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Literature
Fear Itself, Record 2 (part 2)
Part 2:
“Got ‘em right here.”  Dolson stated, pulling the files away from the pile on the left corner of the desk.  Turning back around, he held them out to Keiko and Lucas with his right hand.
“The big one’s fa’ both of you.  The one with pictures in it’s for Keiko, and the other two are Luke’s.” He explained, signaling the files with his left hand.
Taking the files, Lucas swore when he opened the big file.
“Son-of-a-!  Escort duty?!  Seriously?”  He exclaimed, looked at Dolson in exasperation and disbelief.
Not even raising an eyebrow, Dolson simply tuned to his desk, took a cigar out of a drawer, turned around, lit it, took a whiff, then took the the cigar out of his mouth and let out a puff, then crossed his arms.
“Yeah, escort duty.  Don’t like it?  TOUGH.  And it’s not just you and Keiko; Vicky and Greg’ll be joining you two.  And before ya a
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Literature
Fear Itself, record 2 (part 1)
Record 2: Welcome to W.E.T.S., Part 1
“Gireld’s moon, he STILL hasn’t fixed that thing?  We were gone for practically an entire week!”
The trek back was uneventful, all things considered.  Depending on where you were, it could take an entire day just to get from one end of the Haven to another.  Horseback was quicker, but that was difficult to acquire.  Given Keiko lacked Lucas’s natural healing ability, they had had to stop more than once for a break when her leg’s burn acted up.   Regardless, they were only about a block away.
W.E.T.S’s headquarters was situated along the southwest wall of High Beacon, almost blended right into the wall itself.  It stood at about 3 stories, and the main door was facing the namesake of the Haven:  A tall, tall tower standing high above the trees, even the tallest trees of the northern part of the Haven.  It functioned as sort of a lighthouse, really, being lit once every
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Literature
Fear Itself, Chapter 1 (part 2 of 2)
“I really hate traveling like that.”  
Keiko patted herself down to eliminate stray ends, the engulfed building several yards before her.
Surge stones, while capable of instant transportation, were expensive, though given that they temporarily turned you into a bolt of lightning to allow for high speed travel, what else could you expect?
The static cling after the end was a bit off-putting, too.
Glancing down, Keiko sighed in resignation at the now shattered stone before her feet.  Reaching for her crossbow, Keiko was about to race towards the buildings front when she heard a it groan behind her.  Pupils immediately becoming pinpricks, she instinctively dove behind the largest tree she could see.
And not a moment too soon, as the entire building collapsed.
Feeling the heat wave crash over the tree, she cringed and until the building finished its fall.  When at last all sound ceased, she leaned her head out to try and spot anyone -or anything- in the ruin
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Literature
Fear Itself, Chapter 1 (Part 1 of 2)
Record 1:   Welcome to The Nightmare
"Good night, Mum!"
Young Aishi, a dark-skinned, short-haired, and green-eyed seven-year old, snuggled into her bed, happily pulling the dark yellow sheet up to her shoulders
Smiling, Eve gave her daughter a kiss on the forehead and went towards the door, putting out a candle on the way.  "Night to you too, dear.  Now get some rest; we’ve got quite a day ahead of us tomorrow."
Her mother closing the door, Aishi slowly drifted off to sleep.
After being let go from the fishery, her father had searched tirelessly for another source of income until he had been offered a job caring for some beasts owned by a wealthy entrepreneur, though Aishi herself still didn't know what that meant.  
Happy that she was had a permanent bed after those days being dragged from one place to another, she drifted off dreaming of racing on giant dogs with the friends she had made while living in the new house.
It was a fine home, more of a single flo
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Literature
S.A: Volume 2, Chapter 18
Chapter 18:  Breaking Night.  (Breaking News at Night)
"Good Evening! Tonight, we welcome you all once again to SIGN, to bring the world the 74th  (75th if you count the botch up in 2176, the anchorman said jokingly, in a more quiet tone) World-Wide Soul Clash!  I'm Walter Ronriez with Thomas Yasher and THIS is your ticket to the tournament!"
"Did you really just say that line, Walter?"
"…Can it!"  
Yes, things were certainly lively at the GSA.  Since the tournament's start, the reporters had been flying all over the world, covering every team and angle.  Currently, SIGN, GSA's official news network was covering the entirety of the tournament.  
And Rodriez was loving every last moment of it.  
"Got to say, one heck-of-a-line up this year.  Most countries participating since 15 years ago!"
"You got that right, Walt!  And today we have for you all the first match of the tou
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Literature
S.A: Volume 2, Chapter 17
Chapter 17: The Good, The Bug, and The Furry.
"Oh, man.  Did anyone get the number of the truck that hit me?" grumbled Lance as he reentered the bus/RV.  Last night, the team had stopped at a hotel for the night, and there had a been a party.  So, being teenagers and young adults, they naturally went to it, with Lance and Toshiro's Uncle Henry opting to simply sleep, his Soul partner still on his shoulder.  
Naturally, the whole team crashed.
"If you find out, tell me; I got a bone to…oh, my head!" exclaimed Alice, massaging her temples.
"Having a hangover, are we?"  said Ken matter-of-factly.  He had chosen to drink only a bit.
Glaring at her boyfriend, Alice retorted "If I am, you better start praying you don't push me over the edge!", her anger spiking dangerously.
Chuckling nervously, Ken stammered, "R-right.  I'll k-keep that in m-mind."
"Lance, why are you so down?  You didn't lay a finger on the
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Activity


A while ago, I made a thread about a graphic novel I was hoping to get an artist for, and while I do still hope for this, hopefully before summer, I realize that I was being fairly hasty; I hadn't even completed the five chapters I told myself to do before I started looking for an artist.  So, now that the five chapters are up and running, there's one more thing I need to get done:

I need to make sure it's very well written, and to do that I need multiple beta-readers.  I'm hoping for at least ten people with good credentials to give my story a good look over, and who can tell me what works and what doesn't, to make the chapters I've got out as well written as possible.  Once that's done, I'm gonna get a Kickstarter going and gather enough funds, hopefully with some help from the people who actually would legitimately enjoy seeing my story brought to graphic novel format, to hire a good artist. 

I'm perfectly willing to give the beta-readers feedback on their own work in exchange.

I do hope that this is the correct forum to post this on.

Here's the pitch behind the story:

Kill living fears, known as 'Incarnations', as a profession, two friends become embroiled in a plot to bring about total Armageddon, in a world already struggling to stay on it's feet even with the aid of the Recrafting, the magic of the world.

Main characters: Lucas Vaulen, a reluctant werewolf, is always eager for a fight, and had budding social expertise hampered by a short temper.  His partner, Keiko, has a past shrouded in mystery, while she herself struggles with social anxiety and mastering her Recrafting 

Plot:

While en-route back home from an assignment, they are forced to take a long detour, one that leads them to the remnants of an old civilization from before the Incarnations first appeared, and the discovery of a mysterious black cube that is sent to to a recrafting institution for study.  Months afterwards, the cube resurfaces, and our heroes find themselves becoming wrapped up in a conspiracy that brings to light the true origin of the Incarnations...and a threat that could destroy their very world.
“Alright, lights out, ya degenerates!  Time to close them peepers!”

“F*CK OFF!  I SLEEP WHEN I WANT TO SLEEP!”  

Keeper Lawson rolled his eyes and shouted back “Suit yourself!  You fall asleep on the clock tomorrow, it is NOT my problem.”

Silence met his ears, causing Lawson to smirk in satisfaction.  

Sometimes, he really did love his job.

Walking down the prison hallway to the break room, Lawson let out a yawn.  Soon after he entered, the previous shift, a bespeckled, copper-skinned man with a mustache, waved to him from his locker.  Returning the wave, Lawson sat down at a bench and began preparing himself for the night, casually engaging his fellow guard.

“So, things look alright so far.  Anyone I need to watch out for?”

“Eh, a few.  Prisoners one through twenty five weren’t too much trouble.  Starting to get frustrated with Tim, though.”

“Wait, Tim?  Again?  That’s, what, four warnings and a night in the cells for loitering by the Defense Chair’s building?  I get that he’s not in the best of circumstances, but come on!”

“Si, si, I know; at this rate, we might actually have to drop a serious charge on the sap!”

“Ugh!  What number’s he THIS time?  Thirteen??”

“Close; Fifteen.  I put him in the right wing, third cell down from the first light, with access to the night sky.  Felt a bit sorry for him and gave him a blanket for the night.”

Lawson sighed.

“Got it.  Anyone else?  The ‘Shackled Fur’ causing any trouble?”

Taking a moment to get the joke, Soto snorted, wiping away a tear from his right eye.

“Hah-he-he!  ‘Shackled Fur’.  That...that’s good.  Yeah, he’s locked up nice and tidy.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Vaulen so happy to arrest someone!  Almost makes me feel sorry for him.  Almost.  The guy’s rotting in cell T-nine, isolated as much as possible.  Noo idea how long he’s gonna be there, though.  Just hope he’s not one of those ‘preaching’ kind of cultists.  Otherwise, it’s gonna be a long year.”

“I hear ya.  So, like I asked, anyone else?”

Slowing down a bit as he packed his things for the night, Soto mulled over the question before answering.

“Mmm, not that I can think…!  Oh, wait!”  Gesturing for Lawson to follow him, Soto walked over to the steel door separating them from the inmates and opened a small hatch that allowed them to look inside the hall.  Soto searched for a moment before pointing towards the back-left.

“Number seventy-three, hombre, in the back near the door to the lower levels.  Make sure to keep a close eye on her.”

Frowning, Lawson walked over to the prisoner identification board and quickly found seventy-three, nodding.

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye out for suspicious activity in that area.  She shouldn’t be too much of an issue, though; we already placed an iron muzzle on her.”

Soto remained unconvinced, brow furrowing with anxiety.

“I don’t know, I’d still be extra sharp around her; something about the look in her eyes, it’s so...unnerving.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”  Putting the finishing touches on his night armor, Lawson gave Soto a nod as he officially began his shift.  “Well, say ‘hi’ to Paul and the kids for me.”

“Will do, Quin, will do.  ¡Hasta mañana!”

Waving Soto off, he opened the door to the prison cells, firmly closing it behind him, and began his rounds, hand casually drifting to the firearm at his side.  Walking down the hallway, his eyes wandered from cell to cell, flashing a brief light to get a better look in the dimly-lit area

‘...Yep, Tim’s here.  Gonna need to get that sheet from him sometime tonight.  Maybe when it’s starting to warm up again...let’s see...clear...clear...clear…”  

Glancing at the upper levels, he gave a wave to passing fellow guard.  Returning his gaze, he continued onwards, occasionally examining a cell more closely when something caught his eye.  Finally, he stopped at one cell in particular.

Seventy-three.  

Clenching his firearm a little tighter, he examined the bars carefully for any signs of weakness, before looking directly at the prisoner in question.

‘Gotta admit, she’s no run-of-the-mill thief.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a Recrafter like that.’

She’d definitely been a strange one; not uttering a single word during the ENTIRE interrogation, from what he had heard.  No name, no job, no Haven; NOTHING.  Making things even stranger was that the Recraft scanner had shown her reserves to be on par with some of the more experienced - and old - members of High Beacon’s recrafter community.  

But there hadn’t been a single trace of it anywhere on her.

Someone had put two-and-two together, and suggested they check the mouth she seemed content to keep shut.  All but confirming this was the fact that she had glared even harsher when they found about her recrafting - struggling when they tried forcing her to open up was just icing on the cake.  

After resorting to alternative means when all else failed, they had found fair traces of recrafting lining the back of her mouth.  After a slapping the best muzzle they could find on her, an inquiry had immediately been sent out to R.I.S.K.H., and she had been placed in a significant more secure cell than they had originally planned.  As she was now, Prisoner Seventy-Three simple sat on her bed, legs crossed in a meditative pose, eyes closed, muzzle tight, and keeping her using her recraft.  Carefully looking over her with his light, Lawson nodded once he saw that the recrafted-suppressing seals were in place; it never hurt to be cautious, after all.  After re-examining the bars one last time, Lawson resumed his route.  

Two hours later, and he was sitting on a small chair near the exit, drinking a bit of water as he looked over his person notes, occasionally glancing at the cells.

‘That’s two more payments down, and sis should officially be cured!  Just need a biiit more from my ‘tips’, and I can FINALLY be done with this!  No more having to constantly look over my shoulder every time I adjust the numbers!  No one notices, no one gets hurt; everyone wins!’  

Lawson smiled to himself.  

And then, it began.

It started as the barest of sounds, easily mistaken for an exceptionally gentle whistling of the wind.  It quietly echoed in the prison, waking not a soul with its humble aria.  It brought with it soft images of the moon reflected on a lake, the waves caressing the shore as dragonflies landed on the surface, sending out minute ripples.  

It was harmony.

It was the calm, soothing nature of the night.

It was peace.

Gradually, it began picking up, and soon, Lawson found himself unconsciously humming along to it.  It went on for a while before Lawson felt himself yawn.  Frowning, Lawson reached into his pocket and took out his pocket watch, still humming the soothing melody.  

‘Aphyr’s left eye, it’s only been a few hours?  I’m not even watching a pot boil!’  

It was then that he noticed himself humming along to an unknown melody.  

His frown deepening, he yawned again as he slowly got up, stretching his arms upwards as he stood.  Letting out a sniff as he scratched himself, he held up his light as he began his route once more, squinting in the dark as he tried to find the source of the sound.  By now, the song was a very clear melody, still quiet, but now audible in the silence of the night.  With every step he took, his feet seemed to get heavier, and he found himself drifting in and out of the waking world every few blinks, yawning as he spoke.

“Wha...what the h*ll is...going on?  Did someone spi...spike my drink?  Gah, the lullaby certainly isn’t helping, that’s for su-?!”

His eyes briefly widened as it hit him, his heavy hand getting a brief boost of energy from the realization as it immediately reached for his alarm whistle.

“Gotta...raise the..raise the alarm...before it’s too...lllate…”  

Barely managing to bring the whistle up to his lips, Lawson was able to issue a pathetic excuse for a blow before he collapsed onto his knees, dropping the alarm from his, before his face impacted the ground as sleep claimed him.

And just like that, all was silent.  Not a single person had been unaffected by the song.  The guards had collapsed while in action, and the prisoners had entered an even deeper sleep than the one they had been in.

Prisoner Seventy-Three closed her mouth.

Lowering her arms, she stood upright in her cell as she opened her eyes,  midnight-hair curving above her neck to frame her face.  In the glow of the moon, two things about her were immediately striking:  the piercing blue eyes, as cold as ice, and a dark green, thick line that ran along her nose, and curved over her eyes.

Glancing downwards, she eyed the unlocked muzzle next to her feet...and at the runes glowing on her body.  Rolling her eyes, she went over to the barred window she had been allowed, and opened her mouth.

And it began again.

However, this melody did not sooth; there were no waves to rock one to sleep, no moonlit images to invite a person to a state of tranquility.  

Instead, there was an invitation:  A pleasant scent catching the wind, likened to honey, dripping slowly from the comb as it slide down the tree; The call of the avian, encompassing all to come for their mate; an open letter from the king, sacrilege for some, a blessing for others.  

And yet there was more.

In minutes, her song ended, a far cry from the length of her lullaby.  But it was enough.  Three shadows zipped past her window, speeding around the fort…

And soon, three nightingales fluttered into her cell, one with a piece of graphite, and the others with parchment.  Pressing her paper to the walls of her cell, she wrote.  When all was done, she sung another short melody, and sent them off into the night.  Turning around to face the door of her cell, she opened her mouth one final time.  A somber atmosphere began filling in the prison, and with it, a sea of loss was heard

A veteran greedily drained every last drop of the golden medicine that was liquor, aiming to lose herself to the sorrowful pleasure.

A man walked onwards back to his abode, exhausted, his search for his family’s legacy forever gone.

At last, a book of secrets, of a lifetime spent, was tossed into the fire, as its writer watched the flames eat away at that which will never be known.

As she reached the climax of her song, blue whisps began swirling out of the heads of everyone who was within earshot of Prisoner Seventy-Three, pooling into a single point in the air of the center of the room.  Once it had all mixed together into a great sapphire cloud, she sang her final note.

And the cloud disintegrated, taking with it the memories of the past few hours.

Prisoner Seventy-Three dropped to one knee, panting with a few beads of sweat dripping down her face.  Grimacing as the seals glowing on her faded to away, reminding her of the restrictions placed on her recrafting stock by the Enforcers, she took the opportunity to catch her breath.  Swiftly surveying the prison, she nodded and began re-attaching the muzzle to her mouth, ensuring no one would ever know what she had done.  Putting it back into pace, she spared one last look at the nightingales flying away towards their targets, and finally laid her head to rest.

Onwards, they flew, beyond the Haven walls.  Message tucked into its feathers as the wind raked it, the eastern nightingale sailed past the walls of High Beacon.  All the bird knew was its destination, placed in its gaze, and locked into its mind, and the landmark it was to soar to.  

For three days it traveled, passing over arid deserts, bustling Havens, and scorching plains, and through darkest clouds and pouring rain it soared, never blinking, never erring from it’s path.

Then, at last, it arrived.

The mouth of a cave, screaming at the daylight world, lay hundreds of yards beneath its wings.  The message still clenched in its talons, it gently drifted downwards…

And suddenly, the bird was seized by an invisible hand.  The hand trembled and shook the bird violently as it dove downwards to the shaded entrance, dragging the panicked bird with it.  

And out of the mouth, a small, cloaked figure emerged, a hand outstretched, trembling as it beckoned the avian closer.  Gnarled, twisted, and mismatched, the hand grabbed the struggling bird as soon as was possible.  And then the bird, as much as it was able to understand, became paralyzed as perceived its cloaked captor up close.  

A ragged breathing came from the shadowed hood, the voice almost a deepened child as it grasped what it held in its hand.  Then, as quickly as it had grasped the bird in the air, the figure savagely ripped the message from the petrified nightingale.  The instant the letter left the bird’s clutches, the melody left its mind, and its own mind returned to it.  Snapped out of its horrified trance, it viciously began mauling the hand that contained it, quickly tearing it apart.

The unseen hand that had captured it seized its head.

With a twist and a ‘snap’, life left the poor nightingale.

Staring at the dead nightingale in its hand, the figure retreated back into the wailing cave.  Approaching a campfire it had made, it threw the bird into the blaze, causing the fire to flare...

...And reveal the dozens of corpses haphazardly strewn over the cave floor.  

Meals had been made out of the majority of them, some finely roasted, and others barely cooked.  More alarmingly, amidst the beasts were a precious few Incarnations...and humans.

Taking a seat by the fire to read the letter, the figure eventually stirred, and began to chuckle, the sound echoing off the walls;

A skeleton clattered as it’s bones hit the bottom of a narrow pit, clacking against each other in rapid disarray; a starving hyena laughed as it fought with another predator for its meal, and wind swept through the hallowed remains of a skull.

Swiftly, the laughter died, and the figure through the parchment into the fire.  Raising a hand, it picked up the roasted corpse of the nightingale with it’s invisible hand, smothered the flames, and began to messily devour it, eating right through the bones.  

Once it had finished, it got up, grabbed a makeshift-torch from the fire with the unseen appendage, and began venturing further into the cave.  Walking past an opening in the ceiling, a gentle gust of wind lifted the hood…

...And revealed an enormous eye staring into the darkness.

Sclera as yellow as the pus of an infected wound, veins branched around the shrunken pupil as the eye quivered.  Twisted, warped, and pale as the hand that had snapped the nightingales neck, the skin of the disfigured individual seemed to hang rather loosely from the muscle underneath, as if it had been hastily sewn on.    Still quivering in its socket, the eye suddenly glanced downwards towards something hidden within its robe, not blinking once.  

Then, it smiled.  

Its breathing was heavy, cracked, and ecstatic, the mouth filled with small teeth shaped like shrapnel, and a thin, bubbled tongue.

“Soon...SO Very soon...It will ALL be OveR…”
The End
For the record, that THING at the end is, indeed, an Incarnation.  As for who, well, I'll end with this:

If you want to test someone's merit, see just how far down the rabbit hole they are willing to go, then don't tempt them with forbidden fruit; don't hold their loved ones above their heads; don't toy with their weaknesses and spit on their accomplishments.

To truly, TRULY, test someone...

Make them DESPERATE

DESPERATE BEYOND MEASURE...
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“-I’m just saying, even with your rapid healing, I don’t think you should push yourself while we’re in the End Lands, at least for most of the first week.”

“Eh, Nick gave me the all clear; Besides, you packed the usual medical supplies, so I can manage.”

A deadpan tone accompanied the turn of a page.

“Do be careful, Mr. Vaulen.  Fate is always within striking distance.”

The days leading up to it had been a bit more...eventful than usual, but the time had come for the Escort job.  Others like it were met with more apprehension than most others by the more experienced Abaters, but still: a job was a job.  The newer Abaters were usually more enthusiastic, though; after all, it was a chance to travel the world, explore it beyond the Haven you were born in.  In this particular instance, it was a trip southeast to Bloom Haven to deliver a shipment of lumber, paper, and a few other goods.  Not a terribly drastic change of scenery, going from a coniferous forest to a rainforest (or perhaps jungle was a more apt description), but the various fauna were a welcome sight.  

Taking a glance at the sky, Lucas shrugged.

“Eh, the same applies to everyone at some point.  Don’t see why I should be singled out.”

Before Walter could make a rebuttal, Vicky gave her butler a disapproving look.

“Come on, Walt, don’t ruin the mood!  This’ll be our first time to Bloom Haven!  Keep your spirits up!”

“Your wish is my command, Miss Arteriel.”

Making a huff, Vicky gave him a cross look.

“Hph!  I thought getting that book you’ve been eyeing would make you a bit  more chipper.”

Walter scowled, tightening his grip on the edges, his steps becoming more rigid.

“Oh, it would, but, apparently, personally knowing the husband of an acclaimed author doesn’t net you more than a measly ten percent discount!”

“We’re almost there, guys.  Just a heads up.”  Lucas remarked, apparently ignoring Walter’s minor grievances.

“Hmm…I take it that Galebard-san hasn’t been able to soften his position?”

“Not even citing his wedding vows was able to convince Galebard’s husband otherwise!  I had to pay nearly full price!”

Realizing the implications, Vicky’s eyes widened.

“Wait a tic - Did you have enough Rills for our supplies??”  

Grabbing the bag of supplies Walter was carrying, she quickly began rummaging through it in a mild panic, only for Walter to retch it out of her hands with a look of indignation.

“Ragh!  Miss Arteriel, I can assure you that, while we were forced to compromise, Miss Keiko and I were able to negotiate fair supplies for our journey to Bloom Haven!  And furthermore, we-!”

Coming to an abrupt halt, Walter immediately straightened out, doing his best to regain his composure as he looked dead ahead.  Vicky followed suit and subsequently waved cheerfully to their client, a tall, wealthy-looking man with magnificent black sideburns, flanked on both sides by personal guards as he exited a side-door, the massive doors of the loading entrance slowly opening as well.

At last, they had arrived at their destination: the Commuting Lot.  With the only things separating them from the outside being the Gates, the three entrances to High Beacon were kept under higher security than most other areas, barring major enterprises or residential districts.  Due to the unease of being close to the world beyond, there were comparatively few housing opportunities near the wall, and the few that existed were, at best, temporary relief stations.  As such, the most prominent establishments were temporary warehouses for imports and exports, and security checkpoints for visitors.  The warehouse the four abaters had arrived at was a merely five blocks away from the clearance point at the gates, and would be one of the last things they saw before they ventured out beyond the safety of the walls.  Looking over the building, Keiko raised her eyebrows.

‘I was expecting more moss...looks like they might’ve recently replaced some of the wall - or did they just hire someone to fortify the structure?’  

Watching as the massive warehouse door finished opening, she stiffened slightly, unconsciously gripping her crossbow straps a bit tight, as what was pulling the caravans trotted into the dawn’s light.  

Exiting the warehouse were two titanic Lurid Horses, the Incarnations of Equinophobia (The fear of horses), their pale, sickly green complexion almost blending in with the tree.  Although she relaxed slightly at seeing the numerous restraints keeping them in check, she had to remind herself not to stare directly at their faces; from the holes on either side exposing the teeth, to the eerie white glow of their eyes, sometimes she felt as if they were staring into her very soul.  And that was without taking into account their MASSIVE size, or how their long manes, pigmented like deadwood, seemed to flow in the air unaided, like a creeping fire.

“Morning, Mister Saerin!”

As Keiko continued to wearily eye the restrained Incarnations, Walter facepalmed at Vicky’s cheerful statement.  Saerin’s eyes widened ever so slightly in surprise, before he resumed a sophisticated, and almost condescending, composure, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly into a smirk.

“Ah, Victoria Arteriel; I see the tales of your new occupation were not exaggerated.”

Before she could reply, Walter grabbed her by the collar of her armor, and smiled apologetically, visibly strained.    

“I do apologize, but I need to have a word with Miss Arteriel, Mister Saerin, sir.”

Watching with bemusement as Walter dragged her off somewhere more private, Keiko swiftly tried to make herself seem more professional as Lucas began conversing.

“It’s nice to see you, Mr. Saerin, and I hope that things are going well, but I’m surprised that you decided to meet us here in person; I’d think this sort of thing would only merit sending a lac-a representative?”

“I’m doing quite well, Mr. Vaulen, and I’ve been looking forward to meeting you and your partner.

Lucas and Keiko tilted their heads in confusion.

“I have it on good authority that you two were the ones who put an end to that monstrosity that was hunting the children of our fair Haven.”  Smiling lightly in gratitude, he bowed his head slightly at both of them.

“And as a proud father, I felt that I simply must thank you both in person for likely saving my children’s lives.”

Just as they were about to respond, he held up a hand for silence.

“There’s no need to say anything; just know that I have the utmost faith in your abilities to protect both my daughter, and my investment.”

“W-we’ll-!”

“Don’t worry about it; with the four of us, it’s all in good hands.”  Lucas stated for Keiko, flashing a confident grin.

“Good to hear.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s...something I must discuss with Miss Arteriel and her servant.”

Waving him off, Lucas realized something as Saerin disappeared around the corner of the building.

“So, where’s his kid?”

“YOU-HOO~!”  

Whipping around, Lucas and Keiko saw a barely-adolescent girl with an ash-brown tone step out from behind the caravan, a few guards by her side.  

“...I think that’s her...Uh, Lucas?  Is it just me, or does she look familiar?”  

Hunching slightly, Lucas squinted as the girl got closer, something slowly dawning on him.

“You might be onto something...Wait a minute!  The pigtails, the pricey-looking bow on her back...Yeah, I remember!  It was about half a year ago, when you and I were doing that guarding job for Saerin!”  

Searching her memories, Keiko’s eyebrows arched up in recognition.  It had been a relatively straight-forward job: Saerin’s daughter, Cindy, a pre-teen at the time, had been attacked while they were defending his property from a swarm of Grave-Stingers, Incarnations of the Fear of Bees.  

Roughly the size of a thumb, vertical stripes of yellow and black made them seem more like the claws of a ravenous beast as they viciously assaulted the establishment, intend on turning it into new hive, armed with several curved stingers lining their non-existent spines.

Keiko had been preoccupied with a swarm surrounding her (Shock recrafting or not, their ability to fire their stingers had forced her to be careful with her how much she used), and  Lucas, thanks to Millie’s weapon recommendation, had fared a bit better, a fire-based veil on his blade warding off the swarm as Cincy cowered behind him, shakily clutching a bow.  Thankfully, Keiko had been able to eliminate the rest of them with a well placed shock rune, though a few of the groundsmen had laid down their lives to buy her some time.

“Heh, wonder what she wants.”

Roughly fifteen minutes after saying this, Lucas found himself scowling in exasperation.

Maybe it was his disdain for escort jobs.  After all, when traveling the End Lands, paranoia settled in your mind within the first week;  looking around your shoulder, never knowing what might pop up out of thin air and maul you until you’re unrecognizable - the uncertainty of it all was more than enough to make most people avoid going out here unless strictly necessary

Maybe it was because he’d be leaving his home for a little while, not able to see Millie’s smile, or finish that stone skipping contest with Vicky...

...Or maybe it was the thirteen-year old girl sitting next to him, gawking at him with FAR too many hearts in her eyes for comfort.

...No, no, it was definitely the last option..

‘You save a girl ONCE, and suddenly, you’re her knight in shining armor.  That ‘specifically requested’ bit really should have tipped me off.’  His eyes slowly drifting in her direction, Lucas’ right eyebrow twitched.  

“Haah~...the two of us traveling together for weeks on end.  It’s so romantic~!”

“...Yeah, two things: you DO know I’m not the only one guarding the shipment, right?  There’re gonna be three other people (Thank Gireld).”  

“Exactly!  That’s plenty of people to keep Papa’s cargo safe!  You’re practically my personal bodyguard!”

“Which brings me to point number two:  Why are YOU coming in the first place?  Traveling from one Haven to another’s not exactly a luxury vacation.  Even with the four of us, you could wind up actually, you know, DYING.”

“I was able to convince Papa that if I’m gonna take over the family business someday, I need to be prepared to travel between Havens for meetings with important clients!  My archery trainer’s also coming along, so I’ll be getting some practice in for when I join up with the Patrol!”  Looking as if she had been rehearsing this, she held up a finger, and adopted a stern look.  

“And with you watching over me, I’ll be perfectly safe!”  At that, she promptly grabbed Lucas’ arm, snuggling it.  

“...I don’t suppose you have anything better to do right now, like maybe practicing that archery?”

“Nope!  My teacher’s not here yet, so I’ve got nothing else to do!”

Lucas swiftly began trying to pry his arm from the smitten girl’s grasp.

“Guh!  L-look, not that I don’t...appreciate the gesture, but I’m already sorta, kinda, seeing someone at the m...MOMENT!”  He rasped, finally wrenching his limb free.

“Have you gone on a date with her?”  Cindy asked without a second thought, unflinching.

“Uh…”

“You two kissed?  Held hands?  Said “I love you?”

“Eh, technically-”

“Have you gotten to first base?”

Taken aback, Lucas looked at her in mild bewilderment.

“How do you even -?”

“Just answer the question:  Yes or no?”

Lucas continued gaping in bewilderment, unable to form a single word.  

“Then you’re still available!” she happily declared, all too cheerfully.  “Maybe while we’re on the road, I can personally give you a little reward for your services?”  

To Lucas’ horror, she immediately posed in a manner entirely inappropriate for someone barely in their teens.  

“...excuse me.”  Lucas stated, his face turning a shade of green. Swiftly getting up, he made his way to the back of the caravan.  

The sound of dry heaving was heard moments later.

Said retching continued for approximately six minutes before Lucas returned returned to the caravan and sat back down, the sickly green on his face now pale.  Before Cindy could utter a word, Lucas shot up a hand to silence her.

“Please...do me a favor, and NEVER do THAT again.”

Cindy nodded, then grabbed Lucas’ arm again, happily snuggling against it once more.  Desperate now, Lucas swiftly turned to Walter, who had his face buried on a book.

“Gimme a hand here, Walt, PLEASE!”

Slowly, the book lowered to reveal Walter’s uncovered eye.  Staring blankly at the scene, Walter simply returned the book to its original position.

“No, no, that’s all you, Mister Vaulen.”

Lucas’ left eye twitched.

Poking his head out of the caravan, he spotted Vicky, face still set in militant-concentration, marching the length of the transportation.

“VICK!  You can help me with this, can’t ya?!”

Taking a good look at the situation, Vicky...swiftly turned around mid step, pretending that she hadn’t seen anything.

“GET BACK HERE, YOU TRAITOR!”  Lucas ineffectively shouted after her in utter hysteria.

Out of options, he turned his attention to Keiko, seated at the other end of the caravan, and began to plead.

“Do something!!”  

Pausing as she inspected her crossbow, Keiko slowly took in the scene in front of her, eyes shifting back and forth gradually.

“...You DO know I’m not very good at this kind of thing, right?”

Feeling his eye begin twitching again, Lucas scooted over to Keiko as fast as he could, forced to drag along his oblivious little ‘admirer’, and grabbed Keiko’s collar, shaking her slightly in desperation, his voice now hushed and frantic

“I know, but Walt and Vicky are being *ssholes, so I’m out of options here!!  Gireld’s moon, you’re both archers; maybe she’ll listen to you!!”

“You’re the social expert here, not me!!”  Keiko whispered back in panic, nervously glancing at the ward.

“Don’t you know any recrafting for keeping someone at arm’s length?!”

Before Keiko could respond, the caravan came to a halt

“Miss Shaerin, it’s time for your-!”

Their attention snapping to the caravan entrance, Keiko and Lucas saw an unamused, freckled brunette sticking her head into the caravan.

“What, exactly, are you doing, Miss Shaerin?”

Cindy, having frozen the minute she heard the voice, smiled nervously at the newcomer.
“M-Miss Delgado!  I-I was just-”

“On second thought, nevermind, Miss Saerin.  Release your grip on his arm, por favor; Your studies await in the front carriage.”

Resisting the urge to shout out ‘Hallelujah!’, Lucas settled for a slouch of relief the instant the parasitic life form that was Cindy detached herself from his limb.  Giving Delgado a nod of thanks, Lucas was baffled when she gave him a look of mild indifference.

“Stick to your duties, Señor abater.”

Narrowing his eyes as Delgado escorted Cindy to her private wagon, Lucas scowled.

“Great, we got an gnat and a prick joining us….hey, Walt, any tips on how to deal with the headaches those two are gonna cause?”

Walter simply turned a page.

“I think he’s going to be occupied for a while.”  Keiko observed, finishing her crossbow inspection.  Lucas gave her a deadpan look.

“We’re heading into the Direwoods; He’ll be looking over his shoulder about ten minutes after we lose sight of the gate.”

Keiko glanced at Walter.

“Hmm...Should we calm him and Arteriel-san down before we get to Bloom Haven? Being paranoid while there could cause some problems...”

“Hm?  Oh yeah, it’s gonna be their first time at Bloom; forgot about that.  Eh, I’ll think of something.”  Yawning, Lucas stretched for a bit before eyeing Shouga.

“Speaking of problems, I still think bringing along the fuzzball was a bad idea; guy’s got a killer bite, but a lot of Incarnations can’t exactly be ‘bitten’.”

Keiko gave Shouga a few scratches under his chin, eliciting a soft purr of contentment from him.

“A little extra help can go a long way, Lucas.  Besides, it’ll be good for him to see more of the world.”

Eyeing Shouga for a bit longer, Lucas eventually shrugged, and promptly relaxed in his seat.

“Do you think we’ll be back in time?”

Lucas opened an eye, and gave Keiko a puzzled look.

“Hmm?”

“For Treelight Day, I mean.”

Lucas inhaled, and glanced up at the ceiling of the caravan.

“...I freakin’ hope so, Keiko.  I really do…Wait!  I just remembered; my ma-!”

The caravan had come to a halt.  Exchanging a look, both of them climbed the ladder to the top of the wagon, and were greeted with the sight of the Eastern gate, the sun in the middle of the sky, and the lighthouse standing tall and proud miles behind them.

The thing about High Beacon’s namesake wasn’t simply its function as a guiding light to its denizens.

It was a sign of hope to those beyond the walls - the walls that kept High Beacon safe, safe from the lands that separated the Havens themselves.

The End Lands.

Go beyond the western wall, and after a few hours worth of travel, you will hit a cliff-side facing the vast Arimel ocean.  Go north, and the forest will start giving way to frozen winds after about three weeks worth of travel.  At least part of the southern area of High Beacon extended to grasslands and plains;  Go east, however, and there will be nothing but trees for upwards of hundreds of miles, possibly even thousands.

It was at this wall that Keiko and Lucas found themselves, cargo and ward safe for the moment

They stared at the gate leading outside, solemnly, knowing no matter what, this trip held far more danger than any one Incarnation could ever give.

“Hey, you think we’ll survive this again?”

Studying Lucas for a moment, Keiko scrunched up her nose in thought, her right eyebrow arching upwards.

“Well...we’re about as prepared as can be.  I think.  Coleman-san and I have already got a schedule set up for the watch, I’ve packed our supplies, including your Changeling, to practice on the road, and Saerin-sama is going to be occupied during the trip, lessening her exposure, so I’d guess we have an…’okay’ chance?”

She smiled nervously

Contemplating the words for a moment, Lucas eventually sighed in acceptance and shrugged.

“Well, alright then.  Let’s get this SHOW ON THE ROAD!!”

“HERE, HERE!”  Vicky shouted, letting out a whoop of excitement.

Nodding, one of the Patrolmen stationed at the gate turned towards the opening lever.

“ALL PERSONNEL, STAY CLEAR!  OPENING THE GATE!”

With a great creak, the towering doors began to open, and a great gale burst through the instant the sliver of light to the End Lands appeared, gradually dying down as the forest surrounding High Beacon was bared before them.

If the massive greenery they were to travel through was known by another name before the Incarnations started to appear, then it had been forgotten long ago.  To the Havens that lived within it at present, it had two names: The Dire-Woods, and the Grand Echo.  While all part of the End Lands, the Grand Echo in particular was known for it’s eerie calmness, and the feeling that you were always being watched.  It was not an unjustified feeling, as the Patrolmen tasked with scavenging from outside High Beacons walls were often faced with disturbing encounters; the skeletal remains of a nomad falling from a tree, and crashing onto the campfire; stumbling upon the half-mad, weathered journal of a wanderer from the Broken Era, a corpse nowhere in sight; One squad leader had reported his units to be missing, only for them to turn up less than four hours later - minus their tongues.

Keiko took one final look at High Beacons landmark, wind gently caressing her silver locks.  She knew this could very well be the last time she saw her home before she died, and she always made a point to remember the sight.

“Yo, Keiko?”

Remembering who was by her side, Keiko turned to Lucas.

“Like I said before, I just remembered something.  It’s about Treelight Day; provided we get back in time, me and Ma are having a little party; interested in coming this year?”

Keiko’s eyes widened.

“R-really??”

Lucas grinned, and held out his fist.

“Wouldn’t be much of a party without my partner; besides, Millie and the others would probably be disappointed if you didn’t show.”

Casting her eyes downward for an instant in thought, Keiko’s gaze drifted back to the fist in front of her, her hand tensing in hesitation.

Slowly, she smiled, and put the back of her fist against Lucas’.

“Definitely.”

A loud ‘bam’ resonated through the air.  Turning their heads, they saw that the gate to High Beacon had been closed..

Lucas sighed at the sound, his grin quickly transforming into a look of apprehension.

“Aaaand just like that, things start to turn chilly.  Hey, what’s the schedule you and Walter planned out?”

“...I think I’ve got the first shift with Vicky.”

“Got it.  I’ll be down below in the meantime.”  Lucas replied, already making his way down the ladder.  When only his head was visible, he stopped and gave Keiko a smirk.

“If you need me for anything, just holler.”

At her nod, Lucas finished his descent.

Closing her eyes, Keiko inhaled, then redirected her attention to the front of the caravan, a familiar sense of tension already beginning to rear its ugly head, pleasant thoughts of the Treelight Day party rapidly fading into the back of her mind.  

Her grip on her crossbow tightened.  Feeling Shouga snuggling itself around her neck, Keiko took a breath, and looked around at the forest around her.

For better or for worse, the End Lands would be her home for a while.
Rounding a corner, he practically slammed himself against the wall, gritting his teeth, and clenching his fist

‘Come on, focus!  We’ve got a weapon, the entrance is most likely covered, so let’s see if we can find someway to tip off Ma about where we are!’

Pouring over what he had gathered, Lucas hurriedly shuffled off, getting as much distance between himself and the unconscious cultists as was possible.  Periodically adjusting his speed to avoid raising suspicion from the other cultists, he kept his eyes open for the telltale markers that indicated what each room was for, making a turn here and there as he followed the indicators.  Coming to a halt in front of one door in particular, he looked around before drawing closer to it.  

‘This is the room where I saw something shine!  Not really getting any bad vibes from it, and I’m still trying to piece together where they keep their radio, if they even have one…’

Making sure noone was around, Lucas opened the door, and looked inside.  Struggling a bit to see in front of him with all the dim lighting, his eyes widened...before he gave the contents of the room a completely deadpan expression behind his mask.  Moments after entering, two distinctive ‘thumps’ could be heard before Lucas exited, a long iron pole in one hand, closed the door, and resumed his search.

‘Huh.  I guess even these psycho’s need to get their exercise in if they want to strongarm other werewolves to join.  Still, smallest workout room I’ve ever seen...!  Wait a sec!’

Hurrying back to the workout room, Lucas examined the door more carefully, and found an odd marking close to the wall.

‘Knew it!  This is the weight room I heard about!  That raspy-voiced woman a few chairs down confused a spider-shaped dent on a door downstairs with the one up here while retrieving some ink!”

His expression promptly soured.

“...of course it’s downstairs.  Reeeally wish I knew if I was above ground or not.”

“Surround him!”

Whipping around, Lucas swore as several zealots rounded the corner, a few blunt weapons on hand.  Rather alarmingly, none of them were wearing masks, their hoods hiding their identities.  The foremost one pointed at him, a familiar vial in hand.

“Remember, we don’t want him dead; Only subdued!”    

Dodging the ‘enlightening dust’, Lucas rushed forward, whipping the iron bar in his hand out in front of him, and slammed it into the fanatics, knocking the wind of two of them as they were smacked against the wall.  Swiftly pulling the rod back, he was barely able to stop a club from reaching his ribcage, then kicked the assailant.  Striking the cultist’s now-vulnerable shin, Lucas grunted as one of the two remaining enemies grabbed the pole and attempted to pry it out of his hands.  

“I’ll give you b*stards this much - NGH!  You definitely outclass most werewolves I know-”

Noticing the other remaining cultist take out a vial of powder, Lucas grinned as an idea formed.  

“-Key word: Most!”

Abruptly letting go of his make-shift weapon, Lucas grabbed the cultist as he stumbled backwards, then used him as a shield as the mixture was thrown at him.  Kneeing his temporary shield in the back, Lucas picked up his iron staff, and squared off against the remaining cultist, who had opted for a partial transformation.

Lucas smirked, and gave his opponent a single motion: ‘Bring it on’.

Narrowing his eyes, the cultist charged forward, and the two began to clash.  Blow after blow was exchanged, with neither giving ground as the minutes became hours.  After what seemed like the fifth hour, Lucas grimaced as a a claw left a long, but shallow, but across his cheek, then grunted as he felt the impact from the claws starting to pushing him back.

‘At least this getting interesting...NGH!  I’ve GOTTA stop wasting time, and let Ma know where I am!’

Parrying another attack, Lucas grasped the edge of his cloak and ensnared the next incoming swipe, keeping his opponent wide open before swimming down his metal rod.  

More than halfway to the target, the rod came to an abrupt halt, blocked by the other hand of the zealot before him.  Grinning wolfishly at Lucas’ surprised expression, the cultist lunged forward with his teeth, intent on tearing into Lucas’ shoulder, and Lucas did the only thing he could:

He kicked, and he kicked HARD.

Flesh met flesh met iron as the cultist’s mouth was snapped shut, and his skull sent flying into his own, clawed fist.  Swiftly bringing his staff to front, Lucas delivered two more strikes, causing his foe to crumble to the ground, defeated.  Taking a moment to sit down and catch his breath, Lucas glanced in the direction of the stairs.

‘We’re almost there, Vaulen. We’re almost there.’

Quickly checking the bodies for anything useful, Lucas grabbed a shortsword and raced down the hallway, then outright leapt down the stairs to the floor below, rolling forward to decrease the impact.  Bolting the instant he finished, he sped through the hallway, pausing only to offer a quick prayer to those who had died in the cells.  Continuing his search, Lucas was forced to hide from a few patrolling groups and members before he found the spider once more (It looked more like an octopus, in Lucas’ opinion).

Slipping inside, he grinned as he saw something familiar gleam in the darkness of the room.

‘Hellooo, salvation!’

Immediately locking the door, he hurried over, readied the short message he had planned, activated the radio, hit the ‘send’ button…

And nothing happened.

“I must admit, your acting prowess is quite impressive, Brother Vaulen.”

His heart grinded to a halt instantly, and Lucas slowly turned his head to the room entrance, hoping that he was imagining things.

Staring at him through the doors barred window was Maxwell’s masked face, flanked by what Lucas could only assume to be dozens of other zealots.

“I am fairly curious; how WERE you able to resist the effects of enlightenment?”

Lucas simply glared, taking on a defensive position as a shiver ran down his spine.

“For you to be able to deceive us in the state you were in...perhaps you are more trouble than you are worth?”

A grin and a taunt were Lucas’ only reply.

Before Maxwell could reply, one of the other cultists seemed to realize something and began quietly communicating something with him.

“...The girl?  She was disposed of; How is she relevant to his ambush-?!”

At that moment, an explosion shook the facility.  

And Lucas had to resist the surprised smile of realization that was creeping onto his face.

“But how??  Brother Alain witnessed her being REPEATEDLY sta-!”  

Hearing Maxwell panic for the first time since being brought to the cults mercy brought a smile to Lucas, one that widened into an enormous grin of audacity when Maxwell whipped around to face him, glaring intently behind the mask.

During that ‘second test’, Lucas had stabbed something, alright, just not the captive.  Internally thanking Nick for the apprenticeship and subsequent medical knowledge, he had, instead, stabbed the least-worrisome part of his arm, and ensured the dagger was covered in blood.  Stabbing as ‘violently’ as was possible, he made rips into the hostages clothes, the bloody dagger ensuring the appearance of continued mutilation.  Keeping the stunned captive informed through whispers, he had learned a bit about the guard’s routine, how many had been captured, and that the weapons were likely stores upstairs somewhere.  The act had been good enough to fool Alain, fortunately, and he had simply escorted Lucas to the burial room without inspecting the ‘body’.  After all, why bother to check for a pulse when you think you’ve witnessed someone being killed as brutally as possible?

The captive sticking around and finding a way to signal for help, instead of escaping, though; Lucas had not expected that.

“...What are you all standing around for?  Someone get up there before we are exposed!!”

More than a dozen cultists immediately rushed towards the stairs, but one fanatic actually seemed to have rushed down from upstairs, racing over to Maxwell before skidding to a halt.

“Arch-Brother!  I’m not entirely sure who, but someone has blown up the second floor kitchen - The roof’s on fire!”

‘Finally!  So, we’ve got ourselves a two-story complex with a basement.  Explains the lack of windows down here.’  Lucas thought, reaching into his robes for the short-sword.  

“How far has it spread??  Have the Patrol arrived?!”

“When I left, it was already spreading to the surrounding trees; Sister Lyle and Brother Alvare are directing half of us upstairs to put out the fires, and Sisters Munez and Carsel are ensuring we remain undetected if anyone arrives!”

“Good.  Report back to Sister Munez, and bring Brother Alain down here at once - Thanks to his oversight, one of the Unawakened was left unattended, and the fire is a direct result.  A mistake that shall soon be corrected, Brother Vaul-”

Turning to glare at Lucas mid-sentence, Maxwell’s eyes had a fraction of a second to register the fact that Lucas was no longer on guard behind the door.  

He was, in fact, charging it.

And he was a split-second away from impact

The door getting thrown off it’s hinges, Maxwell was barely able to jump out of the way in time.  The same, however, could not be said for a few of the zealots near him, who were smashed against the wall.  Jumping back, his eyes widened slightly in fury, scowling behind his mask as Lucas leapt into view, short-sword in one hand, and an iron staff in the other.

Throwing off his hood, Lucas eyed the cultists around him, taking stock of their numbers, before grinning audaciously, and sending Maxwell a challenging look.

“I’m really tempted to just beat the everloving cr*p out of you b*stards for sullying Girelds name and brainwashing Fall-Girelites, but, because I’m a nice guy, I’ll give you one chance: Stand.  Down.”

Their response was to immediately surround him.

Lucas shrugged.

‘Eh, it was worth a shot.  Still, I think I can take most of these chumps out by the time Ma gets here.’

Ten minutes later, Lucas was forced to admit he had only been half right.  

Ripping off part of his cloak to quickly wrap it around a fresh wound on his arm, he leapt back to avoid getting his chest ripped to shreds by overreaching claws.  Evidently, the cultists he had fought with outside the weight room had NOT been good indicators about the strength of the average Bound cultist.  

Gritting his teeth from the pain, Lucas made a grand sweep around him with the short sword he had picked up, scattering the zealots surrounding him; shortly into the fight, he had discovered a wind-based veil on it, giving it the reach of a longsword.   Unfortunately, given that it still had the weight of a short-sword, he still found himself swinging too fast here and there.

Like now, for instance.  

“Aw, come on!”  he shouted in exasperation as he narrowly missed an oncoming mace.  Forced to roll out of the way instead, he blocked the claws of another zealot, then widened his eyes in alarm as he saw the barrel of a hunting rifle poking out of the shadows behind his enemy.  Ducking under his foes arm, Lucas delivered a swift kick to the lycanthropes stomach, then bolted to a wall for cover before the gunner could get a better shot.  

“Of course they have firearms; why wouldn’t they have firearms?!”

Peeking out from behind the wall, he took a quick head count.

‘Good, good, I managed to take out a good chunk of the weaklings, and some of their higher ups.  I’ve got a chipped tooth, a more than a few ribs are damaged, I know I’ve torn some muscles in my left arm, and I now know what a scratching post feels like.  Add the fact that they probably know I can’t kill...’

Freezing at the faint sound of a gun cocking, he frantically dove to the right, and widened his eyes as he saw a blue cloud smash against the spot he had been hiding at.

‘Either they still think they can brainwash me before Ma gets here (HA!), or they’re really keen on the idea of a hostage who won’t fight back.”

Attacking the cultist who had taken the shot, Lucas swore as he misjudged his aim, barely missing the attackers rifle, and left himself wide open for a crushing blow to the shin.  

Immediately grabbed at the injured leg and hissing in pain, a tear streaming down an eye, Lucas was at the mercy of his opponent, who swiftly brought the barrel of his rifle to Lucas’ head.  Before his opponent could pull the trigger, however, Lucas used the iron pole he still had, and subdued him with a hard jab to the stomach.  Decking the cultist as he knelt in pain, Lucas rested for a bit, panting, before practically hopping away from the sound of the kitchen fire, and hopefully as far from the smoke as possible.  

Keeping close to the ground, he slipped into the first vacant room he could find, what appeared to be one of the cult’s closets.  Immediately locking the door, he sat down and tended to his wounds with more care, before opening the door a crack and surveying where he was.

‘Alright, I think the small supply closet is supposed to be in a hallway parallel to the weight room.  Taking into account the hallways I’ve already been down...just two more options left!’

Waiting until the coast was clear, Lucas stole down the hallway, pausing only once to confirm his location.  He hurried past the place where he had knocked out the other cultists, this time continuing straight past the intersection, and taking a right at a corner...and running into a small group of fanatics.  Letting out a curse, Lucas prepared for another brawl, only for all of them to charge forward with shields instead.  Whipping his sword into a defensive position, Lucas let out a breath of air as the impact almost sent him tumbling to the ground.  Cringing as he struggled to push against them, he glanced around, trying to find a flaw in their defense.  As he saw the shadows of their feet, however, it suddenly dawned on him.

They weren’t just trying to subdue him anymore:  They were trying to block his path.

Perfect.

With a grin, Lucas switched to pushing back with his shoulder, and swung the veiled weapon towards the ground behind him, and activated the veil.  

It was like being shot out of a cannon.

Bowling through them all thanks to the intense burst of wind, Lucas crashed through a door behind them, and found hints of daylight slipping through what he could only assume were windows.  

Unfortunately, he also found at least four transformed werewolves in front of the door to the outside.  Judging by their bulk, he was facing the elites.  Grimacing from some splinters now puncturing his exhausted body, Lucas struggled to get up, glanced around at the only obstacles between him and the outside.  His options few, he let out a few pants before taking a deep breath, and prepared to reach deep inside of him and unleash his lycanthropic blood.

“FLOOD ‘EM!!!”

The instant that voice boomed outside the exit, everything seemed to grind to a halt, and Lucas’ heart skipped a beat.

Ma.

With only the slightest idea of what she could mean, he was barely able to avert his gaze from the entrance before every door and window was blown open.

And with a great flash, all were blinded.

‘AGH!!  My eyes-!  What in Girelds Moon are they doing??’

Even shielding his eyes as best he could, the sheer intensity of the light shining through the windows almost paralyzed him on the spot

All around him, the cultists were in similar positions, trying to block out the overwhelming brightness by whatever means possible, voicing their distress in moans and whimpering.

“Let’s move, let’s move!”

With the sounds of the cultists surrounding him being grappled to submission, he struggled to the exit.

“Luke!  Keep looking down, hun!  We’re here for you!”

Still squinting as he struggled to adjust to the light, Lucas was picked up by barely distinguishable Enforcers, and rushed outside to safety, where he felt a pair of arms embrace him, and a single tear of relieved joy wet his cheek as Nora kissed his forehead.

“Heh….Silver, Ma?”

Nora smiled, pulling away to wipe away her tear.

“Silver, hun.”

As with all races that inhabited the planet, werewolves were not invincible.  In addition to the heightened aggression that most carried when they transformed, silver had a special property that had only ever affected werewolves.

It blinded them.  Even a single sliver could cripple a werewolf, reducing them to a whimpering mess from the sheer intensity of the light itself.  For the stronger, though, its effects were somewhat lessened.  It was for this reason that the Enforcers were given special permission to use it to incapacitate any roque lycanthrope, under the most dire circumstances.  

Taking one last look behind him, Lucas grinned slightly as he saw Maxwell being thrown to the ground, his mask already taken by the enforcers.

“And with all this, I think I’m gonna have a little break.”    

...

“Mind if I join you?”

Glancing over his shoulder, Lucas saw his mother emerge from the fortress door.  

After things had settled down, he had learned, much to his frustration, that some of the cultists had escaped, and Maxwell had proven to be very devoted to his cause.  Just opening the hidden tunnel in the cells had taken them far longer than expected any trace of the cultists had simply vanished.

“Be my guest.”

Looking up at the night sky, Nora lit a cigarette, and inhaled.

“Quite a fiasco, huh?”

“All things considered, I’d say things could’ve been worse.  Definitely not a fan of almost freezing to death, though; gonna try and avoid that in the future.”

Nora chuckled, the cigarette held in between her fingers, then grinned heartedly at Lucas.

“You escaped the clutches of a batshi*t insane cult, and you’re already making wise-cracks.  Not sure WHAT I did to get these results out of my kid, but I’m glad as all h*ll that I made them!”

Nora laughed out loud, the stars of the night sky twinkling above her.  Chuckling himself, Lucas gave Nora a cocky grin, arms folded in front of him.

“I’ll try to pass on the legacy!  Wouldn’t want the well to run dry!”

Mother and son shared a laugh, wiping away tears from their eyes.

“Excuse me, Ms. Vaulen?  I’m here to collect a repor-”

They turned their attention to the door.  A patrolman had poked his head out the door and was staring at them with a bemused expression.

“What?”  Nora and Lucas asked simultaneously.

Neither of them were aware of the fact that they were leaning against the Fort’s wall in the exact same manner.

“...I’ll just collect it when you’re done here, then!”

Wordlessly, the patrolman closed the door shut.

After a moment of awkward silence, Nora gave a small huff.

“Hmm, someone’s getting a write up; Luke?”

“Yeah, Ma?

“That reminds me:  I got a notice the other day.  From your boss.”

An uneasy knot formed in Lucas’ stomach, making the left corner of his mouth twitch.

“Something about using an INFERNAL CORE to pull a fast one on him.”

Lucas gulped, letting out a nervous laugh.    

“May I ask WHY you felt the need to do that?”

“C-c’mon, Ma, it was just a little joke!  It’s not like there was any REAL dang--GAH!”

Nora had cuffed his ears.

“A Searing Core??  SERIOUSLY?!  Where in Zorin’s Horizon do you get off, pulling a stunt like that?!  I’ll admit I laughed the first few times I heard about you messing with the guy, but this is really pushing the envelope!”

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry!  I’ll try to keep things to a lower scale-”

“No!  I don’t wanna hear a PEEP, understand?!  Not for a good, long time, Luke!”

With his mother jabbing a finger at him with a harsh glare, Lucas stiffened, shoved his hands in his pockets, and cast his gaze downwards, causing Nora to drop her arms and slouch in exasperation, letting out a long sigh.  Straightening herself up, she massaged her forehead as she tried to sort out her thoughts, and placed a hand on her hip, cigarette in between her fingers.

“Listen, Hun; the man’s been through...He’s had a tough life, I shouldn’t need to elaborate.  I don’t want you adding to that….just try to be a better person around him; that’s all I’m asking.  Do it for me...please?”

Slowly, Lucas relaxed, looking upwards once more his eyes, and nodded gently.

“...Promise, Ma.”

At this, Nora sighed, and gave her son a tired, but grateful smile.

“That’s all to hear, Luke.”

Not another word was spoken between the two as they enjoyed each other’s company, bathing in the moon’s light.

“So, on that topic, Arthur also told me that you’ve got an escorting job coming up.”  

, Noting that her cigarette was little more than a stub, Nora lit another, her eyes becoming half-lidded as she used her free hand to protect the flame of her lighter from the night’s wind.  

“And, ah...just where exactly, ah, might you be ‘headed’?”

Lucas narrowed his eyes at his mother’s suddenly clipped tone, then closed them with a scowl when he connected the dots.

“For Gireld’s sake...I’m NOT going to Russel Haven, Ma!  Trust me; We wouldn’t be having this conversation if THAT was the case.  Dolson knows all about the situation; we may like ticking each other off, but he KNOWS that it’s the LAST place I should ever be sent to.”

“Good!  Just thought I’d make sure!”  Nora grinned at Lucas, eyes closed.

“Just for the record, ma, the jobs for to Bloom Haven.”

“Bloom??  That’s FANTASTIC!  Make sure to check up on Clarisse for me while you’re there-and give her a kiss for me!  Aphyr’s GALE, it’s hard to believe it’s only been three years since she moved!”

Nora quickly started off on a tangent, and Lucas simply rolled his eyes, a knowing smile spreading on his lips.

“Ma...MA!”

“Huh?”

“Don’t worry about it, of course I’m gonna visit her.  That’s what big brothers do, right?”

Lucas quickly found his hair being ravaged, courtesy of Nora’s free hand.

“Aaaah, look at you, being such a softie about your sis!”

“Maaa-!!

Placing both hands on her son’s shoulders, Nora felt a tear welling up in her right eye as she looked at him dead on, gaze softened.

“You sure do a mother proud, Luke.”

“...Thanks, Ma.”

After a few moments had passed, Nora turned her attention back to the fort.

“Well, I gotta go and look over the case file, make sure everything’s in order.  You already turned over your statement and the evidence you snagged from that pit?”

“Soon as I got here, Ma.”

“Good.  Be sure to tell everyone at W.I.S.S. I said ‘hi’.  And remember:  Enough with antagonizing Arthur, alright?  Last thing I want is to hear about him dying of  a heart attack.”

Giving Nora a kiss on the cheek, Lucas gave her an assuring nod.

“I’ll do my best, ma.”
Smiling, Nora tilted Lucas’ head down, and kissed his forehead.

“Love you, hun.”

“You too, ma.”

With a wave, Lucas began walking towards the stairs on the opposite side of the fort.

“Oh, one last thing, Luke.”

“Yeah, Ma?”  

Nora grinned teasingly as she entered the fort, already halfway through.

“Millie’s not gonna wait around forever, so quit wasting time and go for it!  I’m reeeeeally itching to having her as a daughter-in-law!”

Laughing out loud at Lucas’ rapid loss of composure, Nora quickly shut the door behind her, his exasperated exclamation of ‘Maaa!” immediately muffled.




“I just don’t know, Eve.”

Eve placed her hand on Charlie’s shoulder.

“I know it’s hard, but the Stalker opened my eyes; she NEEDS to start training soon, dear.  Otherwise, she might not live long enough to get the training she needs!”

“But I swore when she was born that she’d never have to get involved in all this!  That...she would always be safe.  Both of you, you mean so much to me-”

“Yes, but sometimes, we have to face reality; we can’t always be there to protect her, and if she died because we didn’t prepare her...It’s time, Charlie.”

Staring deeply into his wife’s eyes, Charlie sighed.

“A-Alright...but give me a tic to find my old axe; If we’re gonna do this, then it should be like I was when I was her age.”

Placing her hands on her husband’s shoulders, Eve smiled, and kissed him.

After the Stalker incident, they had managed to secure temporary housing thanks to Tory’s employer, planning to wait things things out a bit until they felt it was safe to return home.  At the moment, they were taking up residence at a nearby inn, with Aishi sleeping in a small room connected to the main bedroom

Gently knocking on Aishi’s door, Eve waited for her daughter’s muffled approval before entering.  Aishi herself was reading a book in her bed, her head still wrapped up in bandages, some medication on a small table next to her, and a few plush dogs here and there.

“Feeling alright, Hun?”

Immediately looking away from her book, Aishi seemed to ponder the question before giving her father the best puppy-eyes she could muster under her condition .

“Hnn...I still feel a little dizzy...Maybe some more ice cream would help?”

Chuckling slightly, Eve walked over to the bed, knelt down, and looked her daughter in the eyes.

“Maybe some other time, hun.  There’s something we need to talk about right now. You’re father will be here in a minute.”

Pouting slightly from the denial of sacred ice cream, Aishi reluctantly closed her book.

“Now, where to begin...All that’s happened this week has got all our nerves standing on end, mostly because of that monster….at the same time, though, awful as it was, I suppose that was a bit of a wakeup call, for both your father and I.”

Aishi tilted her head in confusion.

“...Listen; Your father and I have told you about our time on the Redwood Patrol, but there’s more to it than that.  You see, before they go join up, most kids are taught a bit of self-defense by their parents.  It’s basically a tradition, one that’s been going on for ages, some say dating back to when High Beacon was first founded.”

At this point, Charlie entered the small room, an axe in hand.  For a few minutes, he simply stared at the scene in front of him, conflicting emotions dancing behind his eyes.  Clenching his free fist, he inhaled, and let out a sigh.  Nodding to Eve, he sat down on the end, and held the axe before Aishi, and continued where she had left off, resigned to what he was about to do.

“...This axe...belonged to my father.  It was handed down to me when I was about your age, and I was trained in it’s usage until I joined up with the Patrol.  And now, I’m handing it down to you.  Your mother and I...as much as I hate saying this...we’re not always going to be around, and we want you to be safe, no matter what.  So, as soon as you get better...do you think you’ll be up for it?”

Aishi’s eyes slowly drifted between her father and the axe as she processed what her parents were saying.

“So...I’ll be more of a grown-up?”

Blinking once, Charlie put a hand to his chin.

“...I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.”

Smiling as best she could given her injury, Aishi took the axe from her father’s hands, and examined it, noting how different, and light, it looked compared to the axes she had seen the Patrolmen carry; it reminded her of a coat hanger. To her surprise, the grip seemed to glow as she held it.

“Daddy, why is it glowing?  And why does it look different from the other axes I’ve seen??”

Charlie froze.

As Aishi held the axe up to point out the veil, he heard them.

He saw them.

He heard the cries of a broken child, newly-orphaned within High Beacon.

He saw the faces of kind foreigners, saving him from his fate as he entered his new home; His new sister, Aishi, greeting him with a smile, and becoming his idol as the years went by.

...And he heard her, commanding him, Eve, and their newborn daughter, to find shelter, as she and the remaining Patrolmen faced off against the rampaging Incarnation

...and finally, he saw himself reflected in his daughter, asking his adoptive father the exact same question she was.  

“Daddy, is something wrong?”

Feeling Eve place comforting hands on his shoulder, Charlie snapped out of his daze, turned his head, and looked Eve in the eyes.  Holding her gaze for a bit in silently communication, he smiled and turned back to Aishi, brushing tears away from his eyes.

“I-It’s nothing.  (Ahem).  My father - well, my adoptive father  - wasn’t from around here.  Not many people come to live in High Beacon, as they’d rather not risk their lives on the patrol.  Most who do already know how to fight, and your grandfather was one such person; This axe was his, originally, and that ‘glow’ is a veil that stops anyone who’s not a member of the family from using it.”

“So, it’s like a sword from those stories?  The ones that Mum’s started reading every night??”   With each word she spoke, her eyes started glistening with more and more wonder, her smile rapidly expanding...until she flinched, and reached up to massage her irritated trauma.

“I got it, hun.”  Eve assured her, leaning forward, and giving her sore spot a small kiss.  Lightly resting her nose on Aishi’s, she smiled softly, and rubbed against it.

“Of course; it’s gonna be just like those stories, Aishi.”

Recovering a bit of her smile, Aishi waited until her mother had stopped before looking down at the axe resting on the bed.  

“Mmmm...Okay!  So, after I’m better, will we practice a lot?  Can I show it to my friends?”

Feeling his shoulders finally beginning to relax at Aishi’s acceptance, Charlie took the axe, and rested against the wall

“Y….yeah.  Both your mother and I are going to spend as much time as we can teaching you how to protect yourself.  But, don’t show your friends yet, Sweet Pea.  Let’s wait until you’re good at using it.”  

Nodding to Eve, Charlie leaned forward and gave Aishi a hug, followed by a kiss on the cheek.  Leaving Aishi to her rest, Charlie and Eve exited the room, giving her a final wish goodnight.  Laying her head down on the pillow, Aishi happily hummed herself to sleep.

In just a month or so, she was going to be more of a grown-up.
Record 5:  As Beyond, So Within

“LUCAS!!”

Elated at the sight of the recrafted barrier finally shattering, Nora charged forward through the fog, revolver swiveling left and right as she desperately searched for her son and the perpetrator behind the slowly fading fog.  

While the cold weather of the season had made them ignore it initially, the instant it became apparent the fog wasn’t natural, the Enforcers stationed around the area (herself included) had dropped their cover and raced forward, warning bells going off in their heads.  An unseen recrafted barrier, however, had resulted in several Enforcers suffering concussions from impact, with the rest being spared only due to the yells of pain and surprise from the newly injured.  After testing out some rounds on the barrier to no avail, Nora had grown restless by the time a few recrafters had been gathered to take down the obstacle.  It had taken almost thirty minutes before their labor bore fruition.

“GET RID OF THIS F*CKING FOG, ALREADY!!” Nora barked, struggling to see more than fifteen feet in front of her.  “I swear, if he’s got so much as a freakin’ scratch on him-!”  

“Chief!  Preparing to clear the fog!”

“DO IT!”

Not five second after the words left her mouth, she felt the air shimmer with heat, and the fog rapidly dwindled until she could see the trees once more, and the other Enforcers with her.

But not a single sign of her son, no matter where she looked.  Instead, with fresh blood pooling around them, were the torn bodies of enforcers that had been inside the barrier when it went up.

“...We need some menders over here, stat!”  she ordered.  “We don’t move quickly, we’ll lose them!”

‘Gireld’s moon, we were set up!’  

“CHIEF!  OVER HERE!  I THINK YOU SHOULD SEE THIS!”

In the blink of an eye, Nora was next to the enforcer, eyes wide with anxiety, immediately spotting the object of interest.  On the ground where the enforcer was pointing, there was a circular patch of dead grass.  And barely visible in the center, Nora glimpsed a sliver of something else.

“Chief?  Any thought-?”

“Ward off the area, and search for anything else suspicious.  Get everyone’s statement, and gather back at the station in three hours, stat.  Understood, Petty-Cadet?”

“Uh, y-yeah-Of course, Chief!”

As the officer ran off to relay the orders, Nora replaced her gauntlet with a more resistant glove, and carefully picked up the sliver she saw.  Her eyes narrowed as a small amount of ice slowly began creeping from the sliver onto the tips of her covered fingers.

“Just how long were they planning this...and where did they take my son?”

…..

All was darkness.  

In a still sea of nothing he floated, unable to move.  Try as he might, he could not steer himself away from what he felt.

Sheer cold.

It crawled up him like vines, creeping inch by inch, instilling tension with each step.  At first, it had outlined his form, a line of ice snaking it’s way from his head to his toes. At first, nothing had happened once it was shaped.  Then, it began to spread, and soon, ribbons of frost appeared, creating new rings around his person.  

By the time it reached his stomach, he had passed the point of anxiety, and his body shook with his unvoiced scream, the cold sapping away his strength with each passing moment.

Would this, perhaps, be the day he died?

Suddenly, a sharp pain erupted from his back and a parade of colors exploded all around him.

….

Wearily, Lucas opened his eyes, blinking as he struggled to see in the pitch-black room he found himself in.

‘Ugh, what happened?  Last thing I remember, I was…!  Cr*p.  I’ve been taken prisoner, haven’t I?  Okay, self-examination time: Let’s see, can I move my arms?’

Lucas’ felt cold steel pull him back, chains clinking ever so slightly above and behind him.

‘No, no I cannot.  Are my legs bound?’

Twiddling his toes, he then rotated his feet, then attempted a kick, almost succeeding before foot was jolted to a stop

‘Okay, that’s something, at least.  Now, there gotta something in here that can help me see-!”

Leaning forward, Lucas felt his cheek brush up against straw fabric, and his shoulder rub against metal.  Experimentally, Lucas tried tilting his head to his shoulder, and felt a cold metal disk push up against rough burlap.

‘Aaaand there’s a sack over my head, with a metal disk to boot.  Fantasic, now I look like a rejected scarecrow.  My sword’s probably being kept somewhere-Ma’s NOT gonna be happy if that thing’s broken-, and I’ve got nothing to do in the meantime, but wait for these psycho’s to check on me.”

The abrupt, heavy sound of a rusty iron door slowing swinging open greeted his ears.

‘Aaand guess who’s here!’

“Remove the sack, but keep his eyes covered.  Arch-Brother Maxwell wishes him to be of adequate health when he is indoctrinated.”, solemnly commanded one of Lucas’ captors.

‘So, that’s the name of this cult’s ringleader, huh?  A last name would help, but I’m guessing they forsake those when they join up.’  

As the sack was partially lifted, Lucas used a bit of the energy he still had to abruptly sweep his head out from under it.  His eyes freed for the moment, he was able to quickly glimpse at the cultists before him.  Something he noticed immediately was how dimly lit the room was, with the surprised individuals before him only illuminated by the light of the torches behind them.

‘Hmm, not the old man I think I saw before passing out, but A face is better than NO face.’

For whatever reason, unlike his masked companions, the individual before him had left his face exposed.  Frazzled, pale-red hair and baggy eyes, the color of the sun, square jaw and missing teeth; those were what Lucas saw before his captor hastily pulled a hood over his head.  

Letting out a cocky laugh, the cold impairing his vocal cords a bit, Lucas remarked “So, are you gonna stand there gawking, or am I gonna get an audience with this ‘Arch-Brother’ of yours soon?”

The figure before him trembled slightly with rage, then let out a sigh before placing the sack over Lucas’ face, grabbing his chin to hold his head in place.  Lucas heard a finger snap before foul tasting powder was shoved into his mouth, and a bare hand forced him to swallow.

Choking almost instantly, Lucas spent a few minutes coughing violently, his throat feeling like sand-paper had been forced down it.

“We shall return later, Brother Vaulen, once your wounds have properly healed.”

The exit door slammed shut, and Lucas felt some of the shallow wounds he had received begin to heal, and the pain from the blow to his torso very slowly began to subside.

‘Ugh, I almost forgot; werewolf healing is much weaker at these temperatures.  Come on, man, focus on what we’ve got!  Pebble-mouth mentioned indoctrination; If they’re trying to brainwash me, they why not just kidnap me in my sleep, instead of subduing me using Frigid Horns?  Hmm, might be because of the security measures that Dolson had put in place.  Or was it because there’s ALWAYS someone up in the Den, and they knew they didn’t stand a chance against a Knight, much less everyone if the alarm was raised?...Yeah, that’s sounds about right.  And following that logic, given how much time and effort it must have taken they to get those horns, they’ve probably been targeting ME specifically for quite a while.”

Lucas smiled grimly.

“They probably wanted some serious werewolf muscle in this cult of theirs, and a werewolf Abater DOES sound right up THAT alley, huh?  Not to mention the fact that Ma’s the chief of the Enforcers, so I double as good hostage material right there.  But then, why did they use that powder on the others?  If they wanted to lure me out, why not just steal my weapon and-!”

His eyes widened in realization

‘They want strength in numbers!!  But, then why use the powder? If they just wanted more members, as all they’d need to do is kidnap them in their sleep instead!...wait a minute...were the depressed states a sign of this ‘indoctrination’, and not just a result of that powder mom’s men found?...Those b*stards, they were planting spies!’  

Beginning to tremble, Lucas took several minutes to calm himself down.  

‘I swear, they’re gonna pay for this…’

Leaning back a bit, Lucas mustered up what strength he had, and howled.

“You’re all gonna PAY!!”



“D*mn it!”

Nora Vaulen slammed her fists on the table before her, knocking several pins off the map of High Beacon before her.

Meeting with the evidence gathered, the Enforcers had quickly discovered the extent of the wool that had been pulled over their eyes.  

“Chief, we did what we thought was the best course of action given the circumstances.  There’s no way we could have known they were trying to lure out your son.”

Nora simply glared at the speaking Enforcer, who quickly recoiled.

“Can’t say I like admitting this, but I’m almost impressed by these crackers.  Rather than risk drawing too much attention by outright kidnapping the civilians, they just altered their behavior with an alchemical agent, allowing them to bolster their numbers and keep themselves under the radar until it was too late.”

“Watch yourself, Reggie.” Nora growled, whipping around to glare at her second-in-command.  

A rather short, but imposing, man of dark skin, with a truly magnificent beard that reached his neck, Reginald Torres simply held out a hand in defense as his superior attempted to incinerate him on the spot with her gaze alone.  

“Just giving credit where credit is due, chief; they’re still a bunch of twits if they thought kidnapping Lucas was anything but rubbish.  I’m sure he’ll have already taken care of some of these gits by the time we find out where they are.”

Eyeing him for a few more seconds, Nora eventually returned her gaze to the map.

“We got word back yet from those shops?”, she asked.

“Just got the last of them, chief!”  stated one of the other enforcers present, pinning them to the wall they were using for information on the case.  Taking in as much of it as she could, Nora looked around at everyone under her command

“Alright, I want this thing solved yesterday, people!  Let’s move it!”

Incoherent chatter broke out immediately as the gathered officers began shuffling around, comparing information and theories, to try and pinpoint the cults location.

“Hey, is he really gonna be alright?  I mean, he’s a knight, but with the alchemy these guys have access to…”

Nora and Reginald turned their heads to the left; one of the lower ranked enforcers (Juan, if Nora remembered his name correctly) was giving them a worried expression, a file clutched in his hand.  Blinking once, Nora returned her attention to the map of High Beacon before walking over to the wall of information by the table, lighting a cigarette in the process.

“He’s my son; we might not’ve known he’d been the target from the start…”

Arms folded across her chest, Nora gently clenched the jacket of her left arm.

“But I made sure to take all the precautions I could before this whole ordeal even began.  Trust me, he may be in deep, but my son’s far from helpless right now.”

….

“You are still awake, I presume, Brother Vaulen?”

Breathing heavily through the sack tied around his head, Lucas’ could only hazard a guess as to where he should glare...and a slight chill ran down his back as he did so.

He knew that voice.

Without the fog, it was clearer, and within the cell, it echoed.

No longer was he huddled within a cave as stinging winds ravaged the mouth, no longer did the wind twist and turn between the dry stones, spires, and no longer did the sea erode and flood the cavern floor.

No.

Now he heard a sandstorm, in the dead of night.  The freezing air cut him like a millions razors.

Gritting his teeth, Lucas swallowed lightly, and bore with it.

“...That’s a bit of a relative term, you old cryptkeeper.  The cold in here’s reeeally making it hard to keep my eyes open.”  

Something shuffled in front of Lucas.

“A temporary measure, I assure you, Brother Vaulen.  Sister Bruna, if you will.”  

A dim-lit room soon flooded Lucas’ eyes as the sack on his head was lifted, and along with it, the faces of his captors became clear...or, as Lucas, much to his discomfort, immediately found out, the masks of his captors.  

White as porcelain, they completely covered the cultist’s faces.  The gaunt face he had seen before capture was simply a feature of the mask, a large, curved stroke of grey color covering the sides of the face; He might as well have been looking at a human skull.  

It was the eyes that truly disturbed him, though.

While human enough, they were as large as a fist, and at the center of each, the eye of a terrified wolf had been attached.

“Are our appearances disconcerting to you, Brother Vaulen?”, the center cultist intoned, stepping forward.

“I’ve seen worse; I’m guessing you’re that ‘Arch-Brother’ they were talking about.” Lucas replied, noticing the more elaborate markings on the mask compared to the others.  A long, black line seemed to split the mask between the eyes, with a small black circle in the dead center.

The masked man before him tilted his head to the right.

“How astute of you. I am the one who shall open your eyes, Brother Vaulen.  Today, you shall finally see what awaits all our brethren.”

Snarling, Lucas tried to lunge at the deranged cultist, his shackles holding him in place.  

“Feel free to continue, Brother Vaulen.  You simply hasten your fate.”

Breathing raggedly, Lucas swallowed, his snarl gradually replaced with a smirk.

“Why don’t we test that?  Come on, use some of that pixie dust on me; I can shake it off no problem!”  

Arch-Brother Maxwell simply leaned forward, and Lucas squirmed slightly under the gaze of the mask.

“Are you aware of how much time has passed, Brother Vaulen?”

“Kinda hard to keep track of it when you’re being kept in a dark, dank cell-.”

“-It has been approximately three hours since your mother granted you immunity to our method of enlightenment, Brother Vaulen.”

Lucas’ blood ran cold.

Reaching into his robe, Maxwell pulled out a satchel, and poured out a familiar blue powder into his other hand, and knelt before him

“We are aware that the Enforcers were able to come up with a way to prevent your enlightenment, but such measures are temporary, at best.  Why do you think we waited until now?”

And with that, Arch-Brother Maxwell blew.

The powder flooded Lucas’ olfactory passages, reaching his brain within seconds.  Lucas went into a violent fit of coughing as he was forced to inhale the chemical weapon, saliva and such dropping onto the floor, and tears welling up in his eyes.

Simply nodding in appraisal, Maxwell rose.

“Just as all before you have, so you too shall see the werewolf, all of our kind, as the wretched existence that it is.”

Turning to Brother Alain, he handed her a tattered book from beneath his robe.

“As you were instructed.  Wait until the twenty minute mark..”

Walking to the only door Lucas could see, Maxwell turned one final time to Lucas, the young man starting to sag in his position.

“You shall be the first of our greatest messengers, Brother Vaulen.  Truly, it is one of the few privileges Our Kind is permitted.”

Lucas slumped over against the wall, arms slack, head drooped, and hair shadowing his face.

Maxwell closed the door, and Alain stood before Lucas, book in hand, and began to read.

...

It was hours later when Alain opened the door, letting in two other Bound.

“Have you become aware of the great sin, Brother Vaulen?”

Remaining silent for a moment, Lucas gave the barest of nods.

“Name it, then.”

Tilting his head up slightly, Lucas spoke, his face framed by shadows.

“...Our existence is a sin.”

The words came from a defeated voice, the whispers of a man who had accepted his fate.  Alain remained impassive, and opened his book.

“Elaborate.  How are we, the decrepit beings known as werewolves, a sin?”

“...We hold within us a Beast, a Destroyer, a great evil, something not worthy to walk amongst other mortals, not unchained, not to walk in the glow of the sun…”

“...And so you have seen the truth.”  Brother Alain nodded solemnly.  “You have listened well.  Now, do you see how we must enlighten the rest of our Kind?”

“The only path to truth, is to subjugate and expose Our kind to the cloud of fate.”

“Unbind him from the walls, and replace his shackles with our own.”

Saying nothing as it was done, Lucas struggled to his feet, shivering slightly from the cold.  One of the Bound handed him a plain, if somewhat ragged pair of hooded robes, and a mask.

“Come, Brother.  You must have nourishment if you are to contribute.”

Flanked by four cultists, Lucas wordlessly followed Brother Alain, leaving behind him the depressing, cold atmosphere of the prison.  Marching onwards down the hall, they were only illuminated by the lamps sparingly placed along the walls, revealing other doors along the way.

One door was open to reveal a robed figure, kneeling in prayer, a grail of strange liquid by their feet.  It was here that they stopped, nudging Lucas towards the figure.

“First, we must be sure you have truly Awakened.”

Taking a dagger out of his robes, he placed it into Lucas’ hand.

“This pitiable woman has refused to Awaken, no matter how much we have tried to make her see reason.”

He leaned forward, his voice taking on a more commanding tone.

“Do what must be done for those we cannot sway.”

At first, Lucas was as still as a statue, dagger in hand.

Suddenly, he strutted forward, Alain observing his movements.  Walking up behind the woman, he promptly knelt on his knees, wrapped an arm around her neck, raised the dagger…

And plunged.

The woman immediately stiffened, quivering in shock, and for several precious seconds, not another soul moved an inch.  

“You have truly have awakened, Brother Vaulen.  Keep your distance from the corpse now; I must ensure she is truly-!”

In the middle of his sentence, Lucas had raised the dagger, and plunged again, a soft ‘squish’ sound echoing in the small room.

“...Brother Vaule-?”

The dagger, now coating Lucas’ hand in blood, raised into view once more, and plunged, drawing more blood, and the captive quivered with each subsequent stab.

“That is enough, Brother Vaulen!”

Lucas halted mid-plunge, his dagger wielding hand now dripping with blood, a small pool formed under the captive.

“I applaud you for trying to be thorough, but I’m reasonably certain she was dead after the third time.”

Lucas swiftly stood up.

“My apologies for getting carried away, Brother Alain.”

“It’s fine, Brother Alain; just...save your energy for where it’s needed.  Now, hurry; you have passed the second test, and we must meet the others in the dining hall.”

Letting Lucas exit the cell, Alain took one last look at the hole ridden corpse on the ground within, and let out a small shiver at the ferocity he had just witnessed.  Giving Lucas a slightly greater girth, Alain and the other cultists continued their escort, walking down the winding hall.  Passing another door, barely a crack open, an unknown aroma seeped through, and briefly flooded everyone’s nostrils with a cooling scent, one that was almost...relaxing.

The remaining open doors...perhaps there were some things best left unsaid.
 
Climbing a floor of stairs, they traversed into a hallway, zealots dotting the few intersecting corridors ahead, a sense of grim foreboding lingering in the air.  Passing by one on the left bore the sight of a door being closed, a single gleam of something shining barely visible before it was shut and locked.  No other doors bared their contents, and at the end of the hall, Brother Alain opened another to reveal the dining hall, a barren place of stone with three long wooden tables.  Seating themselves, they waited until all were gathered, and Arch-Brother Maxwell took his seat at the other end of the center table.

“Brothers and Sisters.”

All turned their heads to him.

“Today, it truly begins.  For too long, we have been allowed to languish in the same sun as the pure, never receiving the just punishment for our very being.  For years we have strove open the eyes of our brethren, so that we might all make the Final, Truest Amendment, but with limited success.  But with the conversion of Brother Vaulen, that shall change.  With his might, and the Enforcer’s influence, all our kind shall be gathered, and this foul lineage of ours can be put to an end, and the world cleansed of our taint.”

Directing his gaze to Lucas, the rest soon followed.  

“Rise, Brother Vaulen.   Rise, and let us see the face of the newly enlightened.”

Wordlessly, Lucas obeyed and rose, a hand pulling down his hood, and the other revealing his face to those gathered.

Standing before them was a statue, a melancholy figure.  Carved out of marble, the faded green eyes reflected nothing of the people before him, skin as pale and life as the stone at his feet.

“I have seen the truth of our race, and shall do all that is necessary to ensure its demise.”

“And thus, the cycle is broken.” was the unanimous chorus from around the table.

“Be seated, Brother Vaulen, and sate yourself for the crusade we embark upon tomorrow.”

Lucas nodded, his gaze resettling on Maxwell, not a flicker of emotion within his eyes.  Taking his seat once again, Lucas slipped his mask back on as Maxwell continued with his speech...and, only slightly, allowed himself to grin.

‘And the stage is set!’

This was one of those times where he really had to thank his mom for thinking ahead.  It was one thing to make sure everyone had a dosage of the antidote in their system, but it was another thing to prepare a second vial of the stuff, and hide it behind his molars in case the initial dose ran out.  True, he hadn’t anticipated that three hours had already passed, but the minute he had heard Maxwell speak, he had gently dislodged the vial from his teeth and immediately shattered it, swallowing the contents as fast as he could

‘Time for some spy work…’

As the Arch-Brother’s speech ended, Lucas resumed his emotionless persona, and placed his mask on the table along with every other fanatic.  As the meal of hot soup and bread began, Lucas focused his senses to pick up whatever information he could while he ate.  The spoken word could only carry you for so far, and to gather information properly, one needed to be aware of the non-verbal part of the conversation.

Body language.

It was something he had picked up on while on assignments while just starting as an Abater.  Sometimes, clients (especially the upper-class) withheld information that could mean the difference between life or death, for a variety of reasons.  A nervous habit, pausing in between sentences, or just a slip of the tongue; over the years, he had honed his skills whenever the opportunity presented itself, and he could confidently say he was d*mn good at it!

(...Granted, he had asked his mom, and later, Millie, to teach him about it when he realized just how outclassed he was compared to the more experienced, but still!)

And so, he focused on the people surrounding him; the whispers, the shifting eyes, and the twitching of fingers.  Careful as could be, he observed, he listened, finishing his meal quickly, and kept himself wary of Maxwell.  A few hours later, and Lucas found himself being escorted to the resting chambers, a cup of hot tea in his hands, flanked by two fanatics.  Blowing on his drink to cool it, he took one final sip from his drink, Lucas glanced as subtly as he could behind him at his guards

‘I think I got just enough information.  Time to put it to use.  But first...’

Lucas came to a halt.

“Excuse me, brothers, but there’s something that I think needs to be brought to Arch-Brother Maxwell’s attention.”  

The taller of the two placed a dark hand to his chin..

“How vital is the information?  I shall call someone to pass it on while we bring you to your quarters.”

“The information I feel is rather...sensitive.  I think it might be best if it was just between him and I for now.”

“I suppose that is a valid concern...very well.  I shall retrieve a few pieces of parchment, so there is no unnecessary-!  AGHHHH!!!”

During the conversation, Lucas had slowly closed the distance between the three of them until he was within range, and threw the still hot liquid into the cultists mask, going right for the eyeholes.  Judging by the surprised (and pained) reaction, his aim had been true.  As fast as he could, he smashed the now empty ceramic cup at his other foe, then grabbed his arm, and tossed him at the one writhing in agony, knocking them out.  Kneeling down, Lucas immediately dragged them over to the most dimly lit part of the hallway, and promptly searched them for weapons managing to come up with a vial of the powder that they had used against him, and a small dagger.  Pocketing the vial, he glanced around and eyed the weapon now in his hand, and then back at the cultists.

‘They things they’ve done, and what they’re planning…and It’s make things more difficult if they woke up and told everyone I had tricked them.’

Putting the blades edge near the throat of the larger cultist, Lucas gulped, the weapon shaking in his hand.  For what seemed like an eternity, he stared at the space between the neck and the dagger’s edge, the distance shortening until the blade made the smallest possible cut in the skin. At this point, his hand was shaking, and a bead of sweat rolled down his temple.

Eventually, he scowled behind his mask

‘....The Final Horizon-!’

Abruptly getting up, Lucas sheathed the dagger in his pocket and raced off, the two cultists left alive.

‘This is gonna bite me in the *ss, I just know it!’
Record 5: Part 1
This is gonna be a looooong one.  Expect three parts, maybe more, each of them about the same length.  Also, this will be the final 'Record', the final chapter of the introductory arc.  Expect the other parts soon, as well as some serious edits the the previous chapters
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wolfsilver
The Classiest Wolf Around
Artist
United States
Hi! I'm Wolfsilver, an aspiring writer! Rather than draw, I type/write my work. I've got tons of ideas just waiting to be unleashed.

Also, I like turtles. :3

Current Residence: Sunny CA!
Favourite genre of music: hip-hop
Operating System: iMac laptop
MP3 player of choice: iphone
Wallpaper of choice: Wolfs
Favourite cartoon character: don't have one
Personal Quote: When all else fails, think of something funny. A good joke at just the right time can lighten up anyone's day
Interests
  • Listening to: Battlefied-Blind Guardian
  • Reading: A Song of Fire and Ice
  • Watching: Music Videos
  • Playing: Skyrim
  • Eating: Peanut Butter Sandwich
  • Drinking: Milk
So, some bad news:  After thinking things over, I've realized that there was no way I was going to be able to finish the final chapter in time for halloween, despite my best efforts.  So, instead, I'm simply going to try and update all the previous chapters, improve them as much as I can.  The fifth chapter is coming along very well, don't get me wrong.   With any luck, it'll be out mid november.

Let me know of you are dissatisfied with this.

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Lawman09 Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Happy Birthday~
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Thanks!
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dandycandy121 Featured By Owner May 23, 2016
Much love for the llama. Thank you so much! Llama Emoji-79 (Fabulous) [V4]
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wolfsilver Featured By Owner May 23, 2016
Just returned the favor~
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Lawman09 Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Happy Birthday~
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wolfsilver Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2015
Thanks
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Lawman09 Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
:pat:
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Lawman09 Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Happy Birthday~
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wolfsilver Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2014
Thanks!
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