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* Plot Information for Glacia

For years, the Dark Religion has persecuted the Light Jeweled with its doctrine of stigmatization. Under the messianic Queen Elisif Brenden, it has flourished, ensuring Glacia’s success in other fronts. But upon her death, a line has been drawn and forces beyond Glacia’s borders are gathering to stop its theocracy once and for all.
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Author Topic: Hide Your Feathers  (Read 323 times)

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Offline Hjalmar Lindgren

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Hide Your Feathers
« on: Oct 29, 18, 09:37:01 AM »
For perhaps the dozenth time that day, Hjalmar barely rested his nose atop the silky soft skin of his son’s head and inhaled his scent. Hints of milk and lavender greeted him, scents from his mother and the herbs she used on the linens. Those scents calmed him with their familiarity. This was his fourth child and the one who had come after a decade of pain and grief. To say that he was precious was an understatement.

For this fourth child bore another scent, a psychic one -- marking him as both Warlord and Healer. And under the tenets of the Dark Religion, that dual scent named him an aberration.

The penalty for such was death, for no male could bear the Caste of a holy female and be allowed to live.

Hjalmar closed his eyes and shifted his thick arms so that his son was hidden from view, even though they were alone. For not the first time that day, his mind wandered unhappily down the mental roads of what to do. Viida, his wife, was resting, and his other children -- Istvar, Leija, and Diona -- were doing whatever they did at this time of day. Istvar was working in the forge, Leija was studying to be a Healer, and Diona was at her Craft lessons. Were it not for this newly birthed problem, life in the Lindgren household would have been seen as idyllic.

It hadn’t always been this way, with the Dark Religion.

There had been a time when dual-casted males were viewed with some wariness because of their uncommon nature but not outright hostility like it was now. What seemed entirely natural to Hjalmar’s mind, since he grew up in a family of Healers, had been perverted into something unnatural, something inherently evil, as though his newborn son had done something to blaspheme against Mother Night by just being born. Looking down at the peacefully closed eyes, the loosely curled tiny fingers, he just could not believe that at all.

His conundrum was not what he believed. Rather, it was what to do. He and Viida would be able to sequester little Isaak away for only so long. And then what? Neither of them knew the Craft to mask a psychic scent. And to contract someone who did risked revealing their unholy secret. In their minds, death was not an option, which left them in this quandary.

Hjalmar exhaled, softly yet reminiscent of the bellows of a forge releasing their air. It was a slow, slow sound that filled the quiet room. They were left with very few options at this point. Hjalmar had never considered leaving his homeland but now...now it seemed one of his only paths.

His mind drifted towards his cousin, Riia Lindgren, who was a Green Jeweled Queen now serving the Court in Ivalo Province. Could she, perhaps, shield them? He could trust her, despite their more distant relations, but could she actually protect them?

When his mind drifted towards the dark power resting within the throne of the Territory Court, he exhaled again: a Green was no match for a Gray. The answer was no, though the hope of it was hard to kill.

It seemed they would have to leave.

**Hjalmar?** Viida’s voice, sleepy from her nap. With tenderness, he set down his precious son and went to attend to his wife. They would have to make a decision, and soon. The moment that Viida was recovered from the birth, or as soon as they could push it, Hjalmar had a feeling that they would have to move quickly. They needed to discuss where to go. Lumbering quietly towards the bedroom, Hjalmar began to consider where that would be.

Offline Hjalmar Lindgren

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Re: Hide Your Feathers
« Reply #1 on: Nov 01, 18, 09:29:49 AM »
They were leaving.

The only thing they had argued over was the timing. Neither Hjalmar nor Viida knew of who to approach to secure passage but there was little anyone wouldn’t tell a giant of a man like Hjalmar. And with the recent unrest from Queen Brenden’s death, more people were focused on what was going to happen at the Territory level, rather than a man trying to get his family to safety.

Once they had found the right person, the process had moved relatively quickly. Too quickly, almost, but Hjalmar was not a man who enjoyed change. Their contact wanted to be gone by the end of the mourning period, when their chances of discovery along the passes were slim. It meant that neighbors might wonder what was happening but Hjalmar worried little about them. He had already drafted up papers signing over his business to one of his men who would love the opportunity to stay.

The night before they left, Hjalmar could be found, alone, in his smithy, sharpening blades and swords that each member of his family would carry. Each one was imbued with a chip of his Sapphire, which, when activated, would spring a Shielding spell around the wielder. Hjalmar had never used this spell before, never thought it would be needed, but the weapons bore it anyway.

The day they left, Hjalmar maintained the appearance that nothing was out of normal, taking orders and shipping out completed ones. At noon, Viida told him and those listening that she was taking the children to the market and would be back around dinner, after he closed up the shop.

It would be the first of many lies they would tell the people around them that day.

Sunset neared and then it was Hjalmar’s turn to play the part. When Viida and the children had left, they had taken packs for traveling with them, vanished away in their psychic cabinets, but not told where they were going or why. Viida didn’t want to risk anyone finding out. Hjalmar, being the Darkest, hefted a large duffel bag easily over his shoulder as he lumbered out of the house. No one would question a brute like him doing hard labor, ever.

He followed the path Viida and the children had taken, to a predetermined spot given by the contact somewhere out of town. And he hoped that he hadn’t misplaced his trust in these...Smugglers.

Offline Astrid Volknyr

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Re: Hide Your Feathers
« Reply #2 on: Nov 05, 18, 10:08:35 PM »
193, Fall: Viratt Province, Rjukan District, Tulsa River, The Crystal Plateau, in the foothills

The weeks had passed with a grueling tension. No announcement came from the Territory Court. No province Queen acted against the bereft Ebon Grey Triangle. Quiet, everything was deadly quiet, the way the wilderness went still when an alpha predator was on the prowl. The pressure was stifling, the inactivity almost unendurable. Even the mild, day-to-day injuries of any small, Landen farming community had fallen to a minimum. Yet Ace kept her people underground; she took no risks at all in the current uncertain political climate. With nothing happening, she couldn’t let anything ... happen. No matter how many anxious Light Jewels mistook the breathless tension within Glacia for a lack of vigilance.

No.

The very most devout of the land were the most wounded by the ‘Great Messiah’ passing. The zealous and faithful would be looking for an excuse, and Ace was determined not to give them one. Everything had to wait until the normal, crystalline violence and cold-hearted ambition of the higher Courts resumed. Once the faithful were focused upon back-stabbing and killing each other, again, there would be distractions enough for her Cell to get back to work. All she dared, in these barren months, was a tiny nudge, the merest breadth of action. The result? Thyra’s parents came one step closer to their deaths, one bad decision from oblivion.

Then, the Dual Caste infant.

Ace was worried about this contract; worried from the moment the whisper of fear had reached her. Everything, everything was wrong with it except the Price. It was rare to run across someone wanting out who could easily meet the Price, and offer more as an incentive. Ace badly wanted to complete the run. She could scarcely imagine the value of an Artificer who could and would create items for her smugglers. Nearly untraceable, at the power of the Sapphire, from the relative safety of Rhiland. And the Eyrien Way was close; Ace had been over it before.

It wasn’t safe, of course; the mountains were never safe. This late in fall, unpredictable weather from sudden melts to sudden storms increased the threat. This run was last minute, no time to set up a shell game in order to obfuscate the precise time and place from which the family vanished. Trip, her Stringer, had been against it. There was no time to make paperwork that would pass even a cursory examine; even had their been time, it would be impossible to justify taking an infant only days old anywhere. The final straw, for Trip, was that his research into the family had revealed a Green Queen to be left behind.

It guaranteed pursuit.

Ace braced against the bitter cold, waiting.

Waiting.

They had paid in advance. Some of it in advance. Some of her Price in promised favors for years to come; a year per soul guided to safety within the new Rihland. She had no idea how they’d taken the news of her Price, but it was critical that the family understand the risk. That very likely, they would not all make it. An infant, a woman newly risen from childbirth, and a twelve year old. To Ace’s mind, the only one likely to make the Climb in decent shape was the Purple-Dusk Prince.

Movement stirred, along the partially-cleared trail.

So, they could follow directions, and had at least minimal competence. The The Crystal Plateau was a camp ground, in mid summer. A training ground, for the local Courts, mid winter. The rest of the year, it was strenuously avoided. But it was the nearest land-mark to the start of the Eyrien Way that was both unwatched, and obvious enough to be found by neophytes who may have never willingly visited the mountains before.

They were quiet enough, at least so far; the baby didn’t cry.

Ace took a single step out of the shadows, and waited to be noticed. She counted; they were all here. When they closed with her, she released one of Shine’s Webs. It wouldn’t last for long, but the Summer-Sky Dowager did good work. If fate were kind (not Mother Night, Mother Night was cold, cold as Glacier’s frozen heart) there would be a good storm before the Web faded. As it was, it bought them at least a few hours to get higher into the mountains.

“I’m Ace. I’ll guide you over the mountains.” a long, careful evaluation of the family followed. How exhausted were they? How confused? “The safest way to travel, is in pairs.” She paused, expecting a plethora of arguments and bad ideas.

“Have any of you any experience in true wilderness, or the mountains?”

Offline Hjalmar Lindgren

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Re: Hide Your Feathers
« Reply #3 on: Nov 06, 18, 10:00:46 AM »
Their guide was a woman, as pale and glacial as the snow gathering throughout Glacia nowadays. Hjalmar disliked having to trudge through it. It would leave a trail and the crunch of it would alert others. They would have to take extra steps to hide their passing. Good thing he had learned a few spells for that. He had used them to clean up his smithy before. Now, he would use them to save their lives. “I’m Ace,” she said, introducing herself. “I’ll guide you over the mountains. The safest way to travel is in pairs.”

Hjalmar looked at his wife for one moment and then at their children. There was hardly any need to debate it. Istvar, the oldest, immediately paired himself off with his next sibling, Leija. Diona, the younger daughter scuttled closer to her father but eyed her mother wistfully. Isaak, the newborn, didn’t count in the pairings, but Hjalmar, being the strongest, said, “I will carry him,” and tucked him into a sling across his barrel chest. That left Viida with Ace.

“Have any of you any experience in true wilderness or the mountains?” Ace asked. Hjalmar didn’t comment on her name but he assumed that it wasn’t her true name. All of the Underground contacts he had spoken with, just a brief few, all had names similar to that. Code names. Harder to track them. But in answer to her question, the family miserably shook their heads. Theirs had been a comfortable life up until now.

“We won’t let you down though,” Istvar, the eldest, said eagerly. “We…we know the risks. We’ll do what we need to do.” Leija nodded sharply, determined. Viida smiled encouragingly at her children. Despite being kept in the dark about what was happening initially, they had been quick to understand the need for secrecy and the dangers that threatened their family.

“I will take the rear,” Hjalmar rumbled. “Know spells to hide things.” And, with his Sapphire, he was the best equip to handle anything that came at them from behind. He looked up at the sky, at the brewing winds and gray clouds, and scowled slightly. Was that the spell he had felt Ace release earlier? Something to mask their beginning? He would welcome any edge they could get. Hjalmar would not relax until they were passed Glacia’s borders and assured safety at their destination.

Viida placed a hand on Ace’s arm. “We thank you, so much, for…for risking yourself for us. We won’t forget it,” she promised sincerely. Hjalmar grunted, agreeing. When they reached safety, Hjalmar would be crafting some of the finest weapons to supply the Underground for the next year and Viida had offered herself as Healer for those reaching the end of their journey, caring for them at the end of a long road.

Offline Astrid Volknyr

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Re: Hide Your Feathers
« Reply #4 on: Nov 07, 18, 03:39:40 AM »
193, Fall: Viratt Province, Rjukan District, Tulsa River, The Crystal Plateau, in the foothills

The family earned points, in that they didn’t argue. They listened, and they attempted to obey. They simply lacked context. Ace analyzed every move they made, studied every interaction carefully. Whilst the young Prince was the most physically likely to survive the journey, the even younger Healer had a good chance of a Dark Descent. Would she resent leaving the life of a Dark Jeweled Healer in Glacia? Would she be jealous, that she was no longer the darling of the family? Get a day’s travel in and melt down in tears or rage? Fear was a powerful motivator; how would she choose, when she realized she could die, in her quest to save her baby brother?

The young Prince assured her that they would not let her down, that they knew the risks. She hoped the children did. Hoped the parents had had a frank discussion with their children. Yet Ace doubted it; the need for secrecy usually forced itself into the family dynamics.  Which made young Leija’s sharp agreement the more intriguing. Had these youngsters come to the same choice as their parents, all on their own? She studied the young Prince again, wondering if he’d already been making plans. She nodded slowly, to both.

“Thank you.” the courtesy was automatic, the nod to the young prince and his sister respectful. Yet the sentiment was oddly cool; not with rage, or distrust, but a distant grief. they reminded her so very much of her own family.

The father’s insistence that he would go last drew her cool gaze to him. He muttered about knowing ‘spells to hide things.’ He did not elaborate, so she asked.

“Cleansing? As a Hearth-witch might do? Blocking Scrying as a Black Widow might? Snuffing out the sense of Caste and Jewels, as a Warlord Prince might do when hunting us?” Again the questions were asked without heat, or judgement. She simply wished to know how broad his skills were; she had a limited number of Webs to string behind them.

“You are darkly enough Jeweled that, when there is need, your skills would be preferable. But there will be places along the trail where I will ask no one to use any Craft at all.” Her gaze swept over the whole family, pausing with serious intent upon the Healers.

“Every time we reach into the well of our power, we send out a beacon to those chasing us. The deeper the well, the brighter that beacon shines. And you will be pursued. There was no time to set up Shadows, and no way to justify a family trip so as to confuse the precise time of your vanishing. So when I forbid Craft, or ask for silence, you must obey.”

That pale, glacial gaze returned once more to the father, as she awaited his reply to her questions. Only to snap around, when the mother approached her unexpectedly, and attempted to touch her arm. Touch was uncommon, amongst Blood who were strangers to each other. The exception being certain carefully orchestrated situations dictated by Protocol. Years of persecution, of leading a Smuggling Cell, had Ace step back reflexively. The distance lasted only a moment, then she stepped forward again and clasped the hand that had reached out to her.

“You are welcome, Lady.” Healer to Healer, she offered more genuine warmth in that oddly cold hand clasp than ever showed in her eyes. Cold, beyond even what her shields and glove could conceal, because her body temperature ran cold, as her heart and soul had been frozen by her own first climb. She held Viida’s gaze, for a long moment; there was so much to say, and no time. She’d lost too many people going over the mountains to let herself be get attached, now.

“I cannot promise success. Each of you will make choices upon which all our lives depend.”

Choose wisely.

Offline Hjalmar Lindgren

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Re: Hide Your Feathers
« Reply #5 on: Nov 09, 18, 03:41:37 PM »
Hjalmar grunted at her questioning. “Cleansing,” he answered crisply. “Got a Healing background in the family. Know a few things from that.” He could cover trails, he could dissipate some psychic scents, and he also knew a few rudimentary decoy spells. He didn’t expect the latter to work against a masterful opponent but he wouldn’t dismiss them. Maybe it was foolishness that came with possessing brute strength but Hjalmar wanted to take the rear so that whatever came after them came after him first.

“So when I forbid Craft, or ask for silence, you must obey,” Ace said. Everyone but Hjalmar nodded without much hesitation. Either they truly understood what was being ask of them or they were going along with whatever Ace said without bothering to question it. But the giant of a man pinned Ace with beady eyes, as if testing her mettle, before nodding once. He might not follow her so blindly but he would obey if her orders seemed reasonable. “I cannot promise success. Each of you will make choices upon which all our lives depend,” Ace went on to say.

It was Viida who answered. “We...understand.” There was a scared note to her voice despite the fact that she smiled bravely at Ace. It was a feeling all of the family shared, except some kept it more contained than others.

Hjalmar rested one large hand on his wife’s shoulder. “We will make it,” he rumbled, as certain as the sun would rise again. His beady gaze went back to Ace. “Wasting time, talking. We understand the risks. Let’s go,” he rumbled. He nodded his chin at his son Istvar to get ready to move. Then he checked the belt that held his sword at his hip, making sure that it wouldn’t chafe or hinder his movements.

“Lead,” he eventually rumbled at Ace. And then, privately and like a soft thunder rolling over the mountains, he told her, **Get my family to safety.**

Offline Astrid Volknyr

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Re: Hide Your Feathers
« Reply #6 on: Nov 23, 18, 02:59:46 AM »
193, Fall: Viratt Province, Rjukan District, Tulsa River, The Crystal Plateau, in the foothills

Impatient.

Dark Jewels usually were, in Ace’s experience.

If she caught his sharp, doubtful look she gave no sign of it.

Still, Ace did not move at his command to depart, not even when she felt his mental intrusion. Such a touch from a strange Dark Jewel to an unprotected Light Jewel could be a terrifying assault. Perhaps he’d lived insulated from Court politics, that let any Dark Jewel search the mind of any Light Jewel at will and without cause. Or the skill to do so safely. Perhaps he’d simply never witnessed the sort of abuse Ace saw on a regular basis. After all, he had not fled to protect his son or wife from being collared, when he clearly loved them deeply.

Her cool, firm shields melted back enough to permit her to hear his intended thoughts. There was no visible reaction to his command. Ace searched the rolling thunder of his Psychic signature for any hint of fear, or anxiety. She could offer him no assurances, no promises, and she suspected that that was what he wanted.

“I concur that you should go last, Warlord. Cleansing will be an excellent skill, and highly useful to us.”

Ace took another long look at the pairings chosen by the family, and spoke with glacial patience.

“Lady Healer, I suggest you pair with your son. The Prince will be unburdened and is strong enough to help you when the path grows vertical, and we start using ropes.” They would not be taking the safest route, because pursuit would be too fast upon them. They had to get to high ground, as swiftly as possible.

Straight up the ice.

“Warlord, the most logical pairing is you with the young Healer. You have the strength to physically lift or carry her for long distances at need. This also places a Healer with each set.”

Her gaze fastened upon the impatient smith.

“I do not require a partner, but thank you for your concern.” She nodded gravely; she would most certainly miss a partner, but she didn't need one as badly as they would. They were her responsibility out here, even if the Smith likely felt as if she was his.

“I recommend we pass out necessary gear and I train you on the basic knots and crimps here, where we have good light.” Her gaze brushed over the group before returning to the smith. 

“If you feel that pursuit is only moments behind you, and not hours, we can go without that briefing.”

The tiny child whose rare birth had them all risking their lives drew her gaze next. A faint frown marred her features. She had no desire to die, on this trip. The child shouldn’t weigh upon her conscious so, yet he did. It wasn’t maternal instinct. It was merely that she was so tired of Glacia devouring it’s children.

“Once the climb becomes precarious, you may wish me to carry the infant.” Again, the choice was theirs. After all, carrying him increased her own risk exponentially.

Whether they agreed to tutelage and the proper set up of their ice climbing gear now, or chose to learn it in howling winds at 1800 feet above the valley floor, she’d gesture to four large canvas bags sitting on the ground beside her.

There was a reason climbing was expensive; proper gear was part of that reason. These folks had paid the asked-for fee in advance, so they would each get a set of gear to help them survive in the mountains. If they chose to sacrifice some of the few belongings they’d brought from home to carry it, or if they left it behind, or tried to carry both was entirely up to them. The large bags were waxed, and could double as both parkas and sleeping gear. Inside, they’d find a full set of ice climbing gear, shoe spikes that could be adjusted to fit around their current shoes, and an emergency rope.

Ace took the time they were inspecting their gear to clip an elaborate harness around her own waist and legs, filled with carefully braided and arranged ropes for almost any mishap. Including one of them falling past her. There was a small but real chance she could catch them.

Just then, she desperately missed having a second Climber along. She’d have loved to think one of them might catch her.

If they agreed to the briefing on the tools they would use, Ace would help them fit the gear and explain the complex buckles and clasps, before heading not along the trail, but straight towards the head of the river running through The Crystal Plateau

If they didn’t she would simply move along as soon as her own gear was adjusted properly.

Offline Hjalmar Lindgren

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Re: Hide Your Feathers
« Reply #7 on: Nov 24, 18, 10:35:13 AM »
Hjalmar did not quite make an unpleasant rumbling sound at the delay to their escape but he must have made some sort of expression that tipped his wife off. She laid a calming hand on his arm. “It would do good for us to know these things before we’re in the thick of them,” she advised her husband.

And because he could rarely say no to his wife, Hjalmar relented with a grunt.

So, they spent the next half hour reviewing the equipment, going over assignments, tying and untying knots, until they had a good sense of what to expect and how to counter it. Hjalmar individually checked the picks and shoe spikes, looking over the craftsmanship with his critical, beady eyes, searching for faults. He found none but the usual wear and tear. Grunting, he set them aside and went to inspect the waxed bags. He was glad that Viida had made certain everyone had extra clothing on. If they couldn’t use Craft to keep warm…

Once they were mostly prepared, or as prepared as they would be, the woman named Ace began hiking straight towards the frozen falls at the head of the river. The family fell into their assignments, with his son Istvar pairing up with his mother towards the front, his two daughters in the middle, and him at the back, cuddling Isaak. As they walked, he kept up a spell that swept their tracks away and dispersed their psychic scents, until he felt they had crossed enough rock and river to do most of that naturally.

They gathered long enough at the bottom of the frozen falls to check their climbing gear one final time and then began the vertical ascent up the ice.

For Hjalmar, used to physical labor, it was not a difficult thing, though it could be laborious at some moments, hauling his bulk in ways he was unaccustomed to doing. His children, being young, had limitless energy it seemed, and called encouragements and advice to each other.

His wife, having given birth just over a month ago, struggled the most, which worried Hjalmar greatly. If the entire trek was like this…

They eventually breached the first edge the falls, took a moment to catch their breaths and readjust their gear, and then set off again on the next leg of the climb.

Offline Ulric Lindgren

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Re: Hide Your Feathers
« Reply #8 on: Nov 24, 18, 10:39:36 AM »
A cup of freshly brewed but untouched coffee rested, cooling, on his blackwood desk. The only sheet of paper that was currently occupying his hands -- and his mind -- had a grid of letters and boxes arrayed in rows and columns. Every so often, he would carefully, precisely write down another word into those little boxes, solving yet another clue from the list. When he was halfway through the puzzle, he stopped to savor his first sip of that delicious black liquid, now just the perfect temperature to consume.

He had had nearly an hour of pleasant solitude before it was interrupted, as was expected. Ulric Lindgren did not need to look at the timepiece to know that his first appointment of the day had arrived precisely on time. He appreciated that in this man. “Enter,” Ulric replied to the knock on his door but his kept his attention on his puzzle. Thirteen across, seven letters, two of them T’s.

Adler Wilhelm, a personal attache to Ulric’s position, strode into the room after closing the door. He was a man that haunted these halls only when asked. His skills -- and the business attached to those skills -- were best put to use in the wilds, specifically in the mountains guarding Glacia from the south. Ulric often imagined that Adler’s preferred style of clothing was a bit more rugged and dirty than he appeared now but he appreciated that the Green Jeweled Prince had, at least, attempted to cultivate a professional appearance for these meetings.

They used to meet monthly. And even that was a stretch. Now, in the wake of Queen Brenden’s death, they met every third day.

“Prince Wilhelm,” Ulric said in his usual measured, velvet tones. “What do you have for me today?” With that, he set his puzzle down and picked up his cup of coffee, his stormy grey eyes watching the other man with an intensity that unsettled the insecure.

In response, Adler called in a list -- a rather long one -- of names and their connections and floated it to Ulric. The Steward of Glacia took this list in both hands and began reading. Some of these names were familiar to him but most were new. That had been the trend recently -- far too many new names being added to this list. But, he noted that there were a fair amount of names from the previous list that were not on this one now. “I trust that your men were successful in bringing our adrift brethren home,” Ulric said. It was mostly a statement but Adler also knew that it was his prompt to give a more detailed report.

“A few of them were, regretfully, returned to the Darkness,” Adler stated with absolutely no remorse in his tone. “But most were returned to their proper abodes and reassigned guardians. A few...more difficult ones...were brought in for further...re-education.”

Ulric felt his lips curl in a satisfied smile. Ah, yes, re-education. Such a pleasant word for the brutal, bloody, mind-wracking spellwork that the Progenitor’s Trust was working on the rebellious. It had such a high success rate as well! Would that they could use it on more of the population, especially now that the accursed Underground was working with greater desperation to assist the misguided in escaping the Territory. It would make things so much easier for them all. But, alas... Ulric, and other stewards of the Dark Religion, had to resort to other, less...pleasant means.

This was Adler’s skillset: he and his men -- some of them Midnight Keepers, some of them mercenaries -- were sent to retrieve the refugees before they could cross the mountains into Rihland or Little Terreille. By any means necessary. Resistance was given a warning shot and then no other mercy. Those fleeing the Territory, the misguided cowards that they were, were dragged back like errant children into the arms of Mother Night and her Dark Religion, one way or another.

Ulric was just about to set aside the list, pleased with Prince Wilhelm’s report so far, when the man said, “There’s a new name on that list. One you, ah, might be interested in.”

Immediately, Ulric began reading faster, name after name, until he stumbled upon a grouping of names that made his blood run cold and then boil.

Lindgren. Hjalmar Lindgren. Cousin to Ulric by their mothers, who were sisters, and cousin to Queen Riia Lindgren by the same sort of relation. Hjalmar Lindgren, metalsmith and Sapphire Jeweled Warlord. Whose wife had recently given birth. Ulric remembered that little detail only because he had sent a socially obligated gift to his cousin because of it.

Why was his cousin, a supposedly devout follower of the Dark Religion, fleeing the Territory?

Ulric set the list down and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth, thinking. “You have definitive proof of this, I assume,” he said to Adler, who nodded. After a long moment of thought, reviewing the various outcomes and how it would reflect upon his own lofty reputation, he made a flicking motion with his fingers and Ebon Gray Shielded his office from eavesdropping. There was a reason why his cousin was running and Ulric needed to know what it was. 

“My cousin is a strong man,” Ulric said in those measured tones, unfeeling, unperturbed. “Blessed by Mother Night. His wife, however, is not. Never before has he given me reason to think that he would defect. So, Prince Wilhelm, I want my cousin brought back. Alive. Do I make myself clear?”

Adler tilted his head to the side just enough to indicate that he was considering something. “And the rest of the party? The family?” he asked, checking to see if the usual rules of engagement applied in this situation.

Ulric’s smile was mirthless. “Prince Wilhelm, perhaps I have not made myself clear enough. My concern is for my cousin, Hjalmar, and him alone. Whatever misbegotten crowd he has fallen in with is not my concern.”

At this permission, Adler’s smile turned feral. “I’ll dispatch my fastest men. They’ll catch them before they cross into Rihland,” the Prince promised.

Ulric made that same little flicking motion again, dismissing the Shields. “See that they do,” he said without emotion. He vanished the list of names and turned his attention back to his puzzle, effectively dismissing Adler as well.

Thirteen across. Seven letters. Two T’s.

Ah, yes.

Meticulously, Ulric wrote in one word. And smiled.

Traitor.


Offline Astrid Volknyr

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Re: Hide Your Feathers
« Reply #9 on: Dec 06, 18, 04:20:13 AM »


193, Fall: Viratt Province, Rjukan District, the Tulsa River, at A Frozen Waterfall called the Wandering Rill. then higher in the mountains.

Ace loved the mountains.

Loved the wilderness; the frigid winds, the icy cold, the whole vast, searing majesty that was Glacia in her purest form. Others burrowed into stone to find the truth of themselves. For Ace, all of her that mattered could be found in this harsh, unforgiving place. She lead the way to up the frozen river, trusting to Hjalmarr to shield the path behind them. She rarely had the luxury of either so united a family, or so Dark a Jewel to guard their back trail.

The ice, frozen waterfall were inexplicably lovely, and utterly fascinating to her. As the family first caught sight of the shear, vertical rope of ice they would be expected to climb, she flashed a brilliant smile upon them.

“The Wandering Rill doesn’t freeze solid every year; even when it does, it’s not often strong enough to climb. This path isn’t on any maps.” This particular fall, frozen solid while still in flood from an unexpected cold snap early in the season, ought to give them a small but measurable edge. Not many Smugglers would attempt it ... but then most couldn’t erase all signs of the passage from the ice once they’d traversed it.

Ace rested her hand upon the ice, greeting it gently, as one might a long lost friend. Her fingers did not freeze to the frigid surface, nor did she wince from the prolonged contact as she probed the internal structure of the ice. Yes, it would be strong enough to hold them.

Carefully, Ace led the way, each pick sunk deep into the ice and a safety rope strung from her, to it, to each of her pairs in turn. Each pair was responsible for moving their own safety rope from pick to pick as they moved, with the father responsible for plucking the picks from the ice, and floating them back up to her before she ran out of them. His job was the most demanding, for he had so many responsibilities upon him. Hers required expert skill and experience, as she guided wilderness neophytes through a Climb that could kill them, if they failed to pay attention, became too chilled for their hands to work, or ran out of strength. They were focused, intelligent and above all unified. There was no back biting, or sabotaging, or complaining, despite the hard work and very real risk of a fall.

When the children began to call out encouragement to each other, she merely reminded the family that sound carried very fiercely and far over ice and snow, and suggested they use Psychic threads instead.

As they climbed, Ace felt that horrid sense of a target upon her back. It wasn’t rational; she didn’t even think it was a subconscious response to the inevitable pursuit. It was merely that as willing and sensible as the family was, they were still slow. They had to be over this climb, through a valley, and up the next ridge before dark, if they wanted to stay in one of her prepared caves.

Otherwise, it would be a cold, harsh camp on the ice and snow.

When Lord Lindgren pulled himself and his infant up over the ridge of the waterfall, Ace touched him gently upon the shoulder, leaned over and touched the ice. Sunlight gilded ice-white hair, and snow flakes formed upon her eye lashes, as Ace finally merged once more with the element that most called to her.

Ice.

With loving care, she sculpted and healed the waterfall, all the way down, erasing every sign of their passage. Where necessary, she breathed more ice and snow into being, the joy of it so fierce that the most difficult thing to do was to stop. Only when she had completed her physical repairs, did she nod to Hjalmar, and gesture below.

“”If you could cleanse our Scent, now, this should buy us some time. I built in some flaws, so if another group attempts this climb, it will collapse upon them. At the least, we should hear their dismay. Though I don’t expect they will try; very few would attempt it. And if they use either of the more well known passes, we will have gained most of a day’s advantage on them.”

After he indicated his assent to hiding her work, she’d move to his wife, and offer her a sweet tea, thick with honey and herbs for alertness and a clear mind. The Healer might recognize it as an herbal remedy highly favored by Healers. It was, however, profoundly Craft Infused, and usually Ace kept the drink only for herself. Her gift of infusing herbs and medicine with power as Craft Witches did food was not widely known, or lightly shared.

After everyone had caught their breath sufficient that legs and arms were no longer trembling, but not so long that they’d stiffen up, Ace led them to a beautiful, glacial Cirque. Up here, it stayed light longer, for snow and ice reflected and refracted light. So long as they remained at a higher elevation than their unknown pursuers, they would have more hours of light in which to keep moving.

But the enemy behind them would not be children.

Or be new at this.

They would be killers, with no mercy and no compassion.

All to soon, the relatively easy passage along the sides of the Cirque gave way to a breath taking view of a frozen valley of ice-coated mountains.

Ace pointed towards the summit.

“I can get us into a secure, hard to detect cave if we make that valley before sunset.”



Offline Hjalmar Lindgren

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Re: Hide Your Feathers
« Reply #10 on: Dec 10, 18, 10:55:02 AM »
The family watched, both catching their breaths from the climb and with a reverent quietude, as Ace splayed her hand along the frozen waterfall once more and began covering their tracks. When she asked Hjalmar to mask their scents, the giant man lumbered into the same spot she had just occupied and concentrated heavily on performing the task right. Every thing they did from this point onward had to be done right. No hurried actions when it came to Craft. Like he would have focused on crafting a fine weapon, he spent a long moment sweeping clean the psychic scents of himself, his family, and their guide, knowing that they were being carried away by the winds clawing at the mountains around them.

With his first task complete, he watched as Ace tended to each member of his family, a quiet sentinel. Isaak, the newborn, was sleeping, as babies often did, blissfully unaware of their movements and plight. Hjalmar checked the sling cradling his son.

“Thank you,” Viida said softly but gratefully to Ace when she was offered the warm drink. “I did not expect to be climbing straight up,” she admitted with a nervous laugh in between sips. “Mm, this is delicious, thank you. Just what I needed.” Hearing his wife taking care of herself a little relaxed a smidge of the tension between Hjalmar’s shoulders. “You’ll have to give me the recipe for this when we get to Rihland,” Viida said to Ace with a brightening smile.

Hjalmar would snap the necks of a dozen men and more for that smile. 

When the family was sufficiently recovered to continue, the family followed Ace up to the Cirque, where the snow was nearly blinding and was unmarred by anything else’s presence. It crunched under their spiked feet. The spell at Hjalmar’s back wiped away their tracks both physical and psychic.

Eventually, they came to a crest, where the summit of a mountain loomed. Ace pointed and said, “I can get us into a secure, hard to detect cave if we make that valley before sunset.”

Istvar let out a low, disbelieving whistle before he could stop himself. Viida shot him a quick look, hefted her pack a little more securely on her pack, and said, “Then let’s get a move on, shall we? Safety first.” Either the drink had revitalized her or her determined courage had found her. She didn’t wait for Ace to give the signal. She strode on and the family followed.

Hjalmar lingered far enough back to hide their presence, wondering how long it would take to travel the valley. The family said nothing for the better part of an hour, focusing on traversing the snow drifts and rocks. Silence did not bother Hjalmar at all. In fact, it was because of the silence that he was able to sense the first signs of trouble.

He felt a Green whisper of something seeking their trail, like a wintry chill looking for a way into the warm hearth of a home. He paused. Scowled. Nothing in sight but that meant little. When that seeking tendril came again, Hjalmar dropped whatever Craft he had been working to hide them, evading its attention.

Or so he thought.

The wide valley gave a great view of the area and Hjalmar, with his height, could easily see further back along the trail he had just covered. On the edge of that vision were five moving shapes, dark like wolves loping through white snow, but these were no wolves.

They were being followed.

Hjalmar’s rumbling voice carried up to the group. “We have company,” he said darkly. His hand opened at his side, ready to call in his sword, but he hesitated since he had Isaak strapped to his chest. He could not fight well with such a burden. But did they fight now or wait for a better opportunity? Could they lose this pack of hunters on the trail somehow? Hjalmar didn’t know and he hoped that Ace had a plan for this sort of thing. If nothing else, Hjalmar would tell his family to run and he would test his steel against the five coming at them.

 

 

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