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{{ArcNav|Arc=Through A Glass, Darkly}}
{{ArcNav|Arc=Through A Glass, Darkly}}
{{ArcNav|Arc=Magic, Madness, and Mayhem}}

Latest revision as of 19:43, 13 September 2019

Part of the Through A Glass, Darkly Arc

Part of the Magic, Madness, and Mayhem Arc

Summary: A wagon that is not all it appears to be approaches Lanara's Animal Sanctuary after hours. Using the story of a boy whose dog has been hit, the witch hunters trick the guardsmen into allow the wagon to enter. Hell breaks loose when the witch hunters drop their illusioned disguises and attack the Sanctuary in effort to kidnap Lanara. The guards die, Venin is left bleeding and subdued, and after a fist fight Lana is knocked unconscious by a cheap shot. The hunters then spirit her away to join her with her sister in captivity.

Lanara's Animal Sanctuary

Outside of the enchanted chain link fence and just beyond the security, a young boy wails. His face is dirty and his mop of golden hair is wild. Blood streaks his simple clothing, mud and dirt too. It was late, dusk had settled over Sage and cast darkness about the suddenly still forest and the Sanctuary tucked away within it. A boy of this age, nearly ten but surely no older, had no business being out this far. “Help! Please!” His tired voice called, grimy hands clenched into white knuckled fists. “My pup’s been hit!” He’d all but wept as soon as he neared enough to see the guard posted at the front of the gates. “A wagons’ hit him and he’s dying- I know it!” Under the noise of the boy’s panicked crying, the rattling of a wagon and the thunder of hooves could be heard.

It wouldn’t take long for the wagon to appear after the boy. It was driven by thin old man, his skin wrinkled and brown as well aged leather. He had a look of concern on his face and a sadness only men of his age could carry. He leapt down from his covered wagon with as much agility and spryness as a younger man might. “Hey boy!” He called, a look of confusion seemingly crossing his age lined face. He addressed the guards now, looking above the snotting boy’s head. “I didn’t even see ‘em, I swear,” The man croaked, his white brows knitting as a frown pulled his face together. “I was headed into town for the night, it’s late I know, and they both just came tumblin’ out ah the woods!” It was almost hard to understand him over the sound of the child’s panic. He ran frantically from the gate to the covered wagon, pointing his finger and babbling about his poor puppy. “It was the boy or the dog, on my wife’s head, I had no choice,”

The scene was frantic enough, heart breaking enough. It had been crafted coldly and carefully. With Galath’s help, as he’d spent considerable time watching the witchTalyara and kept detailed notes of her every move, another Nobilis was attempting to use this created moment of chaos to draw out the other sister. Lanara was his target. The old man and the young boy were nearly enchanted to look as such, truly they were low level Knights of the Hammer cloaked in the illusionary magic of the Magecia that hid underneath the cover of the wagon. With his body nearly humming with the the desire for action, Hawkwood watched and waited. He would capture a witch this night.

The sanctuary is silent and still on this dark night, and the two guards stand before the entrance of the chain link fence, little puffs of fog exiting their mouths as the converse in hushed tones. It’s brisk, their hands are in their pockets, and it seems that Mateo is complaining about losing at a game of cards the previous night. “I tell ya, Kenji, the missus damn near tore the door off it’s blasted hinges! I lost just about everything but my shirt last night, and I can’t even make the rent this month… So nice of Miss Lanara to let me work a double shift, I tell ya. She’s the sweetest dame in this neck of the woods!” The younger guard, his cheeks flushing at the words, stammers a reply of, “She-She is the finest damn in the -realm- in my opinion!” Was that a blush creeping up his neck, or was it the whipping of the wind, as the area seems to grow more and more icy with each passing moment. Kenji feels the smirk coming from Mateo, and so the appearance of a hysterical boy and a wounded dog is a welcome distraction. Crushing on ones employer was often frowned upon, and to be honest, he knew he didn’t stand a chance with the sanctuary founder, as she happened to be engaged to a man that could easily tear him limb from limb. The guard with the gambling addiction steps towards the boy, “What’s the matter, Son? You have an injured animal? Kenji! Please go and get Venin, tell her to inform Miss Lanara!” The wagon nears, and the guard tries to accommodate the driver and the boy, by providing reassurance that help would be on the way and that everything would go according to plan. If only he knew -their- plan, he may not have been so cordial.

Several minutes later, a dark-skinned woman, no taller than five foot, and wearing a petulant pout on her face, exits the sanctuary. The doors are left unlocked, the enchantments are momentarily lowered from the front gate, and she ushers Kenji towards the rear of the wagon, to transport the wounded animal. Planting her hands firmly on her narrow hips, she glares at the older male, her hawkish features twisted into a grimace. “Are you from Sage Forest? Can’t you read the sign? Those that are wounded or surrendered to the facility are supposed to be delivered at the rear entrance. Or during business hours! Where did you learn to drive that thing!?” Did this woman ever smile? Why was she so suspicious? Mateo is tending to the blonde boy, ruffling his hair, and explaining how there isn’t another healer in all the realm that is as skilled as dealing with animals. The kid won’t quit pointing and blubbering, and it’s wearing thin on the man’s patience, though he knows that people can be rather attached to their pets. It’s a grand thing that he’s getting paid overtime, so he exchanges a look with the younger guard and the caretaker, before ushering the boy towards the building. “Let’s get you a cup of cocoa, huh? Something to calm your nerves.” This works in Hawkwood’s favor, as well, since Mateo was expertly trained in combat, while the younger guard was still learning the ropes, and the only thing menacing about Venin was her demeanor and facial expressions!

On the interior of the sanctuary, all is serene, despite a few of the animals that are being rather vocal in the exotic section. The roaring of a tiger. The yowling of a chimpanzee. The chirping of some birds of prey. Most would be uneasy to be at the dimly lit establishment at this hour, hearing all those sounds, but the little witch is right at home, and their calls are music to her tapered ears! Lanara hums to herself as she finishes folding some freshly laundered towels, and crosses the aisle, to neatly stack them atop some shelving in the storage room. She had left Elioyahazer to work on sharpening some swords at the guild, while she had headed here to finish up on some errands. Every spare moment she had was spent at the sanctuary, as she loved her animals, and they more than loved their witch. As the woman’s heels trails a magnificent white wolf, her nose twitching as she inhales the various scents, though she comes to an immediate halt and suddenly lifts her head. Lana peers over her shoulder as the clicking of Sigrid’s nails skids on the tile floor, and the hairs lift on the back of her neck. Was something amiss? The direwolf had a keen sense for detecting danger, and it has the witch glancing towards the entrance, long enough to see a sobbing boy being led into the adoption office by one of her guards. Venin doesn’t appear to be stationed at the front desk, either. “What the heck is going on?” Shaking her head, Lana bops Sigrid on the nose as a means of affection, before she heads towards the entrance of the facility, to see what was happening.

The Magicae disguised as a traumatized boy had played his role well, sniffling and whining while poor Mateo led him into what the hunters would consider the belly of the beast. Attacking a witch on her own grounds was risky, not something the hunters were ever led to do, but Hawkwood was ambitious and Lanara was so seldom vulnerable. The sanctuary would have to do. He hadn’t had the time, nor was he nearly as devout as, Galath to have watched Lanara to know her favorite tea but he had sent enough men to attempt to understand her scheduling. She was a busy witch. He was a busy mercenary. As the wagon moves again, Hawkwood readies himself. It wouldn’t be long then. He can hear the sharp tongued woman arguing with the driver, fussing that they’ve come through the wrong entrance, and he can hear the other disguised hunter babbling in feigned hysterics, ramblings of a very old man. When Mateo has disappeared into the sanctuary, the illusioned old man moves to step toward his wagon and conveniently manages to stand in the way of the woman who was questioning him suspiciously, stalling any movement toward what truly waited under the covered wagon. There was a tense, quiet moment as they waited for the enchantments to fade and for the first sign of Lanara to show. The illusioned mage held his breath, forgetting for a moment that he was playing a role. When at last Lana nears, and the falsely old man can stall no longer, the hunters that had lain in wait spring to action.

There were four lower ranking hunters, along with the mages that had been disguised as an old man and the boy, and there was Hawkwood. The mercenary playing witch hunter burst from the wagon first, the only sound the draw of swords and the creaking of the wagon as they moved from it. Hawkwood was tall, built like an ox in the shoulders, and dark of coloring. He was, along with his cohorts, human. Unlike his fellow hunters, he wasn’t as green in battle or as book-thumping crazy. He leapt over the wagon, beyond the other woman and guard, and moved over the ground that separated him from his target quickly. Though he had drawn his sword, the Nobilis had little plans to use it fatally. He moves in, attempting a glancing cut to her arm before moving close enough to sweep her feet from underneath her. Beyond them, the Magicae had moved away from the woman and the guard, letting the four remaining warriors square away with them as he began the spell to bind Lanara’s magic, though it would take him a moment. Kenji and Venin would have a fight on their hands, even if the four Knights of the Hammer weren’t particularly skilled swordsmen. They moved in practiced formation, three of them converging on Kenji and leaving the last to fend off Venin.

Inside the sanctuary, the mage disguised as a boy had clung onto Mateo with sticky hands, letting loose a keening wail loud enough to cover the sounds of struggle that might have floated toward them. He would seem innocuous enough, if not annoying, even as he moved to slip his small hand underneath his dirty clothes. When the shouts grew too loud, the boy would suddenly cling to the guardsman and let loose another wail. To Mateo, it would only seem like a young boy looking for comfort and a hug. In truth, the mage had pulled a gleaming dagger from his waist and was waiting to plunge it into the man’s back.

The illusion fades, and standing before the petite caretaker are four capable men, brandishing swords, and intent on breaking into the facility. Their magic has masked their true forms, and it’s now that Venin knows the sobbing child was nothing more than a ruse. She scowls, lifts her hand to helplessly rake the male nearest her across the face, though he’s much more agile than he appears, and he gives a painful twist to her arm. Kenji, unlike his grimacing co-worker, is no stranger on the battlefield, and he swore an oath to protect his workplace, at all costs. A steel short sword is unsheathed, and he begins the dance of death with three of the men, while the fourth keeps a firm hand on the kicking and shouting caretaker. The guard is sure of his footing, dodging and countering each attack, for several moments. The Knights seem pleased to have encountered one that shows some skill, and they parry and attack with precise movements, the quartet fully engaged in a show of force. However, it all comes to an abrupt end, when Kenji’s wrist begins to tire, and the guard knows that he’s taken his final step, that the song had come to an end. Blood and vitae drip from his form as a downward slash of a longsword splits him from throat to groin. Venin screams at the top of her lungs, in an effort to alert Lanara, and to announce her frustration. Kenji dies in a matter of moments, taking his final breath in a pool of his own blood, and the Knight’s don’t seem to show an ounce of remorse. Had the man not fought, it wouldn’t have been his last dance. They were here for the witch, and any that chose to stand in the way of their prize, would be just another casualty.

The boy continues to wail, playing his part to perfection, over the loss of a hound that didn’t exist. His sobbing is drawing the attention of Sigrid, the direwolf’s silver gaze keeping a watchful eye on Mateo, as though she knew something was amiss. Lanara approached her head of security, her full lips forming a frown, as she takes in the boy that seemed to be beyond comfort. “It will be alright! You’ve brought your pet to the right place, as we’ll treat him right away!” Malice flashes in the boys eyes, and in that split second, the witch can feel the magic pulsing in the air. Something was -very- wrong! Mateo, being the good hearted man that he is, wraps his arm around the boy, and as the gasp exits his mouth, Lana dodges for the front door. Eyes glazed over, the guard lifts his hand to the lower left region of his back, and meets the boys eyes, as the illusion fades and mage now stands at his side, “Why?” That single word is his last, before he loses consciousness, and falls to the tile floor with a clang. Sigrid stalks forward, her ears flat against her head, teeth bared in a snarl, and her body in a predatory pose. It looks as though she’s going crazy over the scent of the blood, or that she’s in protective mode since the witch had ran out of the facility. The mage is eyed, as though he were a victim she had been stalking for a century, committing his features to memory, gathering his scent in her psyche. Once her assessment is complete, she slips out of the open front doors, and runs as fast as her four legs can carry her, towards Cenril. She is in hot pursuit of the desert born known as Elioyahazer. He would come, and he would destroy any that sought to harm his witch.

Lanara knows that there’s an attack on her workplace, she knows that one of her guards has met his demise, and she knows that -she- is the reason they’re here. Who else would wish her dead?! She had paid off her debts to the slave trader’s, and she hadn’t heard from Skitch since that debacle. Those that haunted Eli, well, he was their main target, and none would have ventured all the way to Sage Forest from the desert. At least not at this time of the year. It had to be the group that had killed her familiar, that had nailed her to a tree when she was walking one evening, and the group that the witches were continuously avoiding. Cramer’s book had been the undoing of their craft in public. Lana hardly used her magic these days, aside from healing behind closed doors, or during the celebration of a high holiday. All had been quiet on her end for the past two months, so this comes as a surprise, and it’s as she’s running into the darkness of the night that she literally throws herself into the arms of her would-be captor. Hawkwood’s sword makes contact with her upper arm, tearing through the fabric with ease, and making a four inch slice in her silken flesh. The witch cries out, instinctively balling her hand into a fist, and aiming to deliver a powerful uppercut to the man’s throat. When it came down to fight or flight, the brunette always was ready to meet trouble head on, moreso with her fists than her magic. The Kelvarian temper is in rare form, as she dodges the leg sweep, her dancer’s body gliding over the earth, before she aims a kick to Hardwood’s pelvis. She’s not even aware of the shouting that spews from Venin’s mouth, followed by a string of colorful cussing, before the caretaker is silenced, likely by a fist. Whether or not Lana’s boot makes contact with Hardwood’s torso, she’s lifting her palms to the sky and muttering an incantation beneath her breath. The element responds to her call, as flames flicker atop her palms, and the wind begins to pick up from an unseen force. The spell is ready to be hurled at Hardwood, to engulf him in flames, and to burn until he’s nothing more than ash… Yet, it’s at this precise moment in time that the mage finishes his own spell, a mere second before Lana mutters ‘so mote it be’ and the flames are snuffed, the wind calms, and the witch is left standing there, bewildered, with blood dripping down her right arm. “You will pay for this!” Lana is seething, her form rocking from side to side, as she maintains a defensive stance. It’s good that they brought a team of seven well-trained men. They’d need every one of them, to catch this little witch.

Sigrid’s presence had not been one they’d planned for. Her arrival, along with Lanara, nearly stayed the young Magicae’s hand. He had never had to defend himself, this way of slipping a dagger into a man’s back had appealed to him because he’d only needed his wits and a chance. No physical skill or combat readiness. He’d been a simple boy in Cenril, running around with lower level wiseguys and using his magic to his own monetary advantage when Cramer’s men had taken him in. Taught him to hate witches, to hunt them, and that his magic was pure and set apart. He believed it, truly, and so even though he thought he might die he sunk the blade into his enemy. The low growl that followed had told him he was correct, that he would die here. When he meets the beast’s eyes, the mage is sure they would be the last his own would see. He tenses, ready to bring fire or lightning and go to his death with a fight, when suddenly… Sigrid leaves. He’d been so caught in the wolf that he hadn’t noticed Lanara running from the room. When his knees turned weak with relief he let them buckle beneath them, sliding down next to a dead or dying man. The silence that filled the room was deafening.

Hawkwood was surprised, to say the very least, to find his arms suddenly filled with witch. A fighting witch. He’d managed to make his glancing blow, but it was only because she’d been taken by surprise and this fact annoyed the hunter nearly as much as the pain did when it bloomed at a blow he hadn’t been able to fully block to his throat. He’d turned enough that her fist rolled over his skin, enough to bruise and even have him coughing, but not enough to crush the delicate inner workings that allowed him to breathe. Caught off guard, his attempt to trip her fails and she’s sending a more skilled kick to his pelvis. Hawkwood manages to stumble back and pivot his own body, letting the blow meet his hip with little enough force that he only needed to take another step back to compensate for it. He’s still stunned enough, and coughing to boot, that he’s slow to find his fighting stance. It registers that Lanara is calling her magic too late, he couldn’t have moved quickly enough to stop her now, and he’s unsure of the mage’s ability to snuff it out. He can see the flames, almost feel the heat of them, and though Hawkwood is already moving to minimize the damage and survive he’s also marveling at the power the woman wields as easily as he his sword. Hawkwood was a sucker for a good fight. She moves into a defensive stance and the hunter makes no attempts at hiding his admiration. “We’re told witches are defenseless without their magic,” He says, his voice raspy from the blow of her fist, even as the other hunters move to surround her. “Have you broken the mold or have we been mislead?” The Nobilis tosses aside his blade and lifts his hands. He’d not fight an unarmed woman with a sword, he had some pride after all.

Inside the sanctuary the young mage has found his feet. Adrenaline has him flying down the halls, nearly running into the circle of hunters not dissimilarly to what Lana had done moments before. His arrival is timed to hear Hawkwood’s question and witness him toss aside his sword. He’s scandalized to hear the man ask such a question, as it showed obvious doubt in the absolute nature in Cramer’s teaching and this was unthinkable. The sound of the sword striking the ground bounces around his mind loudly. Hawkwood wasted little time in attack again, he advanced on the witch and swung at her in heavy, haymaker blows that were followed with the entire weight of his body. Without his sword, the heavy shouldered man fought like a bar brawler, but because she was a pretty woman, he aimed for the arm he’d already made bleed and kept away from her face. The other hunters keep form, knowing better than to step in when Hawkwood is enjoying himself, and tensed at the ready in case the witch decided to run. The mage performing the spell that keeps Lanara’s magic from working continues his fervent chant, while the younger can feel the pressing need to intervene pressing on his shoulders like the hand of Cramer itself.

Even as Hawkwood manages to land his heavy blow, the mage is springing forward and breaking the line of Knights that surround them. He takes up the Nobilis’ sword even as the others shout at him. Stumbling and clumsy, he holds the bladed end with his hands clenched tight enough in his nerves that his own blood joins Lanara’s on the impromptu battle ground. He swings wildly, using the hilted end as some makeshift blunt weapon, he aims for the back of the witch’s head, screaming madly.

Sigrid is long gone by the time the mage leaves Mateo in a pool of blood, deceased on the tile floor of the sanctuary. And as he joins the men that circle the two fighters, he can see the tiny caretaker being kicked in the ribs, and buried amidst the cover of some thick bushes. Venin is alive, though her breathing is ragged, and she groans with each movement, as she’s endured quite a few kicks and punches from the assailants. A strong rope keeps her bound, as her hands are tied behind her back, and her ankles have been secured with twine. Apparently, the woman is a biter, and so one of the Knight’s had affixed a makeshift muzzle over her face, maring her features with twigs, leaves of poison ivy, and a silver bandage that would hurt like hell when it was torn from her flesh. She cannot scream for help, she’s incapable of rising to her feet, and in a rare display of emotion, she begins to sob. Witnessing the murder of Kenji, hearing the men cheering each time the man lands a blow on Lanara’s form, and imagining the horror that would befall the animals at the sanctuary have taken its toll. Venin lies helpless, imagining her own death that would shortly follow, and praying for a miracle.

Lanara locks eyes with Hawkwood as they face off, the steel of his sword striking the pavement with a shrill clang that reverberates in her tapered ears. Did he still think they were evenly matched? It was six strong men, some possessing magic, while others held weapons and had expert combat abilities! They wished to battle a woman whose magic had been silenced, who had minimal methods of defending herself, and who weighed a mere one hundred and twenty pounds?! “Yes, I broke the mold when I came into this world… And I’ll happily break your neck, as I send you out of this realm!” Falling silent, Lana narrows her dark chocolate hues on the male, circling him as one would a meal they are about to devour. She’s the perfect blend of superior intelligence and predatorial intimidation, as a heated blush appears in her high cheekbones, and Hawkwood falls victim to the breathtaking beauty he wishes to beat to a pulp. Lana studies his movements, as he eyes her appearance and is filled with a rare form of respect for the witch, and so she easily dodges his first three attempts of landing a blow against her torso and thighs. Their dance continues, as Hawkwood’s meaty palm makes contact with the slice on her arm, and she yelps in surprise, before pirouetting in the opposite direction, and returning with her arms outstretched, as she aims three forceful karate chops to his chest. He retaliates, by using all of his weight, and catches her momentarily off-balance, as his fists fly wild and strike her in the stomach and ribs. This gives the woman pause, as she chomps down on her lip, and blood begins to stain them in a crimson hue. Hawkwood had the height, the weight, and the training to best Lanara, along with a team of six others, fully prepared to end her life, should she snuff his early. All the witch had was her ire for these witch haters, the will to protect her animals and employees, and stamina to parry with the man for as long as time allowed. “You underestimate -all- of us. We are more than people who use magic… We follow a Goddess that believes in free will. Where is yours, you poor excuse of a man?!” Lana spits on his boot, her eyes flashing with hatred, “You are nothing more than a messenger. A flea-ridden mongrel on the side of the road, doing whatever he can for some scraps and lodging. You -obey- like a well-trained puppy. Is that what you want to be?! Are you all proud of the role you play!?” Glancing around the circle, she dodges another swipe from Hawkwood, and aims to rake her nails across his right cheek, clearly desiring to make him bleed. The men begin to taunt the witch, a few readying their weapons, and it’s then that the mage from earlier is lifting the sword with nervous hands.

Did she imagine the flash of doubt in Hawkwood’s hues, after she had delivered her empowering speech? Was he thinking that she was more than a pretty face, perhaps more than the ‘evil’ witch that Cramer had led him to believe? Was the tide about to turn? Lanara is realizing that the fight may have been coming to an end, at least between herself and Hawkwood, as the others aren’t as keen on hearing the rambling of their victim. They both were tiring now, each covered in cuts and bruises, and Lana continues to press her hand against her side. Had he broken a rib? Her lower lip is starting to swell, giving her the perfect pout, as she takes a menacing step nearer to Hawkwood, her hues trained on his features. “End this madness! Be your own person! Stop being his lackey, and make this right!” The mage gives a feral scream, leaps into the circle, and powerfully lowers the hilt of his blade, striking the brunette on the back of the head. Lights flash before Lana’s eyes, as her head begins to pound, and the force of the blow sends her tumbling forward, where she falls into Hawkwood’s awaiting arms, for the second time this night. A moment later, she loses consciousness, and her final thought is of Talyara. Would her sister, also, be in danger?

Hawkwood doesn’t stop the laugh from rumbling deep within his chest at Lanara’s quick and witty retort. “Yes, I’m sure you did,” He murmurs, not loud enough for the others to hear. There were no more words for a time, only the violent dance of a good and bloody fight. She fought with the agile grace of a dancer, coupled with a style he’d rarely seen in his years of mercenary work, and the deadly combination earned her a few well placed blows. It pleased him more than anything. She was right, it wasn’t a fair fight. He was bigger, though he’d quickly put the idea of being meaner out of his mind, and he had men at the ready incase things got out of hand. It was a game to him, a bit of fun to end a long night cramped in a crowded wagon with a bunch of stinking zealots. He’d worked up a fine sweat, was humming from the rush of adrenaline and battle lust when the dances pauses again. When she spoke, he listened. She’d earned that respect. The flash she’d seen in his eyes wasn’t that of doubt in Cramer or his cause, as he’d never really cared for either to begin with. Instead, it was a bit shock at how closely to home her barbed words struck him. Freewill. That was the point wasn’t it? To go wherever he pleased, wherever the money would take him. He’d done dirty work, work that led him to places like this sanctuary. To situations far darker than kidnapping. He’d never cared, never felt like a dog on a leash until she’d said it. He was angry enough because of it that he made a mistake, that he felt the rake of her nails across his cheek and the pain that followed after it. He made a low, growling sound in his throat and swiped at the blood that trickled down his chin. That was going to leave a scar.

The Nobilis sends a warning glance around him, his dark eyes filled with fury and calling for his men to be silent. “I’m no ones lackey,” He answers viciously, ready to exploit the weakness she’d shown in her side. But it’s too late. The young Magicae’s wild screaming has covered the sound of his own voice, the sound of the improperly wielded blade somehow louder in his ears. The hilt meets her head and he watches as Lanara’s face goes slack. He caught her without thinking, for the second time. Hawkwood scoops the witch up as bitter fury turns his dark features to stone and he curses. The bleeding mage had let the sword drop, his hands dripping crimson and trembling heavily. “Get him away from me,” The elder knight growls, turning from him quickly. He would deal with him when they’d taken Lanara to the camp in Rynvale. Not here, not now.

The hunters collected their things, Hawkwoods discarded sword and the wagon. The mage that had been squelching Lana’s own placed warded iron around her arms and feet, shackled her to a place on the wagon floor. They covered the wagon again, hiding their captive from any prying eyes that may pass by on the journey. Horses waited not far along the path and the hunters split off, the mage that had stepped in the middle of Lanara and Hawkwood’s fight sure to keep away from the fuming man. He and the other mage hung back to clear any trace of their path as they went. He rode with his ox-wide shoulders hunched and his dark eyes watchful, his mouth set in a grim line. He’d never questioned his actions before. He’d never held himself personally accountable for any of his misdeeds. Cramer’s band of merry mad knights had grown though, it was larger and more worrisome than the little band he’d joined before. More and more of the men, and some women, were joining up and buying whole heartedly into the cultish teachings of Cramer. Suppose all the disillusioned and traumatized masses had to put their energy, their faith somewhere. After all of the wars that had razed the land, he couldn’t really pretend to be surprised a full blown cult had taken root. More than one if he bought the stories coming from Larket now, where this witch madness had started and spread. He’d seen many witches bleed and die and their hands, then Cramers, now his own. In the quiet of the ride, only the sound of horse and wagon to keep him company, Hawkwood thought of the choices he’d made and the flash of hatred he’d seen in a pair of pretty brown eyes. And he wondered what he fought for, and if it had ever been anything more than gold.