RP:The Cost of Freedom

From HollowWiki

Part of the The God of Undeath Arc

Summary: The culmination of Quintessa and Lanlan's planning in the Plane of Dreams ends in this clandestine meeting, where each brings an uninvited guest in case things go awry. Quintessa is surprised to see Valrae, and Lanlan is not pleased to see Karasu. Only one of these people are not in the loop as to what is about to transpire, and the ultimate maneuver to fool a demigod is about to be played out a little too realistically...

Heart of the Fog Forest

Seeing anything here is difficult but you can just make out that you are in a wide open clearing, presumably near the centre of this fog infested forest. One object is however clearly visable, a gigantic tree with no branches, in the middle of the clearing. Oddly its branches are not all gnarled and oddly purple hued like most of the tree's here it is a strange light tan color, almost as if the bark had been stripped from it to reveal the soft wet wood underneath. On further examination you notice a number of small items are stuck to the tree mostly various colored leaves of species that are obviously not native to this forest. One of the leaves is golden and shinning and has some strange inscription written upon it. Perhaps this most unusual tree is sacred to a group of druids or wood elves and they have sought to protect it from the strangely eerie powers of this forest. You could stay and examine this oddity further or travel down any four of the fog filled paths that lead north east south and west.

Lanlan picked one of his nicest outfits for today’s schedule. A misty colored day suit with long tails that trail off ethereally. It’s a slight gray tunic over a white ruffly shirt, calling to mind the swirling fog that pervades the entire place. One of his nicest outfits, and therefore one of the most powerful. It captured some of the fog they encountered on the boat ride to this place, trapping it inside the embroidery and seeming to steal its characteristics. Lanlan doesn’t have to do much to appear invisible here now, and he lends this gift to Valrae too. Optimism was for chumps, and even if he believed the motive of his counterpart, he knew they would be wiser to anticipate a trap. So they would wait in the fog, under its cover and warded from magical detection by a magical armlet. They would hopefully appear to be late, and if the conditions were less than what they hoped for, they would simply appear as never to arrive. But one thing he didn’t anticipate; the fog forest in the fall. Autumn leaves that seemed to flutter around weightlessly, and more beautiful than in other forests. Maybe it was the way they broke the monotony with their shimmering foliage. It made patience easier, as he could let his gaze linger on their whimsical movements. He picked one in particular who’s dance seemed particularly dramatic. How it’d flutter into the mist for a quick dalliance before his eyes as a vibrant echo of life, then into obscurity and curling into view again. He glanced at Valrae just once to see if she saw the phenomenon.

The crunching footfalls of the lovers are the only echoes that Karasu can make out as they approach the deepest part of the fog forest. She only knew vaguely of that Quintessa had been called out to such a remote place, and was still on edge from how scant the letter had been. Something did not feel right, but Quintessa would not take no for an answer on not meeting the group. That only made her feel worse. She trudges through and stamps down on an outcropping of fungus as they come across a good clearing, wearing non-reflective armor layered in a way that still allows her to move nimbly and without sound. The deep bronze tones of the autumnal forest are as beautiful as they are dangerous; anything could be lurking in the piles of leaves that naturally accumulate at the base of the trees, the trunks of which disappear into the thick fog before most can see into their boughs. Karasu scans the horizon and motions for Quintessa to follow her lead, having the better eyesight of the two in this terrain. A chill wind blows from the north, and from it, Karasu picks up the faint scent of sea salt and flowers. They have arrived. “Valrae. Lanlan. Come out.” Karasu calls out as her lip curls upward into a grimace, her authoritative timbre easily carrying through the fog. One hand moves to the Jubaku no Kijo at her side per Quintessa’s request, though her Sagaribana is still sheathed, concealed as a belt. One ruby eye peers out from under her long fringe, her curly hair frizzed from the fog and loose around her face. “Stay on guard.” She murmurs to Quintessa as the sound of rustling leaves comes from ahead.

Quintessa feels comfortable in the mysterious fog of this forest. She always had. It reacts and clings to her fae magic, her hag blood giving her improved dominion over the intrinsic magic that lingers here. She can see everything perfectly in the thick fog, mismatched eyes scanning carefully through the trees. She’s not wearing the eyepatch that hides her yellow, serpentine eye today- for whatever reason she’s left it behind, but the invisibility cloak made from a jaguar slain in this very same spot remains wrapped around her body. Quintessa recalls that moment, staring at the clearing in which it took place, Karasu lamenting over the death of the feline while Lanlan mocked her. But was it not Quintessa who killed the magical animal? She smirks to herself, acknowledging that perhaps she was the one who deserved the blame even if it was Lanlan in charge of the mission back then. Now they were Magisters and Lanlan Archmage, but so little had changed. Quintessa was still making messes and Karasu took it out on everyone but her. Her lover’s words to stay on guard snap the changeling out of this memory however and she is reminded of the present. Things do change, after all, and that went for her current relationship between Lanlan and Valrae. Quintessa turns to face them, her hands hidden under her cloak, her heart beating one-hundred times a second. “Valrae is here too?” This was not part of what she and Lanlan had discussed- Did Valrae know the plan? Was this instead a trap? A spike of panic rises in the changeling’s core and the fog begins to slowly build momentum in a weak cyclone around her. Quintessa doesn’t let this show, however, she simply stares lifelessly through the fog at the pair, almost through them as well. It was show time; Her performance would be amazing. “Good, so you didn’t keep us waiting long.” She calls out to them, her voice taking on a theatrical mania as she feels Caluss’ gaze narrowing closely to watch this situation play out. “And you brought Valrae with you, how excellent. That certainly saves me a lot of time. All our eggs in one neat basket.”

Valrae had taken the boat with Lanlan despite the power humming behind the cage of her ribs that longed to stretch out and draw down the stars to bend reality around them. They could have been there in a heartbeat that way, ready and waiting in the eerie silence of the Fog Forest, and all she had to do was call to her second secret heart. It wasn’t entirely practical though. The last time she’d used it with the archmage it had left them both sick and disoriented. While her previous attempts had been more successful, the witch had been alone. There were three of them waiting in the illusioned curtain of fog that Lan had wrapped around them. Lan, Valrae herself, and the guest she carried with her. The captain of Cenril’s guard was a stout man. His features were almost comically dispositioned to each other. He had a nose too wide and lips too thin, a hair line that was retreating like a low tide and eyebrows that might make Lanlan’s own self conscious by the sheer girth rather than length. General Ronwen Blair was not as still as the pair that he’d traveled with. He shuffled his feet loudly, uncaring of the crisp way the leaves announced their presence behind Lanlan’s artfully made illusions. Annoyance had spiked, appearing as a low throbbing ache behind her temples for Valrae as Karasu and Quintessa approached. It took them little time to narrow in on the trio. The witch was the first to step out. In a pool of dappled moon’s light her hair was a waterfall of silvery starlight and her face was cast in deep shadow. She was not wrapped in fine silks or the oftentimes dramatic and romantic lines of a gown or day dress, instead she wore tight leather breeches tucked in short, sturdy boots and a long tunic of white. The belt around her waist held her ashwand and a sheathed athame. “I’m surpri-” Valrae had started to speak when Blair’s surprisingly pitched voice causes her to wince as he steps forward and draws a short sword, loudly exclaiming, “Quintessa Blackwell! For your crimes against Cenril and her good Mayor, you will be brought back to the republic and face justice!”

Lanlan causes his voice to come from everywhere at once, making pinpointing his location all the more harder. “I’m glad you brought Karasu, I was feeling so guilty about my own surprise.” The leaves in the area start to flurry, wrapped up in a whirlwind. A cocoon of sorts is formed where Lanlan, Valrae, and Blair stand invisibly, and then it subsides. When it does, they are revealed, as if they were always there. Judging by his countenance, he was not as amused to see Karasu as he said he was. Despite the surprises, he still felt the plan was in place. His words would signal this to Quintessa, who presumably found a way to communicate it secretly to Karasu, right? Of course, otherwise, she wouldn’t be here. “It’s over Quintessa. I am going to ascend to godhood smite Caluss. We have the ways, the means, the only thing we need now is the location.” He waited a beat before adding smugly. “And we’ll have that soon too.” He took a single step toward her. “So you’d better just give yourself up to the captain. Valrae of course will make sure that you get a fair trial. As fair as can be.”

Quintessa grins at Blair’s call for the warlock’s arrest, flashing the general her shark-like smile. “You expect me to surrender? Ha! Over your dead body.” The changeling’s visage is already trembling with her terrible magic, empowered by the influence of the so-called God of Undeath. Something Lanlan says causes the warlock’s grin to falter, returning to a more serious expression. “Godhood? What are you talking about…” She pretends to take the bait, fishing for information she knows will lead Caluss into a trap. “You’ve been infighting far too much to have actually accomplished anything… Unless…” Quintessa’s expression becomes uncomfortable as the whispers of the God of Undeath begin to turn into screams in her head. It wanted to be known. “It doesn’t matter…” Quintessa mutters as she slowly spreads her cloak, revealing the Eye of Caluss hidden just behind the fabric, floating before her as she wields it as an arcane focus. A pulse of negative energy, the undead godlet’s pseudo-divine influence, stains the fog around her a deep, blood red. “My hands are very much tied, I’m afraid. Kasyr attacked the Queen of Alithrya and thus I must escalate accordingly.” Another pulse of mana, this one more powerful, carrying a forceful push behind its wake as the bloody darkness spreads out in a wave, an unnerving phobomancy spell, minor, but still effective, bringing flashes of their worse memories to whoever could not resist the passive magic emanating from her. “You know I don’t have a choice. Alithyk Caluss demands your heads or it will take ours.”

Karasu takes two steps forward, just enough that she is close enough for Ronwen Blair’s very short sword to strike. The demifeline tilts her head upwards so she can lock eyes with the stout human. “And who might you be?” She thinks for a moment, then raises her hand just enough to snap her fingers. When she does, Blair’s fermin-like lips press into each other regardless of whether his introduction is finished or not, as though an invisible seam was pulled across them. “On second thought, I don’t care. I think you would be remiss to know your place when those above you are attempting to have a cordial meeting.” With two fingers, Karasu pushes the guard’s short sword aside so that it no longer points at her. Even if he should resist, the runic bracers within her armor grant her the strength to continue this motion. “Should you like to know where your place amongst the five of us lies, there’s a lycan watering hole down that way. Stare into it, squeeze out that disgusting blackhead on your forehead, and know that your worth is lesser than that pus. Should you interrupt any of us again, I’m sure our dearest Valrae might turn a blind eye to an appropriate punishment. Now put your toy away and let the adults speak.” Snapping her fingers, the spell undoes itself, allowing the guard to speak freely again, should he wish to pursue that path. The timing of this threat will have coincided just perfectly with Quintessa’s wave of phobomancy, making the thinly veiled threat that much more effective. At Lanlan, the demifeline only gives him a look of disgust and apathy. “Godhood? Don’t make jokes, Lanlan, you were never very good at them. You had a better chance of doing that by submitting to Haldavar.” Someone is feeling arrogant tonight, especially being the only person amongst them not in the know. Turning her head to Valrae, she gives a disingenuous smile. “What were you saying before?”

The pale ends of Valrae’s hair lifted in the sudden wind that Lanlan’s magic materialized. The flurry of fallen leaves circled them and died like short lived court dancers. “Lan!” She hisses his name as the archmage foolishly reveals his plans to them. Or that’s what she hoped it looked like as she painted a disapproving scowl on her face. Karasu’s magic hummed over her skin and sent a trill of worry up her spine. Her head snapped toward the strangely silent Blair and she found, thankfully, that he was only struggling to speak. She winced at the feline woman’s words but there was a dark part of her heart that boiled to know she’d accidentally spoken the truth. Still, the witch stepped in front of the wildly struggling man as he made muffled braying noises. “Enough.” Her words did not match the look of relief that passed behind her dark eyes. Valrae’s hand moves to her own belt as Quintessa reveals the eye of Caluss, but instead of drawing her ashwand the witch instead unsheaths her athame. The Weaver’s Moon glinted like a chip of Vaalane plucked from the dark sky. It was an ancient work of art crafted by the very gods themselves, the weight of it little more than a feather in her hand. The handle was smooth black walnut with delicate veins of celestial bronze webbing through it. The pommel was shaped as a crescent moon, the guard three moons curving slightly down to fit as if it were made for the witch’s hand. The blade itself was thin and straight, sloping down to a wicked point. The most unusual aspect of the athame was the material the blade was seemingly forged from. It was nearly as clear as glass and thin as a whisper, almost uselessly so, and when in contact with the magic that Valrae called from the cold earth it shone with the swirling blue and green light of Vaalane as if a moonbeam was trapped within. A murmured counterspell tumbled from her lips as she stepped forward. The spotted light of the moon’s ran like water through the fallen leaves. It pooled around her feet, drenching her and Lanlan in its silver and green light to beat back the sanguine darkness of Tessa’s phobomancy. Blair was not so lucky. His braying increased as he swung his sword wildly at invisible memories. Valrae halted by Kasyr’s name. She hesitates, the athame held out in front of her uselessly as she blinks between them. The confusion only lasted a heartbeat. She tilts her face toward Karasu but only shakes her head. “There is always a choice.” It was clear those words were meant for Quintessa.

Lanlan didn’t particularly care about Blair, being an uncorruptible member of law enforcement. But for appearances sake, Lanlan was on his side. Not enough to undo any of the spellwork being carried out against him, that was for Valrae to do if she wished. “An actual child, stomping through the forest in a full suit of armor on the way to a clandestine meeting abusing a man of honor and achievement?” In his heart he was laughing, but disapproval was on his face. “Didn’t I teach you better?” Trusting Valrae was the correct choice. At their feet, her will and that of the moon washed over them, and the subtle fear magic that wormed its way toward them like dark tendrils revealed itself and withered, before disintegrating. “But that’s enough stalling,” says Lanlan. “You’ll come with us, but it doesn’t have to be alive. He’s here isn’t he? I can smell it.” The only sign that he was casting a spell was the subtle way his eyebrows moved, as if because of the wind. And then the scent of ozone pervades the air, cutting a line of ionized particles from just above Lanlan and Valrae to the space occupied by Quintessa and Karasu. He may have exaggerated it a bit, for their sake. He wanted it to be as familiar to them as it was to him. And then a flash of lightning exploding in an instant between the two lovers with a nova that could potentially take out lesser folk. “Not too late, I hope?” Says the revenant illusion.

Quintessa sighs, her abject sorrow seeping into her magic and adding an extra bite to the fear-inducing aura that was constantly slowly growing around her. “Free choice is an illusion, Valrae but I suppose I see your point; I will always choose survival over becoming yet another forgotten martyr. I choose to fight!” Sorrow quickly shifts into rage, sparks of lime-green flames dancing around her like orbiting comets as the subtle changes of the atmosphere around them and the scent of ozone alerts the changeling to something unnervingly familiar. Quintessa shifts her on her heels and allows the shadow magic in her boots to drag her away from the point of impact, giving her space from the form she narrows her eyes at in the center of the lightning crater. The Eye of Caluss sees the illusionary revenant as well, and as it had planned to do the next time it saw him, an unfathomable amount of mana was discharged from the Eye of Caluss as it attempted to cast Dominate Undead on Kasyr, but since this was merely a fake the powerful spell fails immediately and Quintessa hisses out her discovery to Karasu. “It’s an illusion! Karasu, take him down!” The warlock turns to face Valrae once again, a fire in her eyes that hinted that she was more than just pretending to be insane with anger. “You don’t have a piece of my hair this time,” Quintessa says as she winds up her own spell, the Eye of Caluss resting in her left hand as it recharges after its failed attempt. “And I know better than to give you a chance this time.” The green flames circling around Quintessa conjoin into a series of rays, ethereal arrows of fire that pepper the entire area around the Mayor of Cenril and her general. Her aim might have been intentionally bad. Maybe a little. This was still an act, right?

Karasu steps back, her lack of an expression to Valrae and Lanlan’s statements being a reaction in itself. Choices built on lies weren’t choices at all, she thinks as she moves her hand to the Sagaribana disguised as a belt on her hip. The motion is stopped as the unmistakable scent of ozone is forced onto her senses. “Qui--” No one can shout out a warning faster than lightning can move; this is a mistake Karasu learns firsthand now as the simple illusion amplifies itself through fear to appear to her as a real bolt of lightning. Lanlan’s intention strikes true, with Karasu using her ability to transform into smoke to quickly retreat to the fallen timber around them as a raised platform for her to gain a vantage point. “You cheap, cheating piece of spit!” She hisses as she reappears. The Jubaku no Kijo reacts to Karasu’s intense hatred towards Kasyr, and fuels her newfound anger towards Lanlan and Valrae for being so cowardly that they would have to rely on someone else to save them. The rotting wood beneath her heels begins to smolder and smoke as the Jubaku no Kijo whispers to her to unleash everything on this illusion. It is only by sheer luck that Quintessa speaks first and warns her that the revenant is only a decoy. This revelation only further angers her. Lanlan was mocking their disdain for Kasyr now? The air around her sparks with static and red-violet embers as she withdraws her bladed whip-sword from around her waist. Unlike Quintessa, Karasu really is aiming straight for Lanlan when she whips it in his direction. With a silent magical command, the blades fly off of the whip, slicing straight through the falling autumnal leaves as they try to find purchase on Lanlan’s smug face.

Valrae seemed just as surprised by the illusion of Kasyr. As if Quintessa speaking his name had summoned him. The witch wastes little time, dancing sideways and closer to Tessa in hopes of drawing her attention toward her and away from Karasu and Lanlan as she turns the air blue. She’s close enough to Quintessa now that she could swing wide with her blade and reach her. Close enough that the other woman might see the shift from concern to mild satisfaction change her face. She smiles sweetly as she says, “I suppose the difference between you and I is knowing how to leave a lasting impression.” Reacting quickly, she leached from the free flowing mana around her, her spells only stronger for it, and the light that protected her before bled into a shield at her forearm. The witch was pushed back from the force of Quintessa’s arrows of fire, her knees bent as her booted feet slipped over the damp leaves. The hastily formed shield of light cracks, splintering like glass as Valrae clenches her teeth. The spell shatters and quickly becomes useless. She attempts to close the gap between them by sprinting forward, pulling her ashwand from her belt to cast a wall of her own verdant flames. She seemed to have missed, the towering wall of wildly growing fire leaping up behind Quintessa as Valrae continued to move forward. This was reckless, like the last time the pair of them had been facing each other, and made little sense. Blair had seemed to break free of his fears around this time. From the changeling’s right, he also barreled toward her with a shrill cry. His sword was raised high above his head, ready to arc down onto her.

Lanlan has caused a big enough distraction with a lightning boom, he’s sure, and he dissociates from the version of him that is standing with a smug smile. Disguised as a small breeze, he maneuvers a few feet to the peripheral. The leaves that are pushed out of his way and the fog that swirls in his wake appears like a gust of wind as he seamlessly blends into the mist as he turns his glowing red eyes away. A realistic facsimile stands where he used to. A stunt double to handle the rest of his performance. It should be so much easier to play the part if he’s not actually in any danger. Something troubles him as he sees his own face get punctured by a whip; he didn’t tell anyone he was going to do this! That could’ve really hurt, for a second. Then he’d be dead. Tessa seemed to be playing especially method, which is something he expected. But Valrae wasn’t supposed to be targeted. Unfortunately, Lanlan couldn’t worry about that right now, he had to delay Karasu even further. Preferably, without hurting her, because he knew better than many that the line between fighting for pretend and to the death was thin and blurry. Lanlan, the one who was punctured, stands for a beat with his face still smiling, seeming all the more creepy with a blade sticking through it. “You think I would let him get the credit for taking you in? It was your fault for falling for it, dummy!” The illusion suddenly cackles as luminous lines zigzag their way through his body, like it was glass. He fractures into pieces, each one of them reforming into a smaller Lanlan. They fly flipping wildly, head over heels up at Karasu, giggling like pixies the whole time. The way they turn in the wind might remind one of the way a leaf does, their pattern just as unpredictable. They’re unarmed apparently, but that doesn’t mean they pose no danger. Each fifth of Lan expects to be thrashed (as much as it hurts Lanlan to see his loved ones perish), because then it will release its firework spell with a small explosion of lavender smelling smoke and glitter. Inhaling it will cause some kind of confusion in the afflicted one’s brain, and they’ll lose control of their motor functions for a short time. There was practically no danger in it, unless she fell off her perch and landed wrong.

Quintessa giggles, a simple sound that shouldn’t sound so horrible yet coming from the changeling in this moment fulfilled that description. “Oh, I’ve left a deep enough impression on your little city, I think. And I have you to thank for my new-found fame. I bet you thought the backlash would actually slow me down when you wrote about me in the papers.” Quintessa was purposely monologuing like Kasyr had always told her not to. She knows what the consequences are, she knows it creates openings, wastes time, but that’s what Quintessa wants. She wants this fight to go poorly- she’s so tired of fighting, yet as the witch and general pair close in Quintessa feels her panic rise. She is surrounded, and as the fire manifests at her flank to block her escape she decides she doesn't want to lose after all. “But I’ll never be slowed down- Rhew!” Quintessa points her hand in the direction of the charging swordsman, creating a burst of icy mana that drops the temperature in the air several degrees as a thin layer of ice snaps to the man’s feet and holds him firmly to the ground, keeping him from slashing her with his sword- but the distraction was a success. In the moment Quintessa takes her eyes off Valrae to react to Blair she strikes, knocking the Eye of Caluss from Quintessa’s grasp to roll helplessly away. For a moment everything feels like it’s in slow motion as she is separated from the Eye, a dizziness in her mind as the bond between her and the object was stretched thin. In this moment Quintessa hesitates, her mismatched eyes flickering to find the artifact on the ground before meeting Valrae’s gaze yet again. Is this part of the plan?

Karasu is fully submerged in her anger at this point of escalation. She has no qualms about striking down her colleague of so many years on the turn of a heel, as any chance for this situation to de-escalate was lost two chapters ago. "Fight me head-on, coward!" The demifeline screams at the tiny doppelgangers, the pink and violet fires spilling from her mouth like hot coals from a mining cart. She lashes with the bladeless whip as the sword fragments disappear into the foggy underbrush. One miniature Lanlan is whipped on the back swing by sheer luck, where it lights up like a snapdragon and releases the disorienting mist. How dare Lanlan use such cheap tricks on her?! Another two tiny Lanlans kick at her back, forcing her to take a step forward into the mist. Her muscles seize up for a moment as the mist worms it's way into her mind in the worst possible way. Suddenly, she's back in the Dark Forest, helpless to stop Quintessa from being left to bleed out… Then there's Kasyr, Lanlan, and Valrae at the edge of the clearing, smug in their moral superiority of not having been the one tricked into becoming a slave for Alithyk Caluss. Now in the Fog Forest, she turns her head to see the fake Lanlan group, the false Kasyr at one end of the forest, and the very vulnerable Valrae hiding behind that hideous excuse of a meat shield. Karasu makes a swing and a miss at a tiny Lanlan that flies over her, and holds a hand out in Valrae's direction. "If you won't fight me, then I'll fight someone who will!" She shouts. From her palm, a bright light coalesces into a central point, then swirls around until it catches aflame in just another few seconds. The spellblade takes the fireball in her hand then turns on her heel. On the wind up, she kicks out as a miniature Lanlan makes a dismount, and crunches the false drow's legs underfoot before she pitches the red-violet fireball directly at Valrae.

Valrae’s lips twitched into a scowl as the changeling continued her verbal sparring. Frustration rose to the surface as her panting breath exited in a plume of white mist in the abrupt temperature drop. But Blair was taking the worst of it. Time slowed again as Valrae and Quintessa’s eyes locked and the eye of Caluss slipped sluggishly over the fallen leaves. The mask of anger and concentration fell from her face like a curtain for a heartbeat as she nodded so subtly if Tessa blinked she would have missed it. Time snapped back into play around them like a thunderclap. A lyrical whisper fell from her lips as her ashwand twirled between her thumb and index finger. The wind answered her bidding instantly, a flurry of crimson and amber leaves rising around them in the sudden tempest. The three of them were in the eye of the arcane storm, the eye of Caluss sliding further away from the wall of leaves and thick, smoky fog. The ice that halted Blair cracked as the heavy set man stumbled forward. Valrae struck quickly, moving like a viper. The Waver’s Moon sliced into the fleshy man’s throat like warm butter. The blood fell hot from the shallow wound, steaming in the icy air as it sprayed over the blade and the crest of Cenril on his chest. The witch danced back, “Quickly!” She hissed as her Captian’s bright eyes darted between the pair of women in terror and confusion. The time they might have had wrapped in her spell away from the eye was hurdling toward a too short end as Karasu’s fireball erupted toward them. “Fu-” Blair’s strangled cry covered whatever curse fell from her lips. She lurched toward Quintessa, flipping the athame in her hand with a skill that suggested she had trained for a lifetime instead of a too short moon. Her hand and the pommel was soaked in the still hot blood that fell from Blair and the witch used it now in hopes of brushing it over the changeling’s skin. Time was up. With an annoyed flick of her wand Valrae’s counter spell burst from her lips. The fireball that Karasu had volleyed toward her was destabilized and sucked into the wall of violent wind. It created a tunneling wall of red-violet flames that ignited within the leaves to shower the three of them in ash and burning hot embers. Blair swung his sword wild and weak, the motion clumsy as one hand gripped the superficial wound in his neck, and the witch was not quick enough. The blade dug into her forearm as she lifted it to protect her face, the ashwand falling to the forest floor as her own blood spilled and she cried out. She nearly killed him then, the pain and her temper spiking wild as the tower of fire and wind that encircled them grew taller and pushed further in and she kicked out. Her boot made solid contact with his knee, forcing him down. The next spell she used was one familiar to Quintessa, it’s sickly green light rolling from the fallen guard in waves as it sought to find purchase in the blood that had already been spilled. The Living Poppet spell would spread between all his blood had touched, connecting the three of them to Blair’s life until she ended it. Everything in Valrae’s body begged for her to run from it, to run from the trust she was placing at Quintessa’s feet and from the weight of what she was silently asking in return as she pressed her injured arm close to her chest and turned her face to her with an unspoken plea written on the lines of her face. The thick, oily black and somehow fleshy threads that bound her to the God of Undeath’s eye snaked and knotted from Quintessa. They stretched and black filth oozed, running like corrupted blood down the unbreaking bond through the fire where the eye lay. Even as Blair’s pain became her pain she moved, power responding to her will as she disarmed him. The motion was clumsy without her wand, the force hitting him closer to his wrist and cracking the bone there. Valrae tripped forward, cursing as she slammed into the Cenrili guard and they landed in a tangled mess so close to the flames that her hair lifted in the heat. With a ragged, wild cry she plunged the athame down into his chest. The pain was nearly blinding as blood welled between her fingers and bloomed over her white tunic, spreading like a macabre flower. Still, Valrae waited. She waited until those festering weaves folded over themselves and reached out to Blair as he struggled on the ground beneath her. They sank into his flesh as his labored breathing began to shallow and only then did she move. She threw herself over the blood soaked leaves, toward Quintessa and the knotted ties that bound her to Caluss. The Weavers Athame trembled as she pierced the tangled oath between warlock and god. The blackness and corruption hissed against the chipped blade of light and Valrae screamed with effort as she struggled to push through the connection. If she did not cut it in time, Blair would die for nothing and Caluss would know what was done here.

Lanlan keeps an eye fluttering on Quintessa and Valrae, while one remains fixed on Karasu. His disembodied voice echoes in an area wide enough for them all to hear. “It would’ve been better for you both to be put on trial so the public could see who brought you to justice. But if you don’t make it out of the forest, you’ll be in the papers again. At least once more.” His spell worked to subdue Karasu momentarily, critical, since he couldn’t count on her using less than lethal means. Nor could he do anything too harmful, his trust in Quintessa lasted only as long as she had an excuse to keep living. He took his eye off her only for a moment when he felt Valrae’s magic working to effect, and he saw Caluss’s eye roll away from Quintessa. In that moment, Karasu recovered and he felt a heatwave in the air between her and them as she set it on fire. When did he lose her attention? Dispelling the horror that threatened, Valrae dispersed the immolation in a tower of enchanted foliage, allowing it to burn the expired leaves and quickly go from burning flame to dusty ash. A fine cover. “How dare you turn away from me,” he says as he steps out of nothingness between Karasu and those behind him. From one sleeve slides his glass wand, and the other his Xalious-wood staff, a burning crack bisecting it from ferrule to gnarled head. Lanlan seems to perform a warrior 2 pose, drawing the magical ashes in through the wand at his back and channeling it out through his staff toward Karasu. Immediately, an enormous plume of ashy blackness burgeons out of the staff’s gnarled head and coils around him and those behind him, covering them all in thick black smoke.The head of it is poised to strike at Karasu to prevent further interference until their goal is accomplished. It snaps at her in an instant with a fanged maw large enough to disappear a hippo. Just for her, he combined its smoky scaled fangs with a levitation spell, so that should it engulf her, she will be suspended harmlessly in an endless black abyss, trapped in a formless, incorporeal blinding cloud. Once the coils leave for the strike, the forms it hid, especially Quintessa and Blair, seem juxtaposed entirely and it seems now that Quintessa, not Blair, is bleeding out from severe and elegant cuts. “As a courtesy,” says Lanlan to Quintessa apparently, “We won’t parade your corpse through the streets. We’ll bring it to Vailkrin for use in our grand spell.”

Quintessa continues to lock eyes with Valrae, unblinking, trying to understand the subtle meaning of the Red Witch’s slight nod to the fullest capacity she could. The rest of her surroundings dull into a silent haze, muffled and distorted, then she attempts to step forward, the weight of the fallen artifact in the burning and blood-soaked leaves anchoring Quintessa to the ground. The screams of the object command the owner to turn around and pick it up instead- Alithyk Caluss did not like being separated from Its favorite tool. Alithyk Caluss did not like losing Its living set of eyes. The knotted tethers refuse to allow Quintessa to take another step away but her defiant nature would not be dominated by an undead godlet. The clawed hooks of Caluss’ influence rip and tear at her very soul, scarring her being in ways she had not yet felt before, ways that had only been promised to her by the so-called God of Undeath while it tortured her in the realm of chaos. Every step she takes away from the Eye of Caluss drains her lifeforce, stealing her energy, robbing her of her breath. Quintessa is winded by the time she makes it to Valrae’s side, her pale hand reaching to touch the bloody pommel and help Valrae finish her task. Quintessa ‘s eyes flutter and her breath catches in her throat as a lightheaded feeling overcomes her for a moment. She’s confused about what she sees before her, the tangled threads and colored cords of mana, but as she looks to herself and sees the thin, powerful strings of her own web spreading out far and wide to ensnare other energies in the world, tears begin to form in her mismatched eyes in the realization of what this is. Her life-long obsession with the Weave Theory had finally been rewarded with this moment, a glimpse into what she had always imagined existed. Then Quintessa’s stomach turns as she glances back at the Eye of Caluss, the thick, knotted roots of black, sickly influence had found their way to her core and dug into her- cursing her. “Get off of me!!” Panic begins to rise again, a mild, cold anxiety that causes her to reach down and try to pull the hooked roots out of her, a painful scream echoing into the sky as it snaps against her sneer will, but there are so many more left to remove and not much time left to do it. Quintessa looks to Valrae, pleading in her blue and hazel eyes- she recognizes that they have to work together. She grips the next anchored root, wincing against the pain as she stretches it thin for Valrae to cut, the hooks withering away once severed from Caluss’ influence. Thread by thread the knot is unraveled. Cut. Hack. Slice. The two women work together, finally bound in unified service against the false god of undeath to deprive it of its most useful foothold in the material realm. Each cut thread leaves Quintessa more exhausted, however, and each snap of the roots drives her closer to collapse. By the time the task is near complete Quintessa’s consciousness is fading and she is on her knees, one last plea for Valrae to “Free me…” before she faints in the blood-damp leaves below, leaving the Red Witch of Cenril to finish removing the last couple of hooks still tangled in Quintessa’s web.

Karasu swears at Lanlan as the enormous plume of ash and smoke threatens to engulf her, positioning her sword to strike the conjuration in half, but any exclamations of hatred are cut off by an audible snap as the maw splits itself in two and successfully engulfs her. The spellblade throws the entirety of her weight to her left, only to be met with a gravitational resistance. When she throws her weight to the right, she finds herself facing upwards as the levitation distorts her sense of direction. For a heartbeat, panic overtakes. How had she not known that Lanlan was capable of this? How had she underestimated him? Karasu herself dissipates into smoke with the power of the D’Chath blood flowing through her veins, and is able to reposition herself enough to the formless shape in the fallen leaves, and feel the pulse of her magically imbued garnet ring feeding her a distress signal from Quintessa. The ruse is playing out perfectly as far as those who are in the know are aware. For Karasu, though, this is quite literally the end of her world playing out before her eyes. “Quintessa!!” She screams, trying to force her way through the ashen barrier, but the gravitational spell still prevents her from breaching it. Then, the pulsating ends. Quintessa has lost consciousness from the stress, but to Karasu, the garnet goes dark because she has died. From outside of the blinding cloud, all goes still for a moment, as Karasu’s resistance and cries for Quintessa have ceased. As quick as a crack of lightning, the formless black cloud bursts, and the Fog Forest is blinded in light and heat. The eternally dampened trees from the nearby swamp and neverending fog are not safe from this blast, as those within touching range are blackened and burnt to the core, and if Lanlan does not move quick, will find his hair, face, and hands scorched as well. Surrounded by her red-violet fires, with eyes that burn so brightly that they appear to be made of fire as well, is Karasu. With the Jubaku No Kijo drawn, her fury has caused the stored arcane energies in this sword to amplify all her feelings and powers. The energy merges with Karasu’s very being, taking the form of two red-violet horns atop her head. Even if she could see clearly now, the anger of what she believes happened and the remnants of Valrae’s barrier blinds her to the truth. “If Quintessa doesn’t leave here alive, then neither do you!!” She is fully prepared for a suicide mission, and leaves no room for counterarguments as she attacks again. A swipe is made towards Lanlan, sending a blade of fire in his direction. Within the same second, Karasu has turned on her heel and launched herself directly at Valrae, fully intent on beheading the witch with the next swing of Quintessa’s Jubaku no Kijo…

Valrae could feel Blair’s life slipping away like water through an opened hand. With it, her and Quintessa’s life drifted. Her strength began to fail her even as she felt the changeling’s own hand join hers in cutting away the twisted threads that bound her to Caluss. They worked together as one in a primal frenzy, the witch’s breath leaving in ragged pants as blood crowded the back of her throat. As Quintessa’s hand slipped away and the final knot was unbound, Valrae released the Living Poppet spell with a ragged cry. “Saoilleadh!” The spell dropped away like a curtain, the green light retreating into the Captain's fallen body as he took his final breath. The black and tangled magic that Caluss controlled shuddered and writhed as it tasted death before the fire burned it away. In the eye of the storm Valrae had no awareness of the danger Lanlan had placed himself in by stepping between her and Karasu or the threat that drew near with the successful charade of death. Stumbling again, Valrae knelt beside Quintessa and placed a trembling, blood stained hand to her cheek. Her breathing was ragged and hitched as she waited with teeth clenched for a sign of life. Did her eyes flutter? Was her chest rising with breath? Had she ended the spell too late? Had the trauma of severing the god’s connection with her soul been too much? Panic threatened to burn her heart to ash. Khitti would never forgive her. Karasu would kill her. Lanlan would be so disappointed. Kasyr… Well, he might understand. Relief was like a cool rag on her sweat beaded brow as she confirmed that Quintessa still lived. The flash of pride at her success was short-lived. The fire that tunneled around them had burned out, settling around them with lazily floating ashes and embers. There was nothing defending her now from Karasu save Lanlan. And she was fast, too fast in her anguish and rage. There was only a second to react as a warning trilled along her spine. Valrae threw herself forward, her body covering Quintessa’s as Jubaku no Kijo sliced with precision and skill through the air and where her neck had been moments before. It had been denied another taste of the witch’s blood, it’s only reward a few long strands of golden hair that floated around her. She cursed as she rolled away, landing with her back on the cold ground as the star dotted sky, broken only by the dark shape of the forest’s canopy, swam into view.

Lanlan knows he is only buying time for Valrae and Quintessa to work, and he’s beginning to see the masterstroke that was bringing Karasu along for this. As dangerous as it was to weather, Karasu’s righteous fury was going to sell Quintessa’s death to Caluss. As the business is wrapped up behind him, and the fuse ignites before him, Lanlan constructs a nearly invisible prism of sorts, a solid shape seeming like a mirage, warping the light passing through it and making things hazy. Finally she explodes, dispelling his smoke trap. The energy and light that she releases decimates the forest around them, but behind the prism, they’re safe. The arcane forces that make the prism shimmer and sparkle as Karasu’s furious flames pass through one side, and a plume of iridescent bubbles explodes out of the other. Lanlan still isn’t safe however, and the lifesaving countermeasure crumbles and dissipates into glitter as Karasu accosts them for ‘killing’ Quintessa. “But–” there’s no time. A crest of wild pink flames arcs toward him and his first instinct is to dodge it, his second is to remember that Valrae stands behind him. ‘Never again’, he thinks as he remains in place. In a quick motion, he whirls his wand over and behind his head, whipping it forward, accompanied by the swarm of swirling bubbles. They gather in front of him to join one big super bubble, jiggly and gelatinous, forming just inches away from the incoming blade of fire. It engulfs it, and for a jiffy seems to have integrity. Then it pops unceremoniously and the blade crashes into Lanlan’s arm and shoulder as he tries to spin out of the way, igniting him as he falls over in a heap. Lanlan pushes his face off the ashen ground as Valrae rolls toward him and away from Karasu’s deathblow. With a look, he can see that Valrae was successful. Then they have no more business being here. He activates his lamen and as the energy gathers, he misdirects once again, imagining a circle of mirrors around Karasu and Quintessa that circle them. Each frame contains a vision of Lanlan and Valrae retaliating through some means, fire balls, magic missiles, icicle spears. When they shatter, Lanlan and Valrae are nowhere to be found. Neither is Quintessa, nor Caluss’s eye, all of them having tumbled through a portal Lanlan opened in the ground.

Quintessa was unconscious, barely breathing, but she was still alive, stuck in the space between life and death. In her mind she was trapped in cold blackness, a void left behind where Caluss had twisted around her soul and transformed her into the Lady of Maggots. That influence was no more. Quintessa was free but that freedom came at a cost, a cost she could not fully recognize or come to terms with it. In her mind she stands on the edge of the decaying tendrils, staring at a dark reflection of herself, pale and rotting, still beautiful in a perverse and corrupt way. The Lady of Maggots how Alithyk Caluss had envisioned. Perfect. Eternal. Powerful. Her reward in the end for all of this was to be the last mortal in existence turned into an undead servant. As Its reluctant prophet she would witness everything forcefully preserved and indoctrinated under Caluss’ will, leaving everyone she loved last, but eventually they had to be turned too. It was the only way she could save them, however, now Alithyk Caluss’ vision for her was over. Quintessa gives one last look at the Lady of Maggots before she waves her away, the last symbolic gesture cutting the ties between the warlock and the patron. The decaying form of Quintessa disintegrates into nothingness and the tendrils follow suit. Quintessa is left to her darkness to rest, to let the slumber take hold of her, but suddenly a bright light rouses her from her coma, jerking her up and to her side as she vomits up a thick, black muck from somewhere inside her body. The last of Alithyk Caluss’ influence being forcefully rejected by her cursed changeling blood. Quintessa’s original bloodline magic was reasserting dominance and any trace of the undead godlet had to be excised. It pools on the ground below her, renounced and cast aside to the burned and bloody leaves. She sits back, a dazed sense of awe as she beholds the wraithful destruction her mate was capable of. Slowly she finally lifts a finger to her earring, sending a soft message to Karasu’s matching device. “Stop fighting… It’s over…” Quintessa looks around slowly, searching for the demi-feline through the smoke and fire. She was too weak to stand but that doesn’t stop her from trying, meanwhile she clings to Valrae in Karasu’s absence, the sense of security gained from being next to the woman that saved her from Caluss being something she would not let go of at this moment. As Lanlan’s portal opens up to take the Red Witch away, Quintessa too is pulled out of sight from Karasu, far too quickly for Quintessa to even shout out her name.

Karasu slashes Quintessa’s Jubako no Kijo at empty space, and throws the bladed chain of her Sagaribana behind her in an attempt to latch onto something. “Get over here!!” The feral woman screams. As Lanlan misdirects again, the tip of the blades latch onto Blair’s corpse, ripping useless entrails along the forest floor as the chain retracts. With Lanlan’s illusion taking effect behind the veneer of spraying blood, the spellblade is faster than the human and drow as they ready spells. The chain whips out again, but shatters a veil of magic where it should have connected with bone. Another copy of them appears, and Karasu breathes a wave of fire at them, only to find nothing there. As the spellblade turns her back to where she thought Quintessa had been, she hears a faint murmuring in her ear. Her communicator. So lost in her anger, she only hears the second part of what her fiancee says. ‘It’s over...’ “Quintessa!!” Karasu slashes at the only apparition of Lanlan and Valrae that have Quintessa behind them, but alas, this too is an illusion, and she is alone in the forest. “Quintessa?! QUINTESSA?!” Karasu screams for her, looking at her ring, then whipping out her compass. With the flames still encompassing her body, the compass cracks and shatters in her hands, causing her to scream in frustration and despair. ‘Could never save anyone they held dear…’ Karasu whips her head around towards the forested path behind her. “Who’s there?!” She calls out. The Jubako No Kijo’s blade grows dark and all is still as she snarls and tears her way through the scorched debris and through fresh foliage. “Get out here!!” She screams again, believing herself to be chasing Lanlan and Valrae. Instead, she comes out from the thicket to a clearing with a mist covered pool. ‘The water…’ The voice beckons, and Karasu grits her teeth, begrudgingly following the voice’s command. The mist clears as the flames enveloping her lick at the water, causing steam to rise. Peering down at the edge of the abyss, where a reflection of herself looks back up at her. Twisted grimace, enveloped in her own flames that burn nothing but what she wants it to, with warped horns giving her the look of the fabled creatures of Perdere. There is no trace of Mhad’xlyn in this reflection. Just the embodiment of what a betrayed jackass looks like. 'What an angry child.' The Jubaku No Kijo whispers. Furious that she’s been bested by Lanlan and Valrae, and that the love of her life is gone, Karasu grips the hilt of her sword. “It is over, Quintessa. I’ll join you in death soon.” Karasu screams, and the city of Port Rynvale is awoken by a burst of fire and smoke from the Fog Forest that can be seen even from the Cenrili shores.