RP:This Mortal Coil

From HollowWiki

Part of the What Dreams May Come Arc

Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc

Summary: With political discourse putting it’s proverbial foot on the neck the witches plans to use the newly recovered crystal skulls to resurrect Valrae Baines-Older, they move in secret and attempt to complete the ritual without the approval of Cenril’s mayor. A witch close to Uma steals the amber skull and unknowingly tips off Larket intel in the process.

The ritual begins and ancient and the dark artifacts draw more power than anyone had imagined. As it threatens to spin out of control and tests the mettle of the witches that have chosen to wield the skulls, Macon and his Larketians break the circle and chaos erupts.

The spirits of the restless dead, called like moths to the ritual’s flame, swarm into the circle and latch onto the fresh bodies Macon and his men create. Meri, Encara, Esche, Lionel, Brennia and the other bards that had been assisting the circle defend the vulnerable witches despite being outnumbered.

Lionel and Macon face off before the altar, the Hero of Hellfire halting the King’s attempt to thwart Valrae’s return by destroying the would-be body. The crone leading the ritual falls and Uma is forced to take control. The body Valrae’s spirit was meant for remains still on the altar. Astrid, Callum, Lanara, and Talyara hold the circle long enough for Uma to finish the ritual, despite the apparent failure and the crystal skulls tempting them to lose themselves in the wicked power. Instead, they use it against Larket and help turn the tide of battle.

Valrae returns in a blaze of emerald fire. The phoenix trapped in the amber skull is activated by this moment and is released to defend the witches. Macon and his men retreat, Talyara and Brennia’s combined magic and Uma’s sensable words securing a win of reason over rage. Valrae and Callum share a look as he and Meri leave the clearing. For a moment Lanara and newly resurrected witch stand upon the altar to witness the Rage King lower his ax.

As the fire dies, Astrid cloaks Valrae and leads her away from the chaos and danger. The two witches disappear into the night side by side.

Sacrifice Area

Part One: Witching Hour

Under a moonless sky figures moved like quick darting fish in the dark pools of night. On this eve, the only light brought from the heavens was owed to the dusting of distant white stars. The soft symphony of wind and sea echoed its eternal song. Even here, high above the vast ocean, salt lingered on the air. Behind a curtain of vegetation silhouettes crossed the long cast spears of flickering firelight on the upward winding path. The earthen tones of sage smoke curled from the branches of the willows like beckoning fingers long before they were swept aside to enter the circular space of power. Magic buzzed in the clearing, crouching in the smoke-filled space as tangibly as the aroma of herbs and fire. Candle and fire light sprung moodily dancing shadows over the hard-packed dirt. A young witch adorned in verdant green wielded a bessom and chanted as she swept. Others moved busily about hidden in shades of dark blues and black. Three hooded, crooked and stooped figures guarded the entrance. They caught those who entered and ritualistically cleansed them with the smoke of sage braided with valerian root. Their faces were thin and lined deeply with age but from under the dark of drawn hoods were eyes that shone with wisdom. They pressed dried lavender in willing hands and bade them cast it into the circle of fire surrounding the altar that rose up from the center of the clearing.

Upon the smooth gray stone a woman could have merely been sleeping but for the blue that colored her lips and the utter stillness of her chest. She was dressed in gossamer and silks of dusty rose. A woven crown of mullein and cypress sat atop her head, little golden flowers morbidly cheery against the pale of her brow. Her hands were crossed upon her chest, made to hold laurel and mandrake root. The witches that carried the burden of the crystal skulls were ushered helpfully to their appointed places. Each of the four chosen, and Marcie who had stolen the Amber crystal skull from Uma, took a point of the salt made pentacle. The rest of the circle was filled with other witches, young and old, until there were twelve of them surrounding the fire and the body. The last cloaked figure to enter, as the hour slipped nearer to midnight, was Asa Savda. Rumored to be the oldest living witch of Lithrydel, her spine was so crooked she seemed to nearly bend at the waist. Her face was violently age-stricken and almost inhuman, her cheekbones high and gaunt under tissue-thin skin. The old crone moved first to Lionel, her curled fingers appearing from under the velvet ivory of her cloak as she waited for him to offer the emerald crystal skull. In her walk to the circle she smiled to the bards that had graciously answered her call for assistance. Entering the circle of witches, her black eyes moved slowly over them all, pausing longer still on those who held the artifacts of power. “If any amongst yourselves harbour doubt in the bone of your breast, I cast thee from my circle now. Tonight we plunge ourselves into magic not meant to be. Our circle will be a beacon to many things, some darker and more malicious than that of damned souls. To leave the circle once it is sealed is to condemn us all.” Her ancient voice rings startlingly clear.

Without an answer of movement the old woman began with a nod toward the bards. Mindful of the fire, she sat the last gleaming skull on the lifeless body and it seemed to grin atop its macabre perch. As soon as the artifact departed the old woman’s hands, a door of power was ripped open and off of its hinges. The sea and smoke-scented wind pushed violently through the mournful branches of the willow trees. From deep inside each skull, dark energy radiated so strongly that light flashed from them as quickly as a strike of lightning. The crone moved swiftly for her age. Walking in the path of widdershins and wielding a wickedly gleaming atheme she called the Watchtowers. She closed the circle with another thunder of power. All but the firelight that surrounded the vessel was suddenly snuffed out, seemingly even the light of the stars. In the pitch of night, remorseful wailing began to shake the trees. Black, heady power descended. Dark and tormented things sprang from the earth with cries as sharp as any wraiths, clawing at the edge of the circle of trees with a desperation not known to the living. Inside the circle, the witches would need to white knuckle their control on the volatile, overwhelming torrent of power. Brennia arrived in disguise at the call through Asa’s connections and had met her guild members in the cenril streets under the cloak gifted to her by the Rogues guild which distorts her facial features. One by one directing them to the Sacrifice Area so they may be cleansed until she was the last one and then she started handing out the vocal booster potions for added power during the ritual before assigning guild members to their predetermined spots around the witches, some of them even have witches to protect. Brennia places herself near Lanara after giving a welcome to Asa, she respects this powerful witch, and if the fellow bard member glanced at the cloak she would see the Schezerade rebellion pin on it, she would know it’s Brennia because she would also pick up on her favorite scent coming from the avian. The bard leader readies herself, a glance to a bard member and nods to queue them to down their vocal potions. A soft hum is heard from the collective group, eyes closed, hands outstretched as they become one power, one voice - then silence. The air felt eerily still, arms grip around hand drums, violins and various acoustic instruments at the ready while Brennia can feel the anxiety of the bards she summoned to help. Some may laugh and think it’s silly - why does a resurrection need a soundtrack? Music makes one feel powerful, optimistic or sad and when done right, in this magical world we call Hollow, it can invoke the power to influence those around you. Once they were queued to begin the songs the bards aim their strength in their melodies to the witches conducting the ritual while their melee weapons lay at their feet because with the threat of Kahran, Brennia needed her bards to be prepared.

Callum had still been unsure about coming, much like Meri probably was. If he went, he’d expose himself as a witch. Even if most of these other people -were- witches, there were some that were not. He could never be sure about anything--could he even trust the witches? As he was stopped and ritually-cleansed, he eyed the much older witch in front of him, the smell of sage and valerian root filling his nostrils. Can I trust you? Can I trust them? Their eyes spoke of wisdom, but his own ocean-blue ones spoke of fear and doubt. Trust was very difficult to come by when it came to Callum Erikk Rochester, something that Meri knew quite well. He was no longer just a storm mage or just a herbomancer; he was something more. The lavender was thrust on to him and that connection to his beloved plants bade him to take it. Casting it into the fire was a different story, though after a moment’s hesitation, he ultimately did. The rather full satchel on Cal’s side was clung to tightly as he was ushered towards his designated spot. He’d been separated from Meri and this prompted a frown from the Catalian. Callum knew nothing about being a witch. He was an outsider, even moreso than before now. And now, without that constant comforting presence of the blonde artist, he was feeling rather anxious. Maybe it wasn’t because of that? Maybe it was because he could sense the magic of the skull in his bag getting stronger now that he was in the presence of the others. It called to him, to them. It begged to be released from the enchanted safe both he and Meri had procured from the dwarves of Craughmoyle for it. He looked to Meri briefly, to wherever she’d been taken, then swallowed his fear and dug into his bag. A key was inserted into the safe, careful and precise clicks of the mechanisms inside heard by Callum and anyone nearby. At last, the bismuth skull was free. Its rainbow-hued crystal glimmered in the candlelight, its soulless empty eye sockets stared back at Callum as he peered at it. He was entranced by it and by the promises of greatness as an herb witch that whispered to him. The only thing that pulled his attention away was the warning given to them by Asa, for it was something of greater concern than anything that the skull might tell him. He’d merely nod and remain quiet.

Meri arrived with Callum. Her attire was the norm for Meri, black pants, black boots, and given the hour, a black jacket. The artist was trying to mimic a shadow so that she could blend with the cover of night. No weaponry tonight, save for the daggers that are usually tucked away in the back of her boots. She was stopped at the entrance, allowing the hooded figures to cleanse her purpose with...? Well she is not the botanist, her better half would be able to identify this plant by scent, she speculates. The most that she can tell is that whatever it is smells good as it burns. Once she has satisfied the ritualistic wants of these stooped figures, she leaves Cal’s side and finds an unassuming position somewhere near where he is stationed at. Meri’s stance is at first a relaxed one, but that changes once Asa Savda speaks to those bearing the artifacts. They were plunging into magic not meant to be. To an extent, Meri realized this...but now that they were in the moment and that warning was spoken, her stomach sinks. Did it count if her mind was consumed with doubt? She was not one of those weilding a skull. No matter, Meri does not actually remove herself from the room, she instead lets her blue eyes focus on Cal. Her stance is no longer so relaxed, it has shifted to a guarded one, with arms now folded across her chest.

Esche has forbade Lionel to attend the pending procession alone. The bald elf means business when he grabs at the hem of his green robe and tugs, lips pursed and eyes narrowed. Lionel may be Steward of Frostmaw and de facto leader of the Alliance Against Kahran but he doesn't have it in him to fight these sorts of battles. Popping the collar of his best-pressed scarlet silk button-up, he swivels around and shrugs at his elven friend in defeat. And that's how it comes to pass that Lionel O’Connor’s most anticipated day in memory, the attempted resurrection of the Red Witch, quickly transforms from a solitary horseback jaunt to a place among five peers aboard the scaly back of the great white wyvern, Ymir. Esche, having cavorted with the drow Encara, has already made preparations to secure passage for himself, the Hero of Hellfire, and two Alliance soldiers of dwarven descent. It's a sensible plan, Lionel can't deny that, but it's distinctly lacking in the romantic flair of the lone wolf riding onto the scene not for politics but for personal stakes. There's something appealing about that mental image, something that almost prompts Lionel to secure his emerald crystal skull in his satchel at break of dawn and ride away from Frostmaw’s stables in secret. It's foolishness, he absconds himself, and it would send the City of War in a huff to verify his whereabouts when the world can't afford the spare energy of the ordeal. So he rides in the air, consumed with private fears that this ritual won't work and Cenril will be destroyed. More private still is the primal terror that Valrae will not be reborn and he’ll have failed his promise otherwise. Lionel doesn't care half as much about broken words as the injustice that the woman will have visited to her should things go south. As Ymir travels over ice-capped mountains, Lionel almost vomits to think of what that would feel like: to be teased with life, to dare consider it, and then to be hushed into the void. One of the dwarven soldiers pats him on the shoulder and tilts his head worriedly. Lionel waves it off politely and the journey continues. By the time Ymir drops the party off just outside Cenril, his crystal skull is glowing through his satchel. “Is it anticipation, perhaps?” Esche ponders aloud. “Stress, more like,” Lionel replies absentmindedly, leading the party bodily but mentally a thousand leagues away. He moves through the streets in a trance and barely registers the grim environs of the onset of the ritual. The scents assail him but he hardly smells them; the chants surround him but he hardly hears them. Lionel is firmly fixated on the realm of possibility. Will Valrae be reborn or won't she? Esche has to clear his throat and point his oaken staff before the Catalian even realizes the ancient crone has urged him to surrender the skull. For a brief flickering moment Lionel is compelled to lash out and refuse. He's giving it all up to chance now. “Thank you,” he says feebly, passing the strange magical device to the elderly woman’s hands. Its pulse subsides somewhat in her care. Stress, indeed.

As a daughter of a family steeped in Delishan tradition, Encara has attended many rituals in her time. This isn't the first one she's been sworn to secrecy for either (drow are protective of their secrets, after all). She made the trip from Frostmaw by air and she isn't alone; Ymir carried two dwarven Alliance soldiers along with the drow, Lionel, and that strange elf Esche, dropping them all off outside the city. It was a quiet journey and few words were spoken. Encara had sat at Lionel's side on the great wyvern's back, the wind in her hair and her gaze fixed on the horizon while her mind flew far beyond, drifting through images of fire and a spirit haloed by the dawn. By the time Cenril comes into view, a moonless night has fallen and the skull in Lionel's possession is starting to make Encara's nose itch. Sans cloak and armour but still carrying her bladed bow, the tall drow approaches the site by the well-trodden path that snakes along the city's cliffs, sea-salt breeze on her tongue and the black ocean crashing far below. Beneath her short leather jacket she wears a loose black shirt, and the sash at her waist is coloured scarlet and lined with gold. There's more gold on her than usual, in fact - strings adorned with beads and small triangular charms have been woven through Encara's hair, which spills unbound over her shoulders in waves like silvery waters reflecting star-studded heavens. Several bracelets wrought in the shape of serpents clink on her wrist, and yet more triangle charms — a symbol of the Dark Mother — dangle on fragile chains around her neck. Though tonight's gathering is no Delishan festival or blood sacrifice, she can't help but notice similarities between the practices here those she grew up with. Encara drifts in Lionel's wake as surely as night follows day, a shadow in the Hero of Hellfire's footsteps. After the group has been cleansed by the elders and Catalian has given up his crystal artefact, they're granted entry to the enshrouded willow grove - when he halts under the canopy, she comes up to stand along his left side. In her hand is a stick of amaranth incense, its sweet smoke filling her lungs on each inhale. A powdered concoction of the same red flower has been dusted across her lips to give them the barest hint of colour. Magic clouds the air so thick she can almost see it twisting before her amidst the flickers of torch and candlelight; the sensation is nauseating and her head swims dizzily, but she disguises it as a reaction to the heady concoction of burning herbs. Kohl-rimmed eyes take in the sight before her with subtle intrigue — witches circling and chanting around a slab of stone, upon which rests the still and empty body of a woman she does not know — and her gaze flicks around in search of a more familiar phantom in the spaces between the trees. Ultimately, Encara finds nothing and her eyes are drawn back to Lionel instead; her breath catches faintly in her chest. While the drow is far from an expert in emotions, her heart knows what it sees etched in the Catalian's features and oh, it aches with anguish at the sight. Outwardly she is the picture of composure, the only hint to her inner state a soft crease in her brow. In an instant she'd later attribute to weakness, she places her hand upon Lionel's arm, briefly, and whispers to him, "Courage, Lionel." It's all she can offer even as the words threaten to give away her desolation. If all goes as intended tonight, the Red Witch will be reborn, but Encara quietly fears she's slipping closer to becoming a ghost herself.

Lanara enters the area with a blank expression on her face, those chocolate hues not baring even a hint of their usual mischief, and her full lips are neither drawn in a frown or a smile. She had been on two different skull gathering adventures, and so, it came as no surprise when Uma had reached out and asked her to either to accept a place at the ritual or to appear as a witness. Without hesitation, Lana had chosen to be a part of the ritual that would resurrect Valrae, and so she stands at the edge of the dirt bath, just beside a willow tree, and extends her arms. An elder witch runs a smoking sage bundle before her face, towards her outstretched arms, down her torso, and towards her toes. As she finishes, Lana turns around and is saged from the back, before she steps into the circle, before the altar, her flowing black robe billowing in the gentle breeze. She pulls her long chestnut locks away from her face, and faintly smiles at her sister, as she takes a place at her side. The scent of a campfire, mixed with a twinge of leather, and a hint of lavender hits her nostrils, and she turns to her left, expecting a familiar face, only to lock eyes with a complete stranger. However, that pin is noted, as is the emitting of a favorite fragrance and Lana gives a curt nod, instantly able to determine the identity of the disguised bard. The melodic music is almost soothing, despite the eerie feeling in the air, or the vision of the blonde atop the altar. As Asa speaks, telling those that did not enter in ‘perfect love and perfect trust’ to abandon the ritual, she looks around, her dark eyes half expecting to see someone turn tail, though none leave the area. Lana’s intentions for being here were pure, and she returns her gaze to Asa, as she tosses her handful of crushed lavender into the flames that surround the area. The circle is cast, and she feels the immense power of those within the fiery confines, though she also senses the evil that is without the circle, begging to be let in, or create a distraction. The witch centers herself, and closes her eyes, intent on seeing this through, knowing that she would be an asset, as the magic that flows through her veins seems to pulse in sync with the beat of the music and the hum of the power in the air.

Talyara walks under the cover of darkness through the streets of Cenril, dressed in black to further shroud her from wandering and curious eyes alike. The little witch wears a flowing black skirt, the hem fluttering along the ground with each hurried step she takes, her dark unruly locks curtaining her face. A simple off the shoulder blouse clings to her tiny frame, and soft, worn leather boots carry her towards her destination. She enters the sacrificial area with a sobered expression, her normally friendly and sweet demeanor tempered by the seriousness of ritual set before them. As she approaches the area she bows her head as she is smudged, allowing the purifying smoke to envelope her lithe frame and cleanse her before she joins her fellow witches; Talyara had accepted the invitation to not only witness, but be an active participant in the resurrection ritual. As Taly steps up towards the circle, she nods her head at all those present, especially those who had joined her in searching for the crystal skull (namely Meri and Encara). She moves to stand beside her sister, one hand grasping a small rune-etched stone which hangs from a cord around her neck and speaks silent prayers to the Goddess, the other clutching a sprig of lavender which is quickly offers to the fire. Her emerald hued eyes flicker over Valrae’s form even as Asa takes the skull and places it upon its macabre perch. The magical energy hummed strongly around Talyara, palpable to most everyone (she was sure), as that overwhelming sense of negativity pushes the boundaries of the cast circle.

Astrid dressed in her very best (and very cliche) witch’s garb: a knee-length black frock, paired with white-pin striped stockings -because green and black together were garish and too much even for her-, and heeled black ankle boots. A hooded cloak was added for good measure, and as she moved through the darkened streets of Cenril, she felt very nefarious. The amethyst skull, which she had named Mephistopheles, had been wrapped within a yard of burlap material and tucked lovingly into her satchel for safe keeping from her short journey through the city; while the carved gem was one of the key components of tonight’s ritual, a relationship had been forged with the item which bordered on obsession, and Astrid couldn’t remember a moment when it wasn’t at her side. When she at last made it to the location, she met each witch with a nod, and after being smudged with the sage, and burning the lavender, she moved toward her designated location. As she neared the vessel intended to hold Valrae’s soul, her mouth parted into a small ‘o’, and a look of awe settled across her features; an urge to step forward and touch the brow of the body twitched in her hands, but she rerouted that need and retrieved her skull from her satchel. Under her palms, she could feel the vibration of power as like called to like, and Astrid glanced around the circle to take in those present, as well as their own skulls. When Asa stepped into the circle, Astrid’s attention found the old witch, and were it not for the warning she presented to the group, she would have been just as awed by the age of the other woman. Despite the chill of unease that raced down her spine, Astrid gritted her teeth and nodded in solidarity.

Callum watched in silence as the others made their way into the ritual area. His gaze fixed on Lionel, and that emerald skull as it’s passed off and set upon the body. Somehow, he felt relief at the fact that Lionel -wasn’t- a witch. It was something else about Cal that was different and separated him from the other two Catalians that called Lithrydel their home: first the lack of fighting and fire magic, and now this. There was a smirk thanks to that slight ego-boosting thought and his confidence renewed, albeit briefly. So brief, in fact, that it wavered the moment he looked down at his own skull. The things he’d done to Caiburne with its magic, it begged to be done now. To let nature unleash itself upon all. It called to that darkness that sat in every man’s heart ached to be released. But… Cal didn’t. Not yet. Probably not tonight. Instead, he looked to the other witches. Was he the only male? Another smirk formed. What did this say about him? He wasn’t sure, but he certainly wanted to find out. The witches had attempted to safeguarded the secret of their ritual plans but not even they could keep the knowledge of it from the dead. Valrae heard the whispers of it through every agonising moment she moved restlessly in the streets of Cenril. Even though Astrid and her amethyst skull had pulled her from the in-between place and bolstered her fading spirit with their borrowed power, the ghost was too weak to leave the seaside streets. Against startling odds the night arrived and the spirit of the witch had continued to cling to her existence. The pull to the ritual space started as a small thing, like the humming of a fly by her ear. As night slipped closer to the witching hour, it was a blaring and intoxicating symphony that demanded not to go unheard. It pulled Valrae forward like a wicked undercurrent. All around her spirits moved. Like moths to a flame they swarmed to the beckoning song of the crystal skulls, desperate and wild to leave the plane of the damned… But only one name would be called. The moment she moved through the tangled and swaying curtain of willow branches the first fat drops of rain began to fall. Figures moved behind the shimmering wall that towered from the line of salt that ringed the edge of the clearing. Other spirits threw themselves into the wall of purifying power and were snuffed away screaming. Valrae slipped through unharmed. As if the ritual had already succeeded, the witch stood plainly in the clearing. Tangles of golden hair, scarlet flying about in the wildness of the wind, and rose staining her parted lips.

Uma had spent the week weathering the disappointment from having Hudson tell her that the resurrection of Valrae would have to be cancelled. Stop the ritual, Larket has pledged to build a mage barrier that is just as good, had been the word put out to the other witches. When delivering them in person, she’d sealed the words with her politician’s smile, but every time she spoke them she felt more hollow than the last. More wooden, more like her mouth was moving without her moving it, a marionette whose strings were manipulated by Hudson and Macon and other men like them. She’d shut the door and wept in her office on more than one occasion. Marcie, her secretary, and also a witch, had seen her earlier. “Go out for the afternoon, you’ll feel better,” the younger witch had urged her, and Uma, murmuring that she was fine, had relented, had left the office for several hours. And when she’d left, Marcie had done something: she’d unlocked Uma’s desk and taken the amber skull therein, slipped it into her handbag. The office scribe, a spy on behalf of Larket, had seen her do it, had watched her shuffle out of the office, and had sent word to King Macon’s people immediately. The copy girl had said nothing to Uma, merely wished her a good night on her way out when Uma returned, laden with shopping bags, to check any messages left for her. It’s then that Uma notices the absence of the skull, of her secretary. Uma feels the hairs rise on the nape of her neck. She knows what has happened: Marcie has taken the skull, the witches have decided to proceed, without her. But Uma also knows about the copy girl, Hudson had told her, meaning: it’s possible Larket knows. This realization sinks any buoyancy of hope. “No,” Uma whispers the word to herself. It would be now. She grabs her purse and runs, in three inch heels. She has to warn them. Macon receives the urgent message that the ritual to restore life to The Red Witch he executed is, in fact, going to occur. He is in his fort while the Larketian Academy of Magics prepares a troupe of skilled mages, which includes Headmaster Percival, to travel to Cenril to create a new magic barrier against Kahran, as promised. The entire northeastern quadrant of The Hard City (where the fort and academy are) is suddenly in upheaval while The Furious King unconsciously pours massive amounts of Rage Aura outward into the city. The mages at the academy know something is wrong, and that he is coming well before he arrives with a small group of about twenty soldiers that he, in his own silvery armor, will lead himself. There isn’t time to round up a full army, or means to transport one quick enough to Cenril to matter, so this group, Macon informs the academy, will have to do, and he will need one of the resident wizards to transport them to Cenril if they have any hope of getting there in time to stop this diabolical plot to raise a villain from the dead with dark magics. The whole process of transportation is very technical and a bit dangerous (one soldier is sent first as a guinea pig before the whole group), requiring a pair of fine Academy mages to pull off, but the band of Larketians, that includes the fat Kingsguard mage Wendell, arrives just outside the city and its waning magical barrier in one piece. By the time they pass through the barrier and into the town, Macon is still angry, but in control now, thanks to the new Rage Stone embedded at the center of the axe head of the massive weapon he carries in one hand like a walking stick, so his arrival isn’t spoiled by the furious aura before he and his men set foot on the scene. When they do and Macon finds a gathering of witches (never a good thing, that’s why Larket banned them), he imagines a scene just like this one where the witches caused the earthquake that cut short his beautiful wedding, and another where they summoned the curse plaguing Larket’s children. He roars out an order to attack so furiously that the brutality that ensues should be expected. In the meantime, The Rage Knight himself stomps towards the circle and the body at the center, Wendell staying close and doing his thing, guarding the king with a slew of nasty spells that send anyone that come close flying through the air like ragdolls.

Part Two: By Any Means Necessary

Torrents of rain fell from the black sky as the spirit manifested in the circle. Below the sea churned and rioted against the blemishing of spiritual balance. Magic thick enough to saturate the air inside of a witch’s lungs surrounded them. Asa’s old voice chanted harmoniously with the raised voices of the bards around the pentacle of the witches. She called Valrae’s name and the ghost stumbled toward the circle of fire that shone in the eye of the powered storm. The emerald of the glowing skull matched the emerald of the dead witch’s eyes as she hesitated. Fear halted her movement. Wildy she looked around her. Astrid, fair hair flying about just as the false image of her own did. She saw Lanara, Talyara. Callum and Meri. Encara and Esche. Brennia and the bards, the crone and the other witches that struggled to hold fast against the destruction that the skulls begged to release. Someone or something screamed. This propelled her forward; clumsily, Valrae fell toward the crone and the body that awaited her. The spirit loomed over it with apprehension spearing through her. It was then that she looked to Lionel, the Hero of Hellfire. The fear that barred her from taking the final leap fell away. Moving with inhuman grace, Valrae closed her eyes and faded like smoke over the motionless body. At the very same instant, Macon and the Larketians tore through the clearing.

Two things happened as the Rage King crossed the threshold of the ritual. Firstly, the line of salt that sealed all of the magic in was broken. It popped and hissed as magical pressure was released at unfathomable speed. The power that poured from the skulls only intensified, as if breaking the first circle had shattered a flood gate within the crystals themselves. Secondly, spirits rushed in with the Larketians screaming. One of the elder witches was the first to fall to the blade of a sword. Her dying sounds were quickly silenced as the dead swarmed her and fought for her newly emptied vessel. When she rose, her neck partially disconnected from her shoulders grotesquely, she moved like a puppet on jerking strings. Another Larketian moved to cut her down again but the emboldened dead fell upon him heedless of the biting of steel. Everywhere the dead fell they rose again, moving madly and without purpose. Wind and rain howled around the writhing clearing. Witches in the circle struggled to hold rank as the old crone shouted the final words of her dark spell. With the last line cast out of her withered lips an arrow speared through her neck. Almost instantly another buried to the fletching between the thin arching brows of her forehead. The crone’s fragile body pitched forward, the lower half of her falling into the flame and the rest bouncing against the still unmoving body that Valrae had faded over. Blood ran from Asa’s wounds, dripping onto the body and altar as fire climbed the cloak of ivory that the smoke stained black.

Uma’s rather expensive heels skid and scrape against the Cenril cobblestones as she races to the site of the ritual. She steps in a patty of horse poop but doesn’t care. She can feel her wand, snug in her belt, twitching with magic. It’s already begun. Everything has: amid the cacophony of the city, she hears the metal clang of armor and swords and the percussive stream of military orders being barked. And then suddenly she can see it: there are more bodies than there should be in the willow grove, moreover the space is obfuscated with the dark whorls of spirits. “Stop!” Uma cries, drawing her wand, eyes wild as she looks for Macon. It’s then that the scene bleeds into existence around her. She notices that the circle of salt is broken. That the air smells coppery and like burning meat, that witches all around her are being murdered. That Asa Savda, Cenril’s oldest living crone, is on the pyre, no life in her eyes. The sickle she’d been holding gleams at Uma’s feet. Pick it up, the emerald skull, cradled on the body that should belong to Valrae, breathes at Uma. She sheathes her wand and does, finding herself drawn immediately into the spell. Power buffets her and she finds herself shuffling clockwise under the force of it. She sees Macon. “We can’t stop it now!” she shouts at him. The body garlanded in flowers does not move. Brennia became amazed in the power she was witnessing, it was fantastic, while she greedily took in the sights as she provided the boost of sound and the rain seemingly adding to the percussion. Heavy lidded teal hues watch the effort behind her hood, but it was when she saw -her- clearly that she pulled the hood back, not caring if it was raining, and was in awe at the sight. If she weren't holding the invisible ribbon that ties all the bards together in their power she would creep nearer and gasp, but for this woman she refocused and channeled more strength in their song, ‘I see fire.’ She was captivating, ‘burning the trees,’ and her heart aches to bring her back even though she's never truly met the woman when everything about her own death comes flooding back. Surely a few in the crowd has been there before, even if you felt lost in death for a minute it was a terror, but to have been lost all this time… It must have felt like ages. Brennia continues to carry the melody, ‘and I see fire, hollowing the souls’, as she watches the red witch through the flames and a hand reached out as if she could clear all the distance between them, walk through the fire just to take her by the hand and tell her it will all be okay. The image of Valrae falls to the body below and that's when all hell broke loose causing Brennia to feel a rush of adrenaline through the magical bardic bond. Holding fast to the melody as it changes, bringing courage and strength to those fitting, striking fear in their opponents and trying to contain the ritual’s awesome power. Through the ribbon, bards will be sent more strength if they need it when a foe comes near and all they would need to do is scream one fear inducing note at the Larketians attacking while some resort to their melee weapons. Brennia felt a sinking sensation in her stomach every time the ribbon was tugged too tight and then seemingly snapped. One… Then two… She didn't know just yet what this would mean, but it felt like they were struck down… Three. Along with her fellow bards she divides her focus between the melodies and defence.

Meri was without her sword and had not bothered with armor, but that is not going to stop the woman from engaging the fight. As much as she wanted to see Valrae brought back to life (Cenril’s barrier was not Meri’s top priority), it was Cal’s presence that was the bigger inspiration to step into battle. The blonde was unwilling to put too much distance between herself and Cal, in fact she stepped nearer to him. As near as she could without actually disturbing or interrupting him. She was half tempted to reach out and grab hold of his hand to offer reassurance, but she would not even allow either of her that much of a distraction from either of their jobs. The blonde was left to rely upon her psionic capabilities as her primary means of defense, daggers were never one of the more menacing weapons. It is through blasts of energy and psionic barriers that Meri attempts to keep Cal safe, and thusly helps to preserve the ritual. Hopefully. The goal was to keep both Larketians at a distance, fend off their spells, and ward off any of the recent dead that seem to be rising and behaving...as one might expect a ghoul or a zombie to behave. Meri was not sure if that was what was really happening to those dying tonight, but it was concerning. Would Valrae come back as they intended her to? This thought is a distraction for the psion, whose concentration breaks as soon as her mind wanders. During this slip, the madness threatens to consume herself and Cal, but Meri soon regains her composure.

There’s something familiar about traipsing through hell. At the first sign of Larketians, Lionel’s fabled blade is out; at the first sign of Macon it’s billowing the same flames he once brought against the Rage Knight in battle. For Lionel, the ashy rain and thunder, the sound and fury of abrupt cataclysm, is like a ringing bell in his ears. It’s a switch, signaling him to return to what he does best -- even if he takes no pleasure in it. Esche flicks his wrist and a spiked, elongated shard of pure ice appears in front of him. The elf assumes a protective stance near the outermost ring of the ritual but Macon’s Larket passes him by before he can send that forth to act as barrier. Esche grimaces and twists on his foot, blasting the ice toward a few soldiers and raising his staff to cast puritive magics over the two dwarven Alliance soldiers as well as Encara and himself. He’s deduced the need for defenders before the first witch falls to steel. He moves with greater haste when it continues. These spells will refresh pending exhaustion in his allies and fill them with fighting spirit. Spotting Meri beside Callum, Esche runs ahead in an effort to raise the buffer over them as well should she allow it, but he does not bother seeking Lionel. Esche knows Lionel too well. He knows Catal’s Last Prince has other ambitions. Someone tugs Lionel and falls into him. He isn’t sure who until he sees Encara’s queasy face; is it the magic that’s driving her to sickness? “Esche, watch after her. Don’t argue with me.” The elf acquiesces. The Catalian begins his mission. “Frak that, Macon.” With all the tumult, can anyone even hear Lionel, let alone the King of Larket? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But he’ll say the words all the same... and he will not be idle as he speaks. Flames jet beneath his golden-tipped shoes. His azure eyes narrow and his left leg takes a single careful step ahead of his right. Then he races, past the soldiers and past his peers and past a few of the witches, neither slicing nor slashing, nimbly evading the swords of his enemies and rushing manically underneath two hilts to shove both attackers into mud and grass. He won’t kill them. He’ll subdue them and disarm them and move past them wherever he sees them. Lionel doesn’t blame the infantrymen for the sins of their twisted monarch. Uma’s cry goes unheard. Lionel wreaths his surroundings in his blade’s fire to shield himself against the fell things drenching the blackened skies above, knocking his bare fist into a soldier’s helmet so hard it sends the man back and breaks the skin off the Catalian’s knuckles. He doesn’t feel it. He -does- feel Brennia’s bardic arts pass through him precisely when he needs them most. Two Larketians tower over him and swing their swords in an arc to catch him between the tips. He dives but doesn’t fight back and the cautious diving is what almost does him in. Instead, the two soldiers take a step wayward of one-another in sudden fear, the Smyth’s song giving just enough pause for Lionel to move gracefully past them and further into the maelstrom. Wendell’s spells swirl and surge toward Lionel and he ducks, flings himself sideways and rolls across the undead swarm, hacking at them and prying himself free from their grasp. His fiery field protects him against Wendell’s strikes, save for a damning burn upon his right arm and a smack into the ground all over again. He almost loses consciousness right then and there, but he espies Valrae’s spirit hovering and fading into what would be her new body. He also sees Uma, screaming at Macon. He sees Macon. That’s what counts. Lionel grinds his teeth and spits blood, raising Hellfire like a bat. “You killed her once, man, and let me tell you, I was pissed. This ain’t your encore. Get frakked.” He charges forward and swings.

Talyara ’s hair clung to her face and neck as thick, heavy raindrops fell from the sky as the witch used her energy to focus on bolstering what she could of the spell which left the old crone’s lips. She focused on her trust of the other witches that joined her in this circle, the love she had for all those who have worked so hard to bring this ritual to fruition. to bring Valrae back to this plane. She chooses to battle the negative energy with all the positivity she can muster; however, their barrier is suddenly broken down. The circle of salt dismantled by the Larketians acting upon Macon’s orders. Chaos fills the space. People are dying only to rise again. There is screaming and running as Taly whips her head around to try and make sense of what is truly going on, confusion etched in her features. Only then does she see Asa fall, the young witch’s mouth hanging open in a combination of shock and despair. Like she always had in times of trouble, Talyara turns to see if she can catch Lanara’s eyes, silently asking her older sibling what to do, pleading for some sort of guidance. It is then that she feels it, a familiar calling that she had felt back in the Shadow Plane in the icy cold lake. Fueled by the power and Uma’s call, Talyara turns to face the opposition, an intensity burning in her emerald eyes.

Callum :: Oh good. Macon’s here. Thanks, Macon. The King and his cronies managed to frak up literally everything, all of hell literally broke loose, and Cal’s left to do little more than just stand there where he was told to stand. Damn it, guys. He’s a healer, not a warrior! Frantic and just a wee bit paranoid that he’d be turned into one of those undead, he tapped into that skull of his and oh, did it make that skull happy. Thankfully, Meri was already dealing with protecting him, and he’d take it one step further, the rain helping to calm him and sort out his thoughts better. Wicked, thorny, and flowered vines would creep out of the darkness, while others dug themselves up out of the ground, then braided together; they were stronger together as one. As the madness threatened to destroy them both, the braided vines surrounded Cal and Meri like an iron maiden, though the spikes were thankfully facing outward. As sharp as blades, anyone that tried to touch it would surely regret it. And those that got near it? Well, they’d be met with a toxic mist that’d pour from the flowers. Miraculously, Cal and Meri would be unharmed within it and all Cal could say was, “Hi, dear.” He was sure to get yelled at later for this. He was -not- supposed to use this skull. “See? The skull’s not that bad.” Haha. Right. Yes. Keep telling yourself that, Cal. The vines and thorns and flowers would continue to do as Cal commanded until the chaos was over with.

Astrid ||The world sped past her in a wild array of colors and threads at the power nestled within her skull-carved gem blazed with power. Miles of cords stretched in all directions, born from each person and source of magic; she felt as if she had fallen into a giant knitting basket and fought to climb through the yarn for clear sight. It didn’t come however, and she missed the vision of Valrae, in all her glory, step into the circle. But bird song filled her head, and she instinctively knew that the Red Witch was among them. “Valrae,” Astrid gasped, her voice both relieved and pleading, before she fell silent clenched her jaw against the angry buzz of power. And then all the colors of the world, and the threads that bind disappeared, and death sat before her. Nefarious cackles echoed in her ears, replacing the melodious sounds of birds, and Astrid could feel the ghostly sensation of webs as they shot outwards to snatch up the departing souls of all the fallen witches. Her skull hungrily consumed the powers of those who had died under the sudden attack of Macon and his army, but whether it was the magic of this ritual, or an unconscious strength to remain where she stood, Astrid watched in horror while the magic around her concluded. Bolstered by the strength and power of the recently devoured souls, the skull in Astrid’s hands begins to glow subtly, and waves of power wash outward in tempestuous waves, and unyielding temptation rides on each crest of magic. It calls to the very soul of the witches within the circle, attempting to lure them from their own fleshy vessel to find home within the amethyst. Astrid, who had struggled with that very temptation for weeks, couldn’t claim strength over the seduction and promise of endless power, and her knees quivered beneath her. “Stop, stop,” she pleaded with the skull, her voice a whine. Oh, how she wanted to just let go and give in, to let her soul swim in the endless sea of knowledge and power her skull held within. Each wash of power felt sticky, and perhaps even over the cacophony of the battle and death cries, those comprising the circle, and those outside it might hear the bewitching, dulcet tones of women. “We are the Spider Weavers,” the voices crooned, “We weave the cords of life and death. Come to us. Come with us.”

Lanara isn’t sure what’s going on, exactly, as it all happens to fast, and without warning. As Asa falls to the ground, lifeless, the urge to run to the old crone is something fierce, though she forces her feet to remain rooted to the ground. This was what Macon and his lackeys wanted, and she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of halting this resurrection, even in the slightest. Uma’s voice isn’t heard, as the haunting melody strengthens, however Lana senses the new flow of energy, mixed with Macon’s rage and she looks up. Narrowed eyes peer through the wall of flames, and she sees that the barrier has been broken, a soft gasp escaping her sangria-stained lips. Oh no! She spies the mayor sheathing her wand and it dawns on her for a moment. All hope is gone. A shake of her head is given, as Lana looks to the lifeless body atop the altar, tears welling in her eyes. She had battled a dragon and survived the shadow plane, and she honestly couldn’t imagine this being the end. Eirik was partly responsible for this, she knew, along with Josleen and Macon. If they couldn’t bring back the pretty witch, well, they’d come this far, may as well give karma a little nudge! Lana tilts her head in the direction of the amassing army, her eyes immediately drawn to the ‘king’ and it’s then that a brilliant idea strikes her, and she audibly shouts, “We need a sacrifice!” The circle was broken, the purity disturbed, and witches and witnesses were being slaughtered left and right. It was now or never. She takes a step forward, meeting her sister’s emerald gaze, and she gives a slow nod. She’d do this. She had died twice already, and perhaps the third time would be charming. The rule of three and all, right? However, she doesn’t get very far as that rose quartz crystal whispers to her tapered ears, beckoning for her to turn around and come pluck it from the altar. “Wh-What?” The wind picks up, shuffling her long locks about her head, a few unruly strands interrupting her visage, as she peeks over her shoulder, those hypnotic hues glued to the pink skull that she had recovered weeks ago. It was speaking to her, calling out, and promising to mend her broken heart, and give her a place to call home. For a moment, the urge to give in, to falter, to say the hell with Valrae and those gathered, is so powerful, that she wraps her arms around herself, and shakes her head. Lana, the woman that trusted no one, is torn. This skull knows what to offer, and all the right words, like a new lover intent on wooing a pretty princess. The ‘voice’ encompasses her mind, her every thought captivated with these promises that would never be fulfilled, and she sways, unwelcome tears streaming over her cheeks. It’s then that she finds her feet moving in the direction of the altar, the skulls, and the deceased blonde. Her fingertips graze the skull, feeling the power, wanting to be done with the pain, to forget this night and her past, and it’s as her gaze travels to look at the pale face of Valrae, that her heart softens. She was stronger than this unexplainable pull. She was Lanara. She is, was, and always will be a witch. It was time to act like it! She turns, standing before the altar, and glaring at any that dare to come and retrieve their skull, or aim to break that which Asa had started. Sparks fly from her fingertips, as she keeps her arms at her sides, her eyes filled with a fire, as she protects that which truly matters.

The magic bleeding out of the circle, out of the skulls, strikes without warning like a dagger to the head and Encara staggers, gasping. Her high sensitivity to such forces proves too much to deal with alone. As the witches pull together more and more power, struggling to maintain control, and as the skulls shine and dance and give off lancing streaks of energy, the drow grabs hold of Lionel for support, incense stick falling from nerveless fingers as she turns her head into his shoulder. "I'm fine," she mutters all the same, not certain he'll even hear her over the shriek of unbound magic and the riot surely screaming in his heart. She suppresses a bone-chilled shudder. Her head feels as if it's going to split apart, her legs are beginning to tremble, and her stomach is doing flips but she's fine, really. Even with her vision swimming Encara forces herself to watch the ritual reach its peak, and through the blurred shapes of silhouetted witches she sees her again at last: Valrae, wreathed in light, standing over the altar. The image of the witch fades like dispersing mist and the drow's eyes go wide, but the body remains lifeless. Rain wets Encara's cheeks. Then, of course, all hell breaks loose. Though she wants to hold on a little longer, selfishly, Encara can sense the danger as strongly as she can feel Lionel's tension and his desperate need to -move- and she knows she has to let him go. It takes everything she has to steady herself and give Lionel a gentle shove, not that he needs any persuasion when Larket's king is present. Macon is a name she knows through association and rumour, and it is not a name that should have been on anyone's lips tonight. Briefly, as lost spirits swarm the grove and witches fall around her, Encara looks once more at Valrae with a sombre frown, then steels herself and turns towards the fight. Still feeling sick from the overabundance of magic brought to bear, Encara is reluctant to use her own and chooses to slip her bow off her body instead, swiftly notching and drawing an arrow. Her injured right arm might be unbound now but it's still weak - the drow's eyes narrow and she gives a faint hiss as the strain of holding the bowstring taut sends pain lancing through the limb. Her arrow flies prematurely, slipping from her grasp as her right arm buckles at the elbow. While it misses its intended target of a Larketian soldier further away, it does lodge itself in the eye socket of a recently risen undead that was converging on Esche's back - Esche, who Encara has yet to not glare at on account of his ancestry, gets an unreadable look this time instead as his magic layers itself over her body like a protective cloak, mixing with the bolstering effect of Brennia's symphonic spells. It's almost too much at the moment, cloying at her lungs like tar, but the magic enables Encara to keep on fighting even when her body would rather collapse under the weight. A shake of the head and she's drawing her bow again, skipping back out of a hostile spell's path, keeping herself firmly planted between Larket's forces and the altar. Macon growls as he glances to his left and right to see his men succeeding in killing witches, which is great, but also being knocked around by psychic energies and being incapacitated and attacked by dead witches reanimated, which is bad. Wendell has just thrown a punch that looks to have missed its target by about three feet before some unseen force sends the closest witch flying out of a the broken pentacle like she’s been hit by an invisible tidal wave. Then Lionel comes swooping through a wicked flurry of exotic spells from the large mage to yell at The Furious King. Larket’s ruler stands near the center of the ritual while fire and blood erupt around him. The Rage Knight looks towards Uma, who is telling him that they are too late, and Lionel, who is telling him that Valrae shouldn’t die twice. That’s fine, and Lionel is wrong. Macon holds The Rage Axe in both hands now while he speaks to the mayor and Lionel, and eyes the new vessel meant for Valrae’s spirit. “I don’ need t’stop it,” he growls powerful enough to be heard above the screams and the battle. “She deserves t’be executed twice for wha’ she’s done.” Wendell takes a defensive stance and starts moving his hands in a mystical manner, preparing a protective spell while he tries his best to position himself between Macon and Uma, Lionel, and now Lanara who blocks the way to the still lifeless vessel.

Part Three: Phoenix Rising

With Uma lifting the mantle as Asa fell, and those that remained rooted in the circle without fleeing, the doors of power closed one by one. Be it fate or the dark, hungry power that rested in the skulls, the witches that held the line had truly proven there had been no mistake in those that had come to discover them. Though the ancient artifacts whispered sweetly to each that had been chosen this burden, they remained. They took the power offered and instead of letting it control them they turned it against those that would do them harm. If Valrae could have witnessed it her heart would sing. The bodies that had been made to walk again, filled with spirits desperate to live, dropped off slowly. The wind and rain turned from outraged and violent to mournful resolution. All but two of the witches who had not held the crystal skulls had either fled with the crone’s death or been cut down in the circle where they’d stood. The blood that poured over the would be vessel pooled darkly around the unmoving body until it washed away in thin pink streams with the steady fall of rain. The King of Larket, his axe at the ready, loomed over like the very shadow of death.The fire that climbed Asa’s body would not slow. It consumed her quickly despite the rain, it’s path to destroying Valrae’s final hope clear and frighteningly nearing its end. Macon and his Larketian’s were at an advantage against the witches and those that had chosen to stand with them. The King himself was at the advantage of ending Valrae, for a second time, before she had yet to draw breath. The struggle between Macon, Uma, Lionel, and Wendell moves perilously close to the altar. Some of the witches who had fled the circle have already perished, others have taken wands or thier own shaking hands and hurled curses at their attackers, bolstered by the support of bardic magic. The crystal skulls release a final thunderclap of power and the force of it is enough to send those holding them and near them hurdling away from the altar. The fire that consumes Asa suddenly erupts. The flames that surround both bodies flare in unison, rising until a pillar of fire dances menacingly in the center of the clearing.

It was like falling asleep. So much time had passed for Valrae that the sensation was unrecognizable. For the first time since her death, her consciousness faded away from itself completely. The warring spirits, the maelstrom magic, the battle.. Until the very moment the crone’s blood sprayed across her skin it had only been the dark. Though the flames had not yet reached her, she burned. Blood spilled over her and bound her soul, bound the magic that thundered from the skulls, to her body. The beginning of her new life began as her old one had ended. Crimson and gold and orange and the palest blue rioted around her without ever burning her skin. As her eyes snapped open the flames bled into the same vibrant emerald colors. The witch stood upon the altar, her skin flushed red from the warmth but unharmed by the hungry flames. Long tangles of mahogany and chestnut hair rose and snapped wildly in the rising heat of her fire without burning. The crown of flowers, dress of silk had gone to ash around her, leaving her naked and cloaked only in fire and power as she clutched the gleaming emerald crystal skull and turned her face to the weeping sky. Her own tears left her shining eyes and curled away in steam before ever sliding across her cheeks. Fire bloomed around the clearing, springing onto the enemy without warning and greedily consuming all that it touched.

Valrae climbs the altar, and Marcie cries out, “She is risen!” The guards are advancing on all of them, though, they will soon be cut down like the others. “We did it!” Marcie is shouting as she backs into another one of the witches. “This is insane! Call them off!” shouts Uma to Macon. Still in damage control mode. She has now dropped the ceremonial sickle and is wielding her wand with sufficient menace that a guard thinks twice before slashing at her. “NO!” she shouts at him, as he sets his sights on Marcie instead. He fails to attack the young secretary, however, not because Marcie is particularly agile, but because at the moment he contemplates swinging his sword, a torrent of flames is expelled from the amber skull in her hands. The guard reels away from her, screaming as the flames follow the fabric of his clothes to slink beneath his armor, finding skin. The fire expressed from the skull is not contained, however, it surges into the air like a geyser until it coalesces into the shape of a large bird, an ancient phoenix who dwells within the skull and now has surfaced to protect its wielder. His name is so ancient that the Common tongue does not have the letters to spell it. He has a wingspan of over 20 feet and a brilliant plumage made of literal fire. He opens his beak and from it spews a conflagration that incinerates another one of Macon’s men. He caws and turns his beady-eyed bird gaze on the rest of them. Uma screams and whips her arm around in an arc. A magical barrier rises before Macon, Wendell, and the rest of the Larketians. The phoenix belches fire at it, the effect would be like watching barrage of fire behind a glass. The phoenix rears back, circling and eager to consider another angle of attack, but he finds himself suddenly confined from his low-key wishes of mass destruction because Uma has snatched the amber skull from Marcie. He bows to her will, albeit not politely: he caws with frustration as he soars overhead. “Cease fire,” Uma says to Macon, through her teeth. Talyara feels bolstered by the power of the labradorite skull, that energy of unlimited possibility bubbling up inside of her veins and making her skin tingle. Despite the carnage and wreckage that surrounds the witches a smile curves on Taly’s lips. Somewhere near where she stands, she hears the cry of “she is risen!” and that overwhelming feeling of confidence swells inside her further. The spell had worked! Fueled by the success of the resurrection, her feet carry her towards Uma who wields her wand as a great and powerful sword and yells at Macon to call off his men, swinging it around and creating a barrier between foe and witches. A magnificent phoenix appears, spewing flames in the direction of the attackers. As Taly approaches the mayor she would lay a hand upon her shoulder and Uma would probably feel suddenly at ease, calm despite the current calamity that plagued them. “We will defeat this,” she says with a knowing smile before turning that intense green gaze onto Macon. Taly calls upon the magic of the labradorite skull further, extending her hands out towards Macon and Wendell alike. The witch feels invincible, as if there were nothing more or less than a simple task back at the animal sanctuary that must be carried out. Purposeful steps carrier her closer to the Rage Knight closing the distance between them. Taly vaguely recognizes Lanara out of the corner of her eye, hoping that her sister doesn’t do something reckless. “No she doesn’t!” Talyara yells defiantly at the King of Larket as her power coalesces around her palms and extends out towards Macon who, like Uma, would feel a sense of calm overtake him, his anger beginning to ebb away. The power of the labradorite skull effectively counter-acting his rage magic and hopefully the power it held over his men as well.

Brennia blows a pitch pipe only audible to her bards and the flank to her, but she sends them to defend the side of the circle that is opposite the attack and instructs them to flee if things get too out of hand. Soon Lanara would find Brennia next to her as her cloak blew off during a scuffle, a cut on the avian’s cheek and her face etched in determination and danger. Teal eyes narrow on their opponents ready to fight, but surprise takes her when they erupt in fire… Which was shot from behind them? She glances behind, short black hair lazily waving just above her shoulders and surprise did change this avian’s face, could it be!? The bard’s were -rallying behind the resurrected Valrae with a pocket full of spells- as this sight inspired a brand new found glory and hope in their hearts to impart to the other warriors, to the tune of something not ‘Not Owning Me’ er something. Brennia allowed the magic to wash over her and like an amazon woman Brennia charged at the Larketians, one leap into the air and her wings shot out from the enchanted ink on her back, then opened to blend with the night sky when she kicked back the helmeted heads of soldiers and guards. The avian only aimed to stun and not murder this night - wasn’t Kahran doing enough of that on all accounts? Eventually Brennia made her way near Uma and she aims to stand by the mayor… Almost senator next to Mayor. Resting ‘witch’ face aimed at Macon as she didn’t need to shout to the King, using her bardic voice to sound as if she were right behind him, “as the Mayor says… Ceasefire, your reign doesn’t reach these lands.” Her wing closest to Uma curves around the woman as if protecting her. Macon and Wendell have to choose where to stand when Lionel charges, and they both choose the same place. The mage moves to block the swing of the sword with both his bare hands, arcane energies glowing in his palms so that the brunt of the strike is wasted on the defensive magic in place there, though there is a smattering of blood as the sword is stopped deep in palms of his hands. Macon, in his rage, charges Lionel in turn, the head of his great axe trailing behind him in preparation for a mighty overhead swing, but then fire erupts, and fire erupts again, and a phoenix is born and more fire erupts. One of these eruptions, probably the green one that Valrae is reborn in, is powerful enough to blow The Rage Knight back, and his wizardly Kingsguard back, and hopefully away from the fire sword hero. Macon has stood against dragons in the past, but in those cases he was home in Larket and had catapults and ballistas at his disposal, and in some cases a dragon of his own to counter with. Now he has but a handful of soldiers and is on foreign soil, so he is rightfully disheartened by the sudden appearance of a hostile fire bird that begins lighting his men on fire. The young soldier that took the magical transport first to make sure it was safe for the king, Greg, is engulfed in flames. Macon’s slate eyes widen in fury as another Larketian life is snuffed out by witchcraft. He is torn between the -need- to avenge and not wanting to throw away the lives of Larketians that he cherishes so much. He glares at Uma, he glares at the body Valrae seems all but sure to take, and he glares at the phoenix as if he’s ready to charge at it, sure that he cannot burn because he is ‘Hard Larketian Stone’. Thankfully for all of Larket, Wendell steps in then and places a hand on his charge’s shoulder, “Your Highness.” The large mage pleads without going so far as making a suggestion of retreat. His job is separate from the other soldiers that are being incapacitated and killed, theirs is to stop the resurrection, which Uma says is impossible now, while Wendell’s is to keep the king alive at all costs, and right now that means getting him away from a giant bird that spits hot fire. At this point Macon still wants to fight more than he wants to flee a massive phoenix. He can’t help but picture his son and his people, and all the suffering the witches, Valrae in particular, have inflicted upon them. Then Talyara steps up and pushes back against the burning fury of The Rage Stone and Macon himself. He looks defiant at Talyara but can’t hold the scowl for some unfathomable reason (witchcraft), and his shoulder slump slightly before he glances to Wendell and growls, “Get them out of ‘ere,” meaning the downed soldiers that still draw natural breath. The mage doesn’t need to be told twice and calls out the retreat, beginning his own exit by helping up the nearest Larketian soldier and paving a way with some one handed magic for himself and the other Larketians to flee through. Macon lingers and points his heavy weapon towards Uma. Not having all the information, he still blames her for this, though with an ancient phoenix staring him down, he doesn’t give a verbal threat like he normally would before turning to go, but it is clear he means ‘this isn’t over’. The Larketians are in the process of gathering their wounded and escaping. It is up to these villains in Cenril whether or not they can do this peacefully or not...

Lanara remains rooted to her place before the altar, power boiling in her blood, as she sets her gaze on Wendell. This pathetic man desired to interfere with this resurrection? Was he another one of the many puppets of the so-called ‘king’ Macon? She cared not who he was, truth be told. “Come closer… I –dare- you…” And he does, as he wields that protective barrier, aiming to near the skulls and the lifeless body upon the altar. Raising her hands, she pushes out with her palms, an explosive burst of mana springing from her fingertips as the man is pushed back with such force that he wildly stumbles out of the circle, past Macon and Uma’s forms, and into a willow tree. A sickening crunch is heard as his body makes contact with the trunk of the tree, and Lana next looks to the axe-wielding man, intent on handling him next, should he continue to advance. However, as she stands there, like a sentinel, she feels the heat at her back, and she slowly turns around, in time to see Valrae standing atop the altar. Chocolate hues widen, her jaw drops in awe, and fresh tears spring to her eyes. It. Had. Worked. “Valrae!!!” The moment of surprise intensifies as a flaming phoenix bursts free of the amber skull and aims to incinerate those that are in opposition of the ritual. Uma seems to be handling Macon, though Wendell somehow had recovered and joined them, and it’s then that she sees her sister approaching the king and the mayor and that she’s wielding a spell of her own. The power of the skull weaves its magic, exiting the form of Taly, and being forced into the forms of the ones that had been putting up a resistance. Would it calm the magnitude of his rage? And then, Brennia is at her side, and she gives her a lingering look, grateful to have the extra support of her close friend, and though it’s oddly out of place, she gives her a small smile. Lana isn’t taking any chances, and she turns to look back at Valrae, lifting a hand should the newly-risen witch wish to take hold and step from the altar. She had to get to a safer location, that much was certain. If she were to take her hand, Lana would merely stand at her side, ready to spring into action and defend her, or help her to flee to safety.

Meri :: Vines and thorns begin to surround Meri and Callum, which is more than a little bit of a shock to the blonde. Talk about breaking a psion’s concentration. By that time her help was not needed. The shell of plantlife Meri and Cal were within was doing sufficient job. She too also missed Valrae’s rebirth, in all of her fiery glory, but that is not a complaint for Meri was grateful for the shielding Cal offered. Skull or not, in the heat of the moment, that was a useful trick. Hi dear. Meri tries not to smirk. See? The skull is not that bad. She does not have to try so hard to keep that smirk contained after that line, the look she sends Cal expresses her disagreement but she was going to leave it at that. It was not the time, the place, and that skull had helped to save both of their hides. He might be right. She may end up making some frowny faces at Cal later. Maybe. The scene progresses, and while Meri can hear what is going on, it is hard to see. So while it may not be completely safe, Cal is stuck inside an Iron Maiden with a woman who is making faces because she wants out. Sometimes after letting the cat outside, they turn around and immediately want right back in. It could be one of those situations, Cal. But Uma is demanding a cease fire, so it sounds like things are going well. Did she hear Macon say to get them out of here? Come on, Cal!

Callum :: As the chaos and bloodshed dissipated, the vines would release Callum and Meri, leaving the two to stand face to face with the newly reborn Valrae and her phoenix. What was with these people and fire? That connection to the skull, and therefore the plants as well, made Cal cringe somewhat as the heat from the phoenix washed over those closest to the altar, even through all that rain, and it was the rain Callum clung to now. He called for it to pour, called for it to keep him safe from the flames. Lightning would crack over head and the Catalian would feel a little better. Desperate to have his skull back, and now that the ritual was complete, Callum finally stepped from his spot and moved forward towards the altar. Eager hands would grab up the skull cautiously, as he peered up at Valrae and that bird, leaving Uma and Lionel to deal with the Larketians. This wasn’t his fight. He didn’t -want- to fight. What he wanted to do was leave. Now. With his bismuth skull. Valrae was given a look to say ‘we’ll need to speak soon’ before Callum turned away to stuff that skull back in his satchel. Without a word, he’d grab Meri’s hand and take off out of the ritual area. Things, he just realized, went from bad to fraught: Macon now knew that he’s a witch and the need to move out of Larket was now top priority.

Lionel draws a deep breath full of smoke as Valrae is reborn. Although he still moves like a roguish warrior toward Macon, spry and unarmored and sprinting, his head turns toward the Red Witch and he dares a smile, carving out a single stitch in time for this momentous achievement, but cognizant of the danger he’s approaching all-the-while. They’ve done it. All of them, together, have done it. No Rage Knight, no possible political betrayals, could stop them. Nevertheless, he’s breathed in smoke, and his face, flush with victory, erupts into a cough. The world goes darker still, and the emerald blazing from the crystal skull near Valrae becomes like a singular beacon of green light to guide him onward. He carries forth with his imminent swing, defiant against the wounds Wendell has inflicted upon him, breathing raggedly and sucking in even more smoke.

Somewhere in the battle, Esche and his dwarven companions are casting and slashing. Somewhere, Meri is standing beside Callum, risking life and limb for him even as the Catalian witch strives defend them both. Somewhere, Encara is loosing arrows into the field in a war that didn’t have to concern her -- but now it does. It stings to know that, but Lionel’s award-winning knack for guilt and shame will have to haunt him into a wine bottle some other time. He throws the muscles in his left, undamaged arm into striking Macon with all he’s got… and then a phoenix rises, raining fire, and a female elf appears in his peripheral, yelling at Macon and ushering in a calmness that simultaneously revitalizes and confounds Lionel. It’s a dichotomy to feel so peaceful when the woman one fights for awakens by way of torching her foes, perhaps, but then again, Lionel’s no stranger to the inferno. One thing he’s never before seen, however, is a man who catches Hellfire in his magical palms. He sees the blood on Wendell’s ravaged hands but lacks the requisite time to process what happens next. Macon takes his counterstrike, stepping forth to cleave Lionel or at least catch his steel, when a burst of raw ethereal power knocks both king and hero wayward of one-another and far from the altar. It’s not the first time these two have nearly fought to the bitter end only for someone or something to interrupt. When Lionel crashes into the earth a dozen-odd meters from the altar, spinning across the dirt and shredding his scarlet silk shirt in several locations, it’s all a nearby Esche can do to help him up so that together they can witness this ritual’s endgame.

Encara :: Between the magic still saturating the air and the blazing light, it's difficult for Encara to make sense of the current situation. Around her, the undead begin to drop, voices are crying out with demands, pleas, and death screams, but the battle feels as if it's shuddering to an uneasy stalemate. A young Larketian soldier throws himself at her and Encara deftly knocks his sword aside with her bow, growling as she brings up a leg to kick the man and send him stumbling over. "Stay down," she snarls, half-blind but no less dangerous. Still, she lets him live. Macon's rage relents, dampened by Talyara's witchcraft, the soldier scrambles back to his comrades, and Encara tastes smoke on her tongue. Lifting her head the drow turns almost against her own volition to face the altar - and it's like staring into the sun. Heat sears across Encara's skin and blasts her hair back out of her face, and for a heart-stopping moment she's gripped by an unspeakable fear that Valrae will reach out and turn her to ash as easily as one tosses a scrap of paper into a fire. That so that the Red Witch might continue to live, their places must be exchanged and Encara will be cast into the endless void. Would that be easier? One day, she knows, she will wither away to wisps and shadow and be little more of a remnant of herself lurking in the corner of a room… but what of her mind? That's the uncertainty - how long would she retain her sense of self, her memories, once her skin has given way to smoke? Encara drops her gaze to her gauntleted left hand, then seeks out Lionel's figure, sees him go tumbling across the ground and jerks forward despite herself. Esche helps the Catalian to his feet while Encara quietly situates herself in his shadow, glaring daggers across at shaken Larketian men. Maybe the void would be better, she thinks, than lingering and slowly forgetting why she haunts these places, and why her soul aches. There are worse fates out there than dying.

Astrid || As soon as the cry erupted that Valrae had risen, Astrid threw the burlap covering back over her skull and stuffed it boldly back into her stachel. This did nothing to quell the power that leaked from it, nor silence the tantalizing whispers that filled the area. “Come to us, come to us,” the Spider Weaver’s crooned, their combined voices dripping with honey. She wanted to rejoice with her fellow witches, to step up and lend aid to hold the Larketain soldiers and monarch at bay, but instead she retreats: not out of fear, but self preservation. Her skull hunger hadn’t abated, and it whispered for more souls to devour, more death to be wrought. She needed to place a distance between herself, her skull and the sources of power that mingled around the willow grove. But she couldn’t leave Valrae. She scrambled on top of the altar and threw her cloak around the naked woman, yanking the hood up over her hair. “Come with me,” she urged, a mirrored plea that was delivered the same way the last had, a request that wasn’t actually a request. Her hand reached for Val’s own, her fingers tightening around the solidity of her hand, her -real- hand, and Astrid darted from the scene, pulling the reborn woman with her.

Hudson | Uma feels buoyed by Brennia beside her, and glares at Macon until she feels a softness - from Talyara's skull - permeate the immediate vicinity. Even the phoenix ceases its irritable swooping and diving about. Macon's men are withdrawing, and he extends a hand toward her in a nonverbal gesture that she can read, no translation required. Brennia has whispered to Uma, and she doesn't respond. Uma has a nonverbal message of her own: she returns Macon's stare and lifts her eyebrows. The phoenix, halting its circling, flaps its wings in a blaze of fire and caws. After all the ruckus, the Cenril guard and other first responders are just now beginning to approach, hesitant at first, not sure who the bad guys are. The sight of their mayor, however, clarifies things. For her part, Uma makes a dismissive gesture that simultaneously summons the most senior member among their rank and indicates that Macon and his people are free to leave peacefully. Time for Larket to pack it up and Cenril to lick its wounds.

Valrae || The fire was inside her lungs. The heat that rolled off of her, though it did not truly burn was painful. To have spent so long suspended and away from her senses the world around her now was overwhelming. The screams, the coppery tang of blood in the air, the power that pulsed through and around her... It was like pressing a hot blade into an open wound. She had to shield her eyes from the rising phoenix, gripping the skull to her chest and nestling her face into the bend of her arm. Her own emerald blaze died down. The towering flames rolling low over the stone altar under her bared feet. Talyara’s magic surged around them and Valrae found the strength to drop her arm. Everything seemed fire bright and vivid enough to sting her eyes. The tears that spilled from them rolled cooly over her hot cheeks. Her dark tresses snapped wildly in the wind, dampening now from the rain that continued its steady fall. Her eyes find Macon. The first face to swim into view in this new life was the very man who ordered the end of the last. Instead of satisfaction or triumph, with the fluttering heartbeat stalling in her chest it was only fear. But he was turning his back to her. The axe he had leveled at Uma falls and he turns to leave. Lanara is holding her hand out to Valrae and without hesitation the witch leans down to grasp the hand of another. The emerald flames that surround them would cast warmth without enough heat to burn as they stand together to witness the Larketian’s retreat. The torrential rain Callum called had the unfamiliar waves of dark hair clinging to her naked body as she stood and tried to take in the entire scene. Her eyes meet his as he removes his skull and turns to leave. She finds Meri not long after but can only watch them retreat. She saw Uma call back the phoenix. But for a moment she again saw nothing. Astrid through her cloak over her and the world was black for a heartbeat before the cloth fell from her eyes. “Come with me,” She heard the familiar whisper echoing in her mind as both of their hands meet. Pulled from the altar, Valrae does not struggle. As she flees into the dark, Astrid pulling her along as a comforting guide, she looks over her shoulder one last time. Her eyes find Esche, Lionel, and beside him Encara. This is the last that she sees of the clearing before the tree line swallows both witches.