The Guardians of London: Third Echelon CHAPTER THREE [6 Slots Open]

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Rena let out a sigh as she realized it would be tougher than some light teasing to get these two to get along. Before she could think of a plan B though, she did have a question. "What are nettles?" She tried to think of a time she heard the word before but came up blank.

Jeffery responded without thinking. "Stinging its plant a." He was leaning against a tree staring off into space.

Still out of Bastian's sight, Hadrian looked at Breaker and promptly flipped her the bird, before mouthing the words, "bite me," all while having a cocky smile on his face.

As they began to cross the open plains, they spotted a massive dark cloud under which a mass of snow had accumulated, as though a spell had forced it to only snow in that area.

"I assume there is something....bad over there..." said Bastian.
"I can sense a locus of dark power, probably an outpost of the Shadow here." said Lurker, blinking. "Whatever they are doing, it is necromantic in origin. I assume disinterring those who fell in the war as undead servants. Wait.."
The group halted and Lurker's features changed a little. His eyes glowed green and his flesh shriveled a little. "I can feel the cries of thousands of souls pulled from Ou'Rus before they could pass into their next life, cries of pain and anguish. They fight but they cannot win. A great dark forge pulls them into dark service, twisting them into evil beings. Forgetting their lives, being only empty servants of evil. I can hear the hiss of forges, the chants of sorcerers. This one of many places, a bastion of darkness secreted among the good."
and then he returned to normal, as normal as the jackal-headed creature could be.
"Whatever this is...it is fresh." said Lurker. "Was this here before, little one?"

Rena's body began to visibly shiver as they looked upon the dark cloud and snowy area. Crossing her arms together to warm herself up, she said. "T-that was never here before She came..Faerie was a nice, peaceful and warm place until she showed up and ruined everything. I hate her the most..I can't wait until I become an Avenger. Then I'll personally take her down myself!" She seemed to warm up after saying that, though she did move closer to Hadrian for warmth.

Hadrian placed a hand on her head. His eyes were narrowed, but other than that, his face was vacant of any expression as he gazed at the white patch of land.
"Rena, I noticed that you said that you'd defeat the Dark Skull, and take down the Dark Skull."
Hadrian's voice hardened. "But does that mean you're willing kill her?"

Rena didn't hesitate to nod her head before saying. "Of course! I'm definitely willing to kill in the name of protecting the ones I care about! With me on the guard, our last city won't fall no matter what they send to us! Grand Moon is impenetrable!"

Hadrian looked down at Rena. "Oh? Tell me, have you ever killed someone before? Have you ever watched the life leave a man's eyes while he struggles to push you off as you strangled him? Have you ever felt blood spill, coating your hands and splashing against your face as you stabbed a woman while she lay helpless below you?"
He removed the hand from Rena's head and stared at it. His expression darkened. "It's different from killing a mere animal."

Rena gulped a little bit, and even felt a little bit afraid of him, just as the first time she saw him, but she tried to be strong by pouting and saying. "I-I haven't killed a person yet but I'm really good at hunting! I can also manipulate the wind, so cutting with compressed wind blades is easy! It just takes a little bit of concentration for me." She then looked up to him and said. "You don't have to worry about me. I'll definitely make myself useful, all the way until Grand Moon!" She seemed to think about this before saying. "You're not gonna cause trouble right?"

Hadrian shook his head, a slight smile on his face. "I have no intentions of causing any trouble."
"But like a said, the people we're dealing with aren't beasts who attack based only on instinct." He tapped his head. "They are capable of higher-thinking. They will use anything at there disposal to kill you. Not to mention that they are capable of using weapons and have access to the arcane arts."

"We aren't going to start killing yet...we need to reach this settlement of Grand Moon and speak to who is in charge. We need to know the lay of the land. But first, we need to get across that..." and he pointed at the snow. Everyone looked dismayed.

Bastian snapped his fingers and made a little orange energy sparkle "Don't worry, we're more than capable of crossing that snow if it means we make it to Grand Moon. With a little bit of fortune in our favor, they won't even know we were there."

Stepping lightly onto the snow, Breaker willed the water in the snow to form a large disc which became solid for them to stand on. With Bastian's help in creating a curtain of energy to block the sight and senses of the nearby evil they began to skate across the snow quickly, shooting like an arrow out of a bow.

"Rena, if the Dark Skull is here, between us and Grand Moon is Grand Moon itself under the snow or is it somehow free?" asked Bastian as he concentrated on the spell, feeling the probing evil feeling around the barrier. Sliding over and around it, ignoring it.

Reuben had remained quiet most of the journey. He had reserved himself to stay out of bickering and arguments between species and whatever other dividers were thought up. Part of his commanding officer instincts told him to mediate the situation, but he quickly reminded himself that it wasnt hit unit.

As the group glided across the snowy barrens, Pyotr had wished he could be out of the protective cocoon they occupied. He wished he could feel the cold biting at his cheeks, breathe in the crisp air, hear the crunch of the snow beneath his boots; such things he knew when he was growing up, before he enlisted and long before he joined with The Guardians. For the first time in many, many years, the Russian felt homesick. It was days like this where he'd normally wake up to the warmth radiating from a woodstove at the center of the place he called home, accompanied by the aroma eminating from the kitchen where his mother prepared him a hot bowl of kasha. He envisioned this as clearly as most any man would see his hands held before his eyes, except Pyotr was actually there at that very moment...

At ten years of age, there he was, seated at the dining table of their quaint home, longing for the presence of his father but nevertheless thankful that his mother was with him. He watched and waited expectantly as his mother ladled him a bowl of the buckwheat porridge, which this particular morning wasn't the usual kasha with milk and sugar. This morning was a special occasion and cause for a special breakfast, for today was the day he could say he was ten and really mean it. The batch of kasha his mother prepared was mixed with eggs, mushrooms, and onions, lightly salted and piping hot, as was his favorite.

Pyotr's mother carried the bowl and a spoon over to the table, smiling brightly as she said softly to the boy who was still wiping the sands of sleep from his eyes, "S Dnem Rozhdeniya, mol syn. Happy Birthday, my son."

"Spasibo, mat," he said appreciatively.

"Po-angliĭski, moĭ syn" she requested politely. "Now, say it in English, just as I taught you."

The boy's eyes rolled up ever so slightly as he searched his memory and tried to recall the correct words. "Th...thank you, mother," he said, the words coming out a bit awkwardly.

"Eto pravo," she said and gave him a light peck on his cheek. "That's right. Now, eat your breakfast before it gets cold."

Pyotr wrapped his hands around the bowl and pulled it closer to him, the steam now brushing past his face as he closed his eyes and savored the smell...

The moment Pyotr opened his eyes, he saw he had returned to the gliding disc, standing and staring out and the snowy barrens once again. He sighed heavily, wishing he were back home.

Rena was more than amazed by the flying disc. She had flown above the snow before, using her magic to keep the falling flakes from touching her, but with this kind of transportation she didn't even have to lift off the ground! Giggling a little bit, she tapped the disc with her foot and found it solid. Her little curiosity was brought away from her attention as Bastian asked her if Grand Moon was like this area. Shaking her head quickly, she smiled and said happily. "Nope! The snow doesn't fall inside Grand Moon because we have mages protecting us as well! Well, at least I think that's how it goes. All I know for sure is that we're safe from the snow!"

"Oh good. I was getting worried that I wouldn't need my coat, now I'm worried that I hadn't brought enough..."

"Hopefully your people don't get too nervous when they see us. We don't exactly look like Fae..." commented Bastion as they kept going, a little bead of sweat appearing from his concentration on the spell.

~~

After a few short minutes they reached the end of the snow and suddenly they came to another lush forest after passing through a snow-filled tundra of coniferous pines. Sliding gently off the disc they came to a rather safe landing and the little Fae girl bounded off and the group followed her while she zipped around on wind currents.
"I like how it goes from bitter cold to summer in ten seconds flat..." remarked Breaker.
"I'd prefer the heat to the cold..." said Bastion.

"Im a cold guy myself, if you are uncomforatble you can always just keep layering up." Reuben smirked.
"You can only take off so many clothes for the sake of cooling off before people give you funny looks in public"
He laughed a little.

"Some day I'm going to go someplace warm and stay there..." said Bastian as they passed through the thick trees.
It was a long walk but soon a grand city emerged from the tangle of tree limbs in a bowl shaped depression below. It was a tall city, its highest peak was even with the treetops so it was nicely camouflaged. It was all cast in silver and gold with red tile roofs and stone brick walks.

Rena giggled and flew happily in the air above them as she said with a cheerful smile. "See? See? I told you I would get you to Grand Moon safely! I'll go ahead and let the others know that you're friendly, so don't do anything to make me regret it okay?" She gave them a cute pout before flying ahead to let the locals know of their new guests. She kept to her words, and said only good things about them, and asked that they be treated with kindness since they seemed like able people who just might help against the Dark Skull.

The City itself was quiet as the Guardians approached. Whispers of "Look at their ears." and "They have no horns!" ricocheted off the stonework as they approached Elder's Hollow, the heart of High Moon. A massive simulacrum of a tree made of gold with emerald leaves and ruby pomegranates. The guards crossed pikes and, as Rena approached, said "Halt little girl! What business do you have with the elders? Why have you brought outsiders among the Fae?"

Rena gulped a little bit when they stopped her and asked what she wanted with the elders. The question of bringing outsiders into the city also made her a little nervous. "I-I found these people coming out of the gate. They don't have any affiliation with the Dark Skull, I promise! They might look like violent brutes but they're actually really nice! I would like for them to talk with the elders, since they could really help us against the Dark Skull! Pretty please grant them an audience?"

"The Elders do not see any outlander who wanders here..." said one guard.
"But when my brother's daughter tells you she is bringing someone here...you step aside or you face my wrath and you must be keenly aware of the last sentry who irritated me." said a shadow behind the guards, eyes flashing in the dark.
"Lord Rath, We cannot allow outlanders..."
"Step aside, or I will not hesitate to banish you to the red quarter with the poor folk..." barked the shadow. The sentinels parted and the little girl ran up and hugged the shadow.
"Uncle!" she squealed.
"All bark and no bite..." muttered a sentry as the Guardians passed.
Lurker hissed and showed his teeth and the green flames within his mouth. The sentinels jumped, horrified. Lurker just chuckled as they passed.

The man was turning older, his hair graying but his skull was crowned with two long horns yellow in color.
"You are friends of little Rena, yes? Come, I will call a meeting for you straight away..."
"Thank you, good sir. I am Sebastian Wyre of the Guardians of Light. I bring myself and my companions here to rid your world of whatever evil has hidden itself here."
"Oh? Perhaps Lord Rassilon will finally be proved right for a change. His premoniontions are always so vague..."

Rena giggled happily as she hugged her uncle. Once she released him, she flew up into the air and landed on his shoulders, so he was giving the little Fae a piggy back ride. Looking down at his head, she said with a smile. "Uncle, these people are definitely really strong! They might not be Avengers but I'm sure that they can be a huge help to us! That man even has an Avengers shield!" She pointed to Bastian when she said that. She pointed to Breaker next and said. "She's an aquamancer, and can do cool stuff with the snow outside of Grand Moon! We flew here on a disk of ice!"

"That's nice, Rena. Come let us bring this meeting together. Who speaks for you?"
"I do." said Breaker and Bastian whispered their assignment to her.
"So we are here to hunt down and eliminate some evil thing? What else."
"Nothing for now...the Fae here seem unlikely to leave their home, so in that we have already failed." said Bastian disheartened a little.

Breaker met with the elders for a few hours, the doors shut tight and quiet. The rest milled in the antechamber, awaiting her return. Bastian paced like a caged animal, he wanted to finish the assignment given to him.
"We secured the box, now we're going to secure this Dark Skull." he whispered to himself, trying to think but unable to. Like his head was full of concrete.
"I'm missing something, I just know it..."

Breaker emerged with a frown and quickly brought the group together to discuss.
"In the north there's some sort of fortress this Dark Skull calls home. Going north doesn't sound easy. There are dark spawn posts and charnel pits everywhere, spawning more undead for this necromancer. If we travel the way we did before we could go for maybe 12 hours before we would have to stop and rest. Everyone's magic will be pushed to the limit to protect us on our journey if we try it that way....or we hoof it on foot and fight whatever might keep us back. What do we vote?"

"I say we take the quiet route. Avoid conflict..."
Reuben said, his voice seeming half lost in thought.
Inside Kin was furiously searching books and articles for anything he could about this strange land. He was flustered, and eventually gave up, getting nothing.

Jeffery cocked his shotgun and slung it over his shoulder. He was glad that the gasmask blocked his face.
Meh. This place sucks... When do we get to do anything interesting.
"[::You know boss... I could probably blow a hole in the wall... But... that might work against us in the long run. You know. Like always. So I'm for the quiet way... maybe...::]"

Hadrian pondered this for a moment.
"I suppose the quiet way would be the least problematic for us." He nodded in agreement. "We wouldn't want her learning of our presence and escaping."

Rena was silent as the outsiders talked among themselves. She seemed to want to ask something, and only after fidgeting a little bit did she finally let it out. "Y-you're going to take out the Dark Skull right? Please take me with you! I promise I won't be a burden! I'll even use my magic to help you cross the snow! The more magic you have in your pool, the longer it will last, right? I'm a fountain of magic!"

"It's decided, we move fast and we lay low until we reach the heart of the Dark Skull's territory." said Bastian. "And Rena, you can come to. You live here and we trust you to lead us to the Dark Skull."
"Besides..." said Breaker "Your uncle tells me you've gone to the border before...to see the Dark Skull's fortress from afar...so we need you to lead us there again. There isn't time to waste."

Bastian nodded and said "This is going to be dangerous. Our first objective is to locate this fortress, the second is to breach it, the third to make our way as silently as possible to the Dark Skull and the fourth is....well, I'll let Zjar'q explain."
Here Zjar'q steped foreward, eyes glowing green in the dark.
"One must have true conviction and faith to kill a Shadow Lord, once ounce of emotion in the slaying and it will rise again more powerful than the last time. Sulerain is known for being a temptress and a powerful master of illusion. Trust nothing she shows you, not even if it feels reals. She also has a need, and a powerful one. As the only female Augur, when she was turned into a Shadow Lord she was planted with the eternal seed of the Darkness. She gives birth only to monsters. Nine serve her now, they bear her standard into battle and I doubt she came here without bringing them with her. She, every thirteen years, must birth a new beast or it will rend her open to escape...taking with it some of her years. Shadow Lords cannot age...but there is something which does age them. For Sulerain it is birthing her foul brood, whether she wishes to or not."

"Thats....actually quite horrible, Zjar'q. Can we speak to Mohammed again?" and here Bastian covered Rena's ears.
Mohammed took control again and cleared his throat "I am sorry, but it is true. Sulerain is cursed by the Darkness to give birth to a dark beast every thirteen years. However, if a human seed is not added the beast simply tears its way through and stays a pure beast. If a human is used, however, the creature is calmed and birthed normally as a half breed. These become her Standard Bearers, her honor guard and children. She will be most weak now, as the time for her quickening is approaching. I do not know the day nor the month but by the temporal stream I would say we have only a few days before she is too weak to fight us."

"So, take our sweet time?" said Bastian.
"That's sick, murdering a woman when she's defenseless and with child..." said Breaker.
"Remember, my dear. These are no swaddling babes she births but monsters wild and vicious. Though they cow to her touch they would as soon bite your hand off than allow you to stroke it. We must slay her when she is weak, or we may all be defeated. We cannot arrive too early so we must move slowly, take our time. We understand?"

Everyone nodded and Bastian let go of Rena's ears. "Whether we like it or not, the Dark Skull must die in order to free the Fae. We owe it to the Fae, for when we gave them shelter in our world we promised them that we would make their world safe for their return. Well not we specifically but the Guardians did..."

Rena blinked with a face of obvious confusion as her ears were covered, and try as she might, she found she couldn't get away. She figured she could fly, but if she wasn't meant to hear this then she wouldn't pry. They were going to let her come with, so that was good enough for her. As soon as she was released, she gave an annoyed pout to Bastian before saying. "Boo, you could have warned me before doing that. I would have closed my own ears." She crossed her arms and turned her back to him to show her annoyance.

Hadrian was deeply disturbed from the further information given to them. He was going to say something, but Bastian had already removed his hands from Rena's ears.

Hadrian chuckled, amused by Rena's pouting face. "I doubt that you would have obeyed even if Bastian told you, little one." He ruffled her hair again. "It's good that you didn't though," A sad look was now prominent on his face. "You're better off not knowing what they said."

Rena winced a little bit when he said that she wouldn't have obeyed him if asked. Sure, she would have snuck a listen by only pretending to cover her ears, but it would have been better than forcing it. looking to Hadrian, she said. "T-that might be true, but could you please stop treating me like a little kid? I'm as much of a grown-up as anybody! I can handle lots of adult stuff!" She flailed her hands up and down as she said this, making her look even more childish.

"Relax, little one. Now we should get moving since time is of the essence." and here Bastian chuckled. "Let's strut down to wet our throats...someone stay with the girl."
Pytor, sensing drink was next oin the agenda, was already gone. Sniffing around for a nearby bar with the blonde Anastasia attempting to follow the roving russian.

Hadrian made a mock salute. "Sir yes sir," he said with a grin.
"Well, it looks like you're under my care," he paused. "Or rather, I'm under your care. Care to show me around Grand Moon while these guys grab a drink?"

Rena was more than happy to stay away from the place with the funny smelling spirits. Giggling happily, she took Hadrian by the hand and said. "I'll show you to all the best places! Are you hungry? We have a bunch of places to eat! Not to mention there's lots of cool hiding spots, where you can play pranks and no one finds you!"

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