The Tower of Druaga (Game Thread)

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"...sleep... dream, of a brighter future." the voice said, before falling silent once more. The half conscious state was strange; to hear someone comment on you being asleep was humorous, especially while in the state of listful dreaming. but, the comment did raise a question; why was she sleeping. She remembered running from a mob, being caught, a doctor from the medical centre attacking... but what happened next?

Her brow furled (or at least she tried to) as she thought over the problem. She couldn't say how long she pondered the question, her mind desperately trying to fill in the details. Faunra knew she must have been injured, the rapidly dulling pain she felt all the evidence she needed - but by what. What more, what happened to the others? Wasn't Prail injured as well? What of Stonefuse, Damien, Etrius, Atticus, Aleister...

"ALEISTER!" her mind screamed as her memory of the explosion burst back into her mind, forcing her awake with a jolt and a deep breath. Because of the sudden awakening, the rapid movement, and Faunra's complete unawareness of her location in the armored Damien's arms, when she awoke, she slipped free from his grasp falling to the ground. In addition, because of the damage to her throat from the fireball, the deep breath sent pain through her nerves. The end result was Faunra gasping for breath in a small snow bank, utterly bewildered, and worried about her companions - all uncomfortable circumstances. She would have voiced all these thoughts, but another comment came first.

After the coughing ceased, she said in her voice, made hoarse by her damaged vocal cords "Ow."

"Ow." Was the first word that Faunra spoke, as she rose back into life. Slipping free from the armoured form of Damien, she landed on a nearby snow bank; seemingly dazed, and a little confused about the whole situation. Aleister on the other hand, turned and smiled, pleased that she returned.

"Now there is the Faunra I know. Knew you would make it back." Aleister sat down beside her, gently placing an arm and around her, unsure as to how much pain she could still feel from the blast.

"That was quite a blast you took, suffered a quite a bit of damage there. Thank you, for doing that, for me." He then briefly scanned her, seeing the job that Damien did in terms of keeping her warm.

"You feeling cold in anyway?"

"You feeling cold in anyway" Aleister said, his arm wrapped loosely around her as she sat on her knees in a snow drift. As thankful as she was to be alive, she could not resist the urge to be sarcastic - not that she tried very hard. "Not at all. Frigid snow makes a great comforter." she said, her tone revealing her snarky response, her trademarked smirk on her face.

When her coughing fit stopped, she looking down at herself and couldn't help but take notice of several items of interest. First, she glowed gold. While she always had a sunny disposition, she had never meant it quiet so literally. At first she thought it was maybe an after effect of whatever had been done to heal her, but when she saw the amulet now pressed firmly into her skin at her neck line, the cause became obvious. She had to admit her muscles felt heavier and she wondered if that was an effect of her injury or the trace amounts of the heavy metal.

The second was her state of dress. Save her tattered shirt, her clothing was completely different. The jacket fit well enough and was thankfully made of a warm material; though she could have done without the deep purple color that stood out so prominently against the white landscape, but warmth was good. The pants were several sizes too large, to the point where she needed to use a hand to support them. judging by their size, she assumed they belonged to either Damien or Stonefuse and considering Stonefuse's lack of need for pants, she knew who she had to thank for it. She was sad to see that both her cloak and leather armor had been lost; they had been like dear friends to her, saving her life several times each. Her practical side told her they were just things that she could make again, but her sentimental side felt a hint of mourning at their passing. For a brief moment she considered the implications of being in entirely different clothing then when she had fallen unconscious, but banished the thoughts, unwilling to think about that particular brand of embarrassment.

The final was perhaps the most crucial however, and one that could only be answered by others. "Did anyone think to grab my bow and daggers?" she asked no one in particular as she rose to her feet. Not waiting for an answer, she made her way over to Damien, guessing he was responsible for her miraculous healing, while using Aleister as a crutch. "Remind me to speak with you when we're in the clear. I get the feeling I owe you a great debt." she said to the armored man, then hobbled away, still using Aleister for support.

Atticus walked over around the end of her coughing fit and watched Faunra come to full consciousness, a slightly scared yet hopeful Aleister by her side. He watched as she inspected her surroundings and herself, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Though he occasionally dabbled with magic and wasn't really a doctor, he checked for any signs of brain damage. He could accept the idea of magic healing skin tissue, muscle, and bone, but but he was still sketchy on the idea of magic repairing the human psych without any major side affects. Coming back from near death was probably a shaking experience and might leave an impact on a person.

Or at least that's what Atticus thought until first thing Faunra asked was "Did anyone think to grab my bow and daggers?"

Yep, same old Faunra. She thanked Damien and hobbled onto Aleister for support. Atticus walked over and patted her gentle on the back.

"Don't worry about your dagger and bow, I did a quick check and it looks like most of our materials were either blown a few feet away and anything flimsier was obliterated. Luckily, Damien, Stonefuse, and by the looks of things, Veritas-" Atticus listed, shaking his canteen. "-make a great wall. You must've been peaking out a bit and pushed Aleister towards the living sheild as the blast hit. All in all, glad to see you're alright Miss Sunshine." Atticus finished warmly, plopping his charred hat on her head. He then glanced at Aleister for a moment.

"Or should I say Mrs.Sunshine?" Atticus chuckled a bit and felt some blood drip down his nose.

"Remind me to speak with you when we're in the clear. I get the feeling I owe you a great debt."

Damien bowed his great head at the small elf,"There is no debt to be re-paid, you were able to be saved, and that is all that matters. I beg my humble apologies, I did not intend for you to have a golden body. Though I would ask that you continue to allow yourself to be carried, skin does not completely re-knit within a few moments." He watched her hobble off with Aleister, seeming ill at ease in her new skin. He had been able to help this time, and that was all that was important.

He still kept flashing back to that day, he'd been unable to do anything, and his family had paid for it. His skin still burned, but they didn't have the time to stop now and allow him to tend to his own wounds. Assuming a state of mind to block out the irritants and the cold, he trudged forward through the snow.

Sifting through piles of rubble along the way...
"Faunra I believe these are yours?" A string-less bow and two daggers were in hands, as she called out.
Looking over the pair as they walked together, and noticing the clothing in particular.
"If we get the chance I can size that up for you..." Her tone was warm and simple to suffice.

She thought briefly of love and how tragic death was for climbers in that case, the explosion and charred bits were a great example with Faunra. Running a hand through her hair and dislodging a few bits of dust, she looked forward to traveling onward.

Taking a needle and a few scraps she idly left a pair a hands to sew patches over torn sections, occasionally removing a damaged area.

"There is no debt to be re-paid, you were able to be saved, and that is all that matters. I beg my humble apologies, I did not intend for you to have a golden body. Though I would ask that you continue to allow yourself to be carried, skin does not completely re-knit within a few moments." Damien said as she hobbled away. She disagreed with the warrior monk on the matter - he had saved her life, she was bound to repay that somehow - honor and thieves and all that. She knew little of his goals unfortunately, he had only said he traveled for "family matters", which limited her options. When she finally had thought the problem through, she turned to offer her ultimatum. "Damien; I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree. You saved me, so I owe you." the man made to interrupt but she continued unabated. "I'm not sure what a lowly little street elf like me can do for you, but know that when you need aid, I'll do everything I can." she said. After a pause for the dramatic effect, she finished. "Whether you like it or not." she concluded, her trademarked smirk on her face. As if to prove the point, she hobbled away from Aleister, just long enough to prove she could handle it. The demonstration didn't last long however, as she stumbled back to the swordsman she counted as... what were they anyway?

Her pondering would have continued, had the Atticus not interrupted the thoughts with "Glad to see you're alright Miss Sunshine." The warm hat sat on her head, slightly to large for her, causing it to fall and cover her eyes a bit. Still, the operable word was warm, so she couldn't complain. Well, she couldn't complain until Atticus made his joke.

"Or should I say Mrs. Sunshine?" her oldest companion said light heartedly as he looked back and forth between her and Aleister. In keeping with their long running tradition of making jokes at the others expense, she responded in the only way she could - by hitting him hard in the arm in protest. The last laugh was Atticus's however, as the action only served to nudge the mostly-uninjured man while sending pain up her arm. Realizing she would need to rely on wordsmithing to best the inventor, she had no choice but to respond to his words in kind.

"So I hear you and Conney..." she said, a smirk on her face, watching and waiting to see his reaction. It was sure to be priceless. Before she could see however, the newest member of the group, Amanda, made her way over to speak with the elf. "I believe these are yours" she said, handing her the pair of priceless daggers and her hunting bow (now string-less). Faunra breahted a sigh of relief. She could replace the string and arrows, and even the bow given enough time, but the daggers were more important to her then anything she had ever owned. "Thanks... Amanda?" she said, confirming it was okay to call her by her given name - she had seen enough cultures to know it was a taboo among enough of them. placing the daggers into the folds of her jacket, Amanda continued. "If we get the chance I can size that up for you..." Amanda said, her tone was warm.

"That would be kind" Faunra responded, a genuine smile on her face, while still holding her pants to keep them up and using Aleister for all the support she could get. Remembering the state of her dress again, she made a mental note to keep an eye out for the supplies she would need to make another of her cloaks and another set of leather armor. It would take a while, but the two items were indispensable. At that, Amanda made to start her next task, making use of her many hands, while she and Aleister continued forward.

Her muscles still burned, raging against the forced movement Though she was loath to admit it, Damien was probably right - staying on her feet as she was could only serve to undo the work Damien had done - not something she really intended to do. Worse, despite her attempts to ignore the pain, even the supported walking was not pain free enough to make the solution "long term". Wooly seemed preoccupied carrying what supplies had survived the blast. This left a single, highly embarrassing option to the highly independent elven cut-purse.

"Aleister... I can't continue walking like this... for the long term... could you please... carry me" she asked, the last two words barely above a whisper, her face a mix of crimson and gold.

Atticus will never let me live this down.

"Aleister... I can't continue walking like this... for the long term... could you please... carry me?" Faunra has asked, her voice but a whisper; her face a mixture of crimson and gold. From the looks of it, this option would be the most embarrassing for her, considering the remarks received from Atticus. The question brought a smile to Aleister's face.

"Of course, anything, for a lady." With the utmost care, he gently picked up Faunra, and began carrying her in his arms.

"After you shielded me from the blast, I feel obligated, to do something kind in return." Aleister remarked with a slight chuckle, as he repositioned Faunra's arms, so that they lay on her chest, rather then hang over the side. He could already sense the expression on Atticus's face, it was one of perpetual smugness.

"Anything you would like to add Atticus?" Aleister said rather coldly.

Prail kept up with the others fairly well, she could already feel her arm start the repairs, she wouldn't be laying eggs for a while but then again she'd not been planning on it so she wasn't using the calcium.

Maybe she'd get lucky and she'd have the arm in a week or so weird how the training was always more difficult than the growing.

It was a shame such a beautiful world was full of monsters. But the portal was drawing closer an entire new world lies beyond it and to be honest after this one, well how much worse could things get?
Then again it wasn't all bad she'd made a friend at least.

"Anything you would like to add Atticus?"

"Yes Aliester..." Caedis interjected. "Break her heart and I'll pierce yours." She spoke up from a far. She had seen the acts of affection the two had for each other and it was increasingly apparent that something was happening between the two. Something that left a bitter taste in her mouth and was the sole reason for her traversing the dangers of the Tower's levels.

For the first time in this level, Caedis smirked at the two. Instead of her perpetual, angered frown, Caedis' mouth curved upwards at the side with her eyebrows changing into a deviant arch as well. On the surface it was smirk but past that facade was a feeling of contempt and it was mostly because of their display of that something which made Caedis' stomach turn and triggered memories of Darius.

With that, Caedis turned to the seemingly endless snow-capped wilderness and began to trudge through the snow banks. Her face returned to normal and pretty soon Caedis was marching alongside Damien.

As Atticus chuckled, he felt a slight tap on his shoulder. What was that? He realized Faunra had been trying to give him one of her signature jabs, but there was barely any force behind it. Atticus winced a bit as began to understand how much pain Faunra was still in, even with Damien's amulet. He was about to apologize when Faunra revealed a snarky smile and replied with "So I hear you and Conney..." she trailed off before Amanda caught her attention.

Atticus stood there, slightly taken a back. How could Faunra even suggest such a thing? Well, Atticus had to admit Conney looked pretty nice and her interest in inventing interested Atticus, but that's where things ended. She looked nice. Didn't mean she was. Then again, having your mother die and watching your home fall apart on multiple occasions probably left a person sour, Atticus thought. Atticus shook the thoughts out of his head and watched as Aleister carried Faunra in his arms. She saw her struggle and heard how grateful Aleister was. It was then that Atticus realized something.

They could have all legitimately died in those few seconds.

No big fight, no last words, just boom. Dead. If it wasn't for Damien's, Stonefuse's,a nd Veritas's quick reactions the rest of the group would've probably been goners. Faunra was nearly burned alive protecting Aliester whose hands had been paralyzed, while Damien's suit was super heated, Stonefuse was torn apart, and Veritas literally melted. Prail was missing an arm and the rest of the group was recovering from the overall force of the blast. Etrius was the only one without any serious injuries, which confused Atticus for a few seconds. Atticus felt his own body. The cloak he'd gotten from Conrad was singed, littered with holes and there were burns up and down his clothing. The only reason he hadn't been burned was because he'd been directly behind Damien. If he'd been a few feet away, like Faunra...Damien would've had to make a pretty shitty choice with that little amulet. Though, he knew they would've picked Faunra and he was okay with that. Atticus felt more blood trickle down his nose.

He smiled a bit, not sure whether he was impressed with the group, his own survival, or if smugly mocking the gods, when Aleister asked "Anything you would like to add Atticus?" He said this with a bit of harshness and Atticus recoiled a bit. Maybe Aleister didn't enjoy the idea of playfulness, especially after what happened for Faunra. He was trying to think of a reply when Caedis answered for him.

Yes Aliester...Break her heart and I'll pierce yours." She smiled, suggesting she was joking, but Atticus hinted a air of deviousness in there. Atticus stood there for a few seconds, before he spotted Etrius just looking at the destroyed surroundings.

"Uh...I'm gonna go check on Etrius." Atticus said, inching his way out of the conversation.

Cecilia was walking and packing down snow, ghosted legs ensuring that she wouldn't fall in to any snow drift or other similar thing. Biting a piece of loose thread, and making quick work on her clothes, she was glad that a sort of peace had descended.

"If anyone has any patchwork needed for some clothes, Cecilia Amanda Cardinalit will be glad to mend it." Turning around to face the group and walking still. What better way to explain a false name then by adding it between two others?

"Yes Aleister...Break her heart and I'll pierce yours." Caedis said seemingly out of nowhere in response to a question directed at Atticus; as a devilish smile accompanied it, which made it difficult to tell if she was being serious or not. Aleister then looked to Faunra, who still laid comfortably in his arms as she looked off into the distance. As the group continued to walk, he began talking to himself in his mind.

"You know Aleister my boy, you certainly have found something special with Faunra here. I mean, she is the first person, that you have felt genuine emotion for in a long time. Maybe when all this is over, the two of you could find some place to settle down, even start a family.

Hold up there, don't go writing the epilogue of our story, before we have even wrote the final chapter. Who knows what might happen between now and then, that is if we all make it. But still, it is something nice to look forward too at least." As his thoughts returned to reality, Aleister could see that Faunra had rested her head on his shoulder, just like when they were back at the mansion.

"You comfortable enough there?" He asked politely.

"You comfortable enough there?" Aleister said, drawing Faunra from her thoughts.

Until that point she had been annoyed at her own weakness - she couldn't even walk by herself anymore. She had contented herself by closing her eyes and listening carefully to the world around them - she might be down and out for a few hours, but she still had some of the best ears in the group and she'd be damned if she just let the rest of the group do all the work. So, she focused on the world around her, trying to pick out any unnatural sound, anything that could mean danger to the group in its severely weakened state.

Then the question came. Unconsciously, while listening for that danger, she had shifted such that her head rested on Aleister's shoulder. It was a position very similar to the one they had been in the mansion. Looking into the swordsman's eyes, she found some comfort for her weakened state - she had saved Aleister significant pain and harm, if not his life; at least something good had come from the exertion.

Somewhat more at ease, she could not help but respond slyly. "No. I think we need that fireplace and the couch again; blanket too. Still - I suppose the important bits are still here." she said, smirking. Her smile dropped into a more serious face thereafter. "Aleister... I'm glad your okay. Please be more careful from now on; for my sake. You always fight recklessly, swords swinging as you charge into battle, only looking forward. I'll do my best to watch your back but... I lost my family once, I don't want to lose another one." she said, her tone full of stern caring, with a hint of fear. After a few moments to let the message sink in, she half smiled, half smirked and made an addendum.

"By the way; the "important bits" are the boots."

Meanwhile, over the mountains, across the frozen expanse, through the Scarce Forest, and past the Red Fields, there was a trial taking place.

The "lead miner" from the castle ruins kneeled before two of his lords, humiliation and anger swelling through his bodies. Even with the power they had bestowed him, he had failed to defeat the climbers and crackling day ended with the town mostly in tact. He could feel the glare of the skinnier slick haired lord, Volitare, staring down at him. Meanwhile, the bulkier lord, Edwin, sat with his legs crossed and his eyes closed. The beast in the mining suits were bloody and defeated, standing around in confusion.

They'd been in the town for years, hiding in the alleyways and mines themselves, they were lacking in training and weapons as well. They looked around the room, the rest of their beasly kind armed to the brim with weapons, covered in armor, and fully trained. The "miners" were obviously the weaker of the pack and they feared for their lives. The lead miner finally spoke.

"My lords, despite our efforts we have been defeated in battle. We were bested by the climbers and even with your grand powers, I could not defeat them. Even with that said, I beseech you to spare my life, for I am still a great commander. Those weaklings were worthlessness on the battle field, give me a real army and I can lead us to victory!" The lead miner said, blood dripping from his ravaged fur.

Volitar looked down at the leader, a wide devilish grin coming across his face. Volitare was bored, really bored. Mark had commanded them to guard his body as he gained strength and the powers of these beast, something which apparently took 5 years. Calgradni had been left in charge of a comfy forest with mindless lizards while him and Edwin were stuck on a Frozen block of ice. Everyday was training these stupid ice monkeys, arming these stupid ice monkeys, eating with these stupid ice monkeys, every fucking day. Edwin was perhaps the most boring being in existence and Mark was literally giving Volitare the cold shoulder. He needed to relieve some stress and responded the only way he could to the leader. "No."

Volitare kicked him the face, before grabbing him around the neck and slamming him back onto the floor. The armored beasts surrounded the group of "miners" and began slaughtering them mercilessly. The leader grasped the air, pleading for his life and coming up with excuses.

"No, no! It wasn't my fault they failed, not me! Spare me! The device was out of reach, the bird man was too fast, that accursed reaper kept me at bay, the large armored man tore through most of our men, and then there was-"

Edwin quickly got to his feet and punched Volitare, sending him stumbling away from the leader. "What the fuck was that for-"

"Quiet Volitare! What did you say just now, a large armored man? About my size?" Edwin asked the leader. The leader cleared his throat.

"I suppose so my lord." The leader muttered as a loud crack resonated through the tunnels, and everyone stood in place. Volitare tried to keep his cool while Edwin's mouth was slightly agape. "Not only is there a grand master here, but it's the grand master. Mark my liege, you can sense him even in your frozen slumber?" Edwin took a seat, the bulky man folding his legs once more and closing his eyes. "Volitare, see to it that this one is given the appropriate armor, weapons, and a squad at his disposal." Volitare grumbled, but walked off ordering a few of the "ice monkeys" to prepare armor and weapons. The leader was confused.

"Bu-but my lord, Crackling Day was a failer." The leader stammered out. Edwin chuckled a bit.

"You thought the storm was this so called "Crackling Day?" The leader was confused and Edwin simply chuckled some more as a bird flew through a cave and rested on his shoulder. "Besides, it appears a large part of the town was decimated, or at least the important bits."

"By the way; the "important bits" are the boots." Faunra said with a partial smirk.

"Of course they were." Aleister remarked with a devilish grin in response to her comment. He then spoke into her ear, out of the range of the others. "Your right; our little spot in the mansion was the most comfortable. Perhaps on a further level, we can reengage such notions, in an even more comfortable location, and without the interference of others. That way, we can while away the hours, wrapped up in each other, all warm and cosy. It may not be much, but how is this for starters." He then conjured up a little ball of flame, similar to the one that they were followed with on their way to the medical centre, as it began to encircle them.

Aleister then began to look at the others. Hmm, don't want them to feel left out. He thought to himself, as several more appeared, and began to follow his fellow climbers, with the exception of Prail, who seemed to rather enjoy the cold; although he had one saved just in case, but had not cast it.

"...It may not be much, but how is this for starters." Aleister said before conjuring a ball of flames to warm them and the party around them. It was a nice use of magic, reminding Faunra of the trip to the medical center that had been so filled with fate. Reminded of the trip that felt as though it were a month ago, though it had only been the night prior, she reached into her sack of belongings and felt around for one of her... acquisitions - one she had actually paid for. Confirming it was still there, she settled back into Aleisters arms, hoping that despite his flirtatious manner, the message had struck home.

"That sounds nice... and thanks" she said, first toward his "warm and cozy" suggestion, then indicating the ball of flames for the thanks. Faunra returned to her task as make-shift look out warmer and more comfortable - she got the "wrapped up in arms" part early and she couldn't be happier.

Except the inability to walk - she liked the ability to walk; it came in handy.

Cecilia was glad as a little ball of fire began to orbit her, and more so after fumbling a needle from the cold. Giving a brief wave and smile in thanks and pulling back her hood. Looking forward in to the snow she ran through her head of the map and distance to scale.

Hmmm, with our speed and this thrice damned snow, two? Three weeks top I'd care to guess.

She was used to long journeys in temperatures varied, and wished briefly she was more then a compass and pack mule in her original entourage. Briefly looking forlorn and down trod she stumbled in the snow before ghosted legs and her own prevented her from falling flat.
---
She hated the guild, she hated others, she hated herself, she hated so much, but hateful people rarely lived long. She wondered now, with the immediate danger gone, if she'd get to know her new group of climbers.

She'd ask the basic questions in the time that would go by, history, levels they over come, basic get to know things. She wouldn't press for hard issues, or pry in to personal matters. For herself she probably would give a roughly the same story she 'told' Prail, raised as an orphan at a boarding school style place, and probably giver her profession as a guide of sorts for her home level.

For the rest she'd have to judge on what she felt safe to reveal.

Little orbs of fire began to encircle the group, courtesy of Aleister. Aleister kept the fire balls away from Prail, who was already slightly distanced from the group. She didn't want to be anywhere near Wooly, the beasts that somehow gave off more heat than Aleister's orbs. Amanda, or as she'd announced earlier, Cecilia tried to stay near the lallowen. The two appeared to be bonding and understand each other a bit quicker than the rest of the group had come to understand Prail. Atticus thought it was kinda cute as he walked over to Etrius.

Etrius appeared slightly upset at part of the towns destruction. They'd gone through an entire storm and he'd flown right into the center of it to save the town but in the end some random asshat with a few sticks of dynamite blows most of it to smithereens. Etrius could kinda see where the man was coming from in terms of wanting to protect his people, but by the end of the day it looked like he did more harm than good.

"I don't know what to tell you man. You can protect people from a lot of things, but it's a bit harder to protect a person from themselves." Atticus said to the Seraphim, understanding the frustration he must have felt. He patted Etrius's shoulder, a few puffs of steam rising. What was that all about? Atticus's thoughts were interrupted as he felt his canteen shake a bit and emptied it. The water molded into Veritas's shape. He breathed heavily, trying to regain his senses and was glad to see everyone was alright.

By this point, the group was long past the town and were reaching the end of the frozen sea they'd traveled the other day. Ractor bits still littered the ice, oddly enough still pretty fresh. The foul odor of the fallen beast still filled air and filled their minds with memories of nearly getting their asses beat. Zavier eyed Stonefuse a bit who simply returned it with a blank glare. As they neared the mountains and ridges, Stonefuse looked off into the distance as if expecting something to be there. The sun began to fall as they entered the mountains, the wind picking up and thrashing them with ice and snow. With some of Conney's help, Cecilia managed to find a perfect passage through. The group walked for days, camping out in the mountains. During the night, they could see the town off in the distance and it looked like fires were rising in certain areas along with regular lanterns.

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Conney explained that they were setting fire to the rubble they couldn't use and also trying to keep warm. They had done the same thing when the dragon men attacked five years ago. That's all she said before ignoring the town entirely. Atticus couldn't believe how unlucky this town was. He remembered seeing other towns on the map Cecilia had found and began to wonder what was happening to them. Atticus added this to the list of things they had to worry about. So far they hadn't run into any predators but they kept their eyes open. Their walking heater, Wooly, was also a big walking target for any hungry beasts out there.

"One more night and we should be out of the mountains." Cecilia said. "After that..there's a whole of nothing before we reach the forest."

Aleister quickly started a fire to light the night and sat next to Faunra. By now Faunra could walk again but Aleister still didn't want her doing too much, though he knew she was perfectly capable. Cecilia sat near Prail, who was a few feet away from the rest of the group. Atticus hadn't really gotten a chance to speak with her since it appeared she didn't want to step over any boundaries. In fact, the group mostly stayed to themselves during the night and day, not really saying anything.

Alesiter and Faunra were as flirty as ever and Atticus couldn't wait for the honeymoon phase of their relationship to end, Damien and Caedis sat in their usual silent brooding, Zavier was reading, Veritas was messing with the snow a bit, Stonefuse stood staring at nothing, Nathan was half awake, Etrius was stretching his wings, Prail and Cecilia were as chummy as ever, and Conney sat against Wooly, mad about something as usual. Just another night out in the cold. No one really had anything to say that they wouldn't say any other day of the week.

"So...you guys ever just lie in a field?" Atticus said, trying to break the ice. "Next time you get the chance, you should. It's a nice place to just relax or think." Atticus said, reminiscing on days back in Agris.

Cecilia was tired and she'd hardly minded the filth, washing with any water was a likely cause to frost bite, and the only available heater was wooly or magic. Neither she felt seemed preferable, packing snow in to a sphere in a pair of hands and drawing in the snow with the other, she simply enjoyed being around people, quite as it was at times.

"So...you guys ever just lie in a field?" Atticus said, trying to break the ice. "Next time you get the chance, you should. It's a nice place to just relax or think." Atticus said, reminiscing on days back in Agris.
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Looking over and putting on a face that was like a rock in a fire, "Sounds nice, I'll take that advice the next chance I get."

Tossing the ball from hand to hand, two more quickly joined the lone one, and a small juggling act was going on. Cecilia barely paid attention as the ghosted limbs acted on their own on whim, and kept her arms around her chest, and knees close.

"Sounds nice, I'll take that advice the next chance I get." Cecilia responded. He watched as her ghost limbs tossed snow balls through the air and began juggling them. She didn't even appear to be paying attention to them as she curled up a bit. Atticus began trying to work out how they actually worked; was she directly in control or was her subconscious just messing around? He figured he'd ask her later, there were a few other things he was interested in.

"So Amanda, or should I say Cecilia what level are you from? I'm from a place called Agris." Atticus said. He was genuinely curious as to where she was from, mainly what kind of place could people summon extra ghost-like appendages. And if possible where he could get some.

"I was raised in a level of mountains called Mig'Brock, not much there and a rather boring affair, also an orphan as well." She shrugged in a nonchalant manner, while her story was true for the most part.

"Mining, forestry, and farming, not much else there. You?" Her mind was wrapping around and juggling the ideas of the Guild. She still held loyalty towards it and didn't want to reveal that much about it, deciding quickly to stick with her cover story made by the Guild.

The group had been walking through the mountains for the best part of a week, most of that time, Aleister had been supporting Faunra, whilst she could walk fine by herself, he wanted to make sure she still wasn't feeling any pain.

They had seemed to grow closer as a couple, often cuddling up, and occasionally falling asleep with one another next to the warm glow of a fire. This closeness they shared, spurred a few off the cuff remarks from some of the others, primarily from Atticus; but they shook them off. According to Cecilia, or rather Amanda, they would only have to spend another day in the mountains before they reached the forest. This seemed to brighten the mood of the group as a whole.

It was night time that the group next set up camp, the overall mood was awfully quiet, each member doing their own little thing. It was Atticus that decided to break the silence.

"So...you guys ever just lie in a field?" He asked, trying to break the ice. "Next time you get the chance, you should. It's a nice place to just relax or think." Atticus said, obviously drawing on some old memories of his time in Agris. Aleister laid back, his arms behind his head, as he stared off into the stars.

"I use to. Back when I was but a child, before I met the man who would be my mentor. I remember this field near the docks, it had a single large oak tree right in the centre. Most days when I wasn't doing what I could to survive, I would often just go there to sit underneath that tall tree. Occasionally I would doze off, most of the time, I would simply sit back, and let the world float on by; all calm and peaceful." Aleister responded with, as the stars shined.

"The stars are certainly looking beautiful tonight." He then said aloud.

"So...you guys ever just lie in a field? Next time you get the chance, you should. It's a nice place to just relax or think." Atticus said, his eyes hazed over as he envisioned his home. Not for the first time, Faunra found herself worrying about Atticus; this level was his greatest fear; what his home was slowly becoming. She silently laughed at herself; here she was worrying about others when 6 months ago she was alone on a street, carrying everything she owned on her back. This last part was still true, but she was anything but alone now and they were a good week from the nearest street. At one point, she would have called this a weakness, stupidity, and not worth the effort. Now, half a year later, she was living with a group larger then her first family, with people she could call friends (or more in Aliesters case), and she wouldn't trade it for the world.

Faunra remained quiet as she listened to the stories of the others, particularly Aliester's story. Despite their quickly deepening connection, she really didn't know that much about his past. Of course, no one knew her past very well either, but as far as she was concerned, that was private. That she was being a hypocrite occurred to her, but hardly fazed her; the problem with the Hippocratic world view was that people assumed life was fair when it was not.

For her part, she was curled up by the fire - enjoying the warmth. When she heard that the forest was only a day away, she almost jumped for joy - the forest was her terrain - whether it was made of wood and leaves or brick and mortar mattered little. Best of all, she could hunt for the supplies she needed to make a new cloak, some basic armor, and a new bowstring; best place in the world as far as she was concerned.

"The stars are certainly looking beautiful tonight." Aliester said as he finished his tale. It was a nice story, and his observation was true enough. Because of this, she decided to share as well.

"I don't think I ever just lay in a field. Torinia never had much in the way of "open fields" outside of what they needed for farming. Besides that, I mostly stayed in the city where I could get what I needed to survive." Laying on her back, she stared up at the sky as Aleister had pseudo-suggested. "Your right. They do look beautiful." she offered.

Caedis sharpened her spear, which needed the sharpening from the recent events. What dried blood remained had been wiped off and now there was just the process of sharpening the blade. The spear itself hadn't cost her a thing but she took extra measures to carefully maintain it, like her armor. Her armor and her spear were the only things she could maintain. She had lost everything else and this was far easier to look out for. Caedis leaned back and watched the stars as well when Aliester pointed it out. It was truly beautiful and the white landscape added to the sheer grace of the sight. It reminded her of the paintings her family had adorned around the house but there was this one painting that stood out to her back then. It was a starry night in the foreground, with the gentle sloping hills of snow. It was very much like the view now but the fire added a orange glow.

"So...you guys ever just lie in a field? Next time you get the chance, you should. It's a nice place to just relax or think."

"If you believe me, I always took a book with me every time I wanted to lay down on nice field and relax. Sometimes I even took a canteen of the sweetest rosewater with me and I'd just lay down and think." Caedis still focused on sharpening her spear. She felt it was necessary to add in as the others did to at least get friendly with them and show them that she wasn't all that bitter. "Back in Helliot, there was a hill near where I lived and it was always a pretty golden color because of the Savannah grass that grew there. I still think back of that hill and sometimes I get so wrapped up in thinking about it that I forget the date. It was just so beautiful. And if you believe me once again, I wrote a poem about it."

Finally she looked up and it was a peaceful look. She wasn't smiling or frowning but it was a complacent look. Of course she just wanted to warm up the the climbers to reassure them that she was on their side and Caedis has no desire in betraying them for they have been good to her. She may not like certain aspects about her fellow climbers but there is a certain sense of comradeship that Caedis hasn't felt in quite some time.

"I was raised in a level of mountains called Mig'Brock, not much there and a rather boring affair, also an orphan as well. Mining, forestry, and farming, not much else there. You?" Cecilia said, shrugging in a nonchalant manner. Atticus couldn't really see himself growing up without a family. Most of what he knew was because of his family, even if they weren't blood relatives. He was temporarily amazed that she mentioned it so casually, but then Atticus remembered that this was the tower of Druaga.

"There are people who lived upside down and eat rocks, Atticus. Growing up without parents isn't that strange. Besides, surely she gained some form of family or mentors during her life." He thought to himself, yet still slightly troubled by such a thing. He tried to distract himself by staring at her ghost limbs, still juggling the apples. Atticus wasn't a big fan of apples, he fancied oranges more, yet when mom said that he had to finish everything on his plate, he finished every-"Wait, what? She's juggling snowballs Atticus. Why'd you think they were apples?" Atticus shook his head a bit and shivered. He was having some problems warming up. Atticus moved a bit closer as Aleister started his story. When he finished, Aleister laid back, staring up at the stars. "The stars are certainly looking beautiful tonight."

Atticus looked up and he had to admit they looked pretty nice. He nodded yet felt a hinge of guilt in what Aleister said. "When I wasn't doing what I could to survive- stood out in Atticus's head. For Atticus, getting to lie in a field was a privilege, not a luxury. Atticus never really had to worry about "surviving." He was taught how to, but rarely ever found himself using those skills...until he left Agris for the first time. Atticus felt a chill ride up his spine and moved closer to the fire once more. Faunra responded as well.

"I don't think I ever just lay in a field. Torinia never had much in the way of "open fields" outside of what they needed for farming. Besides that, I mostly stayed in the city where I could get what I needed to survive." Atticus remembered Torinia, an alright place except the marquis was a corrupt asshat. The city amazed him but Atticus had mostly stuck to the farmland, they reminded him more of home. "Would you stop thinking of Agris?" Atticus yelled in his head.

And then Caedis spoke of her own experience, her usual bitter exterior fading away for a moment, replaced by peace. "You wrote a poem about it?" Atticus wasn't attempting to be humorous, he seriously thought it was sweet. Imagining this woman as a little girl, her spear replaced by a book blew his mind for a moment. Then reality hit him as Spiriah's words flooded his head. It was actually quite obvious in retrospect, no one grows up that bitter unless their happiness was grabbed from them. Atticus vaguely remembered a girl like that in Agris, but shook his head and laid back, trying to block out the thoughts. "Why am I remembering all this now? And why isn't this grass beneath me?" Atticus thought grumpily to himself, before realizing that he hadn't answered Cecilia's question. He figured he'd wait for it all to come full circle, before responding.

Listening and looking over everyone as they added their piece, the number of snow balls grew behind her back to 4. She wondered how long this group had been together and the levels they traversed, or even the hardships they endured.

Natural and instilled curiosity coursed and ran amok among speculation briefly, then muted as she look up at the stars with Aleisters comment. Standing up from the cold ground and stretching her arms upwards, the snow that was being so carefully juggled before flew outwards. One headed towards Atticus, another Damien, one Caedis, and the last aimed at the fire.

Faunra listened to the remaining tales, happy to finally learn something about her allies. She was pondering how odd it was that she knew so little even after having been together this long, when it occurred to her she should ask Atticus how he was doing - Agris was sure to be on his mind after all. Turning to answer him, she asked her question. "Hey Atticus, how are..." only to be cut off by a frigid ball of compact snow to the face. Wiping the snow from her face, she returned to staring at the fire, trying to get warm, muttering only one thing before doing so.

"Cold"

It was times like this, in the long slow periods that it got to her. She lost all sense of time no idea how long it had been since she'd just been able to talk to someone properly, even running into more lallowens a level back wasn't enough, and they were just cheap imitation of her people weak and stupid dominated by a imitation of a fairy tale.

It could have been years since she'd actually talked to someone, these people didn't know her really sure they could express to her all manner of things, she understood them but they not learnt her language and they probably never would.

You think she'd get used to loneliness but no, its warmth was deep and penetrating only chilled temporally by friendship.
She was done, this needed to end.

Before she could realise she was doing it she'd drawn and lit a candle (how she did this one armed I'll leave you to guess at).

The burst of light enveloped the entire camp in a second.

Prail had snuffed out the candle as soon as she could, she hadn't realised what she'd was showing them, her movements had been frantic and probably ended up prolonging the vision ironically. It was stopped now but as he stump attested the candle stood no longer.

She'd not; never wanted them to see that, even her recent friend she hadn't wanted to see it.
But now, the cat was out of the bag and probably on another level soon enough. Beyond all hope of chasing.

Cecilia blinked once, twice, three times to make sure she was still who she was (happens quite often after waking up). She remembered blood maps made by many a Guild leader or Honored, and how if they were burnt or smoked, one could see the map clear as a book. Her teacher brought in low quality ones and demonstrated there use as both map, message, and disposable evidence for secrets.

Some were like mosaics or intricate puzzles of beauty and horror, she asked how they colored it and got so much blood. The teachers reply was to explain ink mixtures and time, and afterwards as many could expect, the boys commented on the girls issues. Suffice it to say many a fight broke out, and Cecilia left knowing punishment would follow. She wondered as many returned with sore parts and aching hands, that it would've been better staying and fighting, rather then leaving alone instead.
"Pain is a bond better then steel." she muttered to herself absent-mindedly, and one would have to be in her face or with exceptional hearing to understand what she said.

Her mind had wandered, Cecilia was feeling ticked, and why had that memory of all things arose alongside the revelation she made years ago?

A white ball of hardened snow hit Caedis resulting in a explosion of cold fluff. It struck her at the side of her head and obscured her view just as soon as Prail's candle let off its flash of light. In one eye she saw the fantastical images and wondrous visions of a highly advanced civilization. She couldn't make much of it but it did catch her eye. Caedis made it a note to ask Prail what all that was but first there was a matter of revenge.

The snowball came from Cecilia's position and now seemed a better time than any. Caedis leaned to her side, seemingly to get something out of her pack but instead she rolled a snowball. She rose from her sitting position and began walking to a hill just outside of the fire's glow.

"I'll be back in a second. Just need to take care of some business." Caedis said. She walked a few steps, turned, reared back her arm, and whipped the snowball at Cecilia.

Damien sat deep in thought, contemplating many things, the least of which was what to expect when they reached the portal, and what would greet them on the other side. In the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of movement and rolled out of the way, drawing his sword as he stood. The object in question appeared to be a snowball, which caused him to relax after seeing Cecilia. He sheathed his sword and Prail lit a candle for some reason and images flashed across his mind. A mix of both home and something alien.

When it was over, Damien shook his head and sat back down in his spot, again thinking.

Caedis and her comment broke Cecilia from her stupor of thought, stumbling for words

"I apologize for the that, sometimes these hands wander." A bit sheepishly, she frowned at her lapse in control. Hours of training, and pounds of punishment from years of teachings, and already she was losing it.

"F-" A balls of snow impacted against the side of her head, the frosted feeling in her ear a shock.
Brushing aside the snow and shaking her head a bit to dislodge what snow remained.
Turning to Caedis.

"Alright I deserved that, are we cool or at least ice with that?" Slightly seething on the inside for not seeing that coming, though if she remembered rightly so, puns weren't to Caedis liking.

Atticus rubbed his head a bit, the affects of Prail's candles fading. He'd been able to make out odd forms of machinery and strange gases, but the vision was foreign to him. Atticus felt the urge to search through a bag and there it was, one of Prail's candles along with a golden box, the Cradle. The inventor had a platitude of other things on his mind, but one of them was Prail. It was obvious that she was leaving a bit of a story behind every time she gave or left one of her candles lying around, but what? He hated it when a number of important questions started floating through his, but with no immediate answer. Luckily, he was pulled off this runaway train of thoughts, by Cecilia speaking with Caedis.

"Alright I deserved that, are we cool or at least ice with that?" Cecilia said, responding to Caedis.

Atticus chuckled a bit, admiring how bad that joke truly was, though he gave Cecilia fair warning. "I'd be careful around Caedis with things like that, her and her spear tend to get a bit pokey. Luckily you don't look nearly as punchable as I do, apparently." Atticus said, coughing a bit. Even with the fire and the large shaggy beast near by, the cold night air still made it's way to Atticus's lungs.

He looked over at Damien, dressed in his armor with his helmet near by. The grand master appeared to be in deep thought but Atticus couldn't figure it out. What lay before them the party of climbers , or perhaps he was dwelling over his own past, whatever that may be. It was pretty damn obvious that Damien wasn't just any regular warrior climbing the tower, so it was pretty obvious his past was a visceral one.

Atticus sat there thinking about what he knew of the lives of those around him and his own life, past, present, and the indefinite future.

"Guys...I hate the snow. I really hate the stupid snow so much." Atticus said, pulling himself close. Though he enjoyed his time with most of these climbers and he had a duty to Agris, he truly wanted to go home. And this stupid level wasn't helping change that.

Overlord

"Alright I deserved that, are we cool or at least ice with that?"

A female voice echoed through the translucent orb, it's image a cold and snowy landscape.

A male figure watched with intent. He was... a statue, perhaps. That's what it looked like at first, a great chiseled statue. The size was impossible to imagine. A guy standing 6'5" would seem monstrous to a normal person. But one who stands 3 meters can't be truly understood until you're staring straight at his waist, and that if you tried to grapple him your arms would not make it even halfway. But it wasn't the sheer bulk of the man's body that made him formidable- it was a great shadow and burning flame within, a destructive spirit; angry, hot and unstoppable. His presence seemed to smother all other sensation, so for a moment there was only the spirit and the humanoid vessel it inhabited. He was dark skinned- not the exotic browns common to humans, but like the body was made of obsidian. It looked like hardened lava, smooth and gleaming. His vestments were archaic- the chest bare, the limbs adorned with inscribed metal that had been tarnished with age. Thick sandals wrapped his feet. He remained still, face set in an expression of calm fury. He never blinked, never moved the smallest fraction of an inch. His shoulders and back flickered, wreathed in flame. The dancing fire had somehow been caught and held, and now was woven into a dancing red and orange cloak.

The image blinked to a damaged town, to icy clouds and particles, then back to the climbers and their snowball fight.

Ramirez had wanted to write, to compile his thoughts and prepare his gear. But instead joined his comrades in their play. It was among them, exploring in a distant land that he truly felt he belonged. His laughter reverberated in the cold night sky.

At last the moment came. The spirit's shoulders did not even feel the exertion as he lifted his weapon. His hand stroked the length of the chain. Each of the vast links, twice as large as a man's fist, was etched with symbols of lore: the Creator spirits, the world. And each carried a blade so that when linked they formed not only a story but a solid wall of interlocking razors. As each link fed through his palm, he gripped it and felt the blades shearing over his flesh.

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