EXPANSE: The City V3 (Fantasy Epic) - Main Thread

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So it begins...

The world's conflict is escalating, the many districts are starting to conflict one another and the ruling class of Middle Section, the Nobles, have been gripping the life out of the Middle Section for years now. Mages and Regulars view each other as enemies and the Mage Hunters have begun to strike Mages and those who support them.

It's been over six-hundred years since the Second City War and if things continue as they're... A third war is on the horizon. But how it shall begin... Only time shall be the writer.

Today will be the first step into oblivion.

LOREL ION

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - Ion Estate - 8:30 AM

The sky was dullish grey and clouds covering the sun. A slow and gentle rain blankets the district and the surrounding areas. During this time the streets of Upper were vacant however inside people were waking up and getting ready to do their daily activates or duties. Today was the same as every day, no significant events were planned. However something unplanned is to transpire.

Lorel Ion, a white haired boy, slowly opened his eyes. His ears were greeted to the sound of rain clamping across the window next to his bed. The little light that there was began to creep through the drapes over his window. Calmly the boy brought his himself up, pulling away his bed covers and then shifting around to get his legs to hang off the side of the bed.

Stretching his arms and yawning he stood up and off the bed and walked on the nice soft carpet of his room. Lorel looked at the clock hanging across from his bed on the brown wood wall. It read, 8:30 AM. School would begin in an hour. Firstly he would need a nice shower and breakfast. Opening up his drawers he pulled out a nice shirt and pants for school, he didn't care for the school "official" outfit. Felt it made using magic harder.

At the very bottom of the drawer he fetched his undergarments and a towel. Throwing the towel over his shoulder he left his room and headed down the hall to the bathroom. The halls were all sparkly clean with red carpets with gold outlines on the floor and stairs. Paintings and windows were on the walls. As he walked he bowed his head at the maids and butlers as he passed them.

Sometimes he found it hard to imagine that during the 2nd City War the Ion Estate had been used to plan Middle Sections operations and the founding place of the Nobles. He learned much of that in school and it always felt like a museum after learning of the Estate's history. Although many additions and changes had been made in the over six-hundred years since the war. In school he learned in great details of the exploits of the original Nobles, Ofila Ion, Nison Foel, Yuhan In'fal, Rouge Jomna, Gatsu Jalik, and most famous of all Kenoshi Kadash who was the main backer of the Nobles.

Originally there was only the six Nobles but over the years they added two more slots with Esral Himha and Lux Telimina. Although the Kadash family was replaced only a short ten years after the original Nobles by the Kata's.

Removing the thoughts from his head, Lorel eventually reached the bathroom, stripped and took a shower quickly and efficiently. After he was done he got dressed and left the bathroom. Going back to his room he grabbed his traveler's bag. Making sure he had all the right books he closed the bag and placed the strap over his shoulder and left his room once more.
Going downstairs he headed towards the dining room where he would quickly eat as the time was now 9:02. The dining room was small but was connected to the kitchen. It had marble flooring a large circle table in the middle of the room. Nearby it had large glass doors which lead to the garden. At the table his father, Hongi Ion, sat with a cup of coffee and newspaper. Newspaper was a still a new commodity in the city and hadn't been fully expanded out to all the districts.

Like Lorel, his father had white hair and black eyes. When his mother walked into the dining room, she greeted Lorel, "Va hanu est Lorel van t'al? <How are you doing Lorel?>"

Lorel turned to his mother, Kina Ion, unlike himself or his father she had long brown hair. However like all Ion children the gene for white hair surpassed that of any other and so did their black eyes. Although both his mother and father both had black eyes in this case so it didn't matter much.

The boy just shook his head, "Mother speak English please."

Kina pouted, "Lorel, honey, you really should learn Old Nakam." She spoke with a heavy accent that many had when speaking English. Lorel had no accent when speaking English however many of his friends did. English had just gained popularity and wide-spread usage in the last ten years and so was a very new language.

Since there were many languages in the City, English was now being used as a border language to connect many of the communities. However many of the older languages were still in usage. Lorel didn't have an accent when speaking because while his parents tried to teach him Old Nakam which was heavily used in Upper District, he found English easier to read and write and so grew up using it ninety-nine percent of the time.

In fact he found it hard to even understand Old Nakam or any other language for that mattered. His friends would on occasion use this to tease him or speak amongst themselves.

"Sorry Mother, I find English preferable," he stated as he went over to the bar that separate the dining room from the kitchen. It was almost like a restaurant as he would order food over the bar and they would bring it to the bar.

"Lorel," his father spoke in his deeper voice and not placing the newspaper down, "listen to your mother."

Lorel just sighed as he ordered a simple breakfast of scramble eggs. Soon enough the plate of food arrived and the boy dug in. Finishing it up quickly; he dropped down from the high chair of the bar and thanked the cooks. "I will be going to academy now," he stated as he passed by his parents at the table with their own meals.

Both of them smiled at their son, "have a great day Lorel," his father stated.
"We love you," his mother also replied with.

Lorel smiled and left the room, after a short walk he arrived at the entrance. Before he left he pulled out his umbrella that he had took in his room. Expanding the umbrella he left. Exiting the house he went down some steps and walked on cobble ground he wasn't off of the estate yet. Water flowed on the sides and various tree's and plant fences were scattered around. On the cobble path lamp posts littered the sides.

Rain pounded against the umbrella but it was enough to shield him. Luckily the rain was coming down straight and so he didn't have to place it in any other directions. Not much wind to speak of either. Arriving at the gate he opened it and across the cobble street he saw a female with her own umbrella. Unlike him she was wearing the school uniform. It was a white robe that had a hood, with a dark blue line going down the middle and then expanding near the feet. The arms are long and get very large near the hands. You could even wrap up your arms by placing one arm down the others sleeves.

The girl had light blue hair and pale skin. Her eyes were closed and her head titled downwards. He smiled as he walked up to her, "Malina, you waiting for me?"

She suddenly jerked her head up and shot open her eyes which revealed to be a striking dark red, only person he knew aside from her family that had them. Malina breathed heavily, "Oh, sorry I guess I dozed off waiting." Like his parents she too had an accent when speaking English, a native Old Nakam speaker.

Lorel smiled, "you were always a weird one, how long were you waiting?"

"Been here since eight thirty. What time is it now?"

He thought back to what the clock said when he was inside the estate, "Nine ten the last time I checked..."

Her eyes widened at the answer, "Nine Ten!? We need to hurry!"

"Off to the academy we go then," Lorel stated as they turned and began to sprint down the cobble rode.

Characters P1

Characters P2

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District Outskirts 8:40 AM

It was just another day in the Middle. The skies gray, a light drizzle, little more than a wet fog actually. A perfect day in Nat's mind. Currently inside a bar with the walls covered with photos of City "celebrities" that had stopped in, signatures accompanying them. The raucous crowd surrounded a table wherein a man known only as Bruce and Natalie Starling sat staring at each other, hands locked and arms struggling for supremacy. Bruce was a giant of a man, shoulders broad and tall, hair a very healthy shade of red, and a beard that thankfully covered the majority of his face, otherwise his physical opposite, Nat, would barely have had the stomach to keep her eyes locked with his. He was a nice specimen of a man, but his face was something out of a nightmare, nose bulbous and the size of her foot about, a single wart protruding from the left side. And the skin of his face was a tribute to dirt, an altar to dead skin flakes. If it weren't for the money being bet around the place, that continued to be bet, she'd have finished with Bruce minutes ago.

A few minutes later, Bruce and Nat still struggling against each other's strength, the money flow slowed to a crawl, at which point she began actually committing her full strength against Bruce, whose eyes widened slightly, but he too committed his full strength, pitiful as it was compared to Nat's. Slowly his arm dropped closer and closer to the tabletop, thought Nat allowed him to keep a modicum of pride by not slamming it against the wood. The bar quieted and waited with baited breath as the contest of strength came to a close. Again the crowd went into an uproar as it ended with Nat the victor. She collected her winnings and jerked to the front as a woman beneath a woolen cloak exited the front of the building. She smiled, her main target was leaving now, good. The money was good, but her real pleasure was the ending of the hunt.

She slipped out the back into the damp cold before climbing the building to the roof and jumped to a nearby rooftop, watching the woman strafe through back alleys, attempting to throw off her pursuers. A pity she was such a novice at this. As the mage walked by a wooden pallet settled against the side of a brick building, the front advertising to be a restaurant of some repute, a knife spun out of the air, catching her hood, slicing her face as it passed. Nat followed quickly, throwing another knife into her breast, piercing a lung. As she stood there hoping for air that would never come, as blood filled her ribcage and her gasping sprayed a thin red mist into the already wet air. A third knife followed, pinning yet another appendage, this one a hand she had attempted to raise against Nat, no doubt to throw fire, lightning, or even water at her murderer. The fox smirked at her prey, the fear and pleading in her eyes may as well have been an individual itself, unfortunately for her, eyes glinting with glee and sadism stared back.

Natalie moved to the mage's ear, and whispered,"Greeting from the Mage Hunters society. You have been judged, and found guilty,"She shoved her dagger into the girl's heart,"And your execution has been overdue long enough, bitch."

Now that her work was done, the rest was to clean up. First was cleaning her weapons, which she did by wiping them off on the mage's cloak. Finally was losing the body, which she did by unceremoniously rolling her behind the pallet that had been her execution rack. She would be found soon enough. Nat tucked her hand into her jacket, and grasped her medallion, no longer pulsating with warmth with the death of the mage.

Now was time to disappear into the City, where her next target hid from the wrath of the Mage Hunters.

MARCUS TARSEN

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - Lakeside Inn - 9:00 AM

Marcus sat on a covered balcony sipping hot tea and watching the rain pour down onto the tribute to narcissism that was Lake Foel. He sighed loudly as he set the steaming cup on a nearby table, the rain dampening his already dour mood. His original job was to be so simple: arrange for some goods from the Middle Markets to be moved into the Upper District, and escort the shipment. It was easy enough, all he really had to do was procure a carriage, which Trinkets and Gold had plenty of.

However, upon arriving at the good's destination, he found a message waiting for him. Apparently, someone had forgotten that several important, and lucrative, trading contracts between his faction and several Elites and Nobles were about to expire. Somehow, at the time this came to light, somebody remembered Marcus' talent for negotiation, and knew that he was already in Upper District. So, here he was, tasked with getting the contracts renewed in only a week's time. While Marcus didn't doubt his ability to complete the job, he still detested the what he had to do. The upper crust were always a pain to deal with, even the spoiled ones who didn't even read the contract before signing it. They all seemed to place too much value in their wealth, complacent that the money would always be there and that they barely had to lift a finger to maintain it. The only thing that gave Marcus the strength to stand them was the commission he was paid for securing the deals, which was more than enough by itself to keep him afloat for years.

As he mind returned to the here and now, Marcus noticed his cup was empty, having been drinking absentmindedly as he lamented his current state. After taking a parting glance as the churning lake, Marcus retreated to his room to prepare for the day.

He stripped off the simple clothes he wore for the night and dressed himself with his business suit, which he was lucky enough to bring with him when he left to come to the Upper District. The finely woven, black-dyed jacket and pants were tailor-made, and the linen shirt underneath contrasted beautifully with the rest of the ensemble. The suit had been a gift from Marcus' adoptive parents when he became a true member of Trinkets and Gold, just a couple of years ago. Even now, the suit remains in good condition, Marcus sparing little expense at its maintenance.

Now dressed for his day of long waits for an audience and even longer negotiations, Marcus locked his possessions, save an umbrella, in a chest in his room and ventured out of the Lakeside inn into the wet streets of the Upper District.

ALEISTER CRAWFORD

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - Crawford Middle Residence - 9:00 AM

Aleister sat within his study, watching the rain fall whilst reading a book about a romance which revolved around a circus which only appeared at night, with its occupants wearing shades of black or white. A steaming cup of tea brought in by his butler and familiar Sebastian was half empty. He looked at the clock on the wall, and saw the time, realizing that he'd have to leave for the Academy soon. Quickly he finished the tea, and returned the dark red book to its place on the shelf with a note numbering the page on his desk. Aleister turned to his familiar, seeing the violet aura that surrounded Sebastian, hinting at his origins.

"We shall be leaving for the Academy now Sebastian, lessons will be starting soon, and we do not wish to be late."

"Of course sir, though I will advise wearing a coat." Sebastian said as he removed an umbrella from a nearby stand. They soon left the house and looked upon the streets, very few people were out on the streets, and what few people there were had umbrellas.

"I sense a storm approaching Sebastian, and not one of the meteorological kind."

"You sure about that sir? Or is it just the paranoia of S.I.N?" Sebastian asked with a definite smirk as he put up the umbrella and the pair began to walk along the rain slicked streets.

"It is not paranoia if I know its going to happen. There is change in the works, and not necessarily for betterment of mankind. Lives ruined, a family on the brink of desolation, all such things are possible in a city such as this, its just a matter of perspective and scale."

"Of course sir, just exercising caution is all, being your butler I am concerned for your safety and well-being. Although with that sword you carry around, a question of safety may not be needed."

"I appreciate the concern Sebastian." Was all Aleister said as they continued to walk. It was roughly a quarter hour later when the master and butler came across a familiar sight of a white haired boy walking along a cobblestone road with another person alongside him.

"Ah Lorel, a good morning to you. Lovely weather isn't it?" Aleister asked sarcastically.

LOREL ION

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - Transit - 9:15 AM

Lorel and Malina stopped as they were greeted by another man with his butler, "Aleister and Sebastian, a good morning you to. Lovely weather if you like the rain, I assume you're too heading the Academy? Specifically the Mage side?"

Temple of the pantheon, North section, early in the morning
Top of the world.

You'd think midnight would be dark but the lunar luminescence lit the sky with a bone white smile.
Fran stood above it all, the temple roof was the finest limestone gleaming with the mirrored moon.
The air was still, frozen in time or asleep like the slumbering city beneath it.

There was even a little snow. It all melted at street level but up here this high, the frost gathered.
The Vessel approached the edge. Hundreds of metres below her the remnants of a least fifty festivals lay street-strewn. There was light. Brilliant shades of everything from gold to green to blazing fire. It could be days until the last of the afterglow was gone. The echoes of music, diverse as it was lasting, even drifted up her perch.

She loved it. The vibrant sense of life, a heartbeat made of spice and music and art and faith pulses through the districts. So much life from the back alleys and slums to the mountainous temples.
Here was warm, even when it was freezing; here was vibrant, even in the dead dark of night; and here was home even when she was drifting from place to place.

Sometimes she still drowned in the dissonance between now and then. It hadn't been a year since she'd left the mages but her magical college already felt far away and buried deep in the past. Good riddance. The tight quarters, stuffy to the point of choking her, still weren't distant enough a memory.

Balance faltered for a second. She barely caught herself before falling to her death. Best step away from the edge.
Her head sweeps across the skyline, roof tops stretching every direction into the horizon, broken briefly by brilliant blue water.

Behind her there was a clattering sound and panting, she turned.
Three of them, champions of the tempest. Their heavy armour can't have been climbing conducive.
The day had been long, parties going back three sunrises. Sure, there had been food and music, but it wasn't all relaxation. There was medicine to practice; Fran was still new to it. The stress couldn't be good for her. She'd not expected nearly as many close calls. Not being prepared for when one of her patients didn't make it. Then again the time for planning and expectations were long past.

There was something stirring inside her. Dragon was a word a child or someone scared might use to describe it. It had been dormant, or maybe biding was better, but now in the wake of the celebrations, after the alcohol, it was waking.
Fran took one last look, breathing deep, primitively, trying to give the memories flavour.

The Vessel turned around to see the men, the dragon within now without so to speak. The three had time to catch their breath. Fran saw champions, faces she was sure she recognised from the party. The Vessel saw lives, three points of energy distinct but indistinguishable from each other. The dragon saw simply prey.

The Vessel clicked her fingers. There was a resounding snap as one of the champions fell forward, their legs cracking in an instant. That felt good. Tension, too long tugging at her, was released in one swift subconscious motion. The relief was almost as shocking as the explosion. But that wasn't all. Just a taste. The energy dragon was a massive complicated thing and not so easily dealt with. Fran had helped a lot of people and one broken leg wasn't going to dispel it all.
The other two champions either didn't notice or didn't care when their ally collapsed. The second of the three, looking like an utter twat in those robes and that hat could only have been a wizard, approached her.

True to the lack of fashion sense he sent a jet of fire towards the Vessel barely missing (probably burning her hair just a little in the process). She dodged the second shot but this one left her off her feet. Maybe the roll was a bit much.

The mage stood over her, his foot pressed on her chest.
"No more magic." His two hands aglow with arcane flames snaking between them.
"Magic, what magic?" Fran had a strangely innocent look about her, like she'd never even heard of spells.
"Well then what do you call what you do?"

There was a burst of smoke, caustic and cutting. The mage standing over Fran stumbles, coughing and most importantly releasing the pressure on Fran's chest. And with that Fran gets to her feet. From a hand the mage probably should have checked, a now empty vial drops. Stepping out of the cloud, Fran speaks. "Chemistry."

Now there was a man who couldn't handle his halogens. The concentration was too low to be deadly but if you'd not had time to expect it (which the mage clearly hadn't) then it could knock you off your feet for a while.
Two down one to-

There's impact and she feels herself knocked off her feet. She falls, or rather is shoved, off the edge, only by luck landing a few metres below and still intact. Having taken a serious hit, several breaks and concussion, she tries to stand now on the rooftop a story or two down. The third and final champion follows her down far more gracefully.
Standing (or rather attempting to) is all agony. She can't see straight and her thoughts are even more shaken. The champion speaks but his voice is miles away. She's not got much consciousness left, and not much life if the gleam in the champions hand is anything to go by.

But she's not afraid. The dragon and the Vessel keep her from faltering there's a weird fatalism about it. With them in control she is allowed to detach herself somewhat from the world. A sort of freedom.

The pain is secondary. The bleeding inside and out hardly even worth noting. Half a good leg is all she needs for one charge. All she need to send the last champion falling down to the streets below. The fall isn't one fine motion, rather punctuated with many stops and starts. Alive or dead on the final impact; it wasn't quick.

And then inside Fran there's the flood again. The energy rushing to fill the void to reset the balance from what she just did. The healing energy overwhelmed her, she barely even had time to tell if she needed mending. The fall was undone in an instant. She stood, not a scratch anywhere on her skin and the pain that had seconds before been unimaginable was now beyond her memory. She was fine; because someone else wasn't.
There was a scrap of cloth where her late assailant once stood.
She looks down at it.

The bird and the Bull.

SVETLANA POLZIN

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Middle Markets - 9:21 AM

Strolling through the markets through the drizzle always brought memories of the old times for Sveta, but this time it was just unsettling. People embed and flowed, reflecting the current state of the district. All eyes were on the Middle, on the nobles and people here moved in and out of sight in a blur. But with every mother and child pair she saw herself, with every trader she saw hints of Vlasi's go-getter attitude in their faces. However, worst of all, she saw Aksinya and Kseniya in every young girl there. Soon a drop of rain found landed in her good eye and the memories were washed away. She spat out a glob of brown and continued her walk, quickly steering to the left as one trader shook the awning to clear the accumulation of rainwater. She muttered a quick morning greeting to the man and walked on. 'He has to be here somewhere,' Sveta thought.

She gnawed on the pipe, cursing herself for not spotting it sooner. Sveta was getting on in years, that was certain, but she was certain that she wasn't going blind just yet. But expecting someone to spot the glint of another steel badge in a the crowded markets on a particularity gray day like today, that was just about pushing it. Sveta took a drag on the pipe and keep herself from grumbling out loud. She wouldn't do that, not yet. What was the point in complaining when no one important is around anyway? None. She shuffled through the endless stream of people to the other side of the street. And there he was, another person from the rough parts of The City to be sure. Another person angry at the greed of those in the Upper District. Another person who wore the steel badge. And according to rumor, someone who had encountered a young pair of mages being smuggled around.

She hoped to heaven that it was her great-grandchildren and wasted no time initiating an conversation with the man, "Caradoc Aristide, word spreads fast."

The man sighed and continued to pick his nails with a dagger, "So it does. Pay enough and even the Steel Hearts will chase after children it seems. I've no time for you, old woman go bother someone else."

The remark only caused an eyebrow to be raised. Sveta continued on in her best 'old fogey' voice, "This weather... No wonder you are in damp spirits."

Caradoc's eyes narrowed, "Do not test me, old woman. If you want to know, I've seen nought of your lil' pups. There, now go."

She gave a polite bow and smiled in return, "Thank you dearie, for helping an ol' worn woman like meself."

Her sour demeanor quickly returned as soon as she was out of sight. There was no doubt about it. The man was hiding something. Had the Mages Hunter threatened or bribed him, or was he just a selfish sourpuss? Were those remarks a pitiful attempt at covering it up or just the rambling of someone who was definitely not a morning person? Sveta had to make sure. She blended into the crowd and began to watch him from afar. The lout had finished with his precious nails and now was taking advantage of the break in the seemingly continuous drizzle after brushing those dirty hands on his tunic and placing that dagger back in its scabbard. She kept herself at least three people behind Caradoc, following people was a matter of being cautious and slow, like a tortoise. Nevertheless the hare was being crafty, zipping in and out of the crowd like a child running in and out of a stream. However, Sveta's eyes didn't fail her this time and from the look of it, he was heading out of the markets, where the concentration of people was more sparse.

'Throwing the fight already?' She mentally remarked with a smile.

ALEISTER CRAWFORD

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - Streets (Outside Ion Estate) - 9:15 AM

"Aleister and Sebastian, a good morning you to. Lovely weather if you like the rain, I assume you're too heading the Academy? Specifically the Mage side?"

"Indeed we are Lorel. Of course after the lessons are over, we'll be staying to watch the Mage Tournament. From what I've overheard from the other teachers, there is going to be a real display of talent on offer, and many young hopefuls. Are you two going to be staying to watch as well, or do you have a busy schedule?" Aleister asked before noticing the young lady that was beside Lorel.

"And a good morning to you as well Miss Malina."

LOREL ION

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - En transit - 9:17 AM

"I don't have anything planned. How about you Malina?" he turned and faced his pale friend.

Malina nodded her head, "I can go. Both academies get off class early for the tournament today."

Unlike Lorel, Malina wasn't a Mage and so attended the Regular Academy right next door to the Mages Academy. They were some of the largest buildings in Upper District. They housed Mages and Regulars from all over and had many dorms. Lots of stone towers were erected all around which the dorms and offices were located.

Thinking about the time Lorel panicked, "We need to go NOW. Almost time for class."

Malina agreed, "Aleister," Lorel began, "we will see you at the Academy!" he stated before running off to the Academy with Malina. As they got closer they saw more students running alongside them to catch the gate before it closed.

Malina yelled out to him as they ran, "You know they will get angry at you for not wearing your uniform. Again."

Lorel smirked, "I can handle it."

They reached the gate and it was still open. As they stepped inside the large school grounds they saw a large hand clock above the entrance. It read 9:26 AM. They had four minutes to split and go to their first class. Lorel and Malina waved at each other and then turned and left.

ALEISTER CRAWFORD

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - Streets (Outside Ion Estate) - 9:17 AM

Aleister watched both Lorel and Malina run off after saying that they would be attending the tournament. He then looked at the pocket watch which was sitting in the front pocket of his coat, seeing that the time was almost twenty past nine.

"We best get moving. Whilst my class doesn't start for roughly another half hour, pays to be early, gives us ample time to set up." Aleister remarked as he and Sebastian picked up the pace a little to make sure they arrived at the academy on time.

Mage Academy - 9:28 AM

Roughly ten minutes later he arrived and saw students still coming behind him through the large gates. Making sure he looked respectable, Aleister proceeded to head inside the large hall of the Mage Academy and towards the area dedicated to Shadow Magic. He was greeted by both teachers and students alike with a simple 'Good Morning' or some variation of the phrase.

Arriving at his classroom, he went over to his desk and saw a small pile of documents resting atop of it. Briefly looking through them he saw that it was mostly requisition orders from the Academy regarding a shipment of reagents to be delivered some time in the next few days, along with a letter formally inviting him to the tournament that was happening later today. He thought such an invitation to be pointless, since the event had been advertised for the last fortnight, but he'd guess the staff thought it better to be safe than sorry. Aleister quickly signed the document and handed it to Sebastian.

"See this gets delivered Sebastian. Also would you pour me a cup of coffee please, I'll need it to sort through these other documents."

"I shall see to that right away sir." Sebastian remarked in a rather dulcet tone, hanging up Aleister's and his own coat, before heading off to make the coffee. Aleister soon sat at his desk and began sorting through the letters.

SCARLETT WINTER

April 18, 6267 - Middle Section - Underneath Kinsdok

She surfaced in the underground channel, close to the dock, and inhaled, the aching in her lungs diminishing. The cold had numbed her skin and she could no longer feel the bite. For that Scarlett Winter was glad. She reached a hand out to the rotting wood of the dock and wiped the water from her nose, adjusting to the light of a torch.

It danced around the crumbling brickwork, holding back the dark that lingered in the twisting labyrinth. The channels had once been used to send meltwater from the mountains, to districts all across the city, like veins running under the skin of a giant creature. They remained forgotten now, the highways of criminals, with some collapsed through age.

Scarlett could feel her muscles cramping and before she could climb the dock, Tear surfaced. She coughed out water and took several deep breaths, pushing back the purple hair that clung to her face. She smiled at Scarlett but looked unsettled by the swim. The torch moved closer to shine light on the two girls and for a brief second Scarlett was gripped by panic, an icy fist tightening inside. She winced at the light, shielding her eyes, blinking away the bright splodges that crowded her vision.

'Good. Your both here.' Sera remarked without a trace of emotion. Scarlett allowed the panic to melt inside at the recognition of her masters voice, she knew Sera had come first but that had been no guarantee she would be the one waiting for them. Sera dropped the torch into the iron holder on the wall and turned to regard her apprentices briefly. 'What are you waiting for?'

Scarlett climbed the dock, her arms shaking at the task, the wood cried under the added weight and for a second she thought the entire structure might collapse. When she stood before Sera, shivering in the gaping mouth of a wide, arched tunnel. Scarlett wrapped her arms around her waist and waited as Tear climbed. The brickwork was covered in purple moss and she imagined the tunnel to be the gut of some enormous creature leading them further into the unknown.

Sera walked the girls into the tunnel and in the vanishing light Scarlett could see storage rooms on each side, with thick iron doors too rusted to be shut. She wondered what might be inside, but with the look of decay that carried around the place , there was likely to be nothing. Scarlett almost walked into the back of Sera when her thoughts returned to the job, she had stopped suddenly and raised her hand to demand silence, listening to the sound that carried faintly on the draft. It grew louder and louder and Scarlett could feel her stomach turning at the realization. She turned to catch the sight of Tear and the same thought mirrored in her face. Footsteps.

Sera pointed out a room for each of them to hide in, they all slipped through the gap in the doors to shelter in the dark. Pressing themselves against the wall and ignoring the standing water seeping into their boots. Scarlett concentrated on listening. It was clear that two people approached, walking and talking without a care in the world, but wearing some kind of heavy plate armor from the sound of metal clinking. Scarlett cursed inside her head and slipped a hand down to the knife at her waist.

'So the old man knew?'

'Yeah. Don't ask how.'

'Cut him open alive for the dogs to eat.'

Something seemed familiar about that detail but Scarlett had no time to think, she pushed aside the thought and inched towards the door. The tunnel had been their escape route and it needed to be clear. Scarlett leapt out of the room like a cat pouncing on prey, sinking her knife between the gap in the neck and chest plate of the first guard. Blood oozed out and split like wine across her hand, warm to the touch. The guards mouth twisted into a wordless scream and he collapsed to the floor with a mighty crash. The second guard stumbled over the corpse in a quick attempt to lunge at Scarlett with a short sword, but failed as she darted back and drew her blade into a defensive posture. She watched the venom build in the mans cold green eyes and waited.

'You'll pay for that.'

Scarlett pivoted and charged for the end of tunnel. She could hear the call of the guard behind her but chose to ignore the insults rolling from his tongue. She burst out onto the dock and turned with enough time to sidestep the charging guard, allowing his momentum to carry him to the edge of the dock. He swung around with his sword and missed Scarlett's neck by an inch, but before he could strike again he heard the loud crack and realized his mistake.

Telnor Ghests

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District- 9:30 AM

Telnor was in a miserable mood. The fat Mage that he had been hired to guard was always complaining, in his dry carriage. From the bumps on the road to the sound the rain made on the roof, everything was open season. It drove Telnor up the wall. If it wasn't for the fact that he was being paid a large sack of gold, there would have been no way he would have accepted this job.

The rain didn't help either. The drizzle was the worst. Instead of quickly being soaked, his clothes were slowly drenched. The slowness of the rain made Telnor feel colder than he should been feeling. Wet, cold and tired, Telnor was of half a mind to just let the first assassins or common mugger have their way with their charge. Looking at the three other mercenaries hired to be guards, he could guess that they were of a similar mind.

Their charge was some mage at the Academy, a school for rich kids and their families, a place that Telnor would have avoided like the plague. Kids of important rich people were often self-entitled and felt that they could have whatever they wanted. That didn't sit well with Telnor, and run ins with rich kids had led him to his current situation. A poor traveller scrapping by, not that he hadn't lived that way for most of his life.

Approaching the Academy, Telnor saw posters everywhere about some mage Tournament later that day. He had been seeing them for the past week, ever since he was hired to guard the mage. He had gotten tired of them after the first hour of seeing them.

As they reached the Mage's building, all the guards were glad to let a sigh of relief as soon as the mage disappeared into his office. The academy had their own guards so all the mercenaries had to was stay in ear shot in case their charge wanted something or had to quickly leave. The four of them all sat down in nearby chairs, waiting for the moment when they were needed again.

MARCUS TARSEN

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - The In'fal Estate - 12:00 PM

The continuous mist outside continued to fall as Marcus stared on from a window within the Noble's estate. He arrived not long after he left the Lakeside, probably not even killing a half hour in transit. However, once he got here, he found himself bombarded with questions about the reasons for his visit from anyone's path he seemed to cross. Eventually, he found himself placed in what looked like to be a standard meeting room.

It lacked much decor, but what little the room had showed, with great splendor, what wealth the Nobles had at their disposal. The tasseled curtains must have been of a fine velvet, and tempted those with lesser wills to stroke them. The chair Marcus sat on was a product of fine craftsmanship, coated in a varnish that reflected the light in the room like a mirror. The table was the same, with an etching of what must have been the history of the In'fal family surrounding the edges.

As Marcus watched the ground of the estate grow damp in the rain, the sudden sound of a latch opening forced him to attention. He snapped out of his chair and prepared to greet the Noble who would come out, only to be surprised to find a butler entering instead. "My apologies for the wait." The butler halfheartedly spoke as he crossed the room and weakly shook Marcus' outstretched hand.

"Oh, it's quite all right, I know I came on short notice." Marcus was still a bit in shock as he sat down, unaware the prospect of dealing with a Noble would make him so nervous. "So, when can I expect to see Lord In'fal? I'm afraid these negotiations can't wait for much longer."

The butler looked confused at Marcus' question, as if he hadn't even fathomed the idea that the trader would want to talk to the person he maintained a trading contract with. "Oh, I'm sorry, you mustn't be the regular contact. Lord In'fal is too busy with his day-to-day affairs to put aside time for simple contract negotiations. He leaves that to his aides, invested with his prior approval. Ahhh..." The butler nodded as he began to connect the dots. "...that must be why to came to the estate, we usually do not conduct such business here."

"Then where do-?" Marcus cut himself off as he realized he was getting away from the point, shaking his head slightly before reaching to pull some documents from a binder. No point in questioning their ways, I have more important things to do. Setting the papers on the table, he sorted them out for the butler to see. "Well anyway, I guess we can get to the issue at hand. As you are probably aware, the contracts we have regarding our obtaining of your ordered wares need to be renewed before we can continue to supply the In'fal estate."

The butler nodded as he raised a pair of spectacles to look at the papers. "Yes, I see, a varying monthly payment dependent on the amount of goods requested and delivered."

"Yes, with a base fee added to compensate for traveling costs."

"Traveling costs?"

"Well, the goods need to moved from one district to another, sometimes across regions. For example, the spices you usually order come from the South, and there needs to be compensation for the effort required to acquire said spices and get them here. The costs could be for a number of things, the acquisition, carriage maintenance, protection, etc."

"Ah, yes, I see that here." The butler pointed to a specific item on one of the documents, a fee for protection services. "From what I see here, the protection fee has risen three times over the past two years. Why is that?"

Marcus looked at the document specified and thought for a moment before answering. "There have been recent attacks on our shipments that have to move through the poorer districts, desperate characters and whatnot. It was probably calculated that the increased price of protection was lower than the price of circumventing these districts. We try our best to keep our prices low for continued business, but sometimes, raises are a necessity due to changing conditions."

The butler nodded and continued to look over the documents presented to him, perusing each one for details to question. With nothing to do but answer the odd question about a supposedly errant fee, Marcus sank into his chair. The disclosure clauses always stop these things dead, and of course the butler isn't going to loosen the strings on his master's purse. With a heavy sigh, he glanced out the window to the grey outside. This isn't going to end anytime soon.

OLEANDER GUBBINS

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - The Middle District - The Dragon's Tooth - 9am

"Ugh..." Slouched over the bar top was the lone mercenary; it had probably been a night to remember, however judging from the pounding in his head he would not. Trying to raise himself from the rather uncomfortable position he was in, a wave of nausea and stiffness passed over him, next time he would remember to drag himself up to his bed before sleeping. Collapsing back down over the bar top he reached down towards where the liquor was kept, the pub was still empty at this time in the morning, bar the people who were actually supposed to be there, they wouldn't notice if a few drops were missing from a bottle and if anything was going to rouse him from the vile stupor he was in it would be the good ol' hair of the dog.

"GUBBINS!" Or it would be that.

Sighing he turned to face the men who had so rudely awakened him. A fat man, a thin man and a middle-ish man with a gammy leg burst into the pub. From the look on their faces they really probably weren't there to buy him or themselves a drink, but this was a new low for the Stains, or perhaps they were just separating the wheat from the chaff with this exercises. Or the were just some low lifes who thought they might take a smack at taking him down. Thinking about they looked more suited to being in a comedy troupe then a band of assassins.

Too irate and too tired to wear his signature smile he kept his head glued to the counter, at least then they couldn't accuse him of being impolite "Could you do this sometimes else? I'm really not in the mood right now" He said the group in a polite tone."

A chorus of laughter, chuckles and snorts were their reply, they were really starting to grate on his nerves.

"And why would we do that?" Who he imagined the fat one replied, he sounded like the snorter too, "You'll be long gone gone if you do and so would the gold we've been promised,"

"Well you have a fair point, why don't you pay me to stay here then," He retorted back.

That seemed to earn him the ire of the group, that and more laughter and even a chortle. That was the last straw, he had tried to be civil, tried to be reason with the louts, but no, that wasn't enough. Shame he left his sword in the apartment he was staying at, even more so that he would have to waste good liqueur. So much for hair of the dog. He grasped the bottle and flung towards the fat man, alcohol splashed over the side of his face but the main impact was the doorpost.

"I missed..." He slumped over the bar again and reached for another bottle, but once he had raised his head the troupe had left. "Huh?" They had more wits then he had expected. Well at least now he would finally get his morning drink.

"Not so fast Oleander, we've got another job for you. Smarten up and meet us back here at noon" Said the mage hunter that employed him, so much for that drink.

Sighing he pulled himself off the counter and the stool and lurched out into the Middle District.

Upper district- Early O' Clock (9:30ish)

It felt strange being back here, her mind had magnified the almost year into what felt like several. Fran never liked the journey. It started well with the trek through the mountains, the altitude gave her time to think, let her breathe. It put the city in perspective, but it was downhill from there. The borders were probably where it really started to go to hell.

Down you climbed and as you did it got hotter and hotter. The climate always took her by surprise, even if she'd had almost two decades of practice dealing with it. Fran never remembered just how different it was down in the middle section.

It was raining, but to be honest Fran hardly noticed. Her mind was elsewhere, making the most of memories of home before she had to break her illusions.

Shame she even had to leave. She loved the temple district (even if she couldn't remember it's exact name). For one there was a festival every other week and she had, until recently, a good reputation there.

Ah yes, that's the reason she wasn't still running across the rooftops of a beautiful district, training to be a doctor by day and living out a hero fantasy by night. There had been an incident. She had been attacked and so defended herself. Now that would normally have been perfectly legal. It's just she was very good at defending herself. At first her guilt was genuine enough, she regretted that one of her attackers would never walk again (bastard should feel lucky he's still breathing) and had even descended down to the streets below to try and help.

Of course the boy had to be the son of some rich arses, who were not only able to completely remove any connection between their boy and the champions of the tempest, but also bring the full legal power of having lots of money down on Fran.

The problem was simple; self-defence is a hard plea to plea when you don't have a scratch on you. Never mind that he pushed her first, never mind that it was three on one, never mind the fact he was until recently a card carrying champion. Fran was fine and that was all the guards and lawyers needed to convict her.
Of course convict is one thing but catch is another entirely. Fran was an experienced runner away-er and had learnt a thing or two from Julie.

Which brings us neatly back to the present.
The inn in front of her was one she remembered older students at the academy talking about from time to time. It's main qualities were two in-expense and in-invasiveness.

She travelled light; the clothes on her back, a satchel bag containing her note book, the tools her trade, the odd religious symbol and a few basic supplies. Her bow was miles and miles away at home. She hadn't used the thing in too long but getting it back would have required parents whom she no longer on speaking terms with (hardly news at this point).

She sees the inn and goes in.

"Aj hes fre lesres kulffcais pur gurdrais"

"Sorry what." Right the other thing she never liked about travel.

"I'd like a room please."

"Ah yes, travelled far?"

"Far enough to need a room."

"Right this way."

"Thanks you...

Scraffe." That last part was under her breath.

SVETLANA POLZIN

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Middle Markets - Outskirts 9:47 AM

She was wrong. From the look of it, Caradoc had expected her to follow him, as he now stood with a group of Steel Hearts who were just breaking their fast in what remained of the morn. Now he wasn't the simple lad picking his nails with an instrument of murder, now he was a Steel Heart - strong and proud. You would have thought in her all years, Sveta had made every mistake there was. But no, she still had time to learn from the many mistakes she would make in the future. Sveta smiled at this thought and walked over to the group. Now that she was closer, she could see one was nursing a nasty gash in the arm. The whole City was buzzing, as it would on the eve of change. Nevertheless, this was a reminder that the change would not come cleanly, but be paid for with blood. She sighed and turned to Caradoc, whose face immediately turned into a frown when she approached.

Caradoc held his head in his hands then wiped his brow, "I'll repeat what I said again: I've seen nought of your lil' pups."

She replied with, pointing the wounded gentlemen, "But you some fighting and maybe even got a taste of battle."

"Aye." Caradoc replied and gripped the handle of the dagger, "Now be off before I start one here."

Sveta would not have this, after a quick drag on the pipe she spat, "Yer hidin' something."

"The thing I am concealing from you is that I failed to save the lil' pups and they were brother and sister, one older than the other." He said with hints of shame.

"Aye..." She replied with hints of sadness, but perked right up and continued on, "It seems we have to apologise to each other then."

Caradoc released his grip from the dagger's handle and extended the hand to the old woman, "We should just part ways."

Sveta first dug into her purse before shaking the lout's hand and then palmed him some money. Not like she was short of it, "Okay dearie. Here, for your friend. Goodbye."

The old hag vanished before Caradoc got a chance to refuse the money. Well, he was happy to keep it as she was so keen on throwing away on a lowlife's arm and some mage younglings that were probably dead by now. Meanwhile, Sveta headed back to the Middle Markets, seeing the squad eat had made her hungry after all...

SCARLETT WINTER

April 18, 6267 - Middle Section - Underneath Kinsdok

The wood shattered with an ear-piercing crack. It splintered, the dock collapsing under the weight of the howling guard. Who dropped in a blur and hit the water with a loud splash. Immediately sinking beneath the floating debris, the weight of the iron plate holding him down like an anchor. Scarlett watched the thrashing blur and wondered if he might remain calm enough to cut himself free, but he had already spent long enough under the water to never surface again.

With a smile Scarlett turned to face Tear and Sera, who had emerged to see what had happened. Sera looked distinctly unimpressed. She returned to her trademark blank expression and began walking back down the tunnel. Running a hand along the left side of the wall. Scarlett and Tear followed in silence until they reached the bright entrance of a warehouse.

In the inviting light of the hanging lamps, the crates had been stacked high enough to touch the lofty ceiling. Obscuring the rusted iron crane. Along the left side of the room a high railing overlooked eight smaller, channels of water that ran for a short distance, side by side, until they vanished under the wall. Scarlett recognized the layout. A long time ago people had used this network to distribute stolen merchandise, allowing the contraband to float, unchallenged, beneath the feet of the district guards. To one of the eight outlets somewhere in the city.

The three women stepped inside and Sera opened the loose lid of the nearest crate, Scarlett and Tear peered over her shoulder at the sight of salted meat packed tight in the wood. The heat from the overhead lamps sending sweat running down their backs. Stolen food. Genuine, none of the replicated meat born from magic. Worth a fortune on the open market.

"Welcome!' An elderly but polite voice remarked. 'Seems like the rats have found the trap.' All three women spun at the sound of the iron door scraping shut behind them. The creaking gears laughing at their mistake. Sera wasted no time, she reached out and with her right hand touched the nearest crate. The magic rippled with a purple haze that wound between her fingers. A single spark jumped from her palm and ignited the wood.

'What...what are you doing?' The voice protested. But it had come too late, the fire had spread like a wild wind, washing across the stacks of crates in seconds. The flames licked high and singed the roof. Smoke billowed out but with nowhere to go came rushing back down to fill the room. 'What have you done!' The voice spoke, coughing on the smoke.

Scarlett jumped backwards, feeling the intensity of the heat, covering her mouth with her hand to stop the smoke from filling her lungs. The burning stacks came crashing down all around her and it would not be long before the entire room would be swept in flame. She took another step backwards, hitting the railing. Sera did not feel the heat, or the smoke, Scarlett guessed that came with the perks of fire mage training. Tear had vanished in the smoke.

Scarlett looked for guidance from Sera, but received only another blank look. Time seemed to slow as Sera moved towards her. Sinking the knife between her ribs. In confusion Scarlett burst into a scream, silenced by a coughing fit as smoke rushed into her mouth. Leaving behind the thick taste of ash.

'I'm sorry.' Sera whispered. 'But this is the way it has to be.'

Scarlett watched Sera pull the dagger from her chest and for a moment she swore that emotion flooded those bright blue eyes, right before she kicked her over the railing. The world spun and pain gripped her chest, squeezing tight at every labored breath. Scarlett had no time to wonder what had just occurred. She hit the icy water of the channel and sunk beneath the surface, the cold hit her like a thousand needles, prodding and poking her exposed skin. Scarlett clawed at the surface, illuminated by the fire, watching a trail of red blood snake it's way up before her.

The water took a hold and swept her down into darkness.

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Near the Dragon's Tooth 9:05 AM

Fresh from the hunt and kill, Natalie Starling walked down the wet streets with a smirk on her face. Some of the mage's blood had sprayed into her face, so she'd been forced to stop and wet her face from one of the many puddles littering the alleys. Unfortunately, she'd still caught some in her hair and that would take more than a few swipes with her wet sleeve to get rid of. But that didn't stop her from feeling the glorious emotion of elation, at another mage gone, at another bastard dead, and she'd made sure they wouldn't be getting back up anytime soon. She'd heard some of them could do that, but she'd only ever put down mages once, never more.

Turning onto the road holding one of her hangouts, she sped up a bit, no longer wanting to be out in the cold rain, she'd have plenty of time to do that when she went to sleep tonight, for now, she had a pocket full of Kiel from her arm-wrestling match earlier and she intended on spending at least half of it on a hot meal at the place. Passing a man at least a foot-and-a-half taller than her and with the slight foot drag she'd seen countless times in her life, she dug a coin out of her pocket and tossed it to him.

"Here buddy, have some on me,"She said, all smiles, as she grabbed for the amulet inside her coat, and after seeing that it didn't heat up, vibrate, or any of the things she'd had it do, continued,"It's payday and I'm starvin'."

10:00 Am: Open Arms in Upper district, Middle section.

Fran sat on her bed, well her temporary bed. It hadn't taken long to secure a room, they were cheap and Fran was a young blonde with a fair bit of coin on her so the process was smooth. She looked out the window, still raining.

She knew the skyline well; she'd spent a lot of her school days studying it during her lessons at the academy. The architecture was pretty bland, ugly even, very much not worth a sketch. There was a small desk she's laid out her stuff onto. It sure didn't look like a lot; the leather bound notebook brimming with extra pages, several vials filled with vaguely sinister things and the odd bits of technical equipment.

Her supplies appear to be running and according to the rumbling in her stomach she was hungry. The inn wouldn't be serving breakfast for another hour since most of its patronage were students who weren't up yet.

Part of her was willing to wait for food (the part too lazy to go and eat elsewhere). But boredom won out since she didn't think it was a good idea to start experimenting before she'd had some rest.

So she stepped out onto the streets the cool water falling from the sky reminded her of home so she made no attempt to stay dry. Her purse had a few Kiel in it enough for a big lunch or a good lunch but probably not both. Then again the Inn was on the borders with the middle district, chances are things would be much cheaper.

Moving between districts wasn't the easiest, there was a wall and the gates were graded. Flow through was small and slow so she needed to queue for a while.

When she eventually got to guard the guards stopped her.
"State your business." The guard was shorter than her but also significantly wider and better armed (which is to say armed at all).

"I'm training to be a doctor; I'm going in to help people."

"Do you have any papers?"

"No I've only just got here; I won't have papers until I check in."

"Well I can't let you through, there's no telling what kind of person you are, the nobles need to protect their interests."

"Why would anyone who wanted to harm the nobles be leaving their district?"

The guard paused for a second and stepped back. She had a thinking face on.
"
Well...
Ms you'll have to give me your bag."

"Sure."

Fran handed over her bag.

For the second time today its contents was laid out before her.
"What are these exactly? Poison?"

"Medicine."

"And what about this writing, don't think you can slip a code past me."

"Or it's just another language; you can probably tell I'm not from around here."

"Ok, it all checks out, but I'll be keeping my eye on you. You can pass through but you won't be getting back through without papers."

"Ok sure."

Fran takes her bags back, and with it walks through the gate, well aware no such papers existed.

The change is so drastic Fran stumbles a bit, sure she wasn't expecting the high class north, but she's had the image in her mind of something like the temple districts. But even by those less than fancy standards this is a bit of a shock.
She had no real idea of where to go, so she began looking for people who needed help.

EDWARD MYRECROFT

April 18, 6267 - Middle Section - Underneath Kinsdok

Huh. Late again! I believe I should teach that girl the concept of good timekeeping. Gods be good, she needs some direction.

Edward sighed, rubbing his thumb across the face of the watch. It felt like a reassuring thing to do, over the years becoming a habit. He looked down from the narrow slit, in the false wall, to the mechanical pocket watch in his hand. In the dim light he could see the miniature gears turning behind the glass dial, locking together and driving the hands around. He liked to see the hidden mechanisms in objects, it reminded him of the life he had chosen to live.

Returning the watch to its pocket in the waistcoat, he pushed back the rounded, spectacles, that slipped down his nose, resuming his gaze through the gap in the wall. In the bright light of the warehouse he could see three figures emerging through the far door. A wicked smile crossed his lips. "Welcome!' He shouted. 'Seems like the rats have found the trap.'

The door behind them shut as planned. He saw Sera reach out. 'What...what are you doing?' Edward protested. Don't set the fire too early girl! Panic gripped him at the sight of the blazing room, filling quickly with smoke. He turned to the man next to him, standing around seven foot and muscled, a giant compared to Edwards short, elderly stature. The shaven head, complete with scars, turned to regard him, the eyes dull, watching some unseen action. 'Get me out of here!' Edward cried.

Marcus nodded, without a word, helping him climb the stairs behind to street level. The smoke followed. Edward coughed and rested against the wall of the building. 'Gods, what was she thinking!' The anger resonating in his voice. He watched the smoke billow out from the door of the building.

'I was getting it done. Like you asked father.' Sera emerged through the smoke.

'Well you could have let me get out first!'

'I suppose.'

'You suppose!' Edward roared.

Sera shrugged. 'It's done. When Tear returns to the Red Stain she will tell them I died in the fire, along with Scarlett, meanwhile I'll be free to complete your work. Is that not what you wanted?'

'Yes. Of course.' Edward replied, calming a little. 'You're sure this Tear will lie?'

'Yes, she's loyal to me. And me only.'

'Then we should get started. We have a lot of work to do.' Edward grinned. The dream had finally become reality.

LOREL ION

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - Academy - Mage Side - 9:45 AM

Lorel had arrived at his class on time however he had once more gotten the lecture. Once more the teacher talked to him about his outfit. Again he neglected to wear his uniform that he was told to wear. His parents didn't care much for the uniform so they didn't punish Lorel for not wearing it. Likewise his father and Mother both did the same during their years in the Academy so it was part of the Ion tradition.

After the teacher finished Lorel sat down and began taking notes in his history class. He rather just be in a hand on magic class but history was required. It wasn't not interesting but it wasn't the most interesting thing he could be doing with his time.

Before class ended at 10:30, the teacher made an announcement. Everyone was packing up and went silent as he cleared his throat, "as you all should know the school is hosting a tournament. To make sure we have enough time for it, classes end at 2. Either you can stay for the tournament or go home for the day."

Just then a bell rang an echoed through the school and classes were out and soon at 10:40 the next class would start. Normally there would be a break after next class but since school was being cut short there wasn't any such.

Next up was Fire Magic Lessons, although before they would work with fire, they had to sit down and the teacher first would give a lecture. Nana Gavech was his partner for this class. Lorel had met her couple of years back, she is a quieter and shy compared to others in the class. So sometimes she was mocked for being a major in fire since it was considered a more powerful course.

Shortly after they settled in the teacher began his lecture.

OLEANDER GUBBINS

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Near the Dragon's Tooth 9:05 AM

Lurching out of the pub the wet April weather only served to dampen his spirits further, by the time he would get to his apartments he would be sodden through; he wondered for a moment if that would count as a shower, knowing the mage hunter that was currently employing him, Mordecai, he would want him dressed, shaved, prim and proper. Breakfast would help, food in his stomach and drink through his gullet would brighten his mood, ready for another day with his boos. Work was work, and at least the mage hunter's kept him employed when others wouldn't, although he suspected that that was because of them as well.

"Here buddy, have some on me,"Said a scraggly young thing appearing out of nowhere, she tossed a coin in his direction and reached into her coat, her hand returning empty. Oleander raised an eyebrow wondering what that was about." "It's payday and I'm starvin'."

He grabbed the coin out of the air, the booze was finally wearing off, "Well girly so am I" He said, a smile stretching across his face, "I'll pay for drink, you the food; that's fair, no?" He said grabbing her shoulder and leading her down the road, "I know this fine place near the markets, unless you know somewhere better?"

"I know this fine place near the markets, unless you know somewhere better?"

"Works for me, I felt like coming this way today, but silly me, I don't this part of town that well. Client's a bit indisposed right now and my belly rumbled,"She smiled herself before pushing her wet hair back from her face,"Now let's get out of this sodding rain and into this "fine place". Hope it's warm. Name's Nat by the way."

She held her hand out to him, palm down, while the other was readied to pull a knife out from her sleeve if this guy tried anything funny.

ALEISTER CRAWFORD

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - Academy - Mage Side - 9:45 AM

By the time that the bell tolled for lessons to begin, Aleister had finished the small pile of paperwork that had graced his desk and was busy enjoying the cup of coffee when the students began to arrive, filling up the available seats at a steady pace. When the final few stragglers had entered, Aleister rose from his seat and signalled for the students to be quiet.

"Now then, before we begin today's lesson there is an announcement that I would like to make. As you are no doubt aware, today is the Academy's Grand Mage Tournament; where students will be displaying their skill and how far they have come in terms of their training. In order for the Academy to have sufficient time to have everything prepared and set up, lessons will be suspended at an earlier time of 2 o'clock." The announcement caused several of the students to silently cheer that they got to go home early.

"However, because of this, there will not be a break in-between this and your next class. When final lessons for today are completed, you are free to go home, but you are all welcome to stay for the tournament; the choice is entirely up to you. With all of the immediate business dealt, let us begin the lesson..." Aleister then began a short lecture on how to manipulate shadow magic to create a variety of defensive objects; demonstrating examples as he went.

Many of the students in his classes enjoyed how he taught; weaving together both theory and practical work to form a cohesive study. In actuality it was the same way he was taught during his time in the North Magic Academy, it made the theory work more interesting and helped it stick better; so when it came to history tests and written homework, the students usually performed rather well.

The time passed, and soon a bell for next lessons began, just as Aleister had finished. Students began to file out the door that Sebastian was holding open. Soon the classroom was empty once again.

"Right, once we have tidied up in here, I shall probably walk around the academy and the grounds, see how preparations for the tournament are going."

LOREL ION

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - Academy - Mage Side - 10:45 AM

The class lecture was going slow and started to bore Lorel while Nana enjoyed the lecture and was taking down many notes. Professor Doul was an older man but he was renowned for his fire magic, hence why he was teaching the class. However before they could simply use fire they needed to learn about it and understand it. Lorel could tell that Doul wasn't fond of this class; it was a Regular class and not a Pro-class like his class next. He'd rather be teaching way more advanced spells then what he was doing at the present moment.

Sometimes non-magic folk get a misconception that magic is very easy to use. While basic spells are, the very advance stuff needs a lot of knowledge to be able to call upon higher levels of magic. A mages mind is always racing when they use magic and they need to be able to concentrate on many things at once.

Quite tiresome to many mages without practice and lessons. Eventually Doul finished up and it was time to use magic at 11 AM. Everyone stood up as they walked over to an open area in the class room with stone ground and walls so nothing could get burned. Due the short time they had they would only be doing one spell today.

Doul would first demonstrate so the class moved to a safe distance. The mage placed one hand on the cold stone ground and from around him in a circle fire shot up like a spike and then spun like a tornado and then settled back down.

It wasn't a tough spell but Lorel doubted everyone in the room would be able to it on their first try. First up was Nana who stepped into the same spot as Doul had been and performed the spell. Easily she brought up the flame spikes and then spun them like a tornado exactly like how Doul had.

Satisfied, Doul called up another student. A male student by the name of Brax. It didn't go very well. He placed his hand on the ground, fire spikes shot up but then another pair shot up again and then receded. Flustered he tried again and again but he just couldn't seem to get the spikes to spin.

Doul simply stated for him to stop and try again after everyone else has gone. Lorel was called up next but with the look the teacher gave him, he could tell the Mage already knew Lorel was going to be able to get it.

Placing his hand like everyone before him on the ground he called up fire spikes much larger than everyone else and then a much larger tornado that got close to the other students before Lorel calmed it down and brought it down.

The teacher smirked and then called for the next student go. Lorel walked off the stone ground and stood next to Nana, "showing off again?" she stated.

"Showing off? What do you mean?" he spoke sarcastically.

She just laughed as the next student went, "you never change."

The class ended at 12 as the last student went; the next two classes would be one-hour long and go up to 2 when they would be getting off.

MARCUS TARSEN

April 21st, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District - Outside The In'fal Estate - 1:30 PM

"Well, that certainly couldn't have been more of a waste of my time." Marcus muttered to himself as the escorting guard left him at the gate just outside the Noble's estate. Sit in a room for almost three hours, then get the most uptight person in the City. "I guess I should be happy I got the renewal at all." Marcus tried to console himself aloud as he started back to the streets of the Upper District.

The meeting truly was a trial, the butler was incredibly frugal-or, more likely, afraid of his master's wrath for spending his money-that he always shot down Marcus' advances for a higher fee, even when the raise was a necessary charge. About an hour in, the trader could tell that the negotiations were going nowhere and finally moved to rap it up. In the end, the contract was simply renewed at the original rates, a net loss for Trinkets and Gold, along with Marcus' pride.

With a sigh, Marcus tried to wash out the sour taste in his mouth with a palate cleanser of better prospects, as his next stop was the prestigious Upper District Academy. Unlike dealing with the Nobles, Marcus actually had experience in dealing with the supply managers of the Academy, and depending on the time of day, they would be easy to raise prices on. In fact, luck was on his side, as Marcus noted the signs advertising a Mage Tournament this very afternoon. Ah, perfect. Marcus smiled as he showed his information to a nearby guard, who opened the gate for him.

A scant minute or two later, Marcus found the Chief Quartermaster busy in a large warehouse, distributing crates of who-knew-what to delivered to places spread across the sprawling Academy grounds. "Ah, finally! Where have you been?!" The Quartermaster took notice of the Trinkets and Gold insignia embroidered on Marcus' lapel. "Your supplies are late, and we have a tournament to run! I expect you brought them with you?"

"Supplies? I don't..." Marcus trailed off as he remembered the shipment of reagents he arranged to be stored in the Upper District, connecting the dots rather quickly. "Ah, your order, my apologies for the delay. I have it on good authority that it has already been delivered to the district. However, there is a matter that must be dealt with before I can permit the shipment to arrive. You see, the contract the Academy maintains with my associates has come up for renewal, and I-"

"Yes, yes, fine! Hand it over!" Marcus smiled as he pulled the ready contract from his binder, handing to the Quartermaster, who was busy looking for something to sign it with. Well, that's much better, this guy only cares about keeping the school stocked, not about the small coin that seems to be spent without notice. Hiding with mirth at the sign of his changing fortune, Marcus retrieved the now-signed contract from the Quartermaster, letting the ink dry for a moment before returning it to the binder. "Now, my order?"

"I'll see that right now, thank you for your continued business." Marcus gave a courteous bow as he left the warehouse, quickly returning to the streets outside the Academy. Fortune struck again in the form of a blue-collar worker taking a stroll down the street, no doubt on a break from a menial job the Elite's were too lazy to do themselves. "My good man!" Marcus ran over to the man and got the worker's attention, handing him a note Marcus just finished scribbling down. "If you see to it that this message makes it to the warehouses by the East Gate in good time, you'll find yourself well rewarded." The man was just about to refuse the note, but then noticed Marcus' insignia and, after a brief nod, he ran off.

With a smirk, Marcus moved over to the wall of the Academy, inspecting the advertisement on the wall. I do believe my hard work today deserves a reward. "Now, just how much is this tourney's admission fee?"

OLEANDER GUBBINS

April 21st, 6267 Middle Section - Middle District - Near the Dragon's Tooth - 9:10AM

"Oleander" He boomed in reply. "We'll be there soon enough, and not only will it be warm, it'll be dry too" He chuckled slightly, "It may be the month to start returning to the beer gardens, but alas, if only this damned rain let up" Sighing at the stupid attempt of making some sort of conversation, he finally finished with, "We best be off then"

She probably thought Oleander was a dumb drunk now - not that being labelled as such would be far off the mark.

Ignoring the hand that Nat had offered him, instead he opted to continue holding onto her shoulder, loosely leaning against her every so often as he guided her down the cobblestoned road towards the decided eatery, Marvello's, soon they would be out of the this abdominal weather.

April 21st, 6267 Middle Section - Middle District - Marvello''s (Near the Middle Markets) - 9:40AM

It may have been early, but from the outside of the building could be heard the ruckus made by bawdy men-at-arms, night watchmen coming off from their shift and city guards grabbing a quick bite to before stepping out again. It was a place of safety for Oleander; no one would try and kill him while he was surrounded by guardsmen, if they were smart that is.

The interior was decorated with a mishmash of furniture, middlern, southern and northern. Each piece littered about the eatery, tumbled together; the owner, nor the patrons cared which sets went with which, however the northern chairs were more sought out, the their comfy, if moth-eaten cushioned seats.

Squeezing his way through the crowded room, Oleander made his way to the counter to order some food.

"Hello Tom, how are things?" He asked.

Standing behind it was a familiar face, Tom Marvello, the owner, barkeep and whatever he needed to be to be to keep his eatery open. A warm, friendly faced man, who was perhaps a bit on the chubby side, but still able to get rid of (mostly with a firm kick) whoever made it their mission to make trouble out.

"Not too bad," He said in middlern, "You don't look all that good yourself though".

"Well, that'll change once I've had some food," He replied back in middlern, "Sausages, eggs, ham, fried toast, the works. Oh, and don't forget the ale" He turned to face Nat, "What what will you be having girly?"

"What what will you be having girly?"

With a little giggle to herself at being called "girly" - she was just playing a little part here after all - she replied,"That all sounds good, give me a double helping, leave the ale, you got any fresh juice?"

After having paid, and a slight disagreement over what was and what wasn't juice after the barkeep reached around and pulled out a cheap wine in the early fermenting stages, she sat down at the nearest table she could find to wait. Taking off her jacket, and doing her best to palm the amulet into her pants, she shook the excess water off of it and left it on her chair to dry, and wrung out her hair a bit before she finally felt somewhat warm again. The rain outside certainly hadn't helped her stay warm, though it had helped clean the blood off of herself.

Unfortunately, the mage bitch had kept breathing after the lung puncture, and a good portion of her hair on the right side was slightly noticeably much redder than the left.

"So, Oleander, what's it you do for a living, certainly you don't live off strange little girls walking up to you offering to buy you food, do you?"

SCARLETT WINTER

April 18, 6267 - Middle Section - Underneath Kinsdok

She was falling. Tumbling through the dark of the underground channel. Scarlett tried to find the right way up, but she could not see a surface, only the darkness of the never-ending passage. She could feel the air in her lungs diminishing and panic swept through her body. It was getting harder to hold her breath. She groped for something to hold, anything, but the smooth stone slipped past, as the water pulled her along like a helpless doll.

Suddenly, she emerged into a narrow pocket of air. Gasping for life Scarlett grabbed the crumbling brickwork, dirt and dust rained down into her eyes. She cried a lonely scream before she was swept back under, into the icy depths.

As darkness crept into her vision, Scarlett slipped towards death, but the water ejected her limp body from the passage and out into the bright light of the world. Landing in a deep pool of water in the sunken ground. She lay, floating, inhaling the cool air and smiling at the sky above. The ruins all around her suggested that a building had once stood here, but the water had caused the ground to sink and the building followed. The stone had long since been stolen.

She could hear voices, murmurs and whispers, Scarlett turned her head and saw the line of people at the waters edge. Washing or bathing, all looking at her.

'Get out you stupid girl.' The old crone called. 'What did you go riding the passages for?'

Scarlett remembered and her smile vanished. The pain returned.

'Come with me girl.'

SCARLETT WINTER

April 18, 6267 - Middle Section - Upper District

She arrived in the Middle, having lived with the old crone for the last two days, as her wound healed. The gate had been easy to pass, she had used a forged letter of medicine, granting the bearer full access to the district under the condition of healing the sick. The guard had never even bothered to look at her face, he just waved her through with a bored look, resigned to a long shift of standing in the rain. Scarlett had smiled and stepped through to the square with a look of wonder, she had never seen the elegance of the Middle. The buildings. The people. It all seemed so wonderful.

The sky had turned a dark shade of grey, clouds smothered the sun and dropped a gentle rain, that never eased. It never seemed to bother anyone and the world carried on regardless of the weather, Scarlett stepped out from the gatehouse and looked around, feeling more than a little lost. The old crone had suggested that she visit somewhere Scarlett had always wanted to go, but now she was here, she had no idea what to do.

Fran sure had a habit of finding trouble.

To be fair this wasn't fresh trouble, nor was it actually her fault, she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (Wrong being subjective as always).

You could question the intelligence of someone clearly not from around these parts wandering the streets with an absent minded look on their face and spending more time inspecting the skyline than the streets.

But this neglected the simple fact that some people had more ways to see you coming than their eyes. Fran was tapped into the pulse of the new district; she could see why they needed doctors. Diseases she couldn't even recognise, a level of violence and injury at once terrifying and alluring.

Someone she was doing her best to ignore was becoming drastically more insistent.

Wait a second.

"You aren't mugging me are you?"

The man stepped back for a second partially stunned at the question.

"Couldn't you tell?"

"Sorry I've just had a lot on my mind. Anyway shall we get back to it?"

"Right yes...

So...

Give it to me."

"Right."

The thief was soon hunched over on his knees, hands guarding his crotch. But he was one knee to the groin to early.
He said something under his breath that should never be uttered in broad daylight without an exorcist on hand just in case.

Of course this all left Fran with a surplus of crotch based energy, waste not want not.
She knelt down, looking her fruitless attacker in the face.

"Don't worry It'll be ok."

There was a quick discharge as balance was restored.

"You healed me, but why?"

"Well what was I supposed to kick if you tried to mug me again?"

"Right..."

The thief quickly made his exit.

Unbeknownst to Fran her antics had drawn a crowd, people around here must not be used to watching other fight back.

Oleander followed Nat to the table she had chosen, unfortunately it was one that was not near the fire and due to absence of his coat, he would not be warm, nor dry for a while. Fortunately a hearty breakfast would help with the warm part and the conversation would help his mood. However the being dry part still baffled him to how he would achieve that, home and a new set of clothes would probably do it.

"So, Oleander, what's it you do for a living, certainly you don't live off strange little girls walking up to you
offering to buy you food, do you?"

He laughed at the unexpected quip,"No girly I don't, life would be easier and certainly more enjoyable if I did," He teased," I do a bit of this, a bit of that. Most of the time it amounts to fighting, sometimes it doesn't, which is good when that happens," He decided on leaving the bit about the mage hunting out. He still didn't know who this girl was, or her disposition towards the mages.

"So what is it that you do that gets half of your hair covered in blood?"

"So what is it that you do that gets half of your hair covered in blood?"

Nat stopped eating, her fork resting on her lips as she chewed and sighed, finished the bite before wiping her mouth on her sleeve. The fork was set back on the table and she rested her chin on her steepled hands,"Damn, you got me Mr.Burly-Man."

Her next movement was slow and methodical as she reached into her pocket and grabbed ahold of the amulet, her eyes wandering around the establishment, and after seeing that none of the patrons gave any signals of mages or nobility. She pulled her hand out of the pocket again and picked up the fork again, spearing a bite of food and starting her chow-down once again.

"I get rid of undesirables around the city, some run into me and find themselves scarce,"Nat set the fork down again and grabbed a biscuit, ripping it in half and watching the vapor escape into the air before chucking half of it into her mouth and swallowing,"Most I go looking for and the same thing happens. So who happens to be the bad guy for you today? Pretty sure it's not me,"Nat pouted her lips and let her voice go up a few octaves,"Unless you're a nice guy and wanna give me a nice meal before you try chopping off my poor little head..."

Nat went back to her normal voice and shrugged her shoulders,"But anyways, I kill and maim people, you kill and maim people, we're practically cousins. Who do you go after anyways?" She said coyly, bloodless-side flipped back and faced towards Oleander.

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