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Isirion

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  1. As Alzira reluctantly drank from the glass of Vine, two pairs of blue eyes watched her intently. Isirion watched out for any sign of poisoning, while Celeris seemed focused on the fake-clawed fire-gem gloves. Only Pip paid no interest to the beverage and tried to befriend Sappo instead by offering him some sort of spiced meat, no doubtly swiped from the noble's buffet. When it was her turn to drink, Celeris called the Magelight to action just as she raised the glass towards her lips. With a bright flash the glass was suddenly empty and the space behind the Phirestone heir became mysteriously wet. Interestingly enough the wet space shot reproachful glances and flew straight at Isirion revealing itself to be an indignant Nilia Pygmy. Leal started squeaking and found himself snatched from the air in a splitsecond, followed by a quick inspection for any messages. Finding none, Isirion tried to interpret Leal's continous, desperate sounding squeaks. His apparent dragon mishandling earned him a few mumbled choice words from Pip and an icy stare from Celeris. Ignoring them both, Isirion concentrated to get the gist of Leal's predicament. About a minute later he bowed slightly towards Alzira and offered a slightly redacted translation: "My lady, this messenger pygmy seems to have flown too close to one of those dragon displays our host favours. He got spooked or shooed away and most likely lost his message there and then. Should I go back and search for the message in case it's important?"
  2. Both cornered kids seemed to share a meaningful glance, then they bowed towards the presumed nobles that had spendidly gone along with their performance. As one they handed over the daggers and chorused: "You have shown strength, honour and resourcefulness using your dragon and the terrain like that. You have earned those daggers and a drink!" At the last words Pip and Celeris whistled and the Magelight came to them at once bearing two glasses and a bottle of Vine. The Phirestone heir took everything, filled both glasses and offered one to Isirion who nonchalantly passed it to Alzira. Celeris probably raised an eyebrow or two under her Black Marrow mask, but said nothing and clinked glasses with the green Fire Gem lady instead. *clink*
  3. Having never seen Sappo' improved blasts that varied their colour and range, Pip slowed down and gawked with a dreamy smile. Pride's vision-mode had surely rubbed off because he could already imagine an all-pygmy-performance with the Dark Myst as it's star. His stage name would be Dark Myth of course. Suddenly noticing that he had been driven back against one of the stone dragons flanking the tomb, the 'dragon warrior' brandished his tooth-dagger and valiantly charging at Sappo he proclaimed: "Fierce beast, you will not take me alive. Lady Death will avenge me and wear your skin for a scarf!" Celeris on the other hand had no intentions of letting the game end so soon. Running close by like a whirlwind she shouted: "Lady Death will kill you herself if you let yourself be beaten by that shoulder accessory!" Isirion, who had been drawn entirely into his daughters game, laughed and taunted in hot pursuit: "You should worry about yourself with Death so close behind." Celeris sped up immediately, clearing bushes and low topiaries as if she was flying. This was so much more fun than learning boring words and noble demeanor. Weaving around the obstacles himself, Isirion increased his running speed enough to overtake his daughter to once again try to coral her back towards the tomb. He figured it was about time that the difference in their build took it's toll on her stamina. Breathing hard Celeris tried to keep enough distance to choose her flight path, but soon enough she also found herself with her back against a stone dragon. Isirion changed his stance and approached her like a person instead of prey and growled in his most menacing voice: "You have nowhere left to run. Give me that dagger or I'll skin your friend and wear him as a scarf."
  4. Still growling, because his frustration, if not his exaggerated death-threat, had been real, Isirion replied: "I agree, I'll hunt down Celeris while you two take down that runt from Pride's arena." Falling deathly silent, he switched into full predator mode and stalked after his prey, leaving Alzira and Sappo to follow an occasional golden glint between the now dimly Mage-lit trees. It was soon clear that the children intended to turn 'Search' into their own glorified version of Hide & Seek. Every time Sappo came close to Pip's hiding place, a rustling could be heard and the boy stormed off to find another topiary to hide behind. Pip, for the first time after learning that his most favourite place in the world had burned down, was having real fun and so he forgot all about the 'honourable combat' and thoroughly enjoyed the running around like the child he was part. Likewise, Celeris was hellbent on extending the fun game of leading the presumed noble with the awesome Death costume by the nose, but even with all her speed she could never get away more than a few yards before her pursuer caught up again. Oddly enough her shadow never tried to incapacitate her, only stuck close enough to not loose sight of her between the trees. It was as if he was more interested in the tricks she pulled in order to loose him than in actually catching her. That kind of treatment felt frustratingly familiar and so she slid to a stop and complained: "You are testing me. You are like my mother. You are no fun." Remembering at the last second that she was supposed to act diplomatic and all, Celeris added in her mother's voice and tone: "But I love your costume." That stopped Isirion dead in his tracks. While testing his daughter's survival instincts he had intended to corral her in between himself and the back of the tomb, but now his head was filled with images of the veiled lady again. Of course his daughter used his distraction to disappear. Isirion grinned approvingly and gave chase. He was beginning to enjoy the game after all...
  5. Another snicker could be heard from the darkness, and a moment later Pip spoke again, sounding one part indignant and two parts melodramatic: "Celi, for the love of dragons, can you please stop snickering? You are totally undermining my performance. With Pride gone, I am the only dragon-friendly entertainer left in this city. I have to make a good impression on as many nobles as I can." The patch of darkness seemed to suck in his words, weighing them and finally threw them back with a laugh: "Pip, you made a good impression on the only noble that counts today - on me. Lady Death will not forget your ingenuity, that prevented a tragedy. If you hadn't suggested I'd imitate my mother's voice to stop those idiots, this game would have been ruined." Sounding quite pleased with himself, Pip returned the flattery: "If not for your flawless performance, my plan would not have worked at all." "And now for the grand finale", Celeris Phirestone's voice rang out like a funeral bell and suddenly the patch of darkness around her lifted as she pulled back her cloak and threw a Magelight Pygmy into the air. In it's light the secret behind her invisibilty was revealed. Her dark, silky cloak was made of dyed Shadow-Walker manes, that had allowed her to seemingly melt into the shadows. Beneath it, she wore an intricate black tunic made of finely tanned dragon leather with matching gloves, trousers and boots. Her face was hidden behind a gruesome mask, carved from the skull of a Black Marrow. Suddenly, two dragon-tooth-daggers appeared in her hands. She threw one of them to Pip and in unison they taunted the green Fire Gem lady and her Black Dragon bodyguard: "To prove your worth, you must take them from us." All the while the children had clearly fun with their performance, Isirion looked like a nightmare even darker than Blackjade had come true. It was as if Pride had shrunk and multiplied and there were now two more like him - even worse, he had to play along with them. Unable or unwilling to hide his frustration, Isirion drew his bloodstained-blade and growled like an very ill-tempered Hellfire: "Taking them from the jaws of that Blue-Banded Dragon had been a worthy challenge, taking them from your cold, dead hands proves nothing. But if you insist..." The eyes beneath the Black Marrow and the Golden Wyvern mask grew big, and then, as if practiced a hundred times, both children jumped from their stone dragons and ran away in opposite directions. Only the Magelight stayed, floating above the tomb entrance, giving off a steady light and an occasional Celeris-like snickering... In the mean-time inside the dragon stables at the Blue Mansion Lifting Fingers high against the reinforced bars of the dragon cage, he just caught him unlocking, the Guardian demanded an explanation. Fingers explained at length and the Guardian couldn't believe his ears. He called over Ale, who also wouldn't believe his ears. Only when a Nilia and a Misfit Pygmy swooped down in their faces to help the ex-thief, they started to believe just a little bit, that the cowardly runaway from the fishermen's village had teamed up with the one that had maimed him to free the dragons trapped in the mansion. Now it was Finger's turn to ask why the two ex-Royal-Blues were standing guard in stolen Nebula armour over their own dragons. The Guardian quickly explained, how 'delivering' Aseto as the culprit who had burned down a Neb arena had gone awry and he had ended up as a 'present' to be guarded for the Blue Lady. After a lot more questions and answers, Fingers summed it all up: "So you two are also here to free all those dragons and with the keys you talked off the noble who hired you it will go a lot faster. The only problem is freeing Leal's swarm. We found where the Nilia are on display, but they have all been pinned through their wingbones on purpose so they can't fly away." The Guardian thought about the problem and the conclusion he came to was as practical as it was cruel: "Leave them. If only half of what I heard about the Blue Lady is true, those pygmys had not only their bones broken but their minds as well. They would jeopardize the resuce of the dragons that can still be saved." Leal hissed and gave the bear-like man the most reproachful look he had in his repertoire, but it was to no avail. The wine bottle-like human had at least the decency to look ashamed at the floor, but he too didn't lift a finger at the Nilia's plight. Hissing again, Leal took off to find the only human that had truly understood him and been willing to help.
  6. Isirion let himself be steered away from the two nobles and their not so obedient looking new disciple. Even through his dragon skin cloak he could feel the death-glares the assassin still gave them and that made him chuckle. When he and Alzira were out of earshot and back on track on the path to the tomb, he said: "I agree, that that had to be Celeris, but I don't think it is a trap. From the start this was supposed to be a test. We still have a chance to actually pass, if I don't run into anymore weirdos that remind me a little bit too much of Blackjade." After a few minutes of quite silent walking, the tomb appeared before them. Hewn of blue-tinted stone and flanked by two majestic Royal Blues, it was a sight to behold even in the dark. Not so much the pint-sized, slightly grubby looking boy dressed in a self-made Golden Myth costume, who sat cross-legged on the left dragon and greeted them with a pip-squeak: "Halt travellers, none may approach my princess before facing me in honorable combat!" A very unlady-like snicker could be heard from atop the other dragon, but only a patch of darkness among more darkness could be seen...
  7. As Dämon looked less and less like Blackjade with every piece he removed, Isirion finally managed to relax and mirror the noble's non-aggressive stance; even putting away the scavenged dagger. His voice however, was still every bit as vicious as he taunted Nightfeather: "Seeing as I can't use you anymore to deliver another message to your leader since those noble siblings claimed you, I'll just have to deliver a final message to your brethren myself." Nightfeather's eyes grew wide as she understood the full meaning of his words. While she was safe in Iris' hands and possible arms, Death would slaughter the rest of her guild. The thought was almost unbearable. Gritting her teeth, Nightfeather ripped out Trueshot's knife, that had come loose from Iris attempt to pull her up and threw it with all her might and rage. Anticipating the move, Isirion caught the assassin's knife with his left hand and drew his own blade with the right in one fluid motion. The sound the bloodstained blade made when it left the sheath was as eerie as ever, reminding a listener of the wailing of all the souls it had claimed. Perfectly adjusting to Nightfeathers forward motion, Isirion weaved under her throwing arm and pointed the tip of the blade at her throat, stopping the assassin dead in her tracks, lest she'd impale herself. Murder and venom finally gone from his voice, he addressed Dämon: "As you can see, this one is an assassin for real. I would be well in my rights to execute her on the spot for her recent attempt, but that would be a waste of her considerable skill. Use her strength well, but keep her on a tight leash, because if she comes after me or my charges one more time, I won't hold back again." The party from Felicia's point of view so far Felicia's plan of finding the master of ceremony in a jiffy to get him to insert the group's performance into the schedule had been derailed quite a bit. For starters there was no master of ceremony. In hindsight, a being as obsessed with exerting control over others as the Blue Lady would of course plan everything herself. Felicia felt like biting herself in the butt for her oversight, but that would not help at all. Having withdrawn in a corner furthest away from the commotion some idiot, hopefully unrelated to her group, had caused, Felicia weighed her options. With most of the minor nobles busy sucking up to the higher nobles, neither would pay much attention, if she posed as a fancy waitress, poisoning their drinks on the way. The only problem was that there were way too many of them to poison by hand before the first symptoms would show. Should she try to dilute the poison a bit more to gain a few additional minutes before it would take effect? No, she had already pushed the formula to the lower limit of its efficiency. Any more meddling and the poison wouldn't be potent enough anymore to kill a fullgrown human. Unbidden the picture of a pony-tailed figure wearing a lab-coat, square glasses and a look of constant curiosity, rose from the depths of her mind. Right, there had been a customer at her flower shop who had struck up the weirdest conversation about how they wanted to test the interaction between dragon poison and plant poison. Of course she had kicked them out pony-tail, lab-coat-tails and all because she was 'just' a simple flower girl, but somehow that peculiar idea must have stuck to her mind. Would it be possible to prolong the time it took for her poison to take effect while maintaining its efficiency by adding dragon poison? What wouldn't she give right now to know if that customer's research had born any fruit...
  8. "Stop at once", the most perfect impression of the Blue Lady's voice yet, took command of the situation, the sudden interruption freezing everyone in their place. Isirion who was about to put both the failed assassin and the noble failure out of their misery, halted his dagger an inch from Iris's and Nightfeather's head and looked for the source in vain. "Are you idiots done now?", the unseen voice reprimanded them all, including even Dämon and Alzira who hadn't done anything. Realizing that killing his targets in front of a witness he couldn't silence because he couldn't see them was indeed idiotic, Isirion nodded and he wasn't the only one. Despite being quite dazed from the headbutt, Nightfeather nodded too and said: "I am an idiot for trying to take on Death alone and an even greater idiot for trying to throw my life away after Iris put in so much effort to save it." Sounding farther away than before, the voice offered a bit of advice: "If you loose sight of what the game is about, you will loose the game. Come find me after sorting out your mess."
  9. "...no assassin...too sloppy...impulsive...", Dämon's words haunted Nightfeather after she barely managed to get the image of Trueshot's killer carving her up out of her head. She was a failure as an assassin and that hurt a lot more than her wound. Even worse, the only way to get out of the mess she had gotten herself into was to play along with the noble's assessment of her. When Iris von Gefallen defended her again right before puking, Nightfeather felt like vomitting herself. She did not deserve that kind of trust, she really was an assassin and she had approached Iris under a false name and pretense. Nightfeather found herself torn between the wish of living that lie just a little while longer and burying all the lies along with Melidia. Isirion nearly felt like throwing up himself since the amount of weakness displayed right in front of him disgusted him on an almost physical level. The blue lady was right to test their daughter if that was how noble heiresses usually behaved. If he were to find Celeris drunk and stupid enough to tumble into the path of a knife with her back wide open, he would do exactly what he had told Pride he would do with no hesitation. The real question was what to do with the assassin, who potentially knew too much about them. Alzira, even though she was imitating the blue lady flawlessly, had all but forbidden him to torture her to death to send an even stronger message to the rest of her guild. The male von Gefallen, albeit being apparently cut from a rougher cloth, had let his emotions cloud his judgement because of the weird attachement his half-sister seemed to have towards this 'Melidia'. It would be easy to use his superior speed to cut her throat with the newfound dagger despite their objections. "Do it!", the fallen assassin suddenly hissed, her head raised as high as she could and her throat exposed: "I am not afraid of Death."
  10. *rustle* There it was again, the dreaded sound that heralded Death, my death, Nightfeather thought. I came so close, I almost got him, I wonder if Trueshot felt the same... With unnatural clarity Nightfeather perceived every motion of the Black Dragon skin cloak as it's wearer promptly spun around, Trueshot's knife in hand, aiming straight for her throat. *tackle* Why does my back hurt and why are there petals in my mouth? Nightfeather tried to make sense of what happened, but that proved to be as impossible as getting up. Some kind of soft, bouncy, weight held her down to the ground. A strand of cut-off white hair entered Nightfeather's vision, gently floating down right beside her. It couldn't be. Death had missed, because the only person she thought of as a friend, no, more than a friend, outside of the assassin guild had appeared out of nowhere to save her. The sound of agitated breathing told her that Iris von Gefallen was alive as well and maybe even enjoyed the position they found themselves in. Suddenly a sharp pain in her barely healed hand made her cry out in anguish and frustration. Death had driven Trueshot's knife right through the wound from the last encounter, effectively nailing Nightfeather to the ground. Looking down on her with ice-cold eyes, he picked up the dagger she could no longer hold onto and hissed with unveiled cruelty: "It's been a while since I used a dagger for a quill and human skin for paper, but don't worrry, this time, your leader will get the message even though the handwriting will be a bit messy."
  11. The closer the noble came, the more Isirion tensed up, until his pose was nigh but undistinguishable from a panther poised to strike. It was as if his mind perceived a threat coming from the stranger his eyes could not see. What was it about that other Death that put him constantly on edge? When that so-called Dämon stretched out his arm to offer it to Alzira, Isirion finally realized what had been bothering him. The combination of Black Dragon hide and claw with green eyes that seemed to glow in the dark, invoked a memory of Blackjade that made his skin crawl. Confronting the dragon from the past along the human from the present, Isirion snapped and growled murderously: "BACK OFF!" The angry roar startled Nightfeather from her hiding place. Believing she had been found out, the assassin drew an hidden dagger and charged. By now there was no doubt which one of the two Deaths was the bloody murderer she sought. Her eyes getting accustomed to the dark, she easily recognized the knife that Trueshots killer had taken. Throwing all caution to the wind, knowing she would have only this one chance before her target could draw the weapon he was deadly proficient with, Nightfeather flew like an arrow towards the growling Death. If she could kill him before he could kill her, she would carve out his heart and offer it on Trueshot's unmarked grave. If not, maybe at least a certain free-spirited, white-haired, amber-eyed heiress would weep for her in secret, like Nightblade had wept for Trueshot...
  12. Ripping himself free from Alzira's arm once again, Isirion lost no time stepping between her and the armed, or more precisely arm-clawed, figure. With the same motion his right hand darted towards the concealed assassin's knife and his body assumed a stance that would allow him to fend off the dragon-claw gauntlet if necessary. So far it did not seem that way, but Isirion wasn't willing to risk anything at a distance too short to efficiently use his blade. Like Drake had proven with her sneak-attack during the thieves guild assault, against a claw-user he was at a clear disadvantage in grappling range. A knife however was perfect for the current distance. If the other 'Death' tried anything besides talking, Isirion was more than ready to put his knife-skills stemming from a childhood frequently spent gutting disgusting fish to use. Wordlessly locking eyes with the possible target so that no movement however slightly preluding an attack would escape him, Isirion left the diplomatic option entirely to Alzira. A few minutes ago at the party Nightfeather had finally begun to relax. Their infiltration of the party had been successful, nobody paid any attention to the Hassleborough entourage in their vine-themed costumes despite some awkward movements here and there. A quick trip to the bar, an invaluable source of rumours and solid information everywhere, quickly solved the mystery. All the guests here were focused on finding the Phirestone heir in order to gain favour with her house, in other words boring political stuff. Nightblade would scold her if she said things like that out aloud, seeing that that boring political stuff was what usual led to the most lucrative assignments. Compared to that, their payment for the current mission, the stuffed Pillow Dragon hatchling Amara called Mr. Fluffy Pillow seemed the lowest of the low - until they found out that the slightly jingly sound the unnaturally heavy thing had made, came from the actual stuffing consisting of pure gold. Whatever else Hassleborough had been before getting murdered, towards his daughter he had acted with foresight and deeply loving care. Nightfeather brushed away a tiny bit of moisture that had appeared in the corner of her eye and concentrated on the nobles participating in the event. Which of them had hired 'Death' and why? Who was directly or indirectly responsible for Trueshot's demise in the wake of that crime? Nightfeather's searching gaze landed on the blue lady who was strutting around the battlements. No. While that noble was certainly cold-blooded enough to order a massacre of the scale that had happened at the Hassleborough mansion, she had no need to use an outsider when the whole of the Nebs was in her palm. If she wanted to get rid of Hassleborough, she could have just pinned any convenient crime on him like she had done with that unfortunate arena-master. The same logic excluded the Overtons and the Hightowers from the list of suspects, leaving only the von Gefallens and the Marrovargs. Hiring 'Death' to bring death to someone sounded like a typical Marrovarg joke, but given their profession, they had no reason to begrudge anyone their life since in the end everyone in the city eventually would end up their customer. The von Gefallens made even less sense as culprits, they were already superior to everyone, so why remove the number of people to look down on? Should they focus on finding 'Death' instead after all? No. Nightblade had been right, that would only lead to more victims among them. She could still hear the rustling of Death's cloak in her nightmares, feel the knife at her throat before getting stabbed in the hand in the blink of an eye... *rustle* Nightfeather's eyes widened, her breathing sped up along with her heartbeat. Searching around with frentic eyes for the source of the disturbingly familiar sound, she soon found herself trailing behind the male von Gefallen heir as if in a trance. Every time his genuine Black Dragon skin cloak rustled in the crowd of party-goers, her hand clenched and wandered to a concealed weapon. Finally Nightfeather got a grip on herself and allowed her assassin's training to take over. Melting into the crowd, body language as tranquil as an oasis, she followed the distinctive cloak and dragon-claw-gauntlet from a safe distance. To make sure she wasn't spotted even after following all the way into the garden area, Nightfeather circled around until an all too familiar sound stopped her dead in her tracks. *rustle* Instinctivly hiding behind a Blue-Banded Dragon topiary that seemed to be missing some teeth-twigs, Nightfeather stared ahead in disbelief because in front of her, illuminated briefly by a pitch-black pygmy's fire, was another genuine Black Dragon skin cloak rustling omniously...
  13. "Ahhh, how I would love to capture and embalm that von Gefallen treat to preserve his manly beauty for all eternity," Lady Marrovarg sighed. Her husband laughed heartily and proposed with a rather devious grin: "You know the young female von Gefallen is even more of a treat and we would even save our precious embalming fluid seeing as she has already drunk half the bar dry." "You are right, she even looks like she's ready to drop dead from alcohol-poisoning any second now. Did you per chance bring your tools?" "Nah, but we can ask Pip to fetch them real quick", Lord Marrovarg offered, scanning the courtyard for a grubby boy in a Golden Wyvern costume. "That's a good idea and it would take his mind off the fact that his most favourite place in the whole world has burned down." "Yeah, ordering that was even more cruel of Cery than usual, considering that she of all people should recognize the stab wounds all those Neb corpses bore. Hassleboroughs body on the other hand looked like he ran into the wrong end of that dragon claw gauntlet or something very much alike. Now where is that boy?" Noticing for the third time the change from pavement to gravel under his feet, Isirion paused briefly and followed the new direction leading away from the Magelight. While a normal person like Alzira wouldn't be able to make out more than rough shapes, he easily pierced the darkness with his Magi sight, but nothing ahead looked like a tomb at all. There were trees though that had pygmy skeletons in grotesque poses nailed to them and the gravel path became lined with the cracked skulls of disobedient hatchlings. The shrubbery closely followed the theme, being cut into the shape of different full-grown dragons all writhing in agony or cowering before a whip. Isirion smiled faintly and after describing the scenery to Alzira he said: "More proof that the veiled lady hasn't lost her unique taste. We must be getting quite close. Last chance to turn back if you have second thoughts about meeting the offspring of two monsters as Pride would put it."
  14. Looking as happy as a Vampire Dragon, who had per chance stumbled upon an exquisitely tasting blood sample, Lord Marrovarg went full 'Pride-admiration-mode' on Dämon: "Uhhh another Death with our kind of humour and a costume to die for!" "That dragon claw-gauntlet looks almost too alive though, the perfection level of the stitches makes our body restauration service after a Neb judgement look like a toddler smashing pieces together", his wife corrected with a near deadly amount of envy. Latching onto the prompt, the husband pondered gravely: "You are right, we'd need to seclude ourselves for a hundred years in a tomb and practice like hell, if we want to get even close to the von Gefallen skill-level." "The nearest tomb would be the Phirestone tomb wouldn't it?" Lady Marrovarg replied with a wink towards Dämon along with another hastily scrabbled and erased drawing of the way leading right there... Meanwhile, after passing the magelight checkpoint in the opposite direction without a challenge, Isirion and Alzira stepped once again on the winding garden path, trying to disturb the petals as little as possible. They figured, that if they concentrated on the feel of the pavement beneath the petals and their feet, they'd find the third junction leading towards the tomb with the added benefit of not giving away the correct path to other nobles that might decide to take a stroll out here...
  15. Taking Alzira's compliments with dignity and a mischievous twinkle in their eyes, both Marrovargs flashed a fanged grin, then the man said: "You are a lot livelier than our usual customers but Death still follows you." Delivering a playful slap on Alzira's arm, Lady Marrovarg explained: "My darling-dead means that your grim-looking arm-accessory has followed you here. Or maybe he meant your pitch-black shoulder accessory, even I can't keep track of all his puns." Lord Marrovarg grinned like a skull, happy to be finally able to deliver the punchline he had in mind from the moment he had noticed that the black-haired lady had a Black Dragon cloak and mask wearing shadow. The moment Isirion appeared right next to Alzira, like some kind of bodyguard, he announced: "Death is here." Instead of a laugh however he got an icy stare through the eye-holes of the black dragon mask as a reply. Then the maybe-bodyguard seemed to remember something and said cooly: "Apology for my intrusion. I haven't been a bodyguard for long. Switching from harming bodies to guarding them still takes some adjustment, so I must ask your wife to refrain from slapping my charge if she has any interest in keeping her hands." Both Marrovargs slapped their knees and laughed loud enough to raise the dead. The husband recovered first and replied: "A Death with a sense of humour nearly as twisted as the serpent-like garden path hidden beneath those blue flower petals our host fancies." "Don't worry about your lady, we are just a humble pair of funeral directors giving directions", the wife chimed in and scrabbled something on the ground with her feet. It looked a lot like a snake with a single wing on it's third coil, before it got erased with even more scrabbling. The two human Vampires exchanged a meaningful glance with the lady and her bodyguard before seemingly loosing interest in favour of sinking their fangs into the two nearest glasses of red wine. Isirion mirrored that gaze briefly before offering his arm to Alzira. There was no question she had understood the hint too, all that was left was getting to their destination as inconspicuously as possible. He hated not having both arms free, but after remembering that he was supposed to be a bodyguard today, there was really no helping it - especially since it put him far away from Pride who had started staring daggers at him for no apparent reason again...
  16. Pride couldn't believe his ears, his outstretched hand hovered accusingly between Alzira who was already a few steps away and Isirion who hadn't moved an inch yet. Mustering up his courage yet again, he settled on Isirion and poked him in the left side of the chest: "'Don't you have a heart at all? You just realized that your five or six year old daughter is sitting alone in a freaking tomb and all you do is give Alzira a bit of advice on how to use your freaking daughter to get close enough to her mother to kill her? Don't you feel anything for her?" Isirion brushed Pride's finger away in an instant and explained with his usual ice-cold voice: "The sooner Celeris learns that death is part of life, the stronger she will be. I already told you I am going check on her myself, but it would be too conspicuous if we all leave at the same time in the same direction." Pride felt himself blush in shame under his mask after having jumped once again to the worst possible conclusion concerning his idol, but an unsettling feeling of doubt remained and so he ventured one last timid question: "And what will you do if you find her crying in the dark like any normal child that age certainly would be?" The answer he got was even more unsettling. Without hesitation, his voice reaching sub-zero levels again, Isirion replied: "If I find my daughter lacking in strength to live as a noble, I will put her out of her misery." In the mean-time at the entrance to the courtyard A rather bewildered sounding herald announced the arrival of Amara, daughter of the late lord Hassleborough and sole heiress to the Vine empire. Dressed up as the titular dragon, the young lady lost no time directing her entourage to place her gift, a particularly fine casket of Vine, on the designated platform. Afterwards she braced herself to endure the awkward greetings and offered condolences of those nobles who recognized her. To her surprise not even a single noble approached her, they all seemed to be busy searching for something or someone...
  17. Feeling the attention of the crowd drawn once again solely towards Isirion, Pride experienced an unsual pang of envy and guilt before his performer instincts kicked in. Swaying a little for effects, Pride drowned out Isirion's creepy merriment with a few hearty laughs of his own and bellowed: "A corner is a dead end, so let's search for the little heiress here? Pretty hilarious that now everyone, but Celeris is gathered here too. She must be laughing her noble behind off from watching your antics! You should really lay off the strong stuff for a bit." Finishing his misdirection with a few over-the-top back-slaps that cost him as much courage as he could muster, Pride steered his 'Death' back into the fold. On cue Fingers, walking as calmly as Alzira had instructed him to, appeared and offered a glas of wine. Isirion took it with an unsteady hand, unwittingly amplifying the illusion, that too much alcohol had been the only reason behind the huge commotion he had caused. Promptly the crowd dispersed as each individual realized that staring at an apparent drunken duo in a corner brought them not one step closer to finding Celeris. At loss what else to do, Isirion silently observed the movement of every other Death he could spot. It was the obvious solution to the riddle the blue lady had given them, however it was just as obvious that there was no disguised child among them. By dangling such an easy solution in front of them, the blue lady had them all moving exactly like puppets on a string. It was such a familiar feeling, that Isirion couldn't stop himself from laughing again: "Now she's really done it and made everyone her puppet. One can't help but admire her for that sheer audacity. Whether that particular trait is hereditary or not, Celeris should be anything but a puppet among puppets right now. I am going to check if she inherited my strength or already succumbed to crying in the cold, lonely darkness." "You didn't even believe she existed a few minutes ago and now you are telling me you know exactly where she is hiding?", Pride asked dumbfounded. "Exactly - and if she's anything like me, she will lie in wait with a real blade in her hand. Don't you see that the blue lady has told us exactly what to expect? Being born as a noble is not nearly enough. Without the strength to keep your life and your position, one would soon meet a dead-end. So where do dead nobles who didn't have enough strength go?" "They go into the family tomb", Isirion answered his own question and quoted the blue lady further: "Being able to forge connections, controlling your subjects and seeing through falsehoods while keeping an eye out for the competition are vital for every noble dead set on ruling this city. Camouflaged by a black cloak, silent as death Celeris should be waiting in the Phirestone tomb by herself for someone to figure out the clues. If the first person to find her is able to gain her trust, the special gift in itself would be the opportunity to forge such a rare alliance built on trust with the future ruler, sealed by clinking glasses. On the other hand, should the person that finds her first, harbour ill intentions, they will learn that even the youngest Phirestone has the will and the strength to defend herself. This is why the wilful lady described the game we are playing as one to prove our worth as much as Celeris'. Now Alzira if you want to effectively use my daughter as a stepping-stone to that private audience with her mother, you better choose your words carefully when you meet her."
  18. Tensing up even more, Isirion's normally graceful and predatory movements degraded to the point that a walking corpse would seem less awkward and stiff in comparison. Rigidly putting one foot before the other whenever Alzira changed directions, Isirion felt like he had been thrown in a totally diferent kind of arena. Instead of raging-mad starving dragons, he faced equally mad nobles, who all seemed to want a piece of him too. No amount of protest could stop them from snatching at his cloak trying to find out if he was a little girl in disguise, while Pride and Alzira were left untouched and swam through the throng like a fish through water. It was like everyone else at the party was a shark while he was a drop of blood. Pride, who by all means should have drawn way more attention with his glittering dragonfly costume and odd mask moved happily through the crowd all the while keeping his insectoid-eyes on the lookout. In his head the ex-arena master tried to organize everything he knew about the blue lady's offspring before sharing the information discreetly with the other three: "Celeris must be somewhere between five and six years old. While she is undoubtedly Cerulia's daughter, there have been quite a few speculations about her paternity. Just like the Hive Queen, our blue-eyed host had quite a few husbands, who met a more or less gruesome end. The last one, a brown-haired, brown-eyed Overton-oaf, was found with multiple stab wounds not long after 'Death' vanished from the public eye. Since Celeris has hair like wildfire and blazing blue eyes the rumour mills never stopped running behind the lady's back. Since both the von Gefallen and the Phirestone family derive their nobility from the maternal side, it doesn't matter lineage-wise, but it still makes one wonder. And now, from all the possible costumes, the Blue Lady has revealed to us that her daughter is dressed up exactly like our blue-eyed, hot-tempered Death, when he was her 'toy' about five or six years ago. Smiling again brightly like a sun under his full-face mask, Pride added cheerfully, as if it were a mere afterthought: "Blue Phire and Fiery Death indeed..." Hearing this, Isirion violently pulled away from the crowd and Alzira. Not missing a beat he quickly grabbed Pride with both hands and dragged him towards an empty corner, where he growled immediately: "What are you insinuating?" Pride struggled in vain and questioned back: "What were you insinuating when you told us about your time with the blue lady in such an ambiguous way? Enjoying the fruits of your work together? The lady being fully satisfied after you honed your body? She loved your eyes and she got everything she wanted from you? Isn't that the real reason you came to her party with us instead of hunting down the Black-Air-Bandits like you were supposed to?" Isirion let the flood of questions wash over him, then he sighed deeply and breathed: "You really don't know when to stop. I already told you that she bought me from the Nebs and used me as a toy, pet and murder weapon for her convenience. Why the hell would you think, that she'd have ever allowed something to grow from that?" "Because you are the epitome of strength and you do whatever is necessary to survive. Didn't you hear her speech on how harsh the life of a noble is in this city? What she really wanted from you is to pass on those traits to an offspring, so it would have the strength to one day be the heir of the most powerful and most hated family in the big city." Feeling like his world had just turned upside down, Isirion released Pride and leaned against the wall. His whole body felt numb as if he'd accidently gotten a taste of the poison Felicia planned to distribute. His mind played back all the interactions he had with the veiled aka the blue lady in order to find something that disputed Pride's theory, but there was no use. The moment Pride had said it, he knew it was the truth. The blue lady had used him for breeding an exceptional offspring just like she'd used her blue dragons - just like he'd used Torch. The irony was bloody hilarious. Before he knew it, Isirion laughed out loud, drawing once more the attention of the crowd that had backed off after his violent display. Observing the whole courtyard from the battlements in order to gauge the performance of those seeking her well-camouflaged daughter, the blue lady's gaze was drawn to one particular corner where one of the many 'Deaths' was drawing a lot of probably unwanted attention to himself. It was the same 'Death' that had barely escaped the clutches of the famous Hightower half-sisters, who had been easily recognizable in their revealing Blusang outfits. Cerulia concurred with the crowd that that 'Death' was indeed an interesting specimen and decided to watch him just a little while longer... Meanwhile close to the Blue Mansion "Straighten your backs. Hands away from your concealed knives. Don't look at people as if they were targets!" Amara's stern voice tried to whip the half a dozen 'gardeners' she had hired into a passable entourage. Without any family left it was the only way to enter the Blue Lady's party in order to make her debut and find clues which noble had ordered the assault on the Hassleborough mansion. Nightfeather, the most restless of the group, caught her injured hand for the nth time darting for a hidden dagger and cursed silently. Nightblade on the other hand was calm and composed. If they could pull off infiltrating the party, they would be so much closer to finding Trueshots real murderer. And it would not even be illegal or anything because they had the gross of the Nebulas backing them up. They just had to be careful not to deviate from the official story spread by the Nebs to prevent civil unrest when sounding out the nobles. Let them think that the murderer they hired was already dead so they might let something slip. It still hurt that Trueshot's body had been executed for that reason, but in the end it would all be worth it.
  19. Every time another black cloak appeared in his field of vision, Isirion tensed. Unlike the others party guests he didn't see them as costumes, but as the loathsome uniform of the Black-Air-Bandits. Moving through the crowd was much more difficult than in the streets, everyone seemed to be fixated on getting in his way. What saved him in the end was the arrival of a much bigger distraction. The musicians, that so far had not played a single note as to not interfere with the heralds announcing newly arrived nobles, suddenly played a long, drawn out march. From the entrance to the vast courtyard appeared a quartett of burly men lifting up a blue-tinged casket, draped with a hand-woven sapphire-blue cloth. Their feet moving in unison and in time with the funeral march, they carried the casket towards the pile of presents and set it down gracefully. On the last note of the march, with every pair of eyes on the casket, the lid suddenly sprung open. Out of the interior made of deep blue velvet, two people rose and smiled with apparent-fake-fangs. The man wore black formal wear styled like a male Vampire Dragon, the woman was dressed in white formal wear, reminiscent of a female Vampire Dragon. In the dead silence following their appearance, the herald announced with a voice as deep as a grave: Lord and Lady Marrovarg. For deadly frights caused by our arrival, kindly use Marrovarg Funeral Service With A Smile. Putting the fun in funeral we bury your sorrow and your body. Now with family discount. In the short amount of time, the crowd stood just frozen with shock, Isirion weaved his way back to the others and muttered: "Those nobles are all crazy..." Pride on the other hand started to clap and murmured: "I wish I had thought of such a splendid performance." The other guests seemed to share his opinion and soon started clapping too. Now that most other great noble houses and their retainers had arrived, the musicians played a cheerful tune, inviting the guests to dance, while on the battlements the first of many attractions of the night appeared. Six well-oiled, athletic humans, three male and three female, fought each other with spears burning at both ends. Their weapons whirled around, illuminating the darkness and drawing many cheers from the crowd. Soon they switched to flaming swords, knocking them out of each others hand and extinguishing the fire by swallowing them. For the next act they switched to even smaller weapons and juggled multiple burning daggers. It was a beautiful sight to behold until one of the jugglers lost his footing and stumbled. From the darkness immediately came the sound of a whip coiling around a neck and breaking it. The five remaining jugglers finished their performance and the blue lady entered the limelight. Standing errect like a statue, the sparkliness of her dress rivaling the night-sky, Lady Cerulia Phirestone the First welcomed her guests with a firm voice that easily carried over the courtyard: "Welcome my dear friends and enemies, tonight we have come together not to snap at each others heels, but to celebrate the debut of my daughter in our world. Being born as a noble is not nearly enough. Without the strength to keep your life and your position, one would soon meet a dead-end. Being able to forge connections, controlling your subjects and seeing through falsehoods while keeping an eye out for the competition are vital for every noble dead set on ruling this city. So, in order to prove your worth as much as hers, there will be a special gift for the first person to find and clink glasses with Celeris. Enjoy our first party-game: Search!"
  20. Recognizing the voice of true nobility, the clerks decided it was much safer to take their pent up anger out on another target. They returned the invitations with a bow and waved Alzira and her entourage through the checkpoint. Once they were a safe distance away and well within the party area, Felicia whispered: "That was the easy part, now we have to quickly find the master of ceremony to insert our performance into the schedule of the party before everyone toasts the blue lady. I am best suited for this task, so everyone else stay together and out of trouble until I come back." Pride smiled under his full face-mask and watched his beautiful wife disappear in the crowd. Why was there a crowd already?, Pride wondered until it hit him. He had forgotten that he wasn't the only one with an obsession with the legendary 'Death' in this city. Naturally 'Death' was a popular costume, but among half a dozen of generic black-cloak-red-stick-sword costumes, Isirion's genuine Black Dragon cloak along with the eye-catching Black Dragon full-face mask Pride had crafted stood out. Everyone present, who had been looking forward to the 'Death and the Dragon' performance gathered round the next best thing, openly comparing it with the von Gefallen interpretation. Noticing the commotion he caused, Isirion quickly walked away, but doing so with his usual predatory stride, made the situation worse. Two female party guests wearing especially revealing Blusang costumes teased him to 'take them' with his 'blade'. Another party guest dressed in black, who had been served too much alcohol by the dragon waiters already, sputtered something about challenging the imposter and tried to poke Isirion with a stick sword. Barely suppressing his urge to draw his very own, very real blade or at least the assassin's knife, Isirion dodged them all and looked for a way out...
  21. From the battlements of her fortress-like mansion, Lady Cerulia Phirestone the First observed the impact her peculiar decorations and draconic waiters had on the guests that had arrived so far. At first they had all been taken with awe, but now, that that von Gefallen distraction had arrived, their gazes kept wandering to her beautiful form and regal bearing that made her stand out even among her equally beautiful children. Clenching her fist in annoyance around the dragon-whip she wore as a belt on her Royal Blue dress fashioned from genuine dragon scales, Cerulia left her vantage point to check on her own child. She found Celeris in her private quarters trying to wriggle out of the skin-tight costume she had spent half an hour getting her into earlier. The blue lady watched her daughter's desperate attempts for a minute before she intervened: "Celeris, stop squirming, you will ruin that costume." "I don't care, I hate that costume, it makes me look ridiculous. Why would I want to look like one of your stupid pygmy decorations anyway. I want to wear my own costume!" Getting curious about the costume her daughter apparently preferred, Cerulia picked it up and laid it out on the bed for inspection. A smile flickered across her face as she straightened out an adult-sized, patched-up black cloak concealing a stick-sword partially painted red. Cerulia slowly traced the 'bloodstained blade' with her index finger, increasing her daughter's anxiety, before bursting into laughter: "Celeris, if you had chosen any other costume, I would have made you burn it with your own hands, but since I was quite fond of Death myself, I'll indulge you. Come with me. There is still time to turn this flimsy thing into a fear-inducing, deadly menace befitting that name!" Meanwhile at the tavern When the light coming through the windows had turned blue indicating the start of the long awaited masquerade party, Pride ushered everyone out and into the carriage Fingers had organized. It was a small carriage, so everyone had to squeeze together, but in the end they were on their way without damaging the costumes while the two pygmies took the much more comfortable and faster aerial route. At the entrance to the Blue Mansion, two human Dragonflies with their one-handed servant finally emerged alongside a black-haired lady dressed as a green Fire Gem dragon, accompanied by a bodyguard wearing a Black Dragon skin cloak and mask. Isirion had decided to stay in costume full-time stating that there could be other nobles besides the blue lady, who might remember his face from one of her underground-arena events. The real reason was of course, that he hated pretending to be weak and decrepit. It was also much easier to hide his bloodstained blade and assassin's knife in his usual getup. After dismissing and tipping the carriage driver, the group neared the invitation checkpoint whose clerks looked particular miserable. After being treated like dirt by the von Gefallens, the five-person group approaching them without an apparent present for the blue lady was the perfect opportunity to rebuild their crushed pride. Flaunting their full authority as members of the Phirestone household, the clerks demanded: "Papers and party gifts. If you fail to present them, we are empowered to escort you from the premises and discipline you in a most painful manner."
  22. Lady Cerulia Phirestone the First watched the sun dip below the horizon and smiled in anticipation. A second later the whole city turned her favourite colour as all the blue Nebulas flashed their wing patterns, while every red, green and purple one dimmed theirs. A certain tower captain, Darian Hightower who had received different orders from a von Gefallen offspring, wasn't too happy about this, but as long as it was only for a few minutes to indicate the biggest party of them all was starting, it wouldn't do any harm. The inhabitants of this city had gone through so much in the last days, they deserved a break and a distraction from the horror show their lives had become with dead people and dragons dropping in the streets and their favourite arena-master turning out to be a traitor. Darian sighed and inspected his blue Nebula costume, that, according to his family, should earn him a few points with the blue lady. Darian did not really want to earn points with any noble family, but as he was just a second son of the Hightower family, he didn't really have a chance. Either he submitted to the whims of more powerful families like the Phirestones and the von Gefallens, or he would find himself without an inheritance or worse. The blue mansion was almost unrecognizable, every stone of the fortress-like building had been decorated with shining blue crystals or equally beautiful blue flowers that together formed the crest of the Phirestone family: A sapphire-blue rose with deadly thorns that all but stabbed the male and female Royal Blues flanking it. The gates to the immense garden area had been thrown wide open, like a gaping maw waiting for prey to wander in. The garden path, winding like a serpent's tongue was hidden under layers and layers of blue flower petals. Before the real entrance to the mansion courtyard, a stone arch with Magelight Pygmies pinned to it as a light source had been installed as a security checkpoint. Each newcomer and his or her invitation was inspected under the magelight, before they were allowed inside the courtyard. Darian passed the checkpoint with no problems and met up with the rest of his family. His father was busy arranging their present, a glimmering cloak made from the hide of a rare blue dragon, on the platform reserved for the gifts the party-goers were supposed to bring. His mother was chatting with his direct superior, Sir Kenneth Overton, high captain of the Nebula patrol and total pain in the backside. Darian greeted them both and explored the premises. In plain view of the present-platform, long rows of tables loaded with polished silverware and plates bearing the Phirestone crest had been prepared. Spaced out evenly on the tables, pygmie-shaped candlesticks holding scented candles provided an eerie but fragrant light. The chairs were comfortable with hand-stitches cushions. A special table stood on a raised platform facing the others. It was mounted on a well-scrubbed Royal Blue, that didn't dare to move a muscle. To reach the table, you had to walk up a few stairs that had been attached to the tail and lower back spikes of the poor dragon. Darian stared in disbelieve, then quickly looked away. The scent of roasted meat gave him a new direction. Located near the rear-wall was the entire kitchen staff roasting pigs over a fire-pit, stirring pots and cutting vegetables. Close by waited dozens of dragon hatchlings dressed up as waiters. Their paws were clean and since they were dragons, no matter how hot the dishes, they didn't burn themselves carrying them. They also didn't drop a single plate, Darian noticed with awe, before he noticed slim scars, most likely from Cerulia's famous whip on almost every scaly waiter or waitress. A flourish of trumpets distracted Darian and he looked for the source. An herald dressed in black and gold with a perfectly stitched crest entered. Darian didn't need to strain his eyes to know what that crest depicted. Every one in the city and beyond knew the crossed golden needles crowning the head of a black, many-tailed dragon - The von Gefallens had arrived.
  23. All the while the Queen of the Battlefield spoke, carefully choosing her words and tone, Sodger had stood rigid like a stone, listening intently. The desert winds had changed and now brought with them a sound most welcome: Wingbeats alternating between powerful and frantic, as the predators he had sent closed in on their prey, corraling it right into the trap. Calculating the perfect moment in his head from the sounds and the perimeter he had walked tirelessly, Sodger raised his fist high into the air as a sign to spring the trap. The sentry wyverns roared and rose up until they were high above the approaching Sunstones. Bodies blazing, the Hellfires covered the sky in fire, denying even the slightest chance of escape. On the ground their hidden brethren shed their cover and aimed straight for the vulnerable underbellies of their confused enemies. Concentrated fire, overwhelming and precise made short work of the already harried host of Sunstones, but Sodger wasn't finished yet. Now that their mounts where falling onto the earth like ashes, it was time to deal with the bandits. A single gesture with his hand, universally understood and the Hellfires that had driven the Sunstones into the deathtrap simultaneously spewed fire from behind. The bandits, already scared out of their wits were incinerated on the spot and breathed their last in excruciating agony. Sodger seemingly deaf to their cries, his face bathed in red and blue flames, smiled and let loose a victory cry not unlike a full grown Hellfire. His re-unitied army responded in kind until another pass of his hand silenced the now battle-proven Hellfire Army. Knowing he was still facing Königin von Gefallen since neither of them had moved an inch from the moment the Sunstone-extermination had started, Sodger bowed as befitted her status and informed her calmly: "The corrupted city-nobles and their Nebula lackeys have 24 hours to surrender to me."
  24. Having been alerted by the two closest sentries to the arrival and composition of the small group, Sodger stood ready to face them. Having no trouble placing Königin's voice, still confident and commanding as ever, he hailed her back: "Greetings Königin von Gefallen, nicknamed Queen of the Battlefield and Wing Commander of the Black Dragon Regiment. I am Sodger, the ex-captain of the Royal Blues. You are without a doubt here to assess if I am a threat to your city. The only threat to the city are it's corrupted nobles and their bandit-lackeys. I have come to take care of both. Now, I must bid you leave with your company, lest your presence warns off our current prey, the so-called Sunstone Bandits."
  25. Königin observed the Hellfire Army encampment with a spyglass of her own and found it exactly as her heiress had described. She then directed her gaze towards the old man walking around impatiently as if waiting for something. Her body tensed up instantly - that man was indeed Sodger, ex-captain of the Royal Blues. Black Death noticed the change in her rider and whispered: "I recognize him too. He still has that impressive, ox-like physique and those sentry wyverns look even more impressive and strong." "Indeed, and they might all charge like a bull if we don't play this smart like we planned. Land here and we talk strategy when our offsprings have caught up." It didn't take long for Dämon and his test-subject companion to close the distance since he had wasted almost no time following his mother's orders. Königin greeted them with a curt nod and said: "You two will be my honour guard, flanking me while I ride into the camp in plain view. Once the sentries have called out my arrival to Sodger, I will greet him with his old title and the motto of the Royal Blues before I introduce myself with and my own full title and the motto of the Black Dragon regiment. Neither of you is to speak a word unless necessary. Chances are he won't recognize my voice, but he couldn't have forgotten the von Gefallen name. Now, let's proceed."