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X-DREAMERS [mission 01: ash and sand]

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After the man glanced over and ignored her, Cistina increased her speed, completely prepared to catch up to him. He, however, had other plans, slowing and decreasing his altitude, the buzzing of her cube in her hand fading slightly as he headed further from her. Cistina slowed into a hover as he landed, words coming to her mind easily. 

"Whirling winds, with fetters unseen, fix my foes to where they stand," she whispered, feeling a responding swirl of wind around her, then reached out a hand, visualizing the area in front and around the stranger's feet. There was an accompanying rush of air out from that spot, and through some process Cissy wasn't completely certain of, he should be stuck as his boots became fixed firmly to the ground below. Cistina made to drop down onto the ground in front of him and hesitated. I've no inkling of what he may be able to do. But it would be rude to remain floating while I attempt to converse. Instead, she gingerly landed in a crouch on an wooden outcropping, slowly so she could test to see if it could hold her weight and wouldn't break. It was surprisingly sturdy--if she had to kick into the air, it would still hold. Nodding to herself absentmindedly in approval, she wondered how she should talk to him.

 

"I apologize for binding you to the ground," Cistina began, "but my friends and I desperately need something that we believe is on your person."  

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Jowan [ we make sacrifices ]

 

Jowan barely has time to react. He stops in his tracks, nearly tripping in his attempt to avoid running into the path of the… thing. Large, round pieces of metal have replaced the figure’s eyes, and yet it steps with a sense of sureness as if it isn’t hindered by a lack of sight. Fear clenches around his heart, despite the figure’s seeming focus on the rust-coated man. 

 

He spares a moment to glance at Duke. Duke is, surprisingly enough, staring intently at his cube. It hardly seems like the time. But the cube must have some new information on it, for Duke to be so focused on it, and Jowan wishes he knew what it said. It’s too far away and the angle is wrong for him to make it out. 

 

Duke draws his sword and strides forward, clearly intending to fight the steel-eyed figure. Jowan inhales sharply, momentarily forgetting Duke’s ability to produce barriers. Still, he knows that Duke is not infallible, has seen it, and trying to fight the figure seems wrong in a way. It moves in a way that suggests confidence, like it doesn’t have anything to fear. Like it knows that it can get whatever it wants. 

 

Duke pushes against the figure with his barrier, but it isn’t enough to knock it to the ground. It stares at Duke. Jowan swallows. Ignoring Duke’s silent warning to stay back, he takes a single step forward and raises his uninjured hand in front of him. It shakes as a small orb of purple energy coalesces in front of it. 

 

The figure pushes back, and Duke is thrown backward, his sword skittering across the bridge and into the canal. The spell in Jowan’s hand falters, and someone shouts, “No!” -- it might have been him, but it doesn’t matter. He readies the spell again, faster this time, and launches it towards the figure. He realizes his mistake -- that the shimmering blue barrier is blocking him -- too late, but the spell is barely slowed by it. Huh. It hardly matters -- between his haste and his shaking hands, the weak Arcane Bolt only glances the figure.

 

It’s not enough. He can’t- he can’t protect Duke like this. Andraste help him. 

 

He swears under his breath, and before he can think his way out of it he shoves his hand under his sleeve, pulls the bandage aside, and jabs his fingers into the seam of flesh and skin. A muffled cry escapes through gritted teeth, high and pained. Tears well up in his eyes and his vision goes dark around the edges. It’s far worse than the easy sting of a sharp knife, far more painful than even the initial injury, but his stitches have been torn free and his fingers are wet with blood. Dark droplets seem out of the wound and splash onto the stone beneath his feet. Okay. It’s okay, he can do this. 
 

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Arch - Fountain at Crossroads ----> Clockshop

 

Out of his peripheral view, Arch spotted Theo inch closer towards him. Arch gently brushed one of his wings against Theo’s shoulder. Arch had developed the unhelpful habit of latching onto Theo whenever he was uncertain or upset, especially before a fight. Even if there was a tight knot of anxiety lodged in his stomach or if he didn’t know what to do Arch could anchor himself with Theo’s touch and block out his insecurities with a mantra of he’s here, he’s here.

 

Stan was quick to assuage Arch’s and Theo’s fear of being attacked, but Arch refused to put down his weapon. Logically, if the city was as large as Stan claimed it to be then the chances of running into the creature was clearly not near them was slim. If Arch was curious enough, he could always fly up and locate the creature himself, but he doubted he’d get far. He knew Theo got particularly antsy when they were separated. Even if Theo did trust him to return back safely, there was no doubt in Arch’s mind that he might just try to leap up and cling to an airborne Arch in hopes of dragging him back down to safety.

 

Pressing his lips into a thin line, Arch listened as Stan muttered into the device in his hand. It seemed as though the loud shriek was from one of the other new agents. Arch didn’t recall seeing a white robot at the gateway, but, then again, his knowledge of robots was limited. He faintly recalled Annette using the term once when talking about her little floating golem and the young girl who always clung to her arm, but Arch didn’t know if all “robots” looked like those two or if they could have an entirely different appearance. Still uncertain, Arch peered over at Theo. He was there. It would be fine. Forcing himself to take a few breaths, Arch lowered Sherrkyle, the magical string within it vanishing into thin air.

 

With his guard lowered, Arch quietly followed Stan into the shop where the sand supposedly was. Arch spared the strange peasant girl a glance, looking her over briefly to determine if she was a threat or not, before turning his attention to Stan.

“You needn’t worry about the sand,” Arch said with a wave of his hand. “I wouldn’t be a proper angel if I couldn’t protect a few humans from harm, now would I?” With a snap of Arch’s fingers, semi-translucent, blue bubbles appeared around the humans in the room. Arch glanced between each person in the room, making sure they were all protected before nodding to himself. His four wings sprung open as he took a step towards the sand. “Do tell me if any sand lands on your shields afterward,” Arch said, glancing over his shoulder. “I’ll be sure to dispose of it before removing the shields.” Without any further comments, Arch looked back at the sand and began flapping his wings. Arch found himself hovering a few inches off the ground as his wings flapped, causing the glittering gold sand to be flown to the back of the shop. Had Stan not mentioned how dangerous the sand really was, Arch might have enjoyed watching the spectacle of the golden sand flying through the air before settling down back onto the ground far at the end of the building.

 

Once the sand had been sufficiently cleared, Arch slowly closed his wings as he gently landed on the ground.
“Was there anything else you required of me?” Arch asked Stan as he turned around to properly address him.

 

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#Duke and Jowan#

 

The Steel Inquisitor cannot see the visual cues of the barrier rippling and weakening, nor how far it stretches in all directions -- but with enhanced senses it feels the minute shifts in the wind as Duke's barrier briefly wavers in and out of existence when he hits the ground. It seemed like its greatest strength in this world was also a great weakness, for the ironsight granted by its abilities allowed it to sense the trace metals in all objects -- but the intangible forces of the arcane held no physical presence.

 

A bolt of energy grazes its face and for a second they falter, eyebrows raised and bewildered at the sudden force that scrapes their cheek and draws blood.

 

There was a second figure coming to aid the first, and from its hunched shoulders and rapid breathing, the inquisitor could tell the man was afraid for his friend and afraid for himself (as they should be). With a hand against the invisible barrier to feel for its strength, the inquisitor burns iron and yanks on the caped man's belt to lurch him forward into his own shield.

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[ not today : duke -- ; ]

 

Had Duke not been so busy trying to collect his thoughts from his scattered form on the ground, he would have raised verbal agreement at why Jowan is stepping forward instead of backwards, as was the plan. Were his silent gestures too little to notice? Maybe next time he should settle for physically pushing people out of the way.

 

No, he thinks briefly to himself. Not a good idea to force others into anything, even if --this is not the time. Duke gathers himself even if his limbs feel like jelly from being suddenly slammed onto the concrete ground, and just as he manages to raise himself --

 

Everything happens in thirds. First, there is the flash of light, bright purple that contrasts the harsh glimmer of white light reflected in the enemy creature's terrible metal eyes, and the sun overhead is clear and -- three lights, distinctly flashing before his tired eyes, but what he sees next is the sounds. First, a fragment of the past, the shout as his back met cobblestone -- from Jowan? But he does not know why the other would worry, because he does not go back on his word, not when there is so much at stake -- and then a muffled noise he cannot quite make out, and then -- the splashing of something

 

He looks back just in time to see that Jowan's fingertips are coated scarlet in the bright afternoon light, the sun sideways a perfect overlay to their battle on the bridge, and Duke's eyes widen -- how? Had the creature --

 

He does not get time to voice his concerns nor think of his next actions before he is being pulled forwards once more, towards the terrible creature with a hand pressed against his barriers, and Duke grimaces. Pulled forwards suddenly, he scrapes his heels into the ground and attempts to resist, but the force pulling against him is inhuman, unforgiving, constant, and his resistance is only met with an overpowering strength that yanks him forwards against his will. 

 

But he cannot let up. It would be far worse to crash against the unknown enemy than his own barriers. Duke readies his mind to keep his barriers stable, and he turns, wanting to lessen the impact on his front, and -- he seems to be turning in the easiest way, to the left ,where his belt -- his belt? Is vibrating with unknown power.

 

A second before he is about to make contact, Duke sees his barriers falter. 

 

Empress above, Vylcan says, and then -- his voice is terrible and sympathetic and wrong -- 

 

His barriers break entirely, and for a split second Duke feels -- fear?

 

Absolutely not. 

 

What are you -- He does not give the spirit time to respond, because he knows what he must do, what is the better course of action, and so Duke overrides the other's thoughts and instead creates a wall before him, neon blue and solid and tall enough to cut the skies. 

 

Then, he sees more than feels his body hit his barrier with a solid thump, the blue light vibrating across the sky as it holds. There is silence, the feeling of slamming into his magic powerful enough to surround a city against firepower overtaking his thoughts, and then Duke slumps down and tries to breathe. Vylcan is silent, and then --

 

Victoria, he says, and Duke feels his breath catch, because he -- has never spoken of the past, not like this. If only you were here, my victory. 

 

But they all have people that are remnants of the past, and Victoria -- is gone. She is across the sea, forever. 

 

He staggers to his feet -- not beaten, not yet -- and leans against his barriers, the enemy momentarily forgotten as he tries to collect his thoughts. As he does so, the prominent blue colour of his barrier slowly dims back to invisibility. 

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   By the Canal - A Little Shady?

   These strange humans were no less confused by Yusei's approach. The lead guard mentioned something: allomancy. It was new to the machine. He had heard of metallurgy, but not allomancy; maybe it was just a different name.
 

   The tension was only mounting, and the anxiety of the guards was all too familiar to Typheus. He kept his attention on them and Yusei, not too worried about the girl, Elise, as the guards called her. She returned the mech's caution, but kept it focused on Yusei.
   "I've never seen any magic like yours before, Mr. Fudo," she said. "Allomancy is too weak to break a wall, so how does yours work?"
   Typheus kept his speaker dead, waiting for Yusei's move. He still couldn't tell if he was the type to lie, or only skirt it. He himself was too straightforward, so he had to trust the engineer as he seemed to know what he was doing better than the mech, if his knowledge of missions was anything to go by, plus the hints of fighting experience. Although the fact that he hadn't answered yet concerned him a little.
 

   Finally, Yusei relaxed a bit, beginning to explain: "My magic does not involve allomancy. You're not familiar with it." A hush fell as Yusei quickly drew out something small and flat, like a stamped piece of metal, then inserted it into the disc on his arm. "I summon Sonic Chick."
   Immediately Typheus processed that the disc was not a weapon, but rather some kind of teleporter, so he was able to restrain his surprise when a bright orb appeared before Yusei, then opened like a portal before depositing a bird in its place; or at least, he thought it was a bird? It was largely avian, but wearing a collar, and shoes? An orange feather sprouted comically from the top of its head.
   The being's cuteness completely took him off guard. If Yusei could summon things so perfectly with a teleporter, wouldn't he beam in a weapon? Or maybe that was the purpose of beaming this particular creature in: to lower everyone's guard and to make him - or, well, both of them - look more normal. Conversely, it was also making them stand out more; those people who skirted the guards earlier, no matter how they tried, still couldn't help but glance back at the awing situation. The mech bristled with growing apprehension.
 

   "Junk Warror stands behind me, one of my most trusted allies," Yusei said. Typheus's eye dimmed for a second, then caught Yusei's glance and lit up at the coverup. "Let's make a trade. I'm new to your lands and know little about your magic. For every piece of information I share about my own, you share a bit of yours."
   The alarm bells rang louder. Typheus stooped as far as he could to the engineer, whispering "This is a bad idea-", but Lady Elise cut him off.
   "A fair trade indeed. We have a deal then, Mr. Fudo?"
   No, Typheus wanted to answer for him. He looked up at the girl, staring at her distrustfully. She has to be up to something. What happened to her previous indignity? What is Yusei getting us into? Is this wise?
   At least Fiddlesticks isn't here to make things worse, but she also isn't here to somehow make things better...
 

   The guards calmed a bit, which was more unusual, and with an enthusiastic clap that made the mech twitch, Elise began to explain what the lead guard had called "allomancy". Typheus's cynicism deepened, but as long as he was in this situation with no one else to protect he might as well help Yusei out, as his Junk Warrior.
   ...There was something charming about that name. It resonated with his past.
   Typheus blinked and straightened back up, recording each point Elise made. Something about eating metal to provide abilities, and iron can pull metal toward the user, which is why Elise wore no metal. He wasn't entirely listening as he was also rewinding recent memories to recall how much information Yusei shared, although one thing was for sure: this was not Earth, and sure as heck wasn't Zirhon. Too bad for Fiddlesticks. He could only hope she doesn't figure it out and go rampaging, even if it would be easy to find her, but he also knew she was smarter than that... so hard to predict.

   Lady Elise demonstrated her ironpulling, not using a device or uttering any sort of order, but instead seemingly to lose her balance, grabbing onto a guard for support; at the same time Yusei suddenly jerked forward as if he was yanked on. Typheus reached out to stabilize him, but let his arms drop when he regained his composure.  Not understanding what he just witnessed, the mech flashed his scanner over Yusei, the visible yellow grid falling over his form with the faintest clicking.

   Polyesters... alloys... lots of biomatter... nothing connecting to him... Typheus's threads churned. It's not physical while having physical effects... Pressure? Magnetism? He switched his target to the area immediately in front of the human, expecting to see some kind of disturbance left by electricity, pressure waves, or some other force, but only picked up the many flecks of soot floating in the air like dust.

   He wasn't sure how he felt about that. A woman who could make things move by her will, without warning?
   Typehsu bent down again close to Yusei, keeping his speaker volume so he wouldn't startle the engineer. "Should we trust her? She's awfully relaxed now," he pointed out. To provide context for his thoughts, he added, "In case she accuses us of reticence later, I plan on tallying our shared 'facts'. I don't trust what she's going to do later."

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Jowan [ it has begun ]

 

Jowan’s breathes heavily, struggling to focus. He is unused to the level of pain in his arm, but the adrenaline helps and he has more important things to worry about. It’s just pain, and he has suffered worse. 

 

He begins to ready a spell again, this time drawing his power from the blood seeping from his arm. The ease of powering spells with blood instead of the Fade is almost calming, the magic so close to the surface that he just take it and shape the world. Red sparks gather around his outstretched hand.

 

Blood Wound isn’t a spell that he’s used before. He’s never had enough of a reason to; from the descriptions he managed to find, it’s rather nasty. Even the Templars hadn’t deserved that, and he never got into a real fight afterwards. It’s still enough to make him hesitate, and… he doesn’t want Duke to see him like this. It’s bad enough that his fingers are reddened, that he tore into his own flesh like some sort of disgusting monster. 

 

There are other spells that he can use. He could lie, say that the stitches had been torn out by something that the figure did. 

 

But the approaching figure… it’s frightening, in a way that’s somehow very different from the Templars. The figure has already injured Duke, and Jowan isn’t sure if he’s going to get back up. 

 

He can’t just leave Duke to fight alone.

 

He hears the scrape of something against stone, and he looks at Duke to see him being dragged towards his barrier by his belt. Duke's eyes are widened in fear, and it’s enough to convince Jowan to snap his eyes back towards the figure and release the spell in a rush of magic. It isn’t the time to hold back. If the spell hurts the figure, all the better, just so long as it stops

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The girl next to Stan seemed rather quiet. With Lara’s sudden presence, it seemed as if the girl was suddenly hesitant to speak. Lara blinked. Well, pleasure to meet you too, she thought. She took the time to look the girl over and see what she was like. The girl was rather small, but not quite young. She seemed to be about Lara’s age, even. She looked very well kept, as if she may have been a step up from most peasants, not like Duke, who was always clean and still a peasant. This world wasn’t quite the same as this one, she had to remember, there may not be clean water for everyone in the city. 

 

Lara decided to question the girl about the artifact, since this was what they were here for. “Excuse me, is there anything important to note about the area? Or about the artifact? Anything at all?” She had a strong feeling that, with the girl’s sharp turn, she wasn’t going to have a positive response. Not everyone was kind to strangers, so Lara knew she had to be quite cautious. 

 

Quite the lovely company you’re keeping, Stanley. Did I miss anything important on my way here?” She knew she could trust Stan. The two knew each other well enough to exchange information, after all. Stan wouldn’t give her such a nasty response. He usually gave very cheeky responses, or serious ones, it really depended on the situation. She honestly couldn't predict him anymore. It was like trying to pry open a combination lock with a string. Waiting for him, she turned to her own thoughts.

 

The glints of gold in the room seemed rather eerie. Lara knew that wasn’t natural, from what Stan said, she was screwed if she touched it. What was it like, turning into one of those monsters? How did it feel? Would she lose her mind if she touched the sand? Her humanity, certainly, would have been as good as gone. And then Stan would have to kill her, probably letting the news get back to her world somehow. Winston would have a stroke if that happened to her. He was already worried about her traveling to different worlds. After all, it certainly wasn’t the same as excavating the local tombs on her planet. 

 

How would Stan have felt if he had to kill Lara? That thought crossed her mind pretty quickly. Suddenly, even. But it was a bit of a concern. He couldn’t shoot her with apathy, could he? Lara knew she wouldn’t be quite so emotionless, even if the person she shot had turned into a monster. It would have killed her to try and shoot Stan if that were the case. Monster or not, he was still Stan. He started off human. Lara pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. This was not the time to be having such feelings. Instead, she awaited for further notice from either Stan or the girl, if she decided to say anything to her.

Edited by Mikasa361

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#Cistina#

 

 

The hooded man stumbles as his feet suddenly refuse to leave the ground. He pulls at a nearby door hinge behind him to stop himself from falling flat forward.

 

The woman was polite -- almost distrustfully formal given the situation. If it were not for recent events, he would have thought her abilities were some kind of enhanced allomancy left unknown until now. But he is inclined to believe his instincts and his bronze ability, which told him that she did not move like an allomancer, nor acted like one, and that made it entirely clear that she likely had a few more non-allomantic skills in her billowing sleeves. It also made it clear that it was that artifact she was after. He wasn't about to relinquish it, after all the effort to steal it back.

 

"What, this?" he says, lifting his chin to meet her eyes while she was on her perch. He shrugged his relaxed shoulders and lifted his empty palms, slipping comfortably into the persona of the smooth-talking thief.

 

Because of the item in question, he had to keep a steady distance from the inquisitor to stay out of range of its incredible pulling power (and he had no doubt that to it, his chest shone bright blue because of it), though he was certain that this woman was no allomancer. He feels comfortable reaching a hand up and slipping it into the inner lining of his waistcoat. Within his pocket, he shakes the magical weapon loose from its scabbard and slowly draws it out for the woman to see.

 

It is a dagger -- glimmering golden sand swirls inside its handle of glass and ornamental steel, and the surface of the blade itself is etched with curled patterns shining bright with arcane energy.

 

Cistina's cube pulses. That was it.

 

The hooded man keeps a tight grip on the handle and keeps his iron burning, in case she did end up having an ability similar to a lurcher's. "Not that you'll remember seeing it," he adds, baring half his teeth in a smirk just as the dagger begins to glow in his hand.

 

Suddenly, time rewinds. The woman in yellow performs her actions in reverse and so does he, both defying gravity and moving backwards into the sky. Time resumes a few seconds earlier, both of them again soaring through the air as if he never landed and she never caught him off guard.

 

This time, he takes care not to land lest his feet get glued to the ground again.


((The radius of the time bubble is about 20 meters, meaning that Cistina would be the only one caught in it. Normally, only the user is aware of the rewind, but since all agents have been affected by a space-time anomaly they too would witness the reverse and remember the events that were undone.))

 

Edited by TehUltimateMage

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#Lara#

 

The portable voice on Stan's strange device belonged to this woman. The one who 'judo-flipped someone off a roof', whatever judo-flipping meant.

 

The skaa girl, Cam, shoots her a suspicious glare with narrowed eyes, as if deciding whether or not she should trust this woman, too. She scrunches her face as if she were about to say something angry, but then her expression droops and she lets seep out the breath she forgot she was holding. To contain her emotions, she curled in her bottom lip and absently bites it.

 

"If only you all got here half a day earlier," she whispers to Lara, almost inaudible, once the woman was finished with her quip. "Maybe you could have helped us."

 

Once the impressive winged person set up his shield and swept the sand into one corner, Cam burns her iron. She had replenished her reserves just a little while ago, using the last of the metal shavings she had on herself. The arcane power overlaid her vision with blue lines, some thick, others faint, leading to the gears and hands in the many timepieces, the nails in the floor above and below, the angel and his companion's weapons and armor, and, as she saw when he first entered the store (before he even showed it to her), the metal concealed under one of Stan's gloves. The two other extra-dimensional members were fairly diligent with keeping most metal off their persons, though the entirely cloaked one with the bird mask was carrying only small knives and scissors half exposed on her belt.

 

Cam knew the hourglass was not huge, but it was sizeable, like one of the tabletop clocks. Keeping her gaze on Stan and his little device, she tries to sort through them to see which one might most likely lead to their objective.

 


 

Stan -- Clock shop

 

 

Stan nodded his appreciation to the angel. He couldn't help but grin. "No, that's it! That's perfect, thanks!" It was very impressive! Arch was immediately responsive, did things when he was asked, and went above and beyond -- putting up barriers just to protect everyone out of consideration. This was already many steps above half the agents (including himself) in the squad, who didn't follow orders well or at all. They couldn't pick who decided to drop in at the gate, but it was sure as hell a godsend when it wasn't someone with a lightning-bolt temper and a chip on his shoulder.

 

"I don't think you missed much of the info we know already, Lara," he states. "It doesn't take much sand to turn someone into a... monster, once you touch it, and it looks like there's a good bit of it in the city and its waters."

 

He turned away from her. "You know, if I fall into the sand," the man began, his expression hidden but his voice suddenly somber. "Don't give up on me. There's too much unfinished business on me for it to end here."

 

"So if I do become a monster, lock me away -- but I'd still like to live."

 

It was cowardly, sure. The noble thing in stories would be to request being slain, but he didn't want to die and he wasn't planning to. And he had a blind, perhaps entirely misplaced faith that in the infinity of universes out there, there could be a cure for whatever transformation the cursed sand brought -- which meant that it there could always be a better way than being killed, even if it meant years spent as a mockery of one's original form. From Cam's dark eyes and conflicted expression at his request, though, he could tell that she didn't share his blind faith at all -- for her, monsters were to be eliminated as a simple fact of survival even if they were once human.

 

He turned back to Lara, lighthearted and smiling again. "Let's wrap this up and get back to safety then, shall we?"

 

~

 

Stan paces forward into the cleared space, carefully placing each foot down even though there was no longer a sea of sand to deal with. The agent held up his phone flat in his palm and pivoted slowly on his heels, watching the pixels on the device's display shift ever so slightly depending on his direction, and follows it near the sand in the back of the room. "Should be somewhere... around... he--"

 

Like a triggered landmine, the sand near his boots explodes outwards. He screams and feels his arm lurch backwards, an invisible force yanking his whole weight back right in time to avoid the spray of particles. He crashes onto the the wooden floor and for a brief moment panic overwhelms him as he thought one of those steel-eyed men were back and again threatening to rip the metal from his body.

 

Instead, when he lifts his head, he sees a creature on four legs, the size of a cat, shining from within like a lantern.

 

He rolls and protects his face with his metal arm when the monster pounces on him and attempts to sink its teeth into the titanium. "Rats!" he cusses. "Literally!" he adds after a beat, scrambling onto his feet and succeeding in shaking the creature off.

 

The rat monster rights itself in the air and lands on its tiny hands with oversized claws. It was bony, lithe, and glowed from the inside through its papery skin; its flesh seemed to be mummified, as if eroded and dried by the sand, and parts of its bones showed through rips in its body. But despite its partially decayed nature, the creature is still quick and very much alive when it hisses at the group.

 

Meanwhile, another small shape digs its way out of Arch's pile, stumbling out of it instead of pouncing. It is a regular rat. As if weakened by the sand in its fur, it limps a couple steps before it begins to shriek and contort and grow in size to resemble the first, with glowing cracks appearing on the surface of its skin in places where it stretches and splits. Its muscles painfully seize and it drops dead -- but only for a moment -- before it is reanimated by the magic of the golden dust.

 

"One of the anchors is on the move," Stan's phone suddenly pipes up in his hand. Duke. Where was he? "I would chase it, but we have a slight ... situation. Anyone up for a much-needed round of fresh exercise?"

 

Stan doesn't answer, his voice lost in his own 'slight situation', but he hears Cistina's acknowledgment -- "Gladly!".

 

 

~

 

((And our time is now roughly synced up again. Will follow up in chat.))

 

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[ battle ready : theo -- ; ] 

 

Theo, momentarily assigned to sulking at the back of the room, immediately glowers at Stan when the man thanks Arch with just a little too much appreciation; his cheerful tone of voice and complete marvel at the angel's various abilities is, as Theo knows, exactly what Arch wishes for humanity to view him as, but that does not mean the knight is satisfied with this outcome. He does not want the people of this strange organisation to become used to their aid -- not when he does not exactly know who they are, yet.

 

Theo is loyal, unwaveringly so, but at the cost of his own personal sense of trust. 

 

He looks away, uninterested in the workings of the X-Dreamers as they begin to approach the mysterious sand in question -- really, what was so conflicting about sand? -- but is quickly drawn back by a scream. Immediately, Theo leaps to his senses; he has not spent most of his life as a guard for nothing, and with the trained eye of a bodyguard used to fending off assassins and protecting his lady -- always, forever, eternally -- Theo immediately conjures Legios into his hands. 

 

The weight of the familiar demonic spear in his hands is reassuring, absolutely so, and Theo makes his way to the front with a determined step, pushing Arch slightly behind him as he did so. Red lightning sparks with magic energy that resonates in his veins, and Theo immediately jumps, using his momentum and his steel-tipped shoes to launch himself across the counter. The sound of breaking clocks accompanies his movements as he lands down, feet first and ready to battle, beside Stan.

 

"Out of the way," he commands, shouldering Stan aside, feeling the fur of his collar brush against his chin as he moves to stand before the strange creature -- rat-like in appearance, but definitely not, and it reminds him of the undead summoned by -- Malduk --

 

Malduk.

 

Almost as if by sheer instinct, the mere thought of the cursed name ignites something within Theo; his fingers spark dangerously across the line of his spears, but he wills himself to calm. He crouches slightly, prepared to launch any counterstrike against the creature, and waits for command, Despite perfectly wanting to blow this place down, he will not unless he knows the humans trapped within are safe. 

 

The man behind him emits a strange noise, and it takes Theo a second to realise it is a communicator. Someone else's voice fills the room, loud and using entirely too much words to convey one simple message, and Theo narrows his eyes. 

 

Not the time -- not when the enemy is in sight. He ignores the call, wondering if anyone will offer to take search. The anchor, moving? That sounded worrisome, considering -- Theo is pretty sure that is what they have come here to retrieve, after all. 

Edited by takatsuki

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#Duke and Jowan#

 

The barrier falters again and this time, shatters entirely. The Inquisitor feels it through its hand, how it suddenly disappears from existence, and prepares to reach through it to grab Duke by the collar -- except again, they find their knuckles strike a solid, undetectable wall. The light show is lost on their sightless eyes, but they can see the caped man strike his side against that same barrier and fall to the ground in a heap. His breathing is labored and struggling, but the persistent man still somehow finds the strength to rise again.

 

They are ready to repeat the same trick -- or would have, had Jowan not interrupted.

 

The inquisitor freezes in place. Even if they are no stranger to pain, the unexpected feeling of rippling fire in their veins shocks their entire body and paralyzes their nerves. They stand with their mouth agape in a silent scream, still and vulnerable.

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Lara decided to ignore the attitude she almost got from this girl. She wanted to hit her from the second she released her breath. But in such good company, she decided hitting someone would probably not have been a good idea. Lovely company indeed, she thought to herself, I’ll bet she’d be my best friend forever! ….Bah. I’ll work with her as long as I have to, then I’ll hop off and investigate the damn robot. Unarmed, and with these bloody MONSTERS around, I don’t know how much I like this place. Indeed, she didn’t like this place one bit. She couldn’t even bring her guns, and she would be damned if she didn’t mentally gripe about it every bloody hour. Lara then turned her focus to Stan when he began to speak. She hadn’t missed all that much, luckily she was able to catch as much as Stan was. All was well in that area, at the very least.

 

Still, the girl did seem rather depressed. There was something in the way she stood, something in the way her eyebrows furrowed when she made her quiet little retort. She noticed how intently she looked at each of them- Badu, herself, Stan, the two new kids… It started to creep her out. There was something going on here, Lara wasn’t born an hour ago. She was staring as if they possibly had something the girl wanted, and she was a native of the area. Was she….? A-ha…. Lara observed her just as cautiously as she was being observed.

 

Until Stan got into the bit of him possibly becoming a monster. “What?” she had let slip when he first let out that request. No, she couldn’t… She couldn’t kill him, she knew, but let him live as a monster? Her feelings began to conflict with one another, swirling in her mind and tumbling over one another as she let everything process. Stan was serious. She could tell by the way his jaw clenched when he looked at her. What would she have done in that situation, if she became one of those monsters? Would she rather have been killed? Or would she go the Stan route and stay alive, with the hopes that she would be cured? That was the real question, wasn’t it? Stan was certain of his own fate. He knew what he would want if something like that were to happen to him. Lara truly hoped that someone would use their better judgment if it happened to her. Stan seemed to lighten up after a while, yet Lara sighed. “And Stan, if it’s me, just use your better judgment. Let’s go.” She followed him further into the shop, wondering just what she was going to find.

 

The sand seemed to implode near her as Stan was catapulted across the room. She kept her guard up, but what she saw wasn’t good. It was a giant rat, one of the creatures she hated most. But now wasn’t the time to scream. It looked disgusting, half-rotted and huge, and Lara wanted so badly just to shoot it. Too bad for her she wasn’t armed. Her joints seemed to freeze up as she stared at it, ready to choke it out if she had to. It bit Stan’s (thankfully metal) arm, clinging on until Stan managed to shake it off. Of course, it had almost died. Or, it appeared it did, but the sand brought it back. Another rat just so happened to reach the golden sand. The poor thing appeared to writhe in pain as it transformed into a monster. Lara winced. Figures. Lara was ready to try and choke it out before one of the new kids stepped forward. He was ready to fight, probably to try and kill the damned thing. Lara waited, ready to fight in case the thing tried to bite her.

Edited by Mikasa361

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[ one's own strength : duke -- ; ] 

 

Slowly, his thoughts come in waves. The shock of being slammed against his barrier fades silently, nearly unnoticed by Duke as he grimaces under the throbbing pain of his left side, which had taken most of the impact. Before him, Duke squints at the fading blue barrier as his senses slowly calm with the receding light before him, and the face of the human-like being that had pulled him towards it becomes visible.

 

The eyes -- or rather, the lack of eyes -- is horrifying as expected, and Duke swallows heavily, feeling a sense of doom rise up within him at being so close to this creature. The metal-eyed being looks seconds away from action, and Duke braces himself for whatever may follow -- even then, he cannot help the instinctive flinch that he gives when the other moves forwards, and they are only separated by a barely-visible barrier, now.

 

But then, they stop. Duke's eyes widen at the same time the other's mouth opens, and they look -- affected? How? He doesn't quite understand exactly what is happening, but he knows one thing: that there is a window of opportunity, and he must take it now -- otherwise, otherwise -- what chance does he have?!

 

He will not lose here -- not when he has promised so much, when he has given his word, and he is -- determined to -- win.

 

Don't falter. Perhaps it is a combination of the sense of urgency and the split second fear he feels from being so close to the inhuman being, or that they have no eyes -- no emotions, no betrayal, and Duke acts. He raises a barrier above the being's head, and with a moment's hesitation -- slight, just enough for him to draw a breath -- but then he remembers the feeling of being pushed and pulled around by the metal-eyed creature with no sense of mercy, the idea that -- if he does not act here, he will lose, forever, and --

 

Duke launches the barrier down with all of the strength he can conjure. He wants -- no, he does not want, he needs, because battles are won through desperation -- the being before him gone, entirely vanquished into the make of the stones at his feet, even as his arms tremble by his sides and he holds his breath, watching as his barrier slams down without mercy against the being before him, a compression entirely fueled by the realisation that there is no other way. 

 

There is silence.

 

And then, the stones at his feet crack. Dust whips up in a cacophony of noise, an explosion before his very eyes as the glimmer of the metal eyes that fixate on his soul disappears into the unforgiving darkness of the waters below. 

 

Duke realises his action a split second too late and he immediately jumps backwards, the momentum of the bridge breaking abruptly before him wanting to carry him forwards into a watery grave. The metal-eyed other is gone now -- where to? He has lost track of his surroundings -- in the chaos of stones erupting into the air as the very make of the bridge shifts and the canal underneath rumbles with sudden disruption. 

 

Duke scrambles, unable to find purchase in the crumbling wreckage around him, but eventually he manages to half-backstep, half-leap his way to safety by Jowan's side, eyes focused on the sudden, gaping hole he has managed to create in the centre of the bridge.

 

Cistina is going to be upset, Duke thinks, dazed, and he hopes no one reports this incident to Xander. If they were trying to avoid the eye of whoever was in charge, then certainly -- he has failed. 

 

But that is not a loss. Rather -- he has proven that the enemies of this place can be defeated, and Duke gives an exhilarated laugh fueled only by adrenaline, his cape whipping furiously in the winds that the ruins that lie before him have created. 

 

Oh, if only Cistina was here. Then getting over the bridge would be so much easier. 

 

But he does not have time. The stones underneath his feet have begun to crumble, a rebellion against their architecture sustained by the laws of nature, and Duke turns back.

 

His immediate response upon seeing the blood that coats Jowan's forearm is one of absolute horror, and Duke does not do well to hide his emotions at the realisation -- had the metal-eyed person hurt Jowan? When?

 

It must have been during the chaos of battle, when he could focus on nothing else.

 

But this is not the time -- even as his heart pounds furiously against his chest and his mind screams for rest, and Duke touches Jowan's elbow, pupils dilated, eyes unfaltering.

 

"We have to go," he says, and although he feels his chest tighten Duke can't help but let out another laugh -- at this realisation that they are both alive, that the bridge is breaking, that he made the bridge break -- and his laughter is louder now, and maybe slightly insane, but -- his joy makes the ache in his side disappear, his anxiety at -- what will they do now? What is the next course of action?

 

And then he is running, and still laughing -- towards shore, towards a victory he does not think he would witness, not like this, and he can hear the crumbling of the bridge echoing his footsteps that his heeled boots make against the shaking ground beneath his feet. He reaches the shore just in time, skidding to a stop, and his eyes immediately search the crowd for -- Dynarst! Where was he? Had Cistina taken him with her in the chaos? 

 

 

Edited by takatsuki

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#Duke and Jowan#

 

The inquisitor feels through the pain a force from above, similar to the barrier, and fights the pressure pressing down by flaring pewter for strength. It is neither it nor Duke who gives in first, but rather Luthadel's bridge.

 

The paving cracks under their feet. Cracks radiate between the cobblestones with the sound of a snapping bullwhip, once, twice, three times, before the steel all around them begins to shift and groan under the immense pressure.

 

And then, something snaps. The skaa-built structure fails suddenly and abruptly in the middle and the inquisitor falls through the floor admist the chaos. Steel and stone fall into the dark waters below with the sound of crashing waves, threatening to overturn barges with their wake, and the bridge continues continues its chorus of creaking, creaking, creaking, punctuated by an occasional pop of a breaking joint, all hinting that there was still something very, very wrong.

 

With its center broken and its anchors torn out of place, the bridge begins to fall.

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"What, this?" the man's voice was easygoing and casual. Cistina tensed--nobody ever sounded like that without something up their sleeve. He shrugged, raising empty palms. Cistina cocked her head wondering at the gesture. Her cube's increasingly frantic pulsing, however, indicated he did have the anchor. She glanced down at it for a moment.

 

"I should think...."  Cistina began, then trailed off as she looked up to notice him surreptitiously slipping something out of his cloak. Cistina focused on his hand as the cube started trobbing frantically, and as an intricate handle of glass, gold sand, and steel slipped into sight, the cube buzzed strongly in her hand. 

 

"Not that you'll remember seeing it," the man adds as the dagger appears in full, her wide eyes focused on the arcane lettering. Cistina barely had time to process the statement before the dagger started to glow intensely--for a moment, Cistina swore she saw an aura of not-quite-colors surround it--and then it seems to fade out, and she felt a chill run down her spine as she looked back up, her mouth formed words in reverse, and she lifted back in the air. A memory surfaced--A young man, with a face far too world wary for his age, and a card: the Chariot tarot--and she was giving chase again, this time flying past the alleyway they had stopped at just moments ago, in another time. Cistina gasped despite herself, though thankfully not getting another lungful of ash again, and she hit the cube with her finger, praying she hit the right side. Eyes focused on the man, she willed herself faster--and wind was spinning around her and in front of her again, funneling her towards him. She brought the cube as close to her mouth as she could without outright kissing it and whispered:

"I've need of help; this anchor can bend the flow of time itself! I do not want to jeopardize the city with collateral damage from my power, so I fear I cannot retrieve the anchor alone. I daresay he is unwilling to touch the ground now--look for us in the skies!"

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Jowan [ we will do what we must, let it all turn to dust ]

 

For one terrible moment, he fears that the spell won’t work. The creature’s hand approaches Duke, it prepares to use its strange magic to crush Duke against his own barrier again -- 

 

-- and it stops. 

 

Allowing himself a moment’s reprieve, Jowan lets his face relax enough for a small smile of relief. It isn’t over yet, but the fight feels less hopeless. There’s still more that he should be doing -- throwing a Primal spell at it, trying to make it jump off the bridge, something -- but he doesn’t know if he can without dropping the spell. His grasp on the spell is weak from lack of experience, and reading can only bring one so far. It’s all he can do to keep the delicate balance of the magic, to keep it all from falling apart and releasing into a torrent of wasted energy, but the metal-eyed figure won’t be held by it forever. Simply delaying isn’t enough.

 

He could run. 

 

But the scene too familiar. A threat delayed by blood magic, companions unable to follow, a chance to flee; he can’t, not again. 

 

He’s saved from having to make a choice by a sudden flare of blue and the cracking of stone. His control of the spell falters, but it doesn't matter. Somehow the metal-eyed figure avoids being crushed between the bridge and the barrier, and it almost seems as though Duke’s attempt at attacking will fail despite the incredible amount of power that he displays. 

 

It succeeds, though not for the reason Jowan expects. 

 

Vaguely aware that he should be running, he stares at Duke’s frantic attempts to escape from the widening hole, heart caught in his throat. Duke is too close to the edge, but Jowan is too far to do anything and his body refuses to move. When Duke does find stable footing, Jowan lets out a breath the he hasn't realized that he'd been holding. 

 

Duke’s laughter is infectious (or perhaps Jowan is simply too relieved that Duke is okay enough to laugh) and Jowan feels his face break into a grin. Somehow they are both alive, despite the tenseness of the fight. He feels almost giddy. 

 

That could be a symptom of blood loss. 

 

His good mood lasts only until Duke catches sight of his arm. The disgust on Duke’s face is palpable, and Jowan flinches away from his touch and his smile turns brittle. He should have expected this, he knows, but somehow he had hoped… 

 

At least Duke still cares enough to help him get off the bridge. 

 

It’s a good thing, too, because the bridge doesn’t stay standing much longer. The supports creak and groan, the weight of the broken middle dragging the edges down. It's an incredible amount of metal and stone to be broken by one person; Duke's power would be terrifying if anyone else had access to it. Jowan can’t seem to care about the bridge, but he still turns to watch it fall when they stop, panting, on the shore.

 

Not meeting Duke’s gaze, he grabs the loose end of the bandage and begins to wind it tightly around his arm. It hurts, and it’s possible that he’s being too rough, but it needs to be done. Blood is quick to spot through the gauze, but he remembers what he did to Duke’s wound and prevents any more from escaping. The feeling is strange and somewhat uncomfortable, but it’s better than bleeding out. 

 

Focusing on the injury is easier than thinking about Duke. It’s easier than thinking about how he ruined everything again, or thinking about the shame choking him, or about how he could have avoided this. It’s easier to pretend that the tears pricking his eyes are from the pain in his arm. 

 

“So,” he says, trying to keep his voice casual. He doesn’t think that he succeeds. “What next? Cistina’s following the anchor. Do we help her, or do you still want to go to the castle?” 

 

He wouldn’t blame Duke if he decides that he doesn’t want to associate with him anymore. How could he? But… if he could do it again, he can’t imagine himself doing anything differently. It had worked, hadn't it? They were both alive, and he isn't sure if that would have been the case had he not acted. 
 

Edited by Zor

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[ do not forget this flame of justice : duke -- ; ]

 

He is dizzy, tired, but even then -- Duke feels his heart pound in his chest like the applause of thousands, held up by pure adrenaline and the rush of victory over his opponent. It is a feeling he has near-forgotten -- the feeling of leading armies, of unyielding shields, of being constant at Elias' side, his right-hand man, unbreakable --

 

He has not forgotten what it means to fight, even if he has been worried that he has. The comfort that the X-Dreamers provides to him is endearing and warm to his heart, but Duke -- Duke has always been one for the front lines, directly involved in protecting those he holds dear to his heart. 

 

He stands, watching the bridge break and crumble into ruins in the distance where they had been only seconds ago, and Duke leans forward, panting, regaining his breath and taking a second to close his eyes and regain his sense of self, Vylcan strangely silent in the aftermath of his destruction.

 

Jowan's words are what make him look up, and Duke's eyes instantly widen. He is still a little confused from the exhaustive effort of breaking a bridge in half, but even then -- how could he have forgotten? He blames his tiredness, but he will not make small excuses when the health of those he holds dear is at stake.

 

"Nevermind that," he says, and almost as if in response Xansuki buzzes in his breast pocket, and he can barely make out a female voice -- but not important, nothing important, not currently. The world around them is a symphony of ruinous noise and the dead silence of onlookers beyond, but Duke ignores all of his surrounding environment and immediately moves towards Jowan, catching the hand the other man is using to wound the bandage tightly around his forearm. He uses his free hand to lightly skim Jowan's arm, dancing his fingertips across his skin, afraid to touch further. The wound is fresh and angry, scarlet blood clearly present, and Duke's eyebrows furrow.

 

"What happened," Duke says, and his voice is flat with disbelief, because -- he had put up a shield, he had shielded them both -- and yet somehow Jowan had gotten injured -- 

 

"We need to get you medic attention," he says, more thinking aloud to himself now than addressing Jowan. He murmurs to himself, shooing Jowan's hand away and working on the bandage -- it's not the best thing, certainly not, and Natsuki would wince at this medical practise, but -- this is the only situation now. "Stan -- we need to get to Stan and Badu immediately -- how could this happen? -- I was so sure I blocked -- there's no way --"

 

Then he stops, freezing in his actions, and Duke closes his eyes, sighing heavily as his shoulders move in response. Then, he opens his gaze and stares at Jowan, earnestly watching the other man's face. 

 

"Are you okay?" 

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Jowan [ so don't take all of the blame - we're all at fault ]

 

"Nevermind that," Duke says, sounding distracted and almost sharp.

 

Jowan deflates a little further; Duke clearly hadn’t appreciated his obvious delaying tactic. He wishes that they could just move along, forget that anything had happened on the bridge, but it’s too late for that now. Wishing that things could be different is pointless.

 

Something catches his hand and he freezes, a deep jolt of surprise surging through his body. There is a moment of terror, the kind that comes from reaching out for a glass of water in the dark of the night and having your hand instead meet the scarred and squirming body of a rat, but no, it’s Duke, it’s just Duke, it’s okay because Duke won’t hurt him and if he does it’s because he deserves it, and he should have been paying attention because now there’s a choked sob welling up in his throat and it’s his fault.

 

But Duke doesn’t hurt him. His fingers are light and gentle, ghosting over Jowan’s skin as if he fears pressing too hard and hurting him. The soft touch is so careful, a distraction from the pain, and Jowan hates it. He wishes Duke would just get it over with. He needs clarity, a sharp light to focus on, something to stop his heart from beating out of his chest, something to make the world stop. The fingers of his uninjured arm twitch, seeking flesh to bite into, but the hold on his wrist prevents them from finding anything but air. 

 

Duke’s voice cuts through the cacophony of the streets, and Jowan clings to it. Clarity. A question has been asked of him, but isn’t it obvious? He’d been so sure that Duke had been upset, and maybe he still is, maybe his flat voice hides anger, but maybe --

 

Breathe.

 

Inhale.

 

It would be rude to not answer.

 

Exhale.

 

Being rude hardly seems like the greatest of his worries at the moment.

 

Inhale.

 

But Duke sounds so upset, so guilty -- why?

 

Exhale.

 

No.

 

Inhale.

 

He can’t think that it’s his fault.

 

Ex -- 

 

"Are you okay?"

 

A tiny sound escapes Jowan’s mouth -- he thinks it might be a laugh, if a bit hysterical. It’s not something that Duke can complain about, after Duke’s exuberant reaction to defeating the metal-eyed being. “Are you?” His voice sounds dry, scratchy, and too quiet even to him.

 

He closes his eyes and takes a few more moments to breathe, letting the points of contact between his wrist and Duke’s hand ground him. It’s as calming as anything could be at the moment, despite how recently it had felt like a restraint. 

 

When he finally feels composed enough to speak he opens his eyes and raises them to meet Duke’s. Duke looks so worried and concerned, his brow furrowed and his eyes wide, that a sudden wave of guilt washes over Jowan. Andraste, he hadn’t meant --  

 

“I got blood on your clothes,” he says, his voice suddenly more stable than it had been before. Another distraction, but he needs this, and he prays that Duke will let him speak. “I’m sorry. I don’t know if it’ll wash out. Cold water works best, but you need to soak it as soon as possible and it might set before you get the chance. I’ve never tried with white before.” Why had he taken white pants? Stupid. 

 

A moment passes, then, “Can we sit down? Please?”

 

He knows that he should tell Duke now, and some part of him feels that it’ll be easier if they’re seated. Maybe it’s just another delaying tactic.

 

It’s mostly because he feels exhausted, and Duke looks the same way.

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[ that something we shared -- you can't make it nothing : duke -- ; ] 

 

Immediately, he knows something is wrong; Duke feels more than sees Jowan trembling before him, the other man's gaze faraway and seemingly tangled within his own thoughts. When he replies, Jowan's voice is -- distant, dry, wrong, not his usual quiet manner, and Duke stays silent despite the question aimed at his direction, wondering if it would perhaps be better for the other to simply speak out his thoughts than continue to think to himself.

 

Jowan closes his eyes and Duke waits, concerned even as his face remains impassive. Near instinctively, the glimmer of an invisible barrier curls around both of them, too slight in its movements to be noticed, and, well -- maybe he should not be exhausting his powers even further after such a show, and he will certainly repent for his actions later, but --

 

If he cannot aid the other in fighting the demons within himself, he can certainly wish to protect him, regardless. It feels simple, foolish, near-useless, but Duke notes to himself at the back of his mind as he creates a slight dome around them, and then -- it is just the two of them. He is not sure if Jowan notices his actions, and a part of him wishes he did not -- because he does not know how Jowan would react to him using his abilities once more, but it is a sense of security among the unknown. 

 

For himself? Duke does not know. He does not wish to fail where he has before, and he wants to help -- in some way.

 

He listens, tilting his head slightly at the sudden piece of information. That was ... helpful, although the situation could have been better. It is a surprise to him to hear that cold water washes bloodstains how -- why would Jowan need to know that?

 

At Jowan's request, Duke waits a second more, just in case the other man has something else to add onto his sentences, but when Jowan does not say anything Duke nods. 

"Sure," he says, and leads the way; he simply drops himself onto the ground, tired enough that his legs willingly accept rest. As he moves, he speaks.

 

"I've never done my laundry," he says, and -- for some reason, this is the first thing that comes to him, near-naturally. Duke thinks back then, a memory of the past resurfacing. 

 

Beforehand it was always Ace who bought him new clothes when needed, and after becoming First General he had servants and assistants to carry out his daily duties. He thinks back, and -- he is near certain Kouca has washed something or other for him before, because she always fussed over him washing his hands properly -- 

 

His breath catches. There are certain things in the past he cannot think of -- no, not now -- and Duke shakes his head to clear his mind and focus entirely on Jowan. 

 

The past can wait, but -- there is a present in front of him now, one that he does not wish to lose. 

 

"Good to know," he says lightly, even as his throat feels dry and his heart pounds against his chest. Duke swallows then, blinking away the exhaustion on the edges of his vision, and unnoticed to him the barrier he had set up vibrates slightly. 

 

"It's fine, though," he says, giving a faint smile. "I have lots of pants." 

 

It is such a casual conversation, not exactly what he thinks they should be talking about right now, circumstances considered, and part of him just wants to go to sleep. His words feel clumsy and uncoordinated in the fog of his mind, and more than anything -- he is worried, because even now he can tell that something is clearly bothering Jowan, and the other man keeps fidgeting as if he has something to say but is unable to voice his thoughts. 

 

Duke wants so desperately for him to just say what is on his mind, always -- because he wants to hear Jowan's thoughts, because the other man is so secretive and mysterious in his everyday activities, and Duke wishes to know more. More than anything, he -- he wants to be someone that Jowan does not have to fret over speaking to, and it hurts that he is not. 

 

He leans back then, feeling the hard ground underneath him as he presses his palms into the earth to support his weight, taking in a deep breath as he thinks to himself for a second as he looks at the sky above. He wonders if Jowan perhaps wants to raise offense to destroying city structures, and, well -- it's not as if he is a stranger to active shows of rebellion, but even then Duke blinks.

 

"Just peachy," he says, and then drops his head to meet Jowan's eyes. "When you asked how I am, I mean. But I have a feeling something's on your mind. I won't push, but -- whenever you're ready."

 

For a second, Duke almost wants to laugh at this situation -- because his question is so casual, and for a moment he can forget that they are sitting on the ground of an unknown land, with Jowan bleeding out. For a split second, it seems as if they are simply friends discussing the weather, and, well -- that was nice, wasn't it?

 

Stay awake, Vylcan snaps suddenly, and Duke nearly jolts at the spirit's sudden voice in his head, and well -- it is a surprise to hear that Vylcan is ... listening. Helping.

 

You can't ask him what's wrong and then fall asleep on him. Duke supposes he has a point, but it is a surprise -- and a delight -- to see that the spirit is actively showing interest in his conversations. Despite his efforts, Duke had never gotten Vylcan to like Elias in the slightest -- but now, with Jowan --

 

He barely manages to contain his excitement, because he does not want to start creepily smiling at Jowan while the other is struggling internally, as Duke leans back and waits for his response. 

 

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Jowan [ in the eye of a hurricane there is quiet ]

 

Duke flops to the ground easily, but Jowan hesitates. He’s the one that suggested that they sit, but he hadn’t expected them to sit here. It’s too open, too vulnerable. Normally that would be fine, but his hands still tremble and the thought of someone or something sneaking up on him is enough to make him twist his neck around to glance behind himself.

 

There is nothing behind him but a stone wall, and he feels a bit silly to be frightened by something as innocuous as a building. The wall does look far more inviting than sitting in the middle of the street, but he bites his lip and looks back at Duke. Perhaps it’s selfish, but he doesn’t want to move and create an extra few feet of distance between them. Already he feels separated from Duke, too caught up in his own thoughts and fears to connect.

 

He wishes that Duke hadn’t let go of his hand.

 

It’s pathetic that he’s so clingy towards someone that he’s barely known for a few hours. There’s a word for it, he thinks. Touch starvation.

 

As much as Jowan wants to be near Duke, the thought of not having his back to something is worse than the thought of being away from him. Reluctantly, he takes a few steps back before sitting down more carefully and slowly than Duke had. He draws his knees up to his chest and wraps his arms around his legs, forming a protective ball. The cool stone against his back helps. It’s solid and rough, and he can see if anyone approaches without turning his head.

 

"I've never done my laundry.”

 

Duke’s words are unexpected. “Really?” Jowan laughs. He’s not sure why it’s funny -- maybe it’s the thought of Duke, able to crush bridges and willing to rush into danger to help someone, being unable to wash his own clothes. “I suppose we didn’t very often either, but accidents happen.” Calling it an ‘accident’ is glossing over the issue. It isn’t completely wrong; there was certainly enough times that someone stained their robes with embrium juice or cut themself on a piece of broken glass. But the current conversation is so casual and easy, and he doesn’t want to ruin it. They’ll have to eventually, but for the moment life feels almost peaceful.

 

“I saw,” he says, smiling a little. “Why are so many of them white? For someone that doesn’t know how to do laundry it hardly seems like the smartest choice.” He watches Duke’s face intently, worried that he’d gone too far. It’s so easy to slip back into teasing banter that he feels as though he’s forgetting whom he’s talking too.

 

"When you asked how I am, I mean. But I have a feeling something's on your mind. I won't push, but -- whenever you're ready."

 

Ah, there it is. “Okay,” he says quietly, dropping his gaze again. He starts to pick at the edges of the gauze but stops himself. It’s there for a reason, and Duke had been so careful putting it on. Wouldn’t want to ruin his hard work. Instead, he lightly runs his fingers over the rough surface of the gauze, trying to think.

 

It doesn’t seem right to make Duke wait, however much he assures him that it’s fine, but Jowan feels too tired. He needs to prepare, needs to plan what to say.

 

Blood magic.

 

It always comes back to that, doesn’t it? There isn’t much else to say.

 

He sighs and looks up. Duke is watching him, and he feels a flutter of nervousness in his chest. Why was this so much easier last time he had to explain? Raising his uninjured hand up to the level of his face, he examines it. A thin layer of blood still coats it. Most of it has turned dry and flaky, but some remains wet enough to manipulate.

 

Like opening a valve enough to barely let a drop escape, he draws the smallest bit of magic from his wound. The wet blood pulls away from his hand, congealing into droplets that dance around his fingertips before falling to the ground beside him. He lets his now dry hand drop, and his gaze follows. He doesn’t want to look at Duke.

 

It’s a bit itchy. Dry blood is such a pain to get out from under fingernails.

 

“Your barrier didn’t fail, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you worry, I…”

 

Please, let Duke put two and two together. He doesn't want to say it. The words feel caught in his throat, tangled together by lingering anxiety and fear of losing the calm he has felt with Duke. He risks a glance at Duke, desperate to know what he's thinking. 

Edited by Zor

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[ a silence that swallows the moon : duke -- ; ] 

 

Jowan's approach is guarded, his movements jerky but well-planned, deliberate but fearful. Duke says nothing, simply watching as the other sits down in a much more well-paced manner, his back to the wall and his legs drawn up to his chest, and it is all very reminiscent of someone who is expecting an attack. 

 

That makes Duke pause, because, well -- it is not as if it is wrong for Jowan to be on guard considering what had happened only moments prior, but it feels as if there is something ... more. Another reason as to the other man's wariness.

 

He nods in response as soon as Jowan speaks; it is reassuring to hear the other's voice, deep and slowly paced, his words clearly separated. Jowan speaks with a clarity that yet lacks conviction, a pace that responds only to the ability to stop at any given second, but despite everything -- it is reassuring to hear him talk, Duke realises, and he cannot help the way he lights up in response to the question asked. It is a tease, lightly placed, and it warms Duke's insides and threatens to burn in his chest.

 

"The uniform," Duke replies then, smiling. "I didn't design it." 

 

He is patient, despite his the way his heart pounds in his ears and how he holds his breath, wanting to hear -- Jowan's thoughts, what bothers him, why he is acting this way, and if Duke can do anything to help -- and Duke leans forward every so slightly, every part of his being invested into the incoming conversation. He does not know quite what Jowan wants to tell -- and what could possibly burden him so much -- but he did not have to face it alone now, did he?

 

He was part of the X-Dreamers now, and that -- had to count for something. If there is one thing Duke will do, it is to ensure that any person he values is protected and content. 

 

His eyes watch the movement of Jowan's fingers with sharp accuracy, his gaze dancing like a breeze with the slow movement of Jowan's fingers as he turns his hand, lost in thought. Silence -- and patience -- that is what he must offer to the other right now, if he is to admit what has been weaving through his thoughts. It is not easy to talk about certain topics, that much Duke understands, and he will wait -- however long Jowan requires.

 

Then, there is movement. Duke snaps to attention as he watches the flash of scarlet shift in the corner of his eye, and he -- is rendered speechless as he watches clearly as blood -- it has to be blood, what else could it be? -- moves along the form of Jowan's fingers and solidifies into droplets, melting into the earth beside the other man after a split second. Duke's eyes widen just as the falling drops of blood meet the crumbled earth below. 

 

Your barrier didn't fail. Jowan's words echo in his head, and Vylcan is silent, guarded, and -- 

 

There is a word in Duke's mind, but he does not know if he should voice his thoughts, or if it even applies in this situation -- because, well, Jowan was from another world entirely, and perhaps the laws of magic were different there?

 

But all he sees is the perfect spherical form of the blood -- Jowan's blood -- forming around his fingers.

 

He recalls a name -- a figure from the past, someone he has not dared to think about, someone who is -- dead, not literally, but in his memories, because she is different now: angry, savage, and merciless. A bodysmith that has taken Hana's careful crafts of the human body and manipulated its effects. A perversion of Lifen's dancing tattoos in the highest order. 

 

But Jowan is none of that, and he will not judge -- not here, not now, when he does not know the full story, and -- 

 

He still remembers Kouca with a fondness, and perhaps -- has she forgotten? The days they have spent on the road, the nights he has fallen asleep in her arms, and Duke wonders if anger is enough to blind someone to the sun and the stars entirely. And -- perhaps the most heartless people are those who have been hurt too much. 

 

"Ah," he says, and the word is careful, small, but not unkind. "You manipulate blood?"  He sounds a lot calmer than he is internally, and Duke has never been one for subtlety, which is why he simply states what is on his mind. Then, he shrugs.

 

"Interesting," he says, tilting his head. "I was wondering how your magic system worked. That's not too common where I'm from." One person, really

 

But that is a thought for another day, and Duke offers a little smile, and a light joke: "Looks like we aren't saving that magic discussion for headquarters, after all. Or maybe we just have more fuel for the fire?" 

 

Duke pauses, wondering if the other has more to say -- another deep, dark secret, but when Jowan simply peeks up at him as if afraid Duke internally urges himself to say something -- anything -- to reassure the other man. Why he is so wary to the idea of his own abilities? Does he think -- ?

 

"Don't apologise," Duke says quietly. "I only worry about you because you're injured, and because I care about your wellbeing." He still does not know how to feel, because, well -- he does not understand the full extent of what Jowan can do, and quite simply the very idea of playing around with someone's innards makes him queasy, but it is not as if he has any right to judge the cards someone else has chosen in life. 

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Jowan [ you laugh ‘cause you can’t see | beyond the black and white ]

 

Some of the weight leaves Jowan’s chest at Duke’s smile. He’s glad that the jest wasn’t misplaced. No, more than just that: he wants to do it again, to keep the smile on Duke’s face and let the moment last. He wants to ask where the uniform is from; he hadn’t seen any of the other X-Dreamers wearing anything like it. But he can’t, and he knows this. The jests aren’t enough to hide the somber atmosphere or the continued pounding in his chest, however much he wishes they would. He only laughs and says, “The designer really didn’t think this through then, did they?”

 

Duke is silent for too long. There’s nothing more that Jowan can say, so he waits, feeling sick. It isn’t fair for him to expect a response immediately (not when he’d taken so long to speak), but he can’t pretend that the suspense isn’t stressful. Jowan’s heart is bared, and he doesn’t know if Duke is planning on ripping it out or not.

 

He doesn’t, but he doesn’t understand either.

 

Duke speaks of it calmly, carefully, as if it’s some minorly disgusting hobby like collecting beetles. He sounds as though he’s bothered but trying to avoid offending, and -- that hurts. It shouldn’t. Jowan had tried to prepare himself for a far worse reaction and Duke doesn’t understand half of why he should be repulsed, so why -- ?

 

“It’s hardly common where I’m from, either.” And Maker damn it, but there’s a burning desire to ask about the blood magic of Duke’s world. Surely it wouldn’t be compatible with the blood magic of Thedas, but it sounds fascinating. It’s been too long since Jowan has managed to find a new scrap of information.

 

Duke is giving him an out, a chance to end the explanation here. It’s tempting. They could move along and act like nothing major has changed. Duke’s missing the important information, and were Jowan to stop here Duke would be none the wiser.

 

He doesn’t understand why blood magic is more than just manipulating blood. Maybe it is in his world. He doesn’t understand the rush of endorphins and power, or the constant temptation singing in veins, or the arrogance of thinking that the first cut won't lead to anything more. He doesn’t know of why people fear blood magic so much; of the Black City, of thousands of slaves bleeding out onto rough stone, of the Blight. Demon summoning and abominations, the dark hold of mind control and crimes in the eyes of the Maker. Lily's face, etched with disgust. 

 

The crumpled body of a desperate woman.

 

Hiding is exhausting, but Jowan doesn’t know if he can bear saying it.

 

Duke’s right when he says that they’d planned to speak back at the castle, anyway. Jowan is torn between asking to stay and talk and saying that they should leave, but they do have a job to do. He feels as though he’s forgotten about it, too caught up in his own problems to worry about something minor like the fate of the multiverse.

 

"I only worry about you because you're injured, and because I care about your wellbeing."

 

“You shouldn’t,” he says dully before he can think to stop himself. He doesn’t really regret it, because, well, it isn’t wrong. Duke is frustratingly naive and trusting, and Jowan doesn’t deserve his worry.

 

He drops his chin onto his knees and sighs. “Maybe we should go. I don’t think that the guards will be happy about the bridge.” Standing up is one of the last things that he wants to do, after fighting an Archdemon and dealing with the Nug Incident again, but he isn’t a fan of being caught near the bridge either. “Stuff to do, anchors to find, gods to fight.” Maybe not that last one. Falling unconscious for a few hours sounds like the best idea at the moment, but it isn’t an option.

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Yusei | Take flight, Stardust Dragon!

 

That explained the shield. There was something the girl passed over in her explanation, however. Yusei needed to figure out what it was. 'Most' meant there were exceptions to the one-power rule. Was there a way to differentiate them from the norm? Elise wanted to show him her power. At her eager exclamation, she staggered as if thrown off balance and grabbed the guard beside her for support.

 

Then he jerked forward.

 

Something had grabbed his left forearm, yanking and provoking him to stumble a step. Instinctively, he pulled back against the unseen force, regaining his balance quickly even as Typheus moved to steady him. Waving his hand at the mech in a small motion, he murmured, "I'm fine. Focus on what's missing." Standing straight again, Yusei stared at the young girl, her earrings - 

 

A flicker of yellow caught his attention, playing across his duel disk from the corner of his vision. It vanished as quickly as it came but he realized what the source was. Typheus. Was I just scanned? Typheus drew closer again, voice still low as he voiced his concern. "No," Yusei breathed. He didn't want to spend too much time talking, wanting to adapt his tactics and solve the problem he created by bring Typheus here. But, he couldn't leave the mech in the dark...

 

"She's done this before, making deals. I need to find out what she knows," he continued. A brief pause. "And I need to get you out of here, you and Fiddlesticks." Her power was connected to weight, he sorted that out by how she stumbled until she had the guard to counter his own body mass. If something went the wrong way and she thought to use the ruined building for support...? Yusei didn't know how heavy Typheus was (or Fiddlesticks, for that matter), but he certainly wasn't made of a light-weight metal. The footsteps gave it away.

 

An allomancer could use one power, out of an unknown quantity. Iron gave Elise the ability to pull metal. Something had to give a user the power to push metal then. It wasn't magnetism but it definitely reflected the visual affects. So why would Elise dare to wear earrings...?

 

Because metal inside the body isn't affected by the magic. Otherwise, simply consuming the metal would put the caster at risk of being manipulated in some way. Elise, as a child, would be too easy to manipulate physically. Was this important? To a small degree, Yusei had to find importance in it, to understand the magic in this world. To better protect Typheus and Fiddlesticks. 

 

"I'm not limited to monsters. I can cast spells and traps of various sorts." Yusei finally addresses Elise again. Choosing not to make a display of activating a spell or trap, he instead continues on to something that could give him an advantage and an opportunity for Typheus. "Sonic Chick and Junk Warrior can lend me their strength to summon something stronger than either of them." 

 

To Typheus again, he murmurs as he stares at his deck and draws the card he wants. "Find Fiddlesticks."  Placing the new card onto his duel disk, his Mark glows stronger and a bright column of light bursts into existence behind him - concealing Typheus from sight. As he removes Sonic Chick's card from the disk, the pink avian dispersing like dust, the shining light expands before fading and revealing a silver and blue dragon. It dwarfed Yusei and the others, the dragon's clawed toes as large as the man was tall. "Stardust Dragon...." he names. This time, the creature was very real.

 

A sound, like a low groan, faintly reached his ears and the duelist paused, turning his gaze towards the obscured source. Trailing the long groan, a rumble swept through the air, causing Yusei to frown.

Edited by ValidEmotions

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   Up the Canal, Wheeeeee!

   "No."
   No? Typheus's mind echoed. He doesn't want to be prepared for a setup?
   "She's done this before, making deals. I need to find out what she knows. And I need to get you out of here, you and Fiddlesticks," Yusei explained.
   "Don't worry about us," Typheus argued back quietly. "And for Alkinest's sake, don't make any deals! I've been down that road before." He bitterly tried not to recall the details of his experience. He also couldn't fault him for worrying about Fiddlesticks, but they've already spent too long dealing with their current situation. Fiddlesticks is impatient; she would have either destroyed something by now or, by some miracle, used critical thinking and is taking care of herself; although none of that changed the fact that she was missing...
 

   Yusei didn't seem to respond, keeping his attention on Elise. "I'm not limited to monsters," he said, "I can cast spells and traps of various sorts." Typheus straightened up and folded his arms, peeved, but listening to him. "Sonic Chick and Junk Warrior can lend me their strength to summon something stronger than either of them."
   Typheus's threads stopped for a moment. We can? Yusei, I'm not an actor, and we don't need more firepower. He looked down at the engineer, uncertainty reflected in his eye, but of course he wouldn't be given any clues. So instead he looked at Sonic Chick, defaulting to mimicking whatever happened there. The bird literally manifested in a column of light though; what if it did something similar? Does he take off? Fly straight up? No, he would incinerate Yusei. He can't strafe backwards fast enough without also incinerating Yusei and falling into the canal. The light here isn't strong enough to flash anything.
   What would Fiddlesticks do?
   Shut down, his threads laughed, but the secondary, more sensible response was, If you move fast enough, you'll only singe him.
   Typheus's eye darted back to Yusei, who was already switching out his cards. A hundred miles in seconds... Yeah, I can teleport, he thought sarcastically, trying to ignore his mounting stress. What are you planning...?
 

   "Find Fiddlesticks," Yusei murmured. Typheus unfolded his arms, ready to argue, but there was a sudden flash.
   CLANG! He was suddenly weightless! Typheus squinted against the light, claws out in front of him, wings open and ready to cushion his fall-
   The ground! Where was the ground?! The thrusters were firing against nothing!
   Typheus suddenly hit something hard, and the thing buckled and swarmed up around him. He swiped at it, but was still blind. His claws sliced through it but it came over him anyway. A loud rushing sound filled his microphones.
   Water! his thoughts exploded, Rise! Go up! Which way is up?! Typheus swung his body, letting its weight direct him. The light was replaced by darkness flecked by yellow, and he glimpsed greyer waters. There!
   The mech reoriented himself, aimed the thrusters down, and fired them full blast in the water. The weight of it combined with his own was immense, but the grey light was expanding! The boiling water was rising toward it!
 

   The water's surface erupted as the Superiority model flew straight out of it. The geyser was impressive, and upset a nearby barge, but everyone was too busy gawking at the other impressive thing nearby; and the tail of this said thing swung toward Typheus at high speed. He didn't notice it until he turned around, looking for Yusei.
   A loud thud resounded as the giant tail hit the machine and he let out a startled beep, flying way off course! Buildings and barges alike shot past him in a collective, grey-brown blur, the roar of the wind and the thrusters drowning everything out. Typheus shot his thrusters straight behind him and twisted around; impeccable Xinschi-uual technology saved him and a couple of innocents from a collision with a building, and he stopped nearly instantly, only grazing its brick with his claws. He didn't apologize to the startled face looking out the window back at him, and shot straight up into the air as soon as he could. Once he cleared the buildings and had recovered from the impact he spun around, hovering in place, and searched for Yusei again.
 

   He didn't see the engineer, but he did see an absolutely huge, white, conspicuous winged creature, standing a ways down the canal. Typheus exhaled, realizing what the engineer did: summon a massive monster in order to conceal his escape.
   The machine's circuits burned, realizing he was forced to flee. He didn't care if Yusei cared about him, he was programmed to protect his charges! Yet one of them vanished and the other literally threw a beast the size of a spaceship in his face...
   You have a ways to go, his mind said; not his own words, but the words of the one who helped program him. Typheus was reminded of his inability to leave others alone. Not right now, he answered with a silent growl, turning away from the dramatic scene. 'Find Fiddlesticks', he reminded himself, Where the Alkinest would I even look? He looked at the rather obvious collection of spires out in the distance. Hm. That looks like a place she would go.
   Then he turned to look further up the canal. He didn't know what Earth bridges looked like, but any scene of destruction is obvious. Rubble, stone, bent steel and barges stopped just in front of it...
   Crap, he thought, angling his thrusters and shooting off toward it, crap, crap CRAP!

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