Maaldis did not sneak into Gothardda or take a secret back way in, though he did know of one path which few but elves used. Maaldis had only one friend he could claim but he had a LOT of contacts many of whom believed he was their friend. Not one of THEM could place his face but they might think that they could, for many were the faces he wore. He was why people distrusted shapeshifters as a whole. His mother and father were probably the only ones to ever see his true face and they were LONG dead. As for sensing Maaldis? He could not BE sensed, not in the traditional sense of the word. Seen yes, he was not invisible, though he could make himself so if he wished, or vanish into shadows. Like Solbaid he was not a creature of this world, and like him, he was Sidhe, which Fomor were a branch of. Maaldis was in fact a Grand Shapeshifter, but he was also a second generation devil acolyte. If he took the form of a human, namas, vampire, kitten, demon, etc. he read AS the being he took the shape of. His mind however could not be read or meddled with if someone tried to probe his thoughts or memories. As easily as he could embody any being he had assimilated he could control his mind, and just what information was received from him. His mind would not be read as a suspicious blank, but as a normal mind with exception of whatever he witheld, but no one would KNOW he was witholding anything unless they knew what he knew, remembered what he remembered. He had many forms to choose from.
So what form had he taken today? A young Maelvannor elf in rather worn clothing who was not the cleanest of his race. He had all the appearance of what he had been before being assimilated by Maaldis several centuries ago... a gothelf orphan of roughly fifteen years of age. He carried a weapon, a slender dagger of red-orange metal called Chalsedium, which was enchanted with the elements of ice and lightning. It was a valuable thing which used to be his father's... or the father of the elf he had claimed the body and weapon of so many centuries ago. His name in this form was Vendekuar. He had ducked into Gothardda during all the fighting when the enemy had tried to storm the city only to find out what the lords and defenders of Gotharrda were made of. Sure, the AoM soldiers who fell were recycled but they'd not soon forget the battle they had faced in Landunder. They had not even made it to the entrance of the city. Vendekuar had made it to the city... the mad scramble of a child trying to get out of an army's way while slashing at enemies as he went when he had to to save his life, and stopping them in their tracks with shock and cold so the adult elves fighting that battle could finish what the child wounded as he tried to get to safety. He was out of breath and appeared scared out of his wits by the time he came under the wing of a dragon a guard sat upon as a second line of defense should the enemy reach the city. The guard directed him to retreat to the merchant's pillars, and he obeyed him with a nod and word of thanks. Seeing how poor he looked the guard had also tossed him a small pouch of gold. Elves under or above looked after their own. It was one of the reasons they were so successful.
The Black Crow assassins Maaldis belonged to would die before they ever talked no matter what tortures or degredations they were made to suffer. They were trained and conditioned to withstand ANYTHING... a certain number of them died, went mad, or even commited suicide during this training period. Those who survived it were unimaginably tough, impervious to torture and even the kind of horrors Maaldis was currently witness to his brothers in death suffering. They would go stark raving mad or die before they spoke about the contract or who was involved in hiring them. There was a reason they were almost exclusively immortal, though occasionally quasi-immortals made it through the training. Crow was the name of their camarilla and different colors defined the sect, Black Crow, Red Crow, Blue Crow, Gold Crow, etc., though they were the only ones who KNEW they even HAD a name; not even Mortiara knew what they called themselves.
JD: As Maaldis the elf child made his way through the streets he found himself being sort of caught up in and corraled towards the palace by a large crowd of people, mostly women, children and elderly, almost all elven, goblin or dragonkin, all of them being escorted by a large number of soldiers. He let himself be swept along as any lost child might, taking in everything with his large, intelligent, rose-pink, slit-pupiled eyes, unquestionably Maelvannor. First were the Paddocks where impressive, sleek cave dragons, lombra, dire wolves and horses were being cooled down and cared for after battle and replaced by fresh mounts. Then he passed by Dun'Elduwin, the huge complex of cavern keeps where his own people lived (whatever form he took he owned it as much as he could) ; and soonafter came to the twin watchtowers, which towered so high that their crowns were lost in the blackness of the cavern roof they merged with as gigantic highrise stalagmites; then after a lengthy walk he was swept with the tide of cave dwellers to a bridge and after crossing it he found himself passing beneath a HUGE black gate, and into the courtyard of the Netherland Palace. A dreadful scene unfolded as the crowd parted ways to go this way and that, many in a hurry to greet their destination, either to prepare for war or hide from it. People were moving valuables to secure locations in the palace, men and woman, even children were arming themselves, others were taking shelter within the protective walls of the palacial pillars. As the courtyard's center opened up what should he see there in the middle but a terrible sight which would not have fazed Maaldis, but he was a silver haired elf boy. He like many others paused to stare at the horror, while others dragged their children away from the dreadful scene. He had no parent to pull HIM away from the punished. Those two half starved men had been his brothers, and there they were, in aweful condition but worse they were taking sexual liberties with each other in public... he startled and backed away as one of them grabbed the other and spun him face down in the ground to rape him. He could not stop staring as a child might not. He wanted to flee but stood rooted to that spot. The sight made him sick but he could not bring his eyes away. They were wearing dresses, he thought. He found that odd and disturbing. Maaldis, rather young Vendekuar was knocked over in his shock by someone rushing past him.
When he stood up to brush himself off, a heavy hand fell on his shoulder and a deep voice said, "Such a thing is not for eyes so young." He felt himself being led away but only looked up to see the face of the one leading him once he'd got over his shock. He was speechless as a twelve year old elf boy should be after seeing such a thing. Wise as Maaldis was he knew the worst thing Vendek could do was pretend he didn't notice. He was a child, and two sicky men had been... groping each other in disgusting ways before one of them grabbed the other to crush his face in the dirt and rape him. A child would either run away or stare. He had stared. It was what Vendek would have done. "Where are your mother and father?" the imposingly tall man asked him.
"They... they are dead..." he stammered a little because he felt suddenly out of his element. Was this city LIKE other Maelvannor cities? Were orphans embraced, cared for, and put to work as apprentices under whatever master saw something of value in them? A talent they could work with? Or did they have different customs here? He had seen many goblins and dragonkin too.
"That dagger... it is bloody," the man noted. "Is it yours?"
"It is. It was my father's. I am Vendekuar of the Gothfehl line." He was going to stop there but the man wrinkled his brows and stared hard at him. He wanted more information than that. "I heard of this place... that I had clan here... I wanted to find them..." he had been lied to... he was the last of his line. Maaldis had chosen him for a reason. "I came underground from the Lonely Deeps but got lost and found a ladder to landover." It was true, the cavern did extend along some perilous tunnels to the Lonely Deeps in Urik. The ladder he spoke of was the one which accessed the secret entrance to Landunder, it was a hatch hidden by the tall nutgrass which grew all over Esscha Endor's grasslands. "From that door I came to the cliffs and followed them south. I climbed down because I saw many boats coming towards the cliffs and a large square opening below which dark water flowed out of." He was describing the spillway from Bilgewater. "So I climbed down as quickly as I could and went inside the tunnel. But soldiers by the millions came in after me..." He exaggerated as children often did if for no other reason than perspective... "I ran but the way was confusing... and next thing I knew there was fighting all around me. I tried to make it here ahead of the invaders... I thought I could warn the people of this place that enemies were coming. But I wound up in the middle of it... I hid and ran and hid and ran, stabbing and slashing at the ones who came at me, until I made it here. Am I... Am I in trouble?" he looked up at the tall man as he asked this. Vendek was tall for his age, he looked fifteen when he was in fact only twelve, but this man he spoke to was MUCH taller than Vendek's 5'4.
"I am sixteen," he stated proudly and he could easily pass for it. Sometimes Maelvannor let their youngers fight when they were sixteen, if they knew how.
"You are lying to me," the man called him on the lie.
Vendek sighed dramatically then shrugged his shoulders. "I am twelve," he surrendered with a lighter sigh.
"Don't be so keen to grow up," the man warned him. Then, gripping his shoulder with a strong hand, the man led him away. "Come with me..." Where was he taking him, the boy wondered? To an elven family to care for him? To a mine to work? To those paddocks to put him to work? To an orphanage? Elves did not have orphanages but this place might be different. He hoped he was taking him someplace he could eat. He had come a long way and was hungry and thirsty.
Who else was Maaldis today...? He was a child named Vendek in Gothardda, but... he was also a middle aged AoM lieutenant named Vaud elsewhere. Maaldis could split his forms, but he could only be three at this point. But he was always, mostly, of one mind. It was just coincidence that he had two names beginning with V on this day. Vaud was a Namas who had reached a fair age before he had stopped maturing. He had joined AoM when he was 15, damn young, and trained and prepared for the day he almost died for two hundred years. Maaldis was the ultimate spy but he wasn't a spy... not normally. He might pass along information as he came across it though. He had claimed Vaud about a week ago... as he was about to die near his keep's doorstep. Maaldis had shot him with a crossbow. He had crouched down, regarded the man as he was dying... looked for it in his eyes and he was dying fast. But just shy of that point where life slipped beyond recovery, he pulled himself into his spirit, mind, body, and essence until he became him in that moment... and IN that moment he felt himself being pulled almost violently towards something with dizzying speed as he was gated to a healing camp.
He was wounded... because he was him, and might have died as him and completed the assimilation then and there, but instead, he remained him as he was healed and so assimilated the fullness of... him. The healers were kind and jovial, they praised him, fed him, gave him water after he was mended, and when he was fit and rested they asked if he was ready to return to battle. "I am not sure..." he said, just to see what their reaction would be. He was patted on the back. "You take whatever time you need, just don't forget that your comrades need you." He was left alone. Huh... he had expected them to at least goad him back into battle. These people treated each other well.
He knew how to return to the battle field, because what Vaud knew, he knew, because he was him. It was because he was Vaud that no disquise or deception alarms went off in the camp. Yep, the perfect spy. There was a reason people distrusted and suspected Shapeshifters, which were rare in fact and usually reclusive. Maaldis was Vaud more than usual in this case though. He had never assimilated someone right before they were pulled back from death and healed before. It was like... more of him remained behind than usual. Maaldis still had final say... but there was a definite influence that was Vaud's there. Maaldis didn't mind. It was kind of refreshing to see things from another perspective. He always had that in knowledge. But knowing and feeling were different. He twisted the ring on his finger, and poof, he was pulled back in to that slide which dumped him back at camp on the shore below Gothtyrdan. He was quickly pulled aside by one of his men as two groups of warriors came through pushing a ballista attached to a cart. Another jogged by hauling a heavy bundle of spears, and another two after him with buckets of sticky-pitch and rags to wrap the spear heads with.
Vaud was an officer but not a higher up. He led his own special force of rangers. They scouted out locations, gathered intelligence, mapped the land, and defended any brothers they met along the way. He had just been scouting out the wrong keep. Maaldis saw him coming for a long time while he had remained utterly invisible to the Namas even as he took aim on him. He had known Vaud was with the AoM because no ranger of Goth would come snooping around his keep the way Vaud had. He had been alone but Maaldis would bet his pals would not be far away. They split up to cover more ground but always regrouped in enemy territory every so many hours at a chosen rendezvous site.
His comrades welcomed him back and asked him what happened. "Someone shot me and I never saw it coming or who the culprit was. I'd have died if not for this..." he rubbed the ring on his finger lightly.
"That's why we call it our wedding ring," one of his men laughed.
Vaud smiled a little. "She's a fine wife this army," he returned and got jostled by several of his men. It was easy to feel a camaraderie with them. Vaud and his men were very tight. Maaldis rather envied them and he rarely envied anything.
Now here it was over a week after he had become Vaud. Maaldis and his men had split up again but this time he was defending the boat wall. He was in fact perched atop a pile of boats with a bow in hand. Their enemy had given up on charging the camp for the time being after losing too many to the fiery spears and their clingy flames. If anyone did break through the lines, Vaud and his men would take aim and they were crack shots, Vaud the best of them. He and Maaldis had that in common. Being observant was part of his occupation, and when he saw little footprints dancing across the sand he followed them with his eyes but was very casual in how he turned his head when they passed beyond peripheral vision. He appeared to be looking out over some of his men as they engaged some more Gothards trying to outflank the division (all the beach there could accomodate) defending the camp. Some sand skittered off the rocks by the cliff wall. So... someone had figured out you could hide in the dead zone, he thought. They should be rushing back to tell their commander, he deemed. Vaud nocked an arrow, pulled the bow back steady as he aimed, then rolled his fingers off the string and let the arrow fly. SWACK. Dead center of the vampire's chest. That would slow him down for awhile. So what the hell was the assassin doing shooting at his own kingdom's men? He was aiming at those he KNEW he wouldn't kill while keeping his cover is what he was doing. Yeah, that would hurt, he would be out of commision for however long it took to find enough blood to heal him, but he might have saved him from a more permanent death, like beheading. Who knew. The vampire could still retreat, he had hit him center. It was not a heart shot.
His attention returned to the rocks... wait what the hell? It was the queen. She was showing herself... to HIM... to Vaud. She was... waving him over while watching out to make sure no one else saw her. Heh... what was she up to? Vaud stood up then hop, hop, hopped down the stack of boats by their hulls and walked over to those rocks. It was pretty clear between he and her now. Someone tried running up on him from behind but just before he got in range of him Vaud swung around, drawing two razor sharp long daggers from their scabbards on his belt, and came up behind his attacker to thrust the blades into his lower back under his rib cage. The young soldier dropped to his knees crying out in agony as he pulled the blades out, and as he dropped, Vaud slit the fellow's throat. "Sorry," he said and blood splashed left and right then the man fell face down dead. Maaldis rushed into this one too as Vaud pressed his palm against his chest and apologized for taking his life, claimed his soul... breathed it in as it escaped the corpse, claimed his embodiment as he did. Vaud stood and continued towards the queen. The ranger apologized for every man, woman and game animal he ever killed. He wouldn't kill children. In these ways he and Maaldis were not at all the same. Vaud arrived at those rocks where the queen had taken shelter.
"What are you doing out here? Can't you see there's a war going on?" she sure as hell was NOT in battle dress with that pretty little wine dress she had on. She was holding the cloak over her arm. It broach activated it. "Is that cloak how you came here without being seen?" his eyes burning on her as he asked this.
At this point Desiree realized she was in real danger. She had knowledge they would not want spread around. It wasn't like they were being attacked by a lot of cloaked warriors after all. Though making that many cloaks would not be an easy feat. It took time to enchant items, especially powerful ones, and they could be disenchanted. Still, given time, Seth's people could make enough cloaks to increase their odds in battle, and they needed every advantage they could get. "Yes... I need to speak with you. I need to speak with someone in charge here. I saw those men answering to you..." She meant his rangers. He nodded and she continued. "I know of a way to get into Gothardda..."
Before she said anything else Vaud took her by the arm. "This is not the place for such talk. Come with me..." he said and led her to a gate stone. He shook his head because she did not so much as resist. Maaldis was wondering if she had lost her mind while Vaud wondered what her game was. He told his men to wait for him there while he questioned the lady, and keep doing what they were doing, then took the queen through the gate stone which seemed to just gulp them down into the vortex of its matrix. It delivered them to a very old house made of stone in the mountains. He inspected the grounds before he entered, and locked the door behind himself and the queen. He led her hence to a large room with a walk in hearth, the only furniture two large, comfortable chairs with a table between them. There was not much to that house but that one room was very large. He offered her a seat and some wine... She took both. He shook his head again. Foolish, foolish girl. She could be so wise and yet so obtuse. Had the girl two minds? He was the enemy, she a queen traveling to she could not know where, accepting wine from him.
"Who are you?" he began by asking, leaning against the chair next to her own.
"I am Camilla," she lied.
"I see... and you wish to join our regime?" he fished.
"No... I am a loyal citizen to Esscha Endor."
"What you propose is treason..." he pointed out.
"Perhaps... but the king has an enemy below as well. We share a common enemy. I will show you the way in..."
"We already know the way in," The ranger apprised her.
"I am aware of that... I know of another way, a safer way in..."
Vaud rubbed his eyes. Crazy ass woman. She really had lost her mind. "Where?" he wished to know.
"What is your rank, sir?" she asked.
"I command a company of rangers." He informed her honestly.
"I must speak to someone higher up," she told him. "Someone who has the authority to draw up a contract that will guarantee the King's safety should he be captured in exchange for this information."
"I must show you where this place is... It is hard to find."
Maaldis knew exactly where it was, the hatch door to Landunder. It had to be what she was talking about because the other entries were too far from Gothardda to be of any value.
"Will you wait here while I go and get him?" he asked.
"Yes," she promised. "Will I be held when this is done?"
He stared at her a moment then smiled. "Why should we? You are only a concerned citizen, yes? Who is trying to help her people?"
She nodded. Maaldis did the same then stood. "I will return as quickly as I can. There is food and more wine in the cabinet against the wall over there, and wood there... and blankets in the bedrooms through the door there," he instructed her.
"How do you know so much about this place?" she asked.
"I am a ranger, miss," like that explained everything. Traerson might agree that it did.
Maaldis left the place and walked down the trail which led up to the old stone house. It was on a ridge with a beautiful view of the Lonely Deeps Mountains. You could almost draw a straight line west from the dwelling to Gothtyran. Now in a place where no dead zones thrwarted him, he contacted Mortiara who he knew to be in the field and being so fortunate as to get through to him, he delivered him a message. Receiving that message, Mortiara wrote two letters and after folding them tight and sealing them in wax with the signia on his ring, he summoned his raven with the same ring he wore. The knight secured the letters to the raven's leg and after whispering to him, he sent him off with a quick push of his arm. One of the letters was to Seth, the other Solbaid.
Each letter requested their attendanced with a map drawn to the location, telling them the queen would be there and needed immediate and hard guidance. The letter then explained why. "The queen believes it is in King Octavian's best interest to show the enemy the north passageway to Gothardda, where King Solbaid, whom she perceives as an enemy and criminal, may be dispatched by ridding king Octavian of some number of enemies. This knowing Gothardda is already under attack, thus hoping to crush Solbaid between two armies. This has gone on long enough. The queen must be made to face up to and answer for her folly. Both kings must meet in sight of her and together resolve this dangerous drama which threatens both kingdoms when they should now be united. Your loyal servant, Mortiara."
Did it pain Mortiara to write this letter? It did and it didn't. Maaldis did not turn away from royal contracts lightly, and here he obviously had, and meant for the queen to learn a lesson.
Now that house was warded and just a thought of command from the mind of Maaldis would adjust the wards to obey him. Desiree could not leave until Seth removed her. Solbaid could not leave with Desiree. Seth or Solbaid could come and go as they pleased in their own company. No one else but those two could enter, not including Maaldis and his many forms of course. So it was for the time being. The marks and signatures of the wards had been laid by someone who could be identified as Tulkress Kugoru. It was an Otso Eurokai name, so the owner was probably a weyr.
JD: The Stone House set as neutral ground by the yet unmet and unseen assassin was actually a distant neighbor... It was in the Mountains fifteen hundred miles east of Gothtyrdan, though a fairly straight line could have been drawn as the bird flies from that house to Gothtyrdan far to the west. The house was on the western face of the same mountain castle Urik was cradled in which was against the southern face. It was the tallest mountain in the Lonely Deeps range, and the place Maaldis had led the three to was high up on a ridge above and west of Valis Urik's castle. There was an amazing view up there on a clear day from that stone dwelling's front yard of the Eternal Wilderland's southwestern most reach, Lakeshore, the Trident River's three forks and Esscha Endor's northern grassland beyond it. The house with its stark simplicity had been an outpost to watch over the lands west of the mountain. Was it still in use? Now and again it actually was, and another out of Maaldis' collection was the caretaker of the place. His name was Mattheus Trumaen, an Astraeus out of Victor Greed of the Astraeus line. The vampire was second among the many he had claimed and in that case? It had been self-defense, although clan Urik may have seen it differently back then. Maaldis had been a young shapeshifter then in his first form, a wild-elf who had known a little something about the magic that could be done with a shapeshifter skin. Again, he had taken that form in self-defense as well. That was many years before he had become an assassin but all a small piece of the puzzle which had shaped him INTO a killer (and sometimes spy) for hire. The spying he did when someone had his favor, like Mortiara had his favor. Those few were far between. In any case, there was nothing of a trap laid there... though the idea had flitted through the assassin's mind... of course it had, how perfect a trap it would be because it was all too obvious to BE a trap... and to have trapped all three towards their ends, how amusing that could be... but that was not his purpose, not even the death of one of them. Teaching a foolish queen a lesson HAD been his purpose, and no one could understand how close he had come to just... killing her for wasting his time as she had... for betraying king and country, for hiring him for something she had no business hiring him for. In his eyes, she had proved herself too goddamn human in her character. It was not a matter of morality, because he had no mortal compass as anyone could understand it, but he HAD his own set of principles... based on loyalty, logic, survival, and motive. What motivated him was any end which benefited the kingdom he had sworn himself in utmost secrecy to serve, any end which made sense... which could lead to something greater, which could bring about necessary change. Having a hatred for humans that passed up psychotic on its way to cold homicidal resolve, he saw no greatness in mortals claiming Esscha Endor. He saw only mundanity, oppression and ruinous illogic in that scenario. He'd almost made the decision to spare the kings of below and above by murdering Desiree. As she stirred the fire in that huge, almost empty room, and stood up to walk to the window and peer out of it, she was oblivious to how close Maaldis had come to slitting her throat and devouring her soul, not to claim her form, he only claimed those he respected and admired, but to END her for all time. What had stopped him was simpler... He was curious. He wanted to see what the kings he served would do... To see if his invisible loyalty was well placed. He could see them at his whim... hear them at will, because he had his spies in the leaves, the grass, the shrubs, the rocks and trees without, in the cracks of the walls, the welled corners of the windows, on the heavy rafters and the shadowy places within. These were not the kind of spies one could detect, anymore than one could detect a spy in the insects, animals, and trees all around them. Yes, Maaldis was curious.
He watched as Desiree went to the window and peered outside. She could not see Seth and Solbaid around the corner of the house, nor Rain and Keir at that big old apple tree because she had never been introduced to them. She COULD see Ymp though... That was Amon's man, she thought. What was HE doing here? If not for Ymp escorting her and taking the telepathic pendant to Seth, she would not have known who he was. She pressed her face against the window to eliminate the glare... Cripes! Had he followed her somehow? She wondered as Ymp tried to find out where those apples had traveled to. He was looking for flattened grass, for apples or their cores... for any sign explaining how they vanished from the branches they snapped away and disappeared from. Damn... she thought suddenly about the ranger she was waiting on. She hadn't gotten his name! What was wrong with her!? Ymp saw her from the corner of his eye and looked her way. She ducked back quickly behind the wall away from the fairly deep window well and sucked in a deep breath. She waited... then slowly and carefully peered outside again. He had gone back to what he was doing before. She had to DO something! Inhaling another deep breath, she went for the door and tried to open it. It stayed fast and she tugged on it harder. Next thing she knew she was kicking and pulling at it as hard as she could, but it wouldn't budge. "Damnit all!" she cursed when she finally realized she could not move that door.
Later at Gothtyrdan battle raged, Maaldis meanwhile wounded another allie with an arrow where Vaud would have made the shot lethal. He was watching the goings ons at the Urik outpost in the meantime. He was almost amused by the queen's tenacity. Maybe she should reconsider her station in life and become an assassin, he mused. He was not serious of course, much as she would have to unlearn her foolish behavior for that profession as well. She was not unusual though... kings, queens and the common alike had done many foolish things out of vengeance. If there was one thing Maaldis knew... it was revenge. There was a smart, right and wise way to satisfy vengeance. There were also those causes worthy of the act. He was still not satisfied that Solbaid had done anything wrong. He killed his own daughter... Terrible thing to do... unless he knew something others didn't. Something had been said between he and his man Armagen which led Maaldis to believe that Solbaid might just be misunderstood. Perhaps he had handled the matter badly... but there was more to this than just a father killing his only daughter. Those keen instincts of the shapeshifter's told him so. Maybe he wanted it to be true so he would not have to take someone so powerful on... Maaldis was old... but Eremon...? He was a Celtic deity, though he doubted many knew that. Maaldis did his homework but he had known about Solbaid LONG before the queen contacted him through Mortiara. Maaldis was half sidhe himself... though Morendor born, he had studied his roots and the land his parents had come from. Eremon had been highly esteemed by his people... respected and feared too, but mostly respected and admired. Then he had just... disappeared after his wife with her allies and lover had crushed him. He had retreated to his castle, taken his fortress with him into the land of shadows the old legends told. Evidentally he had lived between the land of shadows and Morendor, or who knew where else for ages. Solbaid alone knew where he had gone since his wife had dethroned him in Anwnn. Maaldis had always hoped he would reclaim his kingdom there. It would be the end to the story HE would have liked to see; The true king returning to behead his traitorous witch of a wife, killing the asshole she had replaced him with, and reclaiming the kingdom of Eremon. Call him a sentimental assassin... He loved Tuathan tales. He was not an assassin because his father had touched him in the wrong places or his mother had burned him with cigarettes and kept him in a closet. He was an assassin because he excelled at it, and had no problem with killing MOST people, and those he refused to kill had nothing to do with feelings. It was all about what made sense to HIM. He was an assassin because he HATED most people... but he did not hate with passion or rage... He hated with cold calculation. He wasn't sure whether he hated Desiree or not yet. He was trying to make up his mind about that. He tended to hate stupid people, and senseless people, and foolish people. He had not figured out what she was. It had been stupid not to get Vaud's name but then... he could have told her anything. Maybe she knew that. It was stupid to think turning the AoM against Solbaid would go well for Esscha Endor... then again... he had not exactly heard her plan through... she was saving IT for a leader of AoM. Maybe she was more clever than she appeared... OR... maybe her vengeance was absolutely blind and she had not thought things through... OR... she had thought things through and either did not care what the outcome was (was stupid) or was counting on the outcome she hoped for (was clever). 'Vaud' was going to find out one way or another. Her mind was guarded. He had tried to unlock it without success, and his was a powerful mind, a mind of many.
Alias Maaldis, alias Vendekuar, alias Tulkress Kugoru, alias who knew how many others either in shape or proxy, had returned to the ancient stone house on the mountain spur some days after the war had come to an uneasy impasse. There had been so many strange events in the making ever since... the unexplained disappearances which over time and with intelligence gathered from AoM's broken forces became less a mystery and more of an ongoing concern. The scepter which had been at the heart of the mass vanishing... vanquishing? But to where? Death, another plane, another world? Where had IT, the relic itself gone? Whose hands was it NOW in and what other powers if any were still buried inside of it?
Then... there was the matter of the Elves which everyone, but Maaldis it seemed, appeared to be completely overlooking. Like phantoms surrounded by flames they had passed virtually unnoticed as they put the fires out both side had ignited... eliminating the dead zones, illuminating hidden camps, spreading panacea over sickness and arcane plague, healing the wounded and the scarred land, disarming traps, and carrying wreck and ruin to legion portals... all this and barely even noticed or mentioned. Maaldis noticed. But then, that was what he did... he noticed things. He found things. Sometimes he dispatched of things.
The last of the events which bore mentioning had occured only just yesterday morning. Something... he still had no answers for had blasted the entire planet, central Morendor most profoundly, with a laser-like shockwave of astonishingly brilliant light. Any creature man or beast exposed to it was blinded... permanently without arcane healing. Those indoors where the light couldn't reach were untouched as were those who covered their eyes in time (unless so sensitive to light that even that failed) as of course were the already blind. Entire flocks of birds had plummeted to the earth, shallow swimming fish had washed ashore, blind, panicked animals were affected on a hugely disastrous scale. Maaldis had seen some Elves spiriting around mending what they could of this disaster as well.
The world had just felt... wrong, out of whack to Maaldis after that. Like something you couldn't put your finger on was all bent out of place. Maaldis wondered how many other people felt it? Noticed it... like the shapeshifter whose job it was to notice things. Maaldis had heeded the unidentified voice that had gotten off a warning to 'COVER YOUR EYES!!' The shapeshifter had not hesitated, or ignored it as so many unfortunate others had. He had been with two of his surviving rangers south of his present location, outdoors, in their camp at the foot of the mountains just outside of Esscha Endor when it happened.
The Greyhood rangers had parted ways with AoM, dropped the greyhood name and formed their own company called the Nine Cups rangers. Vaud had talked the others into forming an independent muster, and they had recruited a few new bloods since. They called themselves the Nine Cups because they were drunk when they chose their name and were holding nine cups of whiskey between the four of them (all that had survived or not poofed out of existence). They had already doubled their fellowship with an elf (Thornwhistle), a Trecouri run away (Kyran), a Tumae (Drennbar), and of all things for ex AoM, a goblin (kirke). AoM generally despised goblins. Well their new comrade Kirke, whom Kyran was in the company of, had changed all that. Kirke was quite the fellow. Vaud had said they needed to learn to see things differently than AoM had, and so they had. All of them required training which they did everyday.
It was the blinding flare (which for light sensitive beings such as gothelves or vampires might even burn the eyes from) which had compelled Vaud to return to the warded home stead in the mountains to check in on his prisoner Desiree. He left his growing company behind. Kyran was healing three of them that had been blinded and it would take a few days to complete the task. As of now she was their only healer.
Now several weeks ago, King Octavian had sent word to his men, Maal's friend Mortiara among them, that he would be attending some matters he was called to Acheron for. He had not specified how long according to Mortiara nor would Mortiara elaborate on the matter. That had been a few weeks ago. No word from Seth that had reached Maaldis. He was either very busy or unable to get word to his people.
A small group had since left Gothtyrdan palace to travel east by gate. Corwyn had come to fetch his brothers Kier and Rainier and take them to Inaaksu. The very strange birdman Dredjinn had gone with them.
Vaud, because as mentioned before he became his personas though was also always himself, indeed assuming the role of those he absorbed was part of who HE was, Vaud knew everything was off shortly after the light wave had passed. He had felt his wards fail for one... they just... ceased to be. He left camp as soon as matters there were settled. Kyran would heal those who needed it while Kirke laid runes to protect the camp. When everyone was healed they would visit nearby settlements and while Kyran healed the blind, the others would keep her safe and help the people and animals they encountered in any other ways they could. They wished they had more healers and resolved to recruit more of them in the future.
The moment Vaud stepped upon his keep's grounds, his suspicions that everything was off were confirmed. Ymp and his owl Kempket, who had been holding vigil over the keep the entire time, were nowhere to be seen when Vaud arrived (though Kempket could have been unseeably in air form). The keep front door hung wide open for another. A quick search of the place proved what he already knew. Desiree was gone. Vaud had equipped a means to track her nevertheless in a hard rune he had etched in her back. She had been supernaturally asleep and hadn't felt a thing when he'd done it. She never even knew he'd placed it there. And so he opened his mind to locating her. He didnâ€™t assume to know where she went. Where he DID find her, surprised him.
"Huh," he gave breath to his discovery. Then he had to decide whether to go after her. He hadn't planned on traveling so far that day. She was his to look after until ready to turn her over so what other choice did he have? Every choice, but none other he was willing at the moment to make. There was not much in his house. The two chairs, one large bed, a few built in cabinets, and some provisions. "SiÃ¡ghai," he spoke in his native tongue, at what moment cleverly placed traps arcane, elemental, and physical manifested all OVER the place, inside and out. It was a preset power written into the runes scribed into the keep's walls. Vaud grabbed up the only piece of equipment other than the various weapons strapped to himself, a plain looking leather rucksack. Shadows and air gathered around him to not only hide him but deliver him within sight of Desiree. Mortiara and his rangers meanwhile received a report from him en-transit. What he found when he arrived at the deep woods camp in the Eternal Wilderland he kept to himself. In her company was his very own sire Azrael. Seeing him after so long almost made his heart beat get away from him but he steadied himself. Azrael had trained him to BE an assassin... a spy, a... whatever he needed to be at any given moment. Maaldis had no idea that Desiree was sort of his sister. He was sired. Desiree was born. He was an acolyte. She was a daughter. Devils didn't really have the same sense for clan ties that vampires did unless they marked, bonded or enslaved someone. Maaldis had earned being cut loose from Azrael a LONG, LONG time ago. For the moment he stood in the shadows, wrapped in darkness and air, observing. He was curious how long it would take the angel of death to detect him, if at all...