Orion settled into his position atop one of the rafters, nibbling on one of his fingernails impatiently. They were supposed to arrive half an hour ago— he’d counted the minutes in his head, assembling his gun, Polix, with practised precision as he did so. He pushed a lock of dark hair from his eyes and shifted his legs so he was splayed out across three of the ceiling rafters, double-checking his gun was cleaned and loaded. He placed the weapon carefully by his side and waited.
Then, the doors to the room opened, and the cult entered at a painstakingly slow pace, chanting and muttering amongst themselves, their faces indiscernible under their dark hoods. Our sniper pulled up Polix and squinted through the rifle’s sight, searching for the man he was looking for, the leader. He’d been following the cult for weeks now, and after a botched attempt in Enkhur a fortnight ago that left him with a dislocated arm and bruised ribs. But that was behind him, and now-- now, he had a job to do.
The pay better be worth it.
Something about the hooded figure at the back caught his attention. Zeroing in on the figure, he caught him in the crosshairs of his rifle. There was a symbol at the base of the figure’s hood-- the symbol of the cult leader. Orion had found him. A small smile spread across his lips as he took a deep breath and curled his finger around the trigger of his gun. He was so close.
The finger on the trigger had moved barely a centimetre when there was an earsplitting crash, and a man in a cloak came barging into the room, a sword in one hand and a boy in the other, the latter of which was draped unceremoniously over his shoulder. The sniper’s finger jerked, rifle misfiring and hitting the wall by his target. The cult leader yelped and was quickly flanked on all sides by his followers. Orion spat out a curse and fired another bullet, but all it did was take down one of the followers and catch another in the shoulder.
There were splinters in the cloaked man’s clothing, suggesting he must have slammed the door open. The sniper wondered how he did it without dislocating his shoulder in the process. The cult members were all panicking; those who weren’t guarding their leader were running in all directions, trying to avoid the cloaked man’s swinging sword. The boy had woken a little and was clinging to the man’s shoulder, looking decidedly not comfortable.
Orion knew that if this kept going on, he’d never get to the cult leader. This was his chance. Summoning his concentration, Orion’s irises changing from their usual baby blue to a glowing blue ring. A a flash of blue filled the entire room, freezing everyone in place. The air was faintly blue as Orion planned his angle of entry. In another situation, seeing a group of cult members mid-scream would have been hilarious, he only a few moments to take advantage of the standstill.
Slinging Polix across his back, he swung down from the rafters, landing rolling as he hit the floor. He jumped up and aimed his gun directly at the cult leader, just as the time ran out and everyone un-froze.
The gun fired again, missing the cult leader by a hair’s breadth. Dropping to the floor to avoid the blows of the leader’s followers, and rolled quickly out of the way. Standing to his full height, he dodged a knife thrown his way, and ended up back-to-back with the cloaked man and his young charge. The man turned, seeing his face for the first time-- a mass of scars, littering his cheeks, his forehead, his lips. A pair of steely eyes that glared out at him suspiciously. He was white as a sheet, but he showed no signs of fear.
“Who’s side are you on?” the man asked in a garbled, but oddly calm, voice. Orion drew closer to him.
“Yours, I believe,” he shouted over the screams of anger and fear from the cult members.
“I’m Tobias. This is Julian,” the man told him, lurching backward as a crossbow bolt came flying his way. Orion frowned, wondering where the weapons had come from-- under the cult members’ robes, most likely.
Tobias grunted in pain as another bolt hit him in chest. Orion yelled a warning, but Tobias simply yanked the bolt out. There was no blood.
“What in the name of the Gods…” Orion exclaimed, drawing back, eyes wide with fear. Tobias shot him a look.
“Don’t be like that. I’m not going to hurt you, boy.” Orion swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. Julian had woken up fully by this time, and he blinked owlishly at the sniper, seemingly unaware of the events unfolding before him. Julian had dusty blond hair that reached his shoulders and was wearing a tunic and trousers. He stooped to the ground and snatched a knife from the floor, wiping it on his sleeve and swiping it at the approaching cult members.
The trio had been backed into a corner, the sniper felt sweat trickle down the back of his neck. He prayed silently that he would escape from this.
The air rippled with magic, one of the cult members pushing them against the wall as the cult closed in. Then it was utter chaos, the wind suddenly stopped and the entire cult charged forward, bare fingers outstretched glowing, the beginnings of spells taking shape.
They never got a chance to finish them off. Tobias had charged up his blade, swinging and slicing through flesh, robes and bones. Screams filled the air. A plume of red flames caught him head on, but he smiled, body unscathed and untouched by the heat. The pyromancer screamed, whirling around, desperately looking for a way out.
Orion wasn’t going to let that happen-- no one was going to escape this.
Polix was free from his back, and time and begun slowing just enough for him to aim the fatal shot. The bang was lost in time, the smoke hanging in space, Polix’s bullet slowly twisting as it flew free from the constraints of his magic, burying itself into his target’s neck.
And then time came crashing back to full speed again, he ducked a blow from hooded figure, cursing as his back hit the wall. Polix wasn’t going to be much use in a fist fight. A streak of gold hair darted in front him. Julian twisted the short knife forward, slashing into his attacker’s arm. The figure gave an animalistic growl before he tore the robes off, revealing a man’s bare chest. Already his facial features were distorting of that of an animal-- a wolf, to be exact.
“Great, berserkers... the cult’s got them involved, too,” he muttered under his breath, holding Polix up this time. He didn’t bother with the cross hairs-- he didn’t need them for a close-up shot.
But the bullets that buried themselves into the berserker’s chest only provoked another animalistic growl. Then it was on all fours, leaping at Julian. He dodged the berserker’s attack, lifting his knife up and using his enemy’s own momentum against him so that he tore open his own belly as he soared overhead. Then Julian was back in the center of the fight, leaping and weaving in and out of the hooded figures; cutting and slicing like a man possessed.
“Now would be a great time, sniper guy!”
Orion didn’t have time to process the sarcasm-- he already had the scope to his right eye and had begun firing shots into the crowd. The cult brainwashed each of its members into killing and murdering everyday people-- the rite of passage involved the murder of children-- so he felt no guilt as he felled one after another, the scope zeroing on a head, a neck, a chest, a vital artery. He pulled the trigger each time.
There were too many of them, however-- Julian was pushing them back, but already projectiles of fire, water, ice and air and been flung his way. Orion slowed time just as much as he could, to give the boy more time, but he didn’t have the power to stop time completely, nor keep it as slow as it was for very long. Julian paid no notice to Orion as he danced his way through the crowds of cult members.
Tobias was in the center of the group, a sheathed sword swinging left and right, knocking people out and onto the floor, ignoring the barrage of knives and flames headed his way, He took the blows and continued forward, his massive frame taking a huge beating but powering through regardless.
He didn’t see the berserker behind him, bulky arms ready twist at his neck. Thick fingers laced around his throat, ready to break the fine bones, but the berserker never got the chance to deliver the killing blow. Tobias ducked underneath his grasp, his sheathed sword firmly connecting against his ribs with a sickening crunch. Tobias turned and smiled at the berserker, his blade smacking the side of his head, before landing a finishing blow, knocking him out cold.
“Did you even have a plan when you rescued me?” Julian called out to his companion. He shook his head.
“I didn’t have the time, they were about to move you.” Julian snorted.
“Always playing the hero.”
“Guys? As much as I appreciate the banter, we’re kind of in the middle of something!” Orion shouted.
The scope searching through the crowd looking for the leader of this group. He had one more shot before he had to reload, and he didn’t have the time for a second chance he needed to find his target.
“Got you,” he murmured.
He saw his hurried shape running off, the symbol embroidered to the back of his cloak once white was red with blood, a perfect spot to aim for. He pulled at time one last time-- it would be the last he could manage. The scope flickered blue as his iris shimmered with magic. The air stood still-- for less than a second,but a second was all it took for the bullet to travel from the barrel into the cloak of Orion’s target.
He nearly collapsed, exhausted from the exertion of the magic. His target, on the other hand, screamed shrilly, gripping at the cloak. He’d missed-- the bullet had buried itself into his… no, her shoulder. She hurried off, running through an open corridor. He’d missed his chance.
Tobias barreled through the swarm of murderous cult members, taking cuts, spells and and all measure of unsavoury things that surely would have killed him had he been human. He ignored them like they were bothersome mosquitoes in his wake.
“Julian we need to go. Can you run?” he asked the boy urgently. Julian rolled his eyes.
“Sure can, Dad.”
Tobias let Julian sort himself out, while he lifted Orion up against his chest, shielding him from the projectiles headed their way.
“Let me go,” Orion complained indignantly, batting weakly at Tobias’s chest.
“No time to argue,” he replied calmly, paying him no heed.
He was heading straight for a wall, and Orion cursed his protests as he felt Tobias bend over protectively, so that he would take the brunt of the impact. That didn’t change the sheer terror of being held by a 200 kilo man barrelling straight towards a wall with a murderous cult being on their heels. Orion did what any normal person would do: prayed to the Gods, closed his eyes and screamed bloody murder.
The moment of impact wasn’t too bad; the solid stone shuddered and broke away, leaving a sizeable hole that widened and opened into the air, as Tobias forcibly made an exit through the interior. Then they started falling, Julian right behind them, blond hair whipping in the wind.
As he began to fall with us, my eyes flickered to the city around us. The moment was slowed unconsciously, i was alive and afraid. Naia’s islands greeted my eyes. Domestic lights seemed comparable to stars as we well fell ever so slowly. It was soundless, like falling through space. The canals that ran through the streets of Naia were dark, reflecting minimally. The streets were dim, compared to the grand front entrance of the Church of the seventh Immortals. I closed my eyes and then we fell in earnest-- the air tearing malevolently at our falling figures. It was well over ten meters high, but from what I could tell, Tobias could handle it. At least, I hoped he could.
The scarred man landed with a shudder. Orion pushed away from him immediately, collapsing on the ground with Polix still clutched tightly to his body. He needed to reload. Julian landed beside them without a sound, save a low grunt as he hit the cobblestones.
A hooded figure had leapt after them and landed with a sickening crunch-- legs broken, spine shattered from the fall. Another figure stood to the edge readying to leapt. Our sniper wasn’t going to take the chance. His fingers gripped at Polix, reloading in a few seconds before standing up and taking aim at the gap. He collapsed suddenly before he could take a shot, the overuse of magic hitting him like a brick wall, leaving him to fatigued to do anything. Seeing that he had just broken through a solid stone wall it wasn’t hard to imagine why.
“Stop where you are. Let me see you hands. Put ’em in the air.”
A new group had arrived at the scene; law enforcers, the crest of the council firmly printed on their chests. They were less than fifty meters away.
Julian gave a toothy grin.
“I don’t know about you, but I reckon we’d better leave this for the authorities, don’t you think?”
Orion’s vision was beginning to blur; he nodded weakly and reluctantly let Tobias pick him up again. This time they were running to escape the prying eyes of the media and council.
Orion lost count of the minutes they ran for-- they jumped over canals, took back alleys, darted through main streets and private properties. Finally they slowed, coming to a stop in a particularly dimly-lit alleyway. Orion had regained a little strength and he stepped onto the pavement tentatively, swaying a little from the dizzy spell that caught him unawares.
He had planned to only kill the leader and leave through the hidden skylight during the confusion. Jumping into the middle of a fight had been stupid and irrational, and the worst fact was that he had failed. He had failed to kill the leader and now, whoever they were, they were free to continue recruiting, free to continue murdering. Worst of all, he wouldn’t get paid despite the amount of people he had killed on site.
“So what were you doing in the Church of the Seven Immortals?” Julian piped, breaking the silence. Orion raised an eyebrow
“I could ask the same thing, kid.”
“But you haven’t.” Orion groaned in frustration-- he was to tired to deal with this right now.
“Julian and Tobias, right? Those are you names?” Tobias nodded slowly.
“I certainly don’t trust you with my life, but considering you saved it back in the Church, I’m willing to talk. I have a room in the Black Flag Inn, on the Venetian canal. We can talk there.”
“Charmed,” Julian snickered, “but you haven’t even bought me a drink yet.”
“I don’t even know you, let alone want to take you to bed with me,” Orion bit out, grinding his teeth in frustration.
“Hush, Julian.” Tobias gave him a look. He turned back to Orion.
“We’re very happy to accept your offer. Lead the way.”
“Well I want a drink,” Julian whined. “Being trapped in a dungeon tortured for hours tends to make one quite thirty indeed.”
“You only had runes tattooed onto your body,” Tobias pointed out. Julian made a face.
“It hurt, though. Seems like torture to me.”
“It’s your own fault, getting caught when I told you specifically to stay close to me, but nooo-- you just had to get a drink then and there. It’s your bloody alcohol problem that got us into this mess in the first place,” Tobias muttered.
Orion walked hesitantly through the streets, crossing bridges and following unlit paths until they came to a street he knew. Naia was a strange city. They were on the biggest of all the islands, Triton. The canals all lead into the lake, and from the lake to all the cities of Aarada. The salt air greeted the trio’s lips, and their breathing was shallow and hitched, still recovering from the night’s events.
They walked in silence, the other two trusting Orion’s judgment. The three of them arrived at the Venetian canal, which was a quiet, well-known part of Naia, but rarely seen, it was secluded and travellers never went out of there way to visit the humble things that it had to offer. The street circled around, curving like a parabola before bending out wards and away. The Black Flag Inn lay at the vertex, large and foreboding. The building was dark stone, with windows alight with floating witchfire.
“Right this way,” Orion told Tobias and Julian, opening the door to the inn. They shared a quick, wary glance between each other before following him inside.
The interior of the inn was stylishly decorated, with blue fabric draped across the windows and plush furniture along the walls. The bar was at the very end of the luxurious hall. A man with graying hair waited by the bar, writing something down onto a plain note book. Orion made for the man, clearing his throat and slinging Polix onto his back for comfortably.
“Montag i presume my rooms still in order?.”
“Ah yes. Master Orion. We’ve had all your clothing cleaned in your absence,” the man, whose name was Montag, told him. He squinted at the snipers companions.
“Shall they be joining you?”
“The boy and I would like our own rooms together, thank you,” Tobias spoke before Orion could open his mouth. The grey-haired man nodded.
“Very good, sir. I’ll have a room prepared.” he wrote down a line on the notebook. “In the meanwhile, would any of you gentlemen like a drink?” A grin spread across Julian’s face and he rubbed his hands together.
“Oh, Gods yes.” Tobias frowned.
“Julian, last time you went for a drink, we ended up in this whole mess.” Julian made a face at the older man, the two beginning to bicker. Orion sighed, motioning for Montag to pour him a glass of his usual drink. A sparkling, pale yellow liquid gently splashed into his glass, non alcoholic, but that wouldn’t stop him from enjoying it.
“Orion.” Montag’s voice lowered.
“News travels fast in Naia, and I couldn’t help but hear... was that you at the Church of the seventh Immortals tonight?” He received a slow nod. Montag bit his lip.
“You know my magic can only stretch so far to keep my clients hidden.” Orion nodded, grimacing apologetically.
“I know. I didn’t mean to jeopardize the inn. I plan on laying low in here for a couple more days.”
The Black Flag Inn was hidden with an illusion-- anyone who walked past would see it as a rather charming small inn. But that was a lie. It was the hotel of choice of all the high class citizens of Aarde, hidden from all but one member of the Council. This made it the perfect place for criminals to hide, provided they could pay the exuberant price.
The Black Flag Inn might have seemed dangerous to the untrained eye, but it had a few rules in place to prevent any skirmishes inside its doors-- mainly consisting of not fighting with the other residents and keeping a low profile while going to and from the venue. Violation of these rules would result in a punishment to match the crime. No one knew how Montag had created the illusion, kept it up for all these years, and managed to keep the inn intact for most of that time. No one particularly wanted to find out, either.
Montag tutted, putting away the bottle. Orion lifted the glass to his lips and sipped, watching his two companions sit down next to him. Tobias politely asked for a mead, and Julian ordered an odd-coloured cocktail. They sat in silence, until Tobias shifted in his seat and made eye contact with Orion.
“So?” Orion and Tobias looked at each other again, nether sure how to proceed onwards with the conversation. Julian snorted.
“Oh, for Gods’ sakes. Why were you in the Church?”
“I had a job,” Orion admitted. Julian narrowed his eyes.
“Oh, so you’re a mercenary. What happens if there’s a job demanding our heads? Would you take it?” He sounded suspicious, on edge. Orion bristled.
“I prefer the term bounty hunter. And I only take publicly announced bounties or Council approved jobs.” Orion chose his words carefully, but he hadn’t said yes to Julian’s accusation. Julian picked up on it.
“So if the the Council wanted my head, would you take the job?” A small smile played at the edges of Orion’s lips.
“You would have had to do something truly despicable in order for a manhunt to even be considered.”
“So you would,” Julian shot back.
“Julian, please,” Tobias interjected. “We appreciate the help Orion, truly, but for our own safety, we need to know whose side you’re on.”
“The Council’s,” Orion replied after a moment’s hesitation, “I stand behind whatever choice they make.” His eyes met Julian’s, then Tobias’.
“Then we have nothing to fear. We don’t intend to cross any of the council’s laws.”
“Speak for yourself,” Julian sulked from his seat, accepting his glass.
“Ahem.” Montag politely coughed.
“Since you two are new to the Black Flag Inn, we have a couple of rules in place so please listen carefully. No magic to be used in the front save for an emergency,” Montag stared at Julian, who shrugged it off.
“No aggressive behaviour towards any of the other guests. No one is to leave their rooms unaccompanied between midnight and dawn. Since it’s well past midnight, I will accompany you to your rooms.” Julian fought back a yawn and stretched.
“I don’t know about you two, but I’m about to pass out. Lead the way, Mr Montag.”
“As you please. This way.” The note book snapped shut and he lead the tired blonde, gesturing towards a wall that dissolved into the air as he did so.
“After you, sir.”
The sniper and the monk were left to sip their drinks in silence.
“What do you plan on doing, after tonight?” Orion asked his companion. Tobias grunted.
“Probably hang low, and try and find transport to Theorem. I have contacts there.”
There was silence for a moment. Orion nodded.
“I plan to stay here for a couple of days, maybe find another job.” Tobias considered this.
“How’d you get so fast to be able to fight with a sniper rifle?” He’d picked up on Orion’s unusual speed-- time manipulation was a mostly unknown power, so he probably guessed that the sniper had some kind of enhanced super agility or something similar. Orion tensed.
“I trained since I was a child.”
“Well, I could ask about how you’re still alive.”
A small smile ghosted on his scarred cheeks, and the older man extended his hand.
“Tobias Graves. That’s my full name.” It was a display of trust, Orion knew. He took the outstretched hand in his, clasping it firmly.
“How do you feel about joining up with Julian and I?” Orion nearly choked on his drink.
“Why would I?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do. People are after Julian-- you saw his eyes, you know what it means.” He paused.
“The cult’s after him, they need him for a spell a ritual of some kind. We don’t know what it is.”
“Semideum... I thought they were an urban legend.” Tobias shook his head.
“They’re rare, but very real. That’s why the cult is so desperate to use him.”
“Go to the council, then. The cult can be stopped and no one has to die.” Tobias flinched at the mention of the word ‘Council’.
“They can’t know. No one can know. I know you believe in the Council, but it’s too corrupted to be of any help to us.”
“Lies,” Orion said indignantly. Tobias gripped his shoulder, leaning close and speaking with a fury Orion hadn’t seen before.
“I’ve seen the suffering of the people of Aarde, forbidden from using their own magic, to be free. Trapped within the cities for their own good.” Orion gulped down his drink, slamming the glass onto the table.
“They have their reasons.”
“Maybe, but what would they do a demigod like Julian? Send him to the labs of Enkhur to be experimented on? The cult will find the boy, even if the Council hides him.”
“You should have more faith in them,” Orion spoke lowly, almost threateningly. His companion didn’t appear fazed.
“The council is corrupted. The cult is proof of that,” Tobias told him gravely.
“What are you saying?”
“The council knows that it exists, hence why you got this job, no? So why haven’t they done more? You know how big of a threat the cult is.”
“Shut up,” Orion muttered darkly, ending the conversation.
Tobias swallowed at his mead, silence stretching on for what seemed like hours. Nether knew what to say.
“I’ll think about it,” Orion said after a while, gently setting the glass against the wooden board of the bar. “Montag, I’ll take my rest now.”
“As you wish, Master Orion.” Montag shimmered into existence, gesturing for another gap in the wall, leaving Tobias alone in the bar.
The future is unclear as always. I’ve got Julian back, but I can’t keep him safe forever. The cult needs to be stopped, but how? The Council, despite Orion’s beliefs, is dangerous, untrustworthy at the best of times. Things have changed in the hundred years that I was gone from this world. Maybe Theorem will give me the answers I need. Surely there we would find some allies in our conquest against the cult. I needed to speak to Nox.
He materialised into existence in front of Tobias.
“Could you please lead me to the highest part of the building?”
“Of course, sir.”
Montag led him away from the bar and through the fake wall. The walls here were painted dark gray, with accents of blue and silver. Witch-flames hung suspended from the ceiling, flickering at our movements. The hall lead into a circular room, locked doors on every level. A spiral staircase grew from the center of the room, splitting off into each individual level.
The shadows around the two men seemed alive, twitching in the corners of Tobias’ eyes. They ascended up the staircase slowly, conversation lost in the silence, the quiet speaking wonder of the world hidden behind the humble inn. The ceiling was partially glass, no islands to block the view of the sky, the night. It was a mess of stars and galaxies. Pale whites curls of cloud hung stretching for miles, the great painting of the Father. Tobias and Montag kept going until the latter revealed the circular trapdoor at the peak of the ceiling.
“It’s just through here. Do not hesitate to call me if you need anything, and please do not leave here without me.” Montag vanished into the shadows, leaving his guest alone.
Tobias nodded, pulling himself into the night air, shrugging his robes onto the glass of the trap door. They fell the ground, and Tobias closed the door, his skin-tight clothes little comfort against the chill of the wind. He stared up to the sky hoping, to see her, to see her face, looking for an outline in the darkness. He found nothing, so he shut his eyes, sitting down on the cold stone. He saw stars behind his eyes eyes, felt himself falling through the abyss of his own mind, searching for his goddess. He needed to know what to do next.
“Have faith, Styx.”
Her voice pierced the silence like the light of a new dawn. Tobias concentrated further, trying to glimpse the Goddess of the Night. Nothing. He found himself drifting in the dark; not asleep, just vaguely conscious, on the edge of despair and enlightenment. Tobias found himself remembering and dreaming of the life he’d had. Tobias opened his eyes to see the wide expanse of the night before him.
Stars and celestial bodies hung in the sky, all with different hues of light. The moons, Yue and Luna, were missing today. The mountains of the air hung silently in the sky, casting shadows on Naia. It could never be truly dark if there was sky. Tobias relaxed into the world. He was at peace and his mind was turned to the goddess, asking for help. Nox was silent-- she was rarely anything but silent.
She often taught the many Children of the Night as such; to be silent and to see the world as it was, nothing more, nothing less. She taught them to be grateful, hopeful, and faithful in preparation for the Father’s return. She promised their near-dead bodies would be brought back to life with His return. Then Tobias had left and Nox had given him her blessing. Therefore he couldn’t fail-- he could never face her, let alone the Father if he let Julian… he didn’t know the full story of what the cult planned to do. May the Father forbid it ever happen.
Orion had finally settled down into his room. It was lavishly decorated; paintings hung from the walls, the scent of fresh flowers perfumed the air. He took out a lightstone, one of the newest designs from Enkhur. He pressed his thumb against the translucent half sphere. Light shimmered out of it, organising itself into a square of illumination.
He set it down on the table, his fingers connecting with the solidified light, separating it into a scroll of moving letters and numbers. He’d been paid, whether out of the generosity of the Council’s heart, or because they hadn’t received word of his failure yet. He didn’t question it, instead swiping to the side the square, which turned blank.
Sleep was not going to come easy tonight, what with his mission and new companions. He decided to write a message to Artemise-- it had been a while since they’d talked and he could use the distraction. After a brief hesitation, he began to write.
It’s Orion. I’m staying at the Black Flag Inn in Naia, the one we used to stay at with Grandfather. Please tell him that I’m alright, for now at least. He needs to raise the threat level of the cult-- it’s starting to get out of hand. The mission today is probably in every paper and broadcasting on every lightstone in the country by now. The cult has incorporated Berserkers-- it means they’ve begun recruiting as far as Iko.
Something needs to be done about them, Artemise. You know I can’t speak to Grandfather right now, with what’s been happening between us, but you can. I wish I could tell you more about what’s been going on. You’ve been prepared as Grandfather’s replacement all your life-- even now, your voice matters to the Council. If he doesn’t say anything, then you must. Sorry it’s been this demanding, we haven’t seen each other for over a year now. But times are changing, the world is so much more dangerous than the one we’ve been taught to believe in.
Hope to see you soon. Be safe, sister.
Your brother, Orion.
The lightstone flickered for a moment, and then Orion’s hand swept right through it. The light blinked and faded-- the stone had stopped projecting. He glanced around at his surroundings. The room was, by all means, large; a king-size bed in the center, a wide window shut off by thick velvet curtains. An assortment of chairs and tables were placed in the room, but even the array of furniture still left it feeling massive and open. He wasn’t going to sleep easy tonight, so he opted out entirely, settling down to polish Polix instead.
Julian’s room was directly below Orion’s. Sitting in his bathtub, he scrubbed the dried blood from his arms. He was going to need new clothes. His tunic and trousers lay abandoned at the entrance of the bathroom.
The fresh tattoos across his skin were will still tender to touch, wincing as he pressed a towel against them. He swore under his breath, his wrists and ankles were red from irritation. He’d struggled, useless, against his bonds as they carved into him runes from the language of magic. He felt no different than from he usually did, though. He hoped it was because they hadn’t finished, not that the effects simple took a while to work.
Julian dropped the towel into the tub, thinking for a moment, before deciding to drain the water. His clothes lay abandoned on the floor, and he stepped over them gingerly. He didn’t need clothes to sleep after all. The sheets were clean and warm, and he eagerly pulled them up to his waist, settling into the soft mattress.
His fingertips ghosted over the knives he’d picked up earlier that night. They were silver, with skull-shaped hilts. Not exactly his aesthetic, but it was functional; he doubted he would ever see his own knives again. He ran his thumb along the sharp edge of one of the knives-- it was fine craftsmanship indeed. The cult probably used the weapons for sacrificial purposes, given how sharp the blades felt.
Julian slipped the weapon under his pillow, comforted by the illusion of protection it provided. He thought of his mother, hoping drowsily that she was doing well for herself, wherever she was, and slowly began to drift off.
Upstairs, Orion polished at Polix vigorously, taking the time to remove every speck of debris before carefully strapping it into its case. The lightstone flickered for a moment; it was unnoticed by Orion, the warm candles of the room hiding the change.
Tobias stood meditating on the roof. Silence filled the Black Flag Inn, as its tenants gave in to the pull of sleep. The first rays of daylight would be imminent in a few more hours.
Only when sunlight graced Tobias’s eyes, did the new day began.