16 First Ones, 6107 RTR (Mar 20, 2009) Olivia, Amelia, Natasha and Djivan set out to search for the demon hunters, and find an unexpected ally.
(Amelia) (Inner Demons) (Madame Natasha) (Olivia) (Spheres of Magic) (Stonebarrow) (Sylvania)

If anyone had ever told Olivia that one day she would be walking through the forest with a demonic Kadie, an angry rat, and a powerful mage to hunt down demon hunters … she would have accused them of drinking too much scumble. But as fate would have it, here she is. They made their way back to the cave that held Liliana in search of further clues about who the assailants were. It takes a bit of time, but they reach the cave and descend into its depths.

The brief flash from the mage-light was enough, though, for both Amelia, Olivia and Djivan to notice there was another shape standing near the wooden frame. It was small and vaguely Kadie-shaped; but the light is gone too quickly to know for certain what it was.

"Ey! What de heck was dat?" Djivan calls out and points in the direction the figure was. Such a helpful rat.

Amy draws her sword, and tries to get between the figure and the others. "Okay, if you're alive, make a noise!" she yells.

Olivia stands close to Natasha as Amelia tries to find the vanished figure. "Why wouldn't your spirit-light work in here? Too much conflicting magic or something?" she guesses.

"Lack of magic, actually," Natasha whispers back, "This area has been stripped, which is why it feels so empty."

Olivia ohs quietly and still hangs back somewhat. It's probably because she's trying to avoid being in the way of the Kadie girl's sword.

The only answer Amelia gets is something flying right towards her head! The object is moving far too fast for the Kadie, even with her heightened abilities, to avoid. It strikes her square in the center of her forehead and explodes in a cloud of dust. No … not dust, pepper. Amelia's nose and eyes now burn.

"Aaaagh!" the Kadie girl shrieks, and then lapses into heated chittering as she wipes at her face with her tail.

Olivia sniffs the air cautiously as the scent of pepper wafts her way now. She makes a horrid face, then calls out, "Gunther?! Only you would come up with a food-related weapon… like the vinegar bombs you showed me once!"

A shadowy mass on the far end now darts forward towards Amelia. It too chitters angrily as it tackles the now blinded Amelia and slams her to the ground. "One move and I kill her," a feminine voice warns Olivia, Natasha, and Djivan (it's certainly not Gunther unless he's wearing really tight underwear, anyway). "Now … tell me where your masters are!" Amelia can feel the edge of a blade pressing against her throat.

This causes Amy to go very quiet. "Gunther?" she hisses.

Hmmm, or not, the Skeek thinks to herself. Then she replies softly, so as not to anger Amy's assailant further, "If we knew where they were, we would tell you. We could use the help in tracking them down. But they are not our masters."

"Is that your Master's name?" the voice hisses, "Gunther?" There's a pause, then another question, "Are you saying you do not serve them? That this is a free demon? How has she escaped them?"

"Because they don't know she exists yet – and I would like to keep it that way for a while," Olivia answers. "But who are you?"

"I've never been captured," Amelia growls.

"Wrong, I captured you," the voice answers as the knife presses against Amelia's neck again. "I am Leni Fliegen-Eichhornchen of the Luftmitfahrer Clan. I've been hunting these men since they attacked my brother in our lands in Tursdi," the voice answers.

"You've come a long way then," Amy mutters. "How about sharing what you know so we can go get them?"

"Well met, Leni – that is, if you would take the knife away from my friend's throat, please?" Olivia says evenly. "I'm Olivia Weaver, from the town of Stonebarrow that lies near here. These same demon-hunters attacked a very dear friend of ours, too."

"They killed my brother," Leni growls in the darkness, "All because he bore a red stripe on his face. Those damn Chronotopians believed him possessed and killed him in their crusade to purify these lands. They seem to believe anyone marked was cursed by Bosch." Amelia can feel the knife pull back from her neck and the woman pinning her to the floor seems to climb off her.

Amelia gets up slowly once she's not pinned, and rubs her neck. "We need to get our friend's demon back. They stole it from her in here," she says.

Red stripe? Olivia wonders. Sounds like more of Amy's line than mine. Aloud, she remarks, "That's terrible. It sounds like you miss him very much, too." After a pause, she continues, "If we aren't able to find our friend's demon-spirit again, she's going to die, too. So if you would like to band together to find these maniacs, I certainly wouldn't say no."

"They have begun capturing them instead of outright killing them, then?" Leni comments, remaining in the shadows for now. "Curious. Before they would just kill those marked. I suppose that explains the odd feeling of this place."

"Yeh, Lili isn't doing so good. Natasha an' Isolde stabilized 'er, but all dat does is buy 'er time," Djivan finally pipes up from next to Olivia.

"They want the demon spirits to power some sort of ritual I think," Amelia offers.

"Indeed, dis place has been stripped of its natural magic to weaken those bound to what you call a demon," Natasha now adds. "We came 'ere to undo the damage an see if our friend, Amelia, can sense them."

"Amelia … " Leni comments from the shadows. "The bloodfur? " she then asks.

"From what our friend Liliana heard before the… process… it seems they are collecting demon-spirits for their power," Olivia explains. "As to the reason why, well, I have only guesses." Then she gestures to the others. "The one you attacked is Amelia – and yes, she is as you say. This is Djivan and with him is Dame Natasha. They are both from the same gypsy tribe."

Looking to the other Kadie, Amy says, "Yes, but not the original."

"So the legends were true," Leni comments. "No matter. We will work together for now. So you have no idea where they are, then? For humans, dull of senses, they are remarkably good at remaining concealed."

Olivia shakes her head. "We haven't a clue yet. We were hoping that Amelia and Natasha could help us with that."

"We wanted to strike while the trail was warm," Amy says. "I… might be able to sniff them out."

"Then I will leave you to searching for clues here. I am going to ride the treetops and hunt for them," Leni comments as she finally heads out of the shadows. In the light near the door, the group can finally make out a small Kadie girl, one even a bit shorter than Amelia. Her build is slight and lacking of curves like those Amelia has. She's dressed in an odd side-split outfit, the only attachments going over her shoulders and between her legs and around her tail. Her exposed sides look funny, though. The fur covered skin there looks oddly baggy and loose.

"Hmm," Amelia says, and looks to Natasha. "Was this place made with the same spell you used on Valicross?" she asks.

Olivia notices the other Kadie girl's odd body shape – and then the thinks of her name and something snaps in her head. "You are of a clan of flying Kadies?" she asks, not unkindly. "I've never met one of your brethren before."

Natasha cocks her head to the side as she considers the room; her eyes distant and unfocused. "Similar, but less refined," she says after a minute. "More … like it was crafted by a warlock or witch than a college educated mage."

Leni lifts her arm, stretching out the membrane of furred skin that connects it to her leg. "We are," she answers, "But we do not fly, we glide. We are not, as some people like to call us in spite, a squee: a child of Kadie and Eeee."

"I know a few Kadies who would be really jealous of even gliding," Amy says. To Natasha, she asks, "Could they have use a spirit to power the nullification spell?"

Olivia leaves the others to talk for a minute and steps forward to examine the Kadie's arm with great curiosity. "Well, as I have never heard the term 'squee' before now, I wouldn't have thought to call you that, either! You'd better make sure that my friend Zahnrad doesn't run into you! He has this, er, fixation with anyone or anything that flies. Or glides," she admits, grinning.

"Yes, they could have used a spirit to power a spell like that. Think of it like … a wave of water. If two waves traveling in opposite directions impact each other, they cancel each other out," Natasha tries to explain to Amelia. "So if they could cause the spirit to harmonize with the area, then invert and explode it … it would have similar effect as a small range exorcise ritual."

Amy just stares at Natasha for a bit. "Okay," she finally says. "Does using a spirit make their magic faster then yours?"

"Ah, then this Zahnrad must have an Eeee girlfriend," Leni comments. "Do not worry, I have no intention of associating with the exiles here."

"For complex magic, yes. It cuts down on preparation time. For smaller spells and cantrips, no. I can work those faster than they could reshape the spirit into a similar effect," Natasha answers. "Much of the complex rituals involve gathering and focusing magic. A spirit is an already focused form of magic, more or less."

Olivia lowers her voice a little and after a furtive glance at Amelia, she asks, "What do you mean by 'exiles,' please? To be honest, I know very little of Kadie history. If that's a territorial issue for you, though, then I withdraw the question."

"The Bloodfur convinced some clans to leave Tursdi for some unknown place in Sylvania," Leni explains, "Those that left with her were deemed traitors by the Kadie council and labeled'exiles'." She smirks slightly, adding, "Granted, they chose to leave. Calling them exiles was a way for the council to 'save face' and cover that they were beaten by a single crazy woman for control."

"Then we have to find them before they can use Lili's spirit for something," Amelia says, sounding grim. "Is there anything we need to look closer at here?" she asks, glancing at the frame that Lili as tied to.

"Not directly," Natasha says as she rubs her chin, thinking. "Hm. I do have an idea, though. Remember what I said about magic and water, Amelia?"

"Yeah, but I don't really understand it," Amy admits. "Is it to do with ripples from where magic is used?"

"Simpler than that in this case. What happens if you fall in water?" Natasha asks.

Olivia takes in this information silently, then nods. "Well, if you don't wish to speak to the other Kadies here, that's a decision only you can make. Just one word of warning: one of them may come looking for you. This Zahnrad I mentioned has a very nosy younger brother. In fact, that's who we thought you were at first. His name is Gunther."

"You get wet?" Amy guesses.

"Correct, student," Natasha nods approvingly. "Now, does the water in the reservoir smell the same as the water in the swamp?"

"Of course not," Amy says. "So… uh… we can track them by the… drips… of different magic that they leave behind them?"

"Is this Gunther dangerous?" Leni asks. "If he bothers me too much I cannot promise he would not be injured. I will try to not kill him, though."

"He can be, if provoked enough," Olivia admits. "He's the weapons-maker for the Wingnut Clan. Still, I would ask that you not kill him if you run into him… I've, uh, never really said this out loud before… but he's my best friend. We've been through some pretty tight spots together and I do like him – even if he can be an annoying little twit."

"Close. Remember when I said they would have to have shaped the spirit into a counter-wave for this area's natural magic? If I can restore the magic of this place, it will give you a scent to follow," Natasha explains further.

"Ey, what dis about being friends with short, youn' an looney as a squibbit?" Djivan now demands of Olivia. "Please tell me ya don' kiss da goon."

One Kadie tail pops up and flutters. "Great! How long will it take?" Amy asks Natasha.

At that, Leni laughs. "Ah, well, that tells me which clan from Tursdi he likely came from, then," the odd Kadie says, "I will try to simply avoid him. It does not sound as if trying to scare him would do much."

Olivia turns and pats the Skreek's arm comfortingly. "Of course I don't kiss him or anything else of the kind! He may be my friend but he's still a kid, you know. Those who are friends and lovers tend to be closer in more ways. So pipe down already!"

"Yeh, well, ya better no snog 'im," Djivan grumbles.

"I never planned on it before and I don't intend to start now," Olivia answers.

To Leni, Olivia says, "Truly. You'd have to be another evil necromancer to really get Gunther going."

Leni pats Olivia's shoulder, saying, "I am going to hunt our quarry. If you learn anything, whistle. I will hear it and come. Good luck in your hunt and may the Gods bless mine."

"Don't take them on by yourself, Leni! Call for us if you find them," Amelia warns.

"How?" Leni asks from where she stops by the exit.

"Restoring the latent magic of this place? Hm. About an hour, barring difficulties. It is a matter of encouraging the return of its natural flow," Natasha tells Amelia.

"How? Oh… well… " Amelia replies, thinking. "I guess you could whistle too."

"Pity, I was hoping you would cut off a horn and hollow it out for me," Leni remarks dryly, then nods. "I will try to save some of them for you." The strange Kadie then departs up the passageway.

Now that their surprise guest is gone, Olivia wanders back to the others. "What are we going to do now? And is there any way I can help?" she asks.

"So, t'ink Amelia have some competition? A flyin' Kadie, eh? Bet ol' Zahnners would drool if 'e saw 'er," Djivan comments (a bit loudly), to Olivia.

"We've got an hour," Amy notes. "We probably can't follow Leni though. But if she's tracked them all the way from Tursdi so far and still not caught them, I don't know that she will now either."

"I am going to try to restore the flow of magic here faster than it is happening naturally. How you can help … hmm. Well, you can perhaps be a focus. Since you were recently ridden by my familiar, you are going to have some level of echo as a part of you I can draw off of as a source," Natasha says after some thought.

Olivia pokes the Skreek hard several times as she says, "There's no competition if he never sees her!"

Djivan gets a devious look on his face for all of s second before the poking begins and he's in for the fight of his life! Well, not really but he always seems to act like it with how he complains.

Once Djivan is finished with his litany of groans, Olivia turns her attention back to Natasha. "What would I have to do to be a focus? Goodness, this is the day for firsts!"

"A most difficult task, you have to sit in the middle of the room, still, for an hour," Natasha says, "You may wish to use the bushes before we begin."

"Where do we need to be, Natasha?" Amy asks. "Can I provide any… uh… water for this?"

Olivia laughs at that and hurries off for a few minutes to take that advice. When she returns, she sits where Natasha has indicated and looks to her for further direction.

Natasha considers this. "This will be your first lesson in rituals, then," she says as she digs into her side pouch. She draws out a stick of chalk and hands it to Amelia. "Draw a circle around the mid-point of the room where Olivia will sit. As you draw it, envision in your mind a flow of water. Imagine it flowing down your arm and how that would feel. Imagine it following the chalk line. Continue tracing the circle until you can actually feel the flow down your arm."

Amelia blinks at that, but she's already 'imagined' having a separate set of arms, so she goes about it as best she can. "Does it have to be a perfect circle?" she asks. She's also silently surprised that the chalk actually leaves a mark in the dirt floor.

"As close as you can manage, yes, and it must be unbroken," Natasha instructs as she steps back. "And do not worry, the worst that will happen if you make a mistake is Olivia will turn green." Olivia can swear she sees Natasha wink at her.

"Would that be a mint green?" Olivia asks wickedly. "I have another dress I'm making that would go fabulously with mint green fur… "

Just to be safe, Amy keeps her tail up high to avoid letting it wipe out any of the circle. She also concentrates on the task at hand, which is evidenced by her not swatting Djivan with her tail when she passes him.

It doesn't stop him from swatting her on the butt, though!

"Can we turn Djivan green instead?" Amy asks after that.

"Focus, Amelia. What Djivan did was good practice for you," Natasha notes, "You must be able to ignore distractions when working magic." The Khatta's head tilts as she considers the circle. "Not good enough, there is only a faint sign in the chalk of your signature. You are capable of better and I expect it. You have five minutes to improve the circle. Do not fail." Okay, so maybe Natasha was a bit of a harsh teacher once.

Taking a deep, calming breath, Amelia makes another circuit, thinking of water. Specifically, she think of the waterwheels and the river. I'm the reservoir, she tells herself. The circle is the river, and my arm is the wheel.

Amelia's arm feels rather funny this time … and to both her and Olivia's eyes as the chalk passes along, the trail of dust left behind sparkles with an odd, red, light. "Better," Natasha says approvingly. "Much better. One more pass should be enough."

Olivia also gives Amelia an encouraging, thumbs-up sign.

The Kadie girl keeps focused on her breathing – which is something Isolde taught her long ago – and visualizing. Fill up the circle, she tells herself as she goes.

"There, that is good enough," Natasha says after another few minutes. She reaches over and pats Amelia's shoulder lightly as well. "You will not be helping with this ritual, you do not have enough control yet for that to be safe. But, what I want you to do is feel what I am doing. I want you to listen to the land and tell me when you believe it is enough for you to trace. You know this land far more instinctually than I."

It takes a moment for Amy to come out of her trance. She nods, and steps away from the circle. Curling her tail around her, the Kadie sits down on the floor and digs her toes into the dirt.

Natasha looks between the two girls and half-smiles. "I feel like a teacher again," she says, "I even have a lab rat." The Khatta thumbs towards Djivan. His just ticks out his tongue. "Now all of you relax and feel. Do not fight what happens, just feel it and follow."

Olivia smiles, too, then closes her eyes and waits for what will come.

Amelia twitches. "I'm still new to the 'opening up' part," she admits.

"I will speak with Zahnrad about opening you up more, then," Natasha deadpans to Amelia. "Now, let me begin." Her eyes close and she extends her arms out before her. It starts small, the Khatta's hands and wrists rolling gracefully before her. At first, she says nothing, but over the next minute her voice slowly rises in the room. Like all other times, she speaks in a lilting, melodic, language unknown to the Kadie and Skeek as she works. This continues for about ten minutes before the Khatta moves her body in a graceful dance along the border of the circle Amelia drew. Her footsteps make no sound as each is placed with precision and grace.

The dance part is new to Amelia, and watches in fascination until she remembers that she's supposed to be feeling for changes in the land.

Olivia, who is sitting in the middle of the room with her eyes closed and her hands on her knees, doesn't see the Khatta's dance but she feels the rush of air in Natasha's wake. She tries to relax, wondering what she's going to sense while being a focus.

Ah, if only they knew what she was saying. Her tone is gentle, almost pleading, in the way Natasha calls out to the unseen. The first to feel something is Olivia. Its an odd tingling, almost a tickle, as it begins. If Olivia had to describe it, its like all her short fur has started to stand on-end and wave in a light breeze.

Olivia cracks one eyelid open to make sure that her fur isn't standing on end right now. With magic, one never knows, after all.

If Amelia had to relate this to things she has seen other witches do, the closest thing she could relate it to would be a dance that begs of the spirit of the land to grant them some small favor.

Thankfully, Olivia's fur isn't standing on end as Natasha works. The tingling is getting worse, though. It feels like something is flowing out of her.

At least that seems familiar, Amelia thinks, while she tries to relax. In this case, that means relaxing the grip on her inner-demon a bit, so that it suffuses her enough that she can hopefully feel when the land responds to Natasha's 'counter wave'.

Olivia closes that eye again and takes a few deep breaths. Natasha had said just to go with whatever happened, so that's what she tries to do. She actually feels it before Amelia does, even with the demonic augmentation helping. The uncomfortable emptiness of the room is starting to fade away. The room still doesn't feel comfortable, but its oppressive feeling is gone.

To Amelia's feet the room is losing that cold, perhaps dead, feeling. If she had to describe it, it's like the floor was warming, like blood flowing back into limb that had been exposed to far too much cold water. Even Amelia's inner demon seems to be, well, calming down in here.

Olivia hmms quietly to herself at the sensation but doesn't speak, not wishing to disrupt the proceedings.

Amy smiles, and wiggles her toes a bit in the dirt of the floor.

The next forty minutes are in some respects boring for those present. Natasha continues her dance and the room slowly and perceptibly (even to Djivan), becomes more comfortable. The ring that encircles Olivia now flickers a dull red, like the embers of a campfire fading away. Natasha's dance finally comes to an end and the Khatta says in a slightly tired-sounding tone, "I think that should be sufficient. The land has returned its touch to this place."

"Well, Amy?" Olivia asks sleepily, since she almost dozed off during that time. "Get any information? Or doesn't that part happen yet?"

Amelia silently compares the way the room is now to how it was, and more specifically how it changed. "I'm working on it. I kinda have to figure out the mirror image to what Natasha did, and understand how it feels if I'm going to be able to sense it."

The Skeek yawns widely. "Okay, I'll shut up then," she replies, her chin relaxing against her chest.

"Amelia needs to now feel this place; learn its scent … and see if she can determine its mirror image," Natasha says, then nods approvingly to Amelia. "The most effective way to do that is to work it in a way most familiar with you. Yes there are known incantations and the like that are taught to all students, but true magic is directed from the mind and soul of the mage. Being true to yourself will open things faster than following a rote pattern."

"Kinda like how I have felt up Olivia and know every'ing about 'er?" Djivan, for some reason, is compelled to ask.

Amelia blinks, and stands up. "What I know," she whispers, and then draws her sword. "Parry and defense, how to block a strike, anticipate the opponent's move," she recites. She closes her eyes and moves the sword slowly through the air, as if feeling with it. Move with the flow of the land, and I'll learn the nature of the counterflow. The flow of the land is the defensive move, she thinks to herself. It's all a dance.

The only sound that comes from the center of the room is a small, exasperated sigh.

"Not exactly, Vash," Natasha comments as she looks to Djivan in the way that just screams shut up.

Amelia chose well. As she glides her sword through the air, she feels resistance to the blade. Turning it, tilting it, and changing its path all alters how much resistance she feels. With some effort an time, Amelia finds just the pattern that offers no resistance to the blade; the the 'wave' of the room, perhaps.

The Kadie breaks out in a broad smile, and opens her eyes. "I think I have it," she says. "I know how the land… flows. If something flows counter to it, I should feel it. It's like being a real witch!"

"Your first step on a path that may last your lifetime," Natasha says as she lightly pats Amelia on her shoulder. "Well done."

"Yea! Vell done! Vho vould have t'ought ya could figure anything out, eh?" Djivan quips.

"Well, let's just hope my lifetime extends beyond the next day," Amy notes. "Those hunters should be able to sense me as soon as I'm able to sense them, if not sooner."

From the middle of the room comes, "Oh, just leave her alone already, will ya?" Then Olivia opens both eyes and asks, "May I get up now?"

"Yes, you may get up, Miss Weaver," Natasha says.

"Wipe the dirt off your butt, Olivia," Amy says cheerfully. "It's time to leave this hole!"

Olivia stands and stretches, yawning again. "So, should we whistle for Leni?"

"Not yet," Amelia says. "We need to pick up the trail first."

Olivia agrees with this and asks next, "So you'll be able to lead us on the, er, magical path?"

"Plus Amelia don wanna be shown up," Djivan whispers to Olivia.

Olivia quirks an eyebrow at the Skreek, as if to say, Are you sure about that?

Djivan grins widely.

"I need to try," Amelia grumbles, glaring at Djivan.

Olivia sidles up next to Djivan now and whispers in his ear, "Gags aren't only for the bedroom, you know. Now hush."

"Then we need to leave this pit and see if Amelia can find their trail," Natasha says as she heads towards the passage up. "Come."

"Mean!" Djivan claims and follows after Natasha.

Olivia merely smiles and follows after the rest.

Ignoring the Skreek, Amy rushes ahead to clamber out of the pit.

Out of the pit the muted sunlight from the overcast sky filters through the branches of the trees. Birds chirp and leaves rustle. All in all, it's entirely too cheerful up here.

"Now comes the test, can Amelia sense the counter-wave. Being what she is, it should be easier than me; she grew up in this land," Natasha says.

After taking a few breaths of fresher air, Amy draws out her sword and starts using it like a divining rod to try and feel out the 'kinks' in the natural flow of magic that would indicate their quarry.

The Kadie's sweeps seem to narrow, until she's definitely pointing north. "Okay, this way," she says, and starts marching along the trail she senses.

Olivia quirks her eyebrow again at this odd display of sensing direction, but she walks after the Kadie girl anyway.

Djivan, for his part, shrugs and follows. Natasha brings up the rear, her attention seeming distant. More likely, she's feeling the flow of magic as well.

Keeping to the trail proves difficult; it's like hunting a faint scent, one that moves with the breeze. There are times Amelia thinks she has lost it … only to find it again with a few minutes of searching. The walking continues for a couple hours as they head deep into the forest. Eventually, Amelia thinks she sees the remains of an old stone building ahead. No … she's sure of it. And … there is smoke flowing out of its ruined chimney.

"Okay, time to plan," she whispers to the others as she stops. "Should I lure them out?"

"You could," the Skeek replies, "but could we take them on if you did?"

"Whistle for Leni," Amy suggests. "She may have more information on their number… " she adds, then stops and cocks her head before jumping backwards! "Everyone back! They're above us!"

Olivia starts. "Wait, what?!" she exclaims, backing up quickly and looking into the treetops.

Almost too late, a rain of crossbow bolts come firing down from above! Djivan dives for Olivia, dropping her to the ground and landing on top of her. She feels a thump through his left shoulder, followed by a rather pained hiss from the Skreek. "'m hit," he whispers to Olivia as he pushes himself up a bit. "G'wan, scurry out of 'ere!"

Several bolts wizz by Amelia's head. She can practically feel one brush against her cheek. And amusingly, another one strikes her forehead … but it only shatters as it hit her right on one of the horns. Boy does that make her head shake!

After shaking off the blow, Amy immediately heads for one of the trees the attackers fired from. Let's see if they can reload faster than a Kadie with extra-long claws can climb.

"Djivan!" Olivia says, shocked. "If you're hurt I can't leave you here! Come with me. D'you think you can walk?"

"I jus' slow you down. Go!" the Skreek argues. Natasha has darted behind a tree herself and has begun chanting softly, a ball of light appearing in her hands.

Olivia pushes herself to her feet and hauls the Skreek up with her. "No," she grunts, throwing his uninjured arm across her shoulders. Then she heads for the shelter of the trunk of a large oak tree.

"Grea'," Djivan growls as he slumps down behind the log, the plume of a crossbow bolt sticking out of his shoulder. "Me shoulder is going' numb. Th' bastards have poisoned the tips."

Olivia's eyes go wide as she kneels down beside him. Then she says in a tight voice, "There's only one way I know of to take an arrow from someone's body. But it hurts. A lot. D'you still want me to try it?"

Amelia finds climbing to be a little more difficult now, if only because she doesn't have the experience of using the new claws. This, unfortunately gives the advantage to those in the tree. And before Amelia realizes it, a net drops down from the tree and covers her. Gods does it stink. Amelia's head starts to swim.

"Jus' do it before it spreads any further," Djivan says as he grits his teeth. "I kin take it."

Not now! Amy screams in her head, and tries to pull the demon back inside to reduce the effects of the anti-demon concoction. Also, she tries to whistle as loudly as she can before she succumbs.

Olivia's head now jerks up as she sees the net come down out of the corner of her eye. She nods quickly to Djivan and says, "Then give me a second." After saying this, she puts her fingers into her mouth and whistles, loudly enough to make the Skreek's head and her own head ring. I hope she's got as good hearing as she says she does…

Amy's vision is starting to blur now. If she doesn't get that net off soon, she may not be able to keep her grip on that tree!

Getting her tail up under the net, Amy tries to use it to throw off or drag the net away from her head.

Her attention wrenched back to Djivan now, Olivia grabs a small twig and gives it to him. "Bite on this so you don't bite off your tongue," she says simply. Then she wraps her hands around the end of the bolt and waits for the Skreek's ready signal.

Natasha darts out from her tree and shouts out some unknown word. The ball of light explodes upward from her hand. It shatters into a myriad of balls of light. They stretch and shift, forming into dozens of spectral Creens. These strange creatures dart, zip, and swirl in the air. The effect of this spell becomes quickly apparent, they kick up quite a strong wind with their beating winds. Crossbow bolts are not going to fly well through that, and that's if the people in the tree can even see them.

Djivan shoves the twig into his mouth and nods once to Olivia.

It'll probably leave her tail sore in the morning, but Amelia manages to push the net off. She takes a deep breath to clear her head, and continues her way up the tree. This time her tail is used to help shield her body, twitching from side to side to make her harder to target.

Olivia moves the bolt around to make sure that it isn't lodged into Djivan's shoulder-blade. When she feels that it isn't, she takes a deep breath and pushes the bolt all the way through the skin at his shoulder, so the tip sticks out of his body! Blood quickly soaks the arm of the gypsy's shirt but the Skeek tries not to notice that. She now breaks the bolt in half with a wrench and takes the two pieces out of him. After dropping the pieces, she fishes around in her pockets for as many handkerchiefs as she's got and presses them to the wound.

Unfortunately, Amelia hears the familiar sound of a crossbow finishing being set. Now comes the question … can they aim and fire before Amelia gets to them? Just a few feet above her now she sees a older human dressed in robes and perched on the tree branch. He's leveling the crossbow at her as he says in heavily accented Sylvanian, "Time to die, demon."

Thinking fast, Amy lets go of the tree with her right hand and foot, pushing off to swing her around the trunk, and uses her free hand to grab one of her hidden stilettos, which she tries to throw at the man before he can fire.

Djivan's jaw bites down hard on the branch and the Skreek actually growls as the bolt tip comes through. He lays his head back against the tree as Olivia fishes out a kerchief and applies it to the bleeding wound. He finally spits out the branch too, commenting, "Vish their poison numbed faster."

"No, you don't! If it numbed any faster you'd be dead!" Olivia says in a very shaky voice. "We've got to get you back to the Gnarly Tree soon or… or you will… " She doesn't seem to want to finish that sentence.

Amelia swings herself in a blur, right as the man fires the bolt. It goes whizzing by the Kadie, missing by the proverbial mile. Her stiletto, unfortunately, also misses by the same amount, her momentum from swinging too much to aim precisely. It thunks into the tree trunk several feet above the man's head. It's here that Amelia realizes … even though she missed, there is no way he can reload before she reaches him now.

Grabbing back onto the trunk, Amy scurries up towards the man as fast as she can now, hoping to knock him right of the tree if she can.

Djivan waves it off and offers Olivia a weak smile. "Eh, I be fine. No gonna die jus' yet," he assures the Skeek. "Too tough and onery t' be killed so lamely."

Olivia tries to smile back but hers falters. She does, however, lean in and kiss him hard. "You'd better be," she whispers. Then she waves for Natasha to approach if she safely can.

Amelia surges her way up the tree. In a mere second, she's face to face with the man who has repeatedly shot at her. He's midway in cocking the crossbow when his head jerks up and he finds himself face to face with a demon. He's in mid-shout, a curse, perhaps, when Amelia slams into him. Lacking any sort of claws, he loses grip on his branch and goes flying off the tree. The man's scream is cut off by the sounds of a wet snap when he hits the ground far below. That was definitely bones breaking.

Once she has the branch, Amy looks for the next closest target.

Natasha ducks low and darts towards Olivia, using the squirming mass of spectral Creens to obscure her. In mere seconds, she's crouched down beside the two. Her expression is calm, one Olivia knows well; the one she uses when she's worried, and yet trying to keep control of the situation. "Where is the tip?" she asks Olivia.

Olivia reaches to the ground to find it, then hands the tip carefully to the Khatta. "D'you have anything that will slow its course through his body?" she asks, in that same tight voice.

Amelia finds the next target, all right. She's two trees over and he's aimed the crossbow right at Amelia's head. The man smiles darkly as his finger starts to close on the crossbow trigger. A shadow flows over the man; perhaps a storm cloud passing … but no cloud has the outline of hands, feet, a head, and a tail! A great wave of fur and flesh slams into the man, crushing him into the trunk and sending his shot wild. It strikes the tree Amelia is on a full foot away from her head. Growling from where Leni has the other man now pinned, she says, "This is for my brother you bastard." She grabs his hair, then repeatedly beats the human's head against the tree trunk. In moments, the man goes limp and the smaller Kadie just lets him fall from the tree.

"She's fast," Amy says approvingly, and reaches up to where her stiletto stuck into the wood. "How many more now?" she asks the air as she retreats to the trunk of the tree, so she can put it between herself and another sniper if needed. She looks for more shooters, and tries to keep her senses open for any magical attacks as well.

Natasha actually licks the tip of the bolt, then spits. "It's a pain-killer in a large dose. Not intended to kill; intended to incapacitate," the Khatta explains as she now lifts Olivia's hands off the wound. "Let it bleed for a bit to get some of it out. His arm may be numb for a day, but he won't pass out," she says to Olivia.

Amelia moved just in time. Another bolt slams into the tree the Kadie is on, narrowly missing her. Seems there is one more. And to make matters worse … she feels a buildup of something. Or rather, the lack of something. A void, sucking ad pulling at the life of the land.

"It's that spell again!" Amy growls, and throws her iron stiletto towards the source. She may not be aiming to hit, but she does know the iron can disrupt the spell somewhat.

Olivia releases the breath she was holding in one great rush of air, then sags in relief. "Thank the gods," she mutters, meaning every word.

The source, unfortunately, is the ruined building. Seems their 'mage' has taken roost there. The iron stiletto hits the stone wall and deflects off harmlessly.

"Natasha, their wizard is in the ruins!" Amy relays as she hurries back down to the ground. She isn't sure where the shooter was, but feels the need to stop that spell – especially if it's using up Lili's spirit for power!

"See? Tol'ya I wasn't gonna die," Djivan says to Olivia and again offers her that mischievous grin of his.

Olivia now looks up at Amelia's shout. "It sounds like she's found something," she notes to the Skreek, finally able to give him a smile. "Think you can keep from being shot again while we check it out?"

"There, now keep pressure on his wound. I have to go help Amelia," Natasha tells Olivia and gets back to her feet. Her eyes narrow and she extends her hands towards that building. The Khatta even practically growls out, "I think I can keep him from completing it, but you will have to stop him. Hurry!"

"Yah, can't miss dis. I still owe dem for what dey did to Liliana," Djivan says as he reaches up and puts pressure against the hole in his shoulder.

Jumping to the ground, Amy draws her sword and zig-zags towards the ruins, wary that there's probably another shooter in the trees.

"I'll find the other tree-hider," Leni calls out after Amelia, then scurries higher up into the trees. Another bolt goes flying, but misses Amelia completely. This does give Leni an idea where the shooter is, though, and she is now hunting the hunter.

From the look on Olivia's face, Djivan coming with them wasn't quite what she meant, but she takes it in stride. "All right, we'll let Natasha go on ahead. We'll be the rear guard."

Olivia's expression registers with Djivan and he smiles, "Go without me. Jus' kick de guy for me, 'kay?"

Olivia grins. "Repeatedly." Then she kisses him again quickly and follows after Natasha, putting a hand on the hilt of one of her throwing knives as she goes, just in case.

As Amelia, Olivia, and Natasha close on the building, they can hear a shriek from the trees behind them, a human one. It's quickly cut off, replaced by a wet, gurgling sound … then the dull thump of a body hitting the ground. Ahead of them now is the sturdy wooden door and whatever may lie beyond. Natasha's brow is furrowed deep and her expression intense. "Hard … to hold … this," she manages out. "You have to stop him."

"They're in there," Amy whispers, her red fur standing up on end. "The spirits." She tightens the grip on her sword, and says, "I'll draw his attention, Olivia. You try to get behind him, okay?"

Olivia's grip on her knife's handle tightens. Her face is grim, reflecting the awareness of what she might be called on to do. But she nods all the same.

Amelia works her way around to a break in the wall big enough for her to get through, while trying to extend her spirit along the length of her sword's blade – making it a more literal extension of herself.

Olivia follows her to the same break in the wall but waits outside it for now. Once she hears that Amelia has the magic-user's attention, then she will go in.

On the other side Amelia finds a room with hundreds of softly growing crystals hanging from the tattered ceiling. They're set in a equidistant pattern, forming layers of circles in the air. In the center of this collection of demons stands an old human. He looks so frail and worn, with thinning gray hair and shaky movements of his hands. He's clothed in robes, white with clean embroidery of a large gear on his chest and a zolken mantle on his shoulders. He's speaking to himself softly and with each word, all of the crystals strobe brightly.

While Amelia is inside, Olivia gets another idea and looks for any nearby, fallen crossbow bolts she can pick up, just the same as the one that hit Djivan.

Raising her sword, Amy feels through her feet for the flow of the land. A witch moves with the land; she does not fight it. The old lesson fills her head, and she pulls on the flow, guiding it into her arm and her sword. The sword is part of you, an extension of you. You are the weapon, not the blade. She feels for the counter-wave of the spell… and then slices against it to try and break its rhythm.

Olivia finds one just a few feet away, so she picks it up carefully, keeping the tip away from her. Then she resumes listening at the break in the wall.

Its like Amelia can somehow see a form of writing in the air. As the old man weaves a new phrase, Amelia's sword follows it and wipes it from existence. The old man's hands begin to shake more and more and sweat begins to trickle down his face. "No," he mutters in broken Sylvanian, almost pleading, "This land … free. The curse that … must be undone."

"You don't fight evil with evil," Amelia says. "You especially don't resort to necromancy," she growls. "You have your own land to defend! Surrender now, old man. I kill monsters and necromancers and invaders – so don't give me a reason to kill you."

Its now that the old man finally sees Amelia. "These lands are corrupted," the man wheezes out, "It is dying, consumed by abominations. Look at yourself, child, one of them consumes you. Do you not wish to see this land cleansed, the sun shining again in its sky? I know you think me a monster; the sacrifices that were made to collect these; enough power to drive away the corruption. The Great Gear will see that their purified souls find peace that they did not have in this life. They were born monsters, but they have died heroes. Don't you understand? I saved them. I will save you all." He smiles tiredly and sadly, adding, "I asked nothing of them that I would not have done. When I add my life to this ritual … the corruption will end."

"No! That's for the people of Sylvania to accomplish!" Amy shouts, and rushes forward. "Olivia!" she calls.

Olivia slips into the building at Amelia's call and looks around quickly to get oriented. She also stays near the wall in the hopes of not being noticed as much. In her hand, she grips the shaft of the crossbow bolt tightly.

As Amelia rushes forward, the old man draws out a crystal bladed dagger and holds it high, poised to drive it deep into his own chest. "One day the people of this land will understand and forgive me," he says … and tears start to trace down the age-worn lines on his face.

With little time to spare, Amy does the only thing she can think of, and slices at the man's wrist to make him drop the blade – or else remove the hand.

At the same time, Olivia runs along the edges of the wall to take up her position behind the old man. If Amelia's strike misses, she's ready to move forward with a blow of her own.

As the blade comes down, Amelia's strike glides in smooth and precise. It catches the crystalline blade, knocking it from the old man's frail hand. The blade tumbles end over end through the air … and then shatters against the wall. "No!" the old man cries out, crumpling to his knees and holding his hand. He rocks there, whispering, "My life's work. All my research. I could have saved everyone." He once more looks to Amelia, looking so tired and resigned. "You have won, demon. Kill me. Be true to what you are and kill me," he pleads, crying. "You have won the land."

Behind the mage, Olivia says clearly, "I know he deserves it, for what he helped do to Liliana. But please think before you strike, Amelia."

"I've saved you murdering us all," Amy says, sheathing her sword. "All your research, and you didn't understand? You'd have suppressed the spirits of the land, and then there would be nothing to stand between us and darkness they protect us from. You'd have only let it loose!"

After a sigh of relief, Olivia adds, "And you probably killed many people whose demon-spirits weren't hurting anyone. Just as our friend will die if she isn't rejoined with hers."

"Which one of these is from the Eeee girl?" Amy asks the man. "Please, just tell us, and you can say you saved one life today."

The old man says nothing to this. His head lowers and he looks at the floor and the crude ritual circle e made. "Many innocents die that should have lived," he mutters now, "Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. I just … I wanted to give these lands a future." The old man sighs then lifts his right hand. Shakily, it points to one of the many crystals. The only think that even hints it was probably Liliana's is the familiar red glow it pulses with; he color that was once her eyes.

"Get that to Natasha," Amy says to Olivia, and then kneels down to try and help the old man to his feet.

Olivia hmms and stares up at the crystal suspended from the ceiling. She looks for a convenient place to climb up and untie it.

The front door is forced open now and beyond it stand Natasha and the small Leni. The Kadie's face is hard with anger as she marches in. "Give him to me," she says darkly to Amelia, who has just lifted the old man from the floor.

"No," Amelia says. "You've had your revenge, Leni. If you want a chance to see your brother again, do not fight me on this."

The crystal is low enough that Olivia could probably jump and grab it. Otherwise some of the fallen timbers could be moved close enough to stand on.

Leni's jaw sets. "I won't kill him," the Kadie promises, "But let me show him something. I want him to understand."

"Alright, but don't try to trick me," Amelia says.

Olivia moves two of the timbers underneath the crystal so she can be sure of standing tall enough to cut it down carefully. She doesn't want to harm the spirit inside, after all. Once she's climbed up, she holds the crossbow bolt between her teeth and cuts the crystal from the rafter.

Leni marches up o the old man as she digs in a pouch tied to her front. True to her word, she doesn't draw out a weapon, instead she draws out some small wood 'plates'. On each are painted some intricate and small portraits. "Remember him?" she asks angrily and shoves the first in front of the man's face. "My brother. You and your men killed him."

The old man tries to look away and Leni growls, "Don't you dare turn away. My brother, the monster you killed was a painter. The worst thing he ever did in his life was screw up a painting of one of the council's children." She switches to the next panel. "This is his wife. She loved him with all her heart. Your gift to her was that she had to identify his body. She didn't want some 'new world', she wanted her husband back."

"Tursdi doesn't have any of Sylvania's problems," Amelia notes. "Why even hunt there? Was it because of the Bloodfur legend?" she asks the wizard.

Again the old man tries to look away and this time Leni grabs what remains of his hair and forces him to look. The last portrait is shown to him as she says, "This is his son. He's a year old. Every night since you killed my brother he as been asking for his father. Every night. You introduced his child to monsters, you bastard. When he now has nightmares, he doesn't see creatures with fangs, he sees you." She lets the man's hair go and finishes with, "The only monster I have seen from here to Tursdi is you. Think on that." She shakes her head and walks out of the old building.

With a sigh, Amelia looks to the collection of crystals. "How many of these are real monsters?" she asks the old man. "Did you keep records of who they were?"

Once Leni is gone, Olivia's body unfreezes and she climbs quietly down from the timbers. Liliana's entrapped spirit is hugged safely in her arms now (with the bolt back in her hand) but she doesn't want to leave Amelia alone with this man.

"Bosch has agents in all nearby lands, even Tursdi," the old man says as he looks at the floor, "My quest was to purge their taint from all of these lands." As he looks up again, his eyes go to the door that Leni walked through. "I … " he says haltingly, "I am sorry." Whether Leni heard that is unknown.

"They are all numbered. In my pack is a small book that maps the number to the place it was captured and what sort of demon it was," the old man says.

"Bosch? I've fought the creatures of Bosch… sort of," Amy notes. "Our monsters aren't anything like them." With that, Amelia concentrates, and tries to bring her demon-spirit overlay back inside herself. She still doesn't like being red, after all.

It takes some effort, but overall it is surprisingly easy to withdraw the red fur, claws, and even horns. Within a minute, Amelia is back to her black furred self. And amazingly, her demon isn't even complaining about it.

At least Big Red is keeping quiet still, Amy thinks. Never underestimate the stubbornness of a demon disgusted with its host.

Natasha finally enters and goes to he pack. She draws out the book and starts flipping through it. "Olivia?" she asks softly after a bit, "Can you also get that crystal?" She points towards another one. This one only has a faint glow and hangs low to the floor.

"There are so many of them," Amy says of the crystals. "Should we just turn them over to Buffy and sort them out later?"

"I will deal with the crystals," Natasha offers, "The only thing I would ask of Buffy is to transport them back to town."

"Think you can summon her this far out from the chalk?" the Kadie asks, looking for some sort of storage case for the crystals. "Oh… and did Leni leave anyone alive out there, Olivia?"

It takes some more gentle convincing from Natasha before Olivia lets her take Liliana's crystal so she can cut down the other one, but she relents eventually. "What's special about this other one?" she asks.

Olivia shakes her head to Amelia. "From the sound of it all, I don't think so."

"It's Leni's brother's," Natasha explains quietly, "Right now I think she needs to say goodbye. It is not much, but I can help her with that."

Olivia nods in reply and carefully cuts down the crystal that holds the spirit of Leni's brother.

"We should leave as soon as possible too," Amy says. "Djivan needs looking after, and we need to fix Lili." Turning to the old man, she says, "We don't bury the dead here. If there are any last rites you can give your men, best do it now before we burn the bodies."

"I am not sure if Buffy can come this far, but the power of the Light is legendary. It may work," Natasha says, "And I agree, we should leave soon. Leni will come with us and stay with my tribe until she feels ready to return home. We can try to offer her some comfort."

Olivia agrees with this as well and heads outside to find Leni and show her what they've found.

The old man pushes his way to his feet and walks slowly towards the door. "Thank you," he tells Amelia, "I will tend to my men." Natasha shakes her head, then places her hand on his shoulder. "We will," she corrects and helps the man outside.

Leni is easy enough to find outside. The once ferocious little Kadie is curled up, her back against a tree. Her fur-covered membranes wrap around herself as well as cover her face. The slight shaking and the sound, well, its evident enough she's crying.

Left alone inside the ruin, Amy looks around for firewood, and something to carry the crystals in. Why didn't I kill him? Why couldn't I hold on to my anger? Has that always been the demon, and not really me? she wonders to herself.

Olivia doesn't try to touch her; she simply sits down in front of her and waits for the Kadie girl to calm herself. While she waits, she holds the crystal openly in her lap, waiting for Leni to notice it.

There is plenty of fallen wood, and even some split logs the men had used to start a fire present. Enough for a reasonable bonfire, at least.

Eventually Leni looks up to Olivia. She sniffs and wipes at her nose before asking, "What?"

Amelia shivers at an unbidden suggestion when she touches one of the crystals. Oh, so you are still there, she thinks. I'm not going to eat these spirits. That's a disgusting suggestion. She goes back to collecting the firewood. The dead will all have to fit on a single pyre, but it should be sufficient. She also silently hopes there aren't any troll tunnels access points nearby.

Olivia indicates the crystal in her lap and says gently, "You should have this. Inside is what is left of your brother's spirit. Dame Natasha discovered which crystal it was in and asked me to cut it down for you. When you are ready… she will break it open and let your brother go to his final rest."

Leni's hand reaches out and though shaking, takes the crystal. She hugs it to her chest and murmurs, "Thank you."

Olivia reaches out and touches the other girl's face softly. After giving her a smile, she says, "I'm going to check on Djivan now. Will you be all right by yourself for a few minutes?"

Carrying a bundle of firewood outside, Amy continues to argue with herself. I do not deny myself too many pleasures, I just decide to choose the best ones, she tells herself. And I'm charge. When I want your advice, I'll ask for it, got it?

Leni nods to Olivia, saying, "Yes."

"All right. One of us will be back soon to take you to a place where you can rest before heading home." Then Olivia stands and goes back to the giant oak tree where she left Djivan. If we're lucky, the drugged crossbow bolt will have let him sleep for a little while. One can hope, anyway. It's been a hell of a day.

As she sets up the pyre, Amelia's face screws up. Sex is better with demonic help, you say? she thinks to herself, and then bursts out laughing. "Silly demon, I've got Lapis to help with that!" Then she realizes she said that out loud.


GMed by Jared

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Today is 4 days after Unity Day, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)