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Old 06-24-2008, 06:48 AM
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Witch Hunter, part 2 of 5

Thundermount College, Thunderpeaks

Nilanicus had graduated far ahead of most of his class. He was very gifted as a Storm Lord, something which went to his head on occasion. He was clean-shaven, something that was a bit unusual for a sorceror of any kind, though not unheard of, and his brown hair lay in an unkempt mess most of the time, turning into a well-styled masterpiece whenever he felt there were decent odds of getting a girlfriend wherever he was going, something with which he was yet to have any luck. Still, he couldn't be faulted for trying.

Graduation had been a week ago, and while most of Nilanicus' younger friends were staying behind at Thundermount to finish their studies (the lowly non-geniuses), one of them, Velen, was also leaving. Perret was tall and thin, but beneath his Storm Lord's robes, you could only tell that he was tall. Given the aura of magical power that surrounded him, he actually came off as rather intimidating, when he was dressed as a sorceror.

He was today, as he and Nilanicus were both leaving. "Where are you headed?" Nilanicus asked.

"The northern Skyclaws," Velen said, "On the border between the Talmean Lowlands and Highlands."

Nilanicus smiled and said "What rotten luck! There's not even a decent Undercity up there. I'll be heading for Groldar, and the main area of the Ridge."

Velen laughed and said "I requested that position, actually."

"Groldar?" Nilanicus asked.

"No, the borderlands. There's talk that Talmea might try and start reclaiming the Highlands. While you play in the Ridge like every other sorceror-adventurer, I just might be making history on the front lines of the reborn Talmean Empire." Velen said.

"Don't count on it," Nilanicus said, "Even if the Talmeans do try it, they probably won't get past the Skyclaws. There's a reason people don't make history very often."

"Yes, but you forget one thing, Nilanicus." Velen said mysteriously.

"What's that?" Nilanicus asked.

"I'll be there." he said, and then took another path, headed northeast to Talmea while Nilanicus stayed on the main road, which headed towards the Moonwood. Technically it headed through the Moonwood, but most of the road in the Wood was hardly more than an ill-maintained trail. The Elves still called it a road, but then they went cross-country with such regularity, they'd probably called any stretch of ground that went for twenty feet without a bush or tree directly in the way a 'road.'

Nilanicus sighed as he neared the Moonwood. He was just passing through, at least. Some Storm Lords had to live there. He'd be spending his nights in an inn to the side of the very wide, well-paved streets of the Groldar Undercity.

----------

Ajendra Witch Hunter Cabal

Kitsune had pulled one of her gloves on over the gemstone on her hand. She might get a few weird questions about why she was wearing a glove, but she could just dodge around those and not raise too many suspicions. Better than being asked why she wore her jewel in her hand instead of on it.

Still, she could tell something was wrong when she came down to the commons where they were serving meals. She got her breakfast from the kitchen and entered the commons and found that almost everyone was staring at her, not unlike when she'd first arrived. She wasn't dressed in shoddy clothes this time, though. She was dressed exactly like the rest of them, barring her glove. One extra item of clothing hardly seemed worth all those stares. There were four or five boys sitting at a table in the back corner wearing cloaks with the hoods up, and some of them had gloves too. They stood out twice as much as she.

Kitsune tried to ignore the stares burning into her back while she looked for a place to sit. "Hey!" said a voice that was at once familiar and cheerful. Kitsune turned around. Kunoichi, of course. She gestured to an empty seat at the table she and two other boys were sitting at. They didn't seem too happy about being associated with the already unpopular new girl, but Kunoichi was oblivious.

Kitsune sat down, happy that Kunoichi, at least, had decided to be her friend again. Looking around she saw that Sakura and everyone at her table weren't staring at her. Most of the room had gone back to their meals, but a few were still looking her way. Most of them looked away when they noticed Kitsune looking back at them.

One of them didn't. Kari was staring straight at her, smirking, and didn't drop her eyes like the others when Kitsune glared back. Whatever the reason was for all the stares, Kari was clearly the reason for it.

"This is Kitsune," Kunoichi said to the other two boys, "Don't worry about her, she's not going to curse you or anything. Father Borik said she's safe."

"Uh, Kunoichi, are you sure?" one of them asked, "I mean, Father Borik is a little strange himself..."

"C'mon, Thak," the other boy said, "Now you're saying Father Borik is a warlock too? What's next, His Majesty Ajen?"

"Don't even joke like that, man," Thak said, "That's almost blasphemy."

"It was a joke, Thak. The whole point was that the concept was crazy." the boy said.

"Kitsune, meet Thakler and Vekson." Kunoichi said. Kitsune wasn't paying attention. She had been in a glaring contest with Kari on the other side of the room, turning over in her mind what was going on.

When she heard her name, she turned back to the table and immediately said "What'd she say about me?"

"Huh?" Kunoichi asked.

"Kari. She's the reason everyone's staring at me. What'd she say?" Kitsune asked back.

Thak said "We don't know she's the one who's been saying it."

"Yeah," said Vek, "Figuring out the origin of a rumor in this place is a nightmare. I bet anyone who can prove who started one of those gets an automatic pass in Deduction."

"It's not that hard to figure it out," Kitsune said, "There were only three other people there last night, and Kunoichi and Sakura obviously aren't the type. What's she been saying?"

"Mostly just what she said last night," Kunoichi said, "That you're a witch spy sent here to destroy the Cabal. She said you probably used witchcraft to destroy those pots."

"Yeah," Kitsune said, "Since no human being could throw a pot on the ground without resorting to witchcraft."

"She also said you were muttering in your sleep last night," Thak said.

"I do that when I go to sleep angry or scared. A lot of people do it at home in Bridgetown, in Bedua." Kitsune said.

"She said you were muttering her name a lot," Thak said.

"Probably because she's the one who got me angry." Kitsune said. "I don't even know what I was muttering. I was asleep."

"Hexes take concentration," Vek said, "No witch could do them literally in their sleep."

"Unless she wasn't really sleeping," Thak said.

"Look at her!" Kitsune said in a bit of a raised voice, drawing a few glances from the nearby tables, "Does she look hexed to you?"

"Seriously, Thak," Vek said, "Stop accusing her."

"I'm not accusing her." Thak said.

Kitsune asked "What do you call it?"

"I...Just...never mind. I'm sorry, alright? Can we just drop it?" Thak said.

"Yes, please." Kitsune said.

"Kunoichi," Vek said, "Why are you so quiet all of the sudden?"

"I'm waiting for you guys to stop arguing so we can start having fun again." Kunoichi said matter of factly, "Are you done yet?"

Thak smiled and said "Yeah. Weren't you talking about something someone did back in Dacia when Kitsune got here?"

"Oh yeah!" Kunoichi said, and dove back into her story. Kitsune found it difficult to pay attention. Half the Cabal thought she was a witch now. Half the Witch Hunters Cabal. That couldn't possibly end well.

-----------

Talon Keep

"I've never seen a lineup more ragtag," Grigor said to the Human General Mirador, "It seems like the names were pulled out of a hat! But I'll get the mission done and bring all of them home, I promise you that much."

"Good," Mirador said, "This mission is important to our reclaimation of the Ridge."

"Reclaimation of the Ridge, sir? I might not want to give you such a gaurantee on a mission like that." Grigor said.

"Don't worry, Grigor," Mirador said, "The Ridge has been severely weakened by concentrated goblinoid and Rivana attacks on Talon Keep, fruitless attacks, of course. Thanks to the actions of a band of Rangers operating in the Shiverwood, all hostile Fae there have been thoroughly harassed and driven to war with other powers in the Ridge. They're beaten down and divided. Now is the perfect time to strike. What you and your time are going to do is flush them out of their hiding places. Your main objective is get them out of their lairs and keep them out indefinitely, most likely by finding a way to collapse the entrance once they're out."

"Hence the Storm Lord," Grigor said.

"Exactly," Mirador said, "Once they're all out in the open, our main force will sweep down and crush them all one by one. We'll be sending two armies, one north and one south, in order to catch them before they're able to find new places to hole up in. If they're leaderless, it should take them a while to gain enough sense of direction to even start looking for a new lair, and much longer to find one. Even so, this mission must be completed in under a month. The Rangers say we cannot expect the enemy to stay out in the open much longer than that, and I don't want to take any risks."

"It'll be difficult, sir, but it's doable. And if it's doable, I'll do it, whatever it takes, and that's a gaurantee I'll never go back on." Grigor said.

"Good man," Mirador said, "Your group should be ready and waiting for you by this time tomorrow in Groldar. You'll proceed to the southernmost Ridgeline outpost and deploy from there, and make your way north. We've only got one team so we can't waste time back-tracking."

"Consider it done, sir." Grigor said.

"Dismissed, War Master." Mirador said. Grigor left the room. A 'highly gifted' Storm Lord with no prior experience, a Moon Elf ranger well past her prime, and a witch who hadn't operated with a group in years. At least he'd have his usual soldiers as well, he knew they were up to his standards. He'd spent a lot of time making sure of that. And Talon. Talon was coming too, and Grigor couldn't think of a single person he'd rather have as his second in command.

-----------

The mood shifts in this story are almost like the pendulum rides at theme parks, the ones that swing you up one direction and then drop you back down. Nilanicus, Kitsune, and Grigor are all dealing with very, very different social settings. It's kind of amusing, really, how important Kitsune's troubles seemed when I was writing them and then how juvenile they became once I started writing about the Mountain Kingdoms upcoming military campaign into the Ridge.

Anyway, once again, please post (or PM) your feedback. Anyone who considers it rude can go hang, because this is my story and I want feedback.
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