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  #21  
Old 06-22-2008, 08:16 AM
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I've read this story and I must say, you are a really good author. It made me want to read more. Keep up the good work. You are descriptive but not too descriptive and it flowed really good even though you were working with several characters at once.

Last edited by Silent Angel; 06-22-2008 at 08:19 AM. Reason: had to add a bit more
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  #22  
Old 06-24-2008, 05:48 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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  #23  
Old 06-24-2008, 11:55 PM
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Witch Hunter, part 3 of 5

Soulforge
The great libraries of Soulforge Academy are only the second largest of the Deadlands. The honor of the largest and most expansive library goes to the Bonekeep University. Soulforge, however, has something worth much more. The great catacombs beneath Soulforge hid many secrets and provided students of the Academy with plenty of corpses to practice on.

Xanalsir had been a student of Soulforge, many years ago, before he'd covered the skin of his chest and face in the sinister tattoos that denoted him a member of the Angelius de Malus, and as he walked through the catacombs with his advisor, the Black Seer named Tsao, he couldn't help but feel a bit nostalgic. But he didn't have time to reminisce. He had important things to discuss.

"Tsao," Xanalsir began, "I need your advice."

"Astute." Tsao responded. He was blindfolded, but he required the use of no cane or walking stick to make his way through the cluttered halls of the catacombs. How Tsao was able to navigate such terrain without his eyes, and why he had his eyes constantly covered, was a mystery.

"Our grand strategy calls for immediate action to stabilize Vitheka and the Dreadmarsh," Xanalsir said, "But as of yet you've been quiet on how, exactly, we will do this. Overcoming the hordes of the Dreadmarsh has been the single objective of Bonekeep and almost everyone in it for over a century."

"There are four reasons why we will succeed where they have failed," Tsao said, "First, we will not bother with the anarchist philosophy that has taken root in Vitheka. The Gate Council will act swiftly and in unison, with all of Vitheka at her back.

"Second, we intend to use a new strategy that relies on flushing the monsters out of their hideouts using small bands of infiltrationists. A similar tactic is being used by the Allied Kingdoms of the Skyclaws on their pests in the Ridge. We will observe their results, and then augment and perfect the strategy as needed. Once out of their lairs, the monsters will crumble quickly. Our undead hordes have always been superior to the Dreadmarsh armies in the open field.

"Third, you have assembled in the Angelius de Malus the most talented group of generals, assassins, and politicians that Vitheka has ever seen. Each one may be surpassed by a single entity from the past, but never have so many of such great talent been brought together for a single cause.

"The fourth reason is an extention of the third. You will have me. I do not lose battles." Tsao finished. On that, Xanalsir was not sure. Tsao had been recommended to him by a powerful oracle, who told him that with this advisor by his side he could conquer the world. But Tsao was young and completely untested, and even though he'd developed what he called the Three Kingdoms strategy almost immediately after he had agreed to help Xanalsir, apparently off the top of his head, Xanalsir still feared that his confidence was simply the arrogance of youth. Nineteen years old and already the greatest strategist on Earth?

"I will prove myself soon enough, Lord Xanalsir," Tsao said. Xanalsir was not sure if he had simply made an accurate guess as to his misgivings or if he could actually read his mind. "In my first battle I will show you that there is no strategist greater than I. The oracles are never wrong."

--------------

Ajendra Witch Hunter Cabal

Kitsune was trying to memorize her new schedule at the Cabal in her room with Kunoichi. Kirsune had made sure to line up all of her main courses with Kunoichi (who had already lined hers up with Thak and Vek), because she didn't really want to be here, so she didn't care that much if she got as much as possible from the Cabal. She just wanted to get through it, hunt down whatever witch or demon Mason wanted killed, and get her family back.

"Uh, Kitsune, are you alright?" Kunoichi asked. Kitsune's face had gone from cheery to gloomy in the split-second it took her to change course from thinking about the Cabal to thinking about Mason.

"Oh, yeah, it's nothing." Kitsune said quickly, brightening up again. "Do you have Marksmanship third or fourth?"

"Fourth," Kunoichi said, "Horsemanship is third."

"Right," Kitsune said, trying to get it all straight in her head. Though her progress in each course was tracked on paper, remembering what order she had them in was her job and the Cabal couldn't waste valuable time, paper, and ink on giving each student their own personal schedule.

"So that's...Unarmed, Swordsmanship, Horsemanship, and Marksmanship for the morning, break for lunch, then Tactics...Um..." Kitsune said, tripping up again.

"No, first Ettiquette," Kunoichi made a face. Clearly not her favorite subject, "Then Tactics, then Religion, and then History."

"Why is History required?" Kitsune asked. She would probably take it even if it weren't, but it didn't seem vital to hunting down heretics.

"Something to do with tradition," Kunoichi said.

"Right, so after that it's all free?" Kitsune asked.

"Yep," Kunoichi said, "Unless you're taking extra courses." Kunoichi was taking some kind of class about cooking on the road. She said the food was the only part of travel she didn't like, so whatever she could do to fix that, she'd take it.

Kitsune had decided on a set of extra courses which had only one purpose; figuring out a way to get rid of Mason if worst came to worst. Fortunately, the Ajendra Witch Hunter Cabal was rather good at teaching these kinds of things. A course on how to recognize and protect against Witchcraft, a course on Alchemy and its applications as a counter for Witchcraft, and a course on Tracking.

Kitsune walked out to the balcony and looked down at the massive sundial in the gardens below. It was visible from all student dorm balconies, to help them keep time. Kitsune wasn't used to reading it, though. "What does that mean?" she asked, pointing to the sundial.

"Um, it means we're about ten minutes late for Unarmed!" Kunoichi said, and bolted for the door, Kitsune following her. She was not going to make a terribly good first impression with the instructors.

When Kitsune and Kunoichi arrived at the practice field, they found the other students, including Vek and Thak, already paired off and practicing strikes and blocks. Father Norem, the Unarmed instructor, glanced over in their direction and said "Kunoichi, you are late again, for the third time this week." That couldn't be good. Norem turned to Kitsune. "And you are?"

"Kitsune," she said quickly, and added "Sir," onto the end.

"Yes. Given I have a policy of not punishing students in the first week of class, I'll let you both off today. Even if it is the third time," Norem glared at Kunoichi, "But tomorrow the first week is over and you will spend your nights peeling potatoes if you do not learn to arrive on time. Pair up. Kunoichi, I trust you can teach Kitsune the basic jab and block, even with all the classes you've missed."

Kunoichi nodded and the two took their place at the end of the line, the entire class of twelve-odd students punching and blocking in unison. It was easy at first, but towards the end of the hour Kitsune's muscles began to ache. She was glad when the class was over.

She arrived at Swordsmanship on time. It was held in another training field not too far from Unarmed Combat. She'd been able to see some of what they'd been doing from the Unarmed field. Because she arrived on time, she was there for instruction on the proper stance for a sword fight, and watched the Instructor demonstrate the strike and block with a randomly chosen student, someone Kitsune didn't know.

The student was a tall, well-muscled boy, with blonde hair and blue eyes. He looked like he came from the Skyclaws. He swung his practice sword to her right, Kitsune blocked it as she'd been instructed, her wooden blade wavering a bit from the blow. His sword didn't move at all when she returned the blow. Kitsune's arms, already sore from an endless series of jabs and blocks, were getting hard to hold up, especially with a heavy sword in one of them. But she kept going at it. Maybe it was because she didn't know how easy it would be to fail this course, and if she did fail it her family would die. But oddly enough, it seemed as though she simply didn't want this boy to think of her as weak. She wanted to prove she was as strong as he was. The logical part of her said that this wasn't really a pressing concern compared to the first reason, but her family were far away in Bedua, and the boy was right there, and both ways she ended up passing the course, right?

"They're weighted," the boy said as he aimed another strike at Kitsune, who blocked it even more unsteadily, "So that real weapons will seem light."

"Oh," Kitsune said, wishing she could have been a bit more articulate.

"You're the new girl?" the boy said. Oh. Kitsune had forgotten about her reputation.

"I'm not a witch, and I'm not a spy," Kitsune said to him, trying not to sound angry or confrontational.

The boy laughed a little and said "I believe you. They wouldn't let a witch into the Cabal." Good, Kitsune thought, he's on my side. "But it is kind of odd, the way you were dressed when you came in, like a beggar or a prisoner." Oh. Maybe not. "And you wear that glove. Why?"

"Uh...To cover up my birthmark. It looks horrible." Kitsune lied. The boy gave her a look that seemed to say 'Do you really expect me to believe that?' "Um," Kitsune said, "Sorry, it's a family secret. It sort of is a birthmark, so I wasn't really lying," Kitsune said, lying some more, "It's just...I can't tell you unless I know I can trust you." Trust him not to freak out that she had a gem embedded in her palm.

"What, is this some kind of conspiracy now?" the boy asked. "Are you afraid you'll get caught by an evil coven of witches if you tell the wrong person?"

"Yes," Kitsune said, completly honest and completely sincere, "And my family could be killed, too. That's why I came to the Cabal. To try and save them from the warlock who's captured them." The logical part of her pounded against her head that she was taking too many risks. She didn't really know this boy at all.

"Oh," the boy said. Well, at least Kitsune wasn't the only one who was sometiems at a loss for words. "I'm sorry," the boy said, "I've been really rude, asking you to tell me your secrets when we don't even know each others names yet. I'm Nathan."

"Kitsune." Kitsune said. Nathan nodded.

"Halt!" the Instructor said. The class was over.

"What course have you got next?" Kitsune asked.

"Marksmanship," Nathan responded, "You?"

"Horsemanship," Kitsune said, deciding too late she should keep the disappointment out of her voice. "I'm much better with horses than with swords." she said, not really knowing why she brought it up.

"Huh. I'm just the opposite," Nathan said.

"Nathan, Kitsune, get moving!" the Instructor said. The next group of students were already taking position on the field.

"Good-bye," Nathan said, and walked away. Kitsune knew she should be focusing on the next course, not on this stupid crush she'd picked up. But the only thing she could think about the rest of the day was 'I'm just the opposite.' Don't opposites attract?

Last edited by Ashen; 06-26-2008 at 04:12 AM.
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  #24  
Old 06-26-2008, 04:10 AM
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I'm too busy to update today, so I'm offering a short joke instead.

Mason: Kitsune, now that you've completed your Inquisitor training, your real work will begin. I need you...To help me work off my XP debt.
Kitsune: What?!
Mason: It's been two days since my last death and I'm still in the fifth figure. It'll take forever if I don't get some help. You can keep your share of the loot, though.
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  #25  
Old 06-26-2008, 11:28 PM
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Hrm...Last words from the fanbase was four days ago...That can't possibly be a good sign. If I'm doing something wrong, tell me!
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Old 06-26-2008, 11:43 PM
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I think everyone may just be to interested in your stories to comment. I bid you, continue on!
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  #27  
Old 06-27-2008, 12:42 AM
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I agree with Hadgi, please continue.
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Just a vagabond with flowers for Algernon..
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Old 06-28-2008, 08:14 AM
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i havent been on a while dang so many stories to read lol
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  #29  
Old 06-28-2008, 09:45 PM
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Witch Hunter, part 4 of 5

Ajendra Witch Hunter Cabal

Kitsune was on the balcony of her dormitory, trying to ignore the chill night air and practicing some of the more complicated holds with Kunoichi. Kunoichi had a knack for these things, but Kitsune didn't take to them. In fact, Kitsune didn't really take to anything they did in the Cabal, beyond horse riding. Her horse, unimaginatively named Black by the stablehands, was as near to Kitsune's heart as her human friends.

Of course, Black couldn't helped her pass the Unarmed course she needed to graduate from the Cabal, so today at least, Kitsune was more grateful for Kunoichi. Of course, Kitsune was reminded as Kunoichi effortlessly twisted out of her hold and swept her off her feet1, hitting the balcony floor hard, Kitsune didn't fall nearly often enough to get this many bruises from Black.

"Are you alright?" Kunoichi asked, "Maybe we should stop for a bit." Her voice was, as always, energetic, but it was also concerned. If Kitsune wasn't so focused on how sore she was from the umpteenth painful failure to keep Kunoichi held, she'd have noticed how odd a combination it was.

As it was, she just nodded and went inside. It was only fall, but that was the same as winter this far north. It would be getting too cold to practice outside on the balcony in a few minutes anyway, even with their cloaks and coats. Kitsune would keep practicing inside, but Sakura had forbidden all fighting in the dormitory when Kunoichi and Kari had gotten in a fight and broken something. Sakura had threatened that she could have any three of them expelled from the Cabal if she wanted, and she had so much clout with the Fathers and Instructors of the Cabal that she was almost certainly right. If Kunoichi was expelled, she'd return home in shame, and if Kitsune was expelled her family would all be executed.

Kari, presumably, also had some nasty fate in store for her if she was sent home, but Kitsune didn't know what it was. Whatever it was, Kari hadn't provoked anymore fights with Kitsune in the dorms, though the two had occasionally arranged to be sparring partners in their shared Unarmed course just so they could get a chance to 'forget' to pull their punches and break a few bones.2

Sakura wasn't in the dorm. She was out late, taking some advanced class. Kari was out late doing nothing in particular at least once a week, and tonight seemed to be one of those nights. Kitsune wasn't going to risk sparring inside, though, as Sakura might catch wind of it anyway somehow.

Kitsune was about to go start on a ridiculously long report for History about Talmea's fall, something which seemed a bit of a pointless subject of study for her. It had occured a solid century or so before Emperor Ajen had come across the sea.

As Kitsune turned to go inside, she heard a clanging behind her. She turned around, looking out at the balcony, but she could see nothing there. "What was that?" Kitsune asked.

"Ah, probably just someone practicing with their hook," Kunoichi said, "I'm going to go see where Sakura is. She's usually back by now." Kitsune was only half-listening, trying to find the source of the sound. It was a lot closer than the other balconies, which she couldn't see due to the large barriers between the balconies, which jutted out about six feet further than the balconies themselves went, and which started about ten feet away from the balconies. Kitsune could barely see them in the darkness, let alone see through them to see if someone was practicing on the balcony next to hers.

But...She could see well enough to see that something was moving, clinging to the barrier about five feet below her and tossing one of the grappling hooks they used for Infiltration courses up towards the balcony. The figure tossed it up, and it slid between the balcony railings this time. It was in the first position, with the tongs pulled in close so they could be thrown through narrow spaces. As it started dragging itself towards the balcony again, the tongs deployed to their full width3, allowing the hook to catch the side of the balcony.

The figure jumped off the barrier and started climbing up the balcony. Kitsune wondered who it was, warily. Would Kari choose such a roundabout method of coming back in? Had someone broken in from outside the Cabal? Should she sound an alarm? If she did and it was just a student, wouldn't that student hate her forever for blowing his (or her, if it was Kari, though if it was Kari, Kitsune didn't really care how much she hated her) cover? Kitsune had had enough trouble getting past all of Kari's witch rumors, and she didn't want to start another round of nasty rumors by overreacting.

The figure climbed up onto the balcony and stepped into the light from the room. It was Nathan. "Hello, Kitsune," Nathan said, "Happy to see me?"

Kitsune breathed a sigh of relief. "Yeah!" she said, "Happy to see you instead of some assassin or heretic or something! Why on Earth didn't you just use my door?"

"They wouldn't have let me in," Nathan said, "There's always at least one Father or Instructor patrolling the dorm halls and they would have caught me. I don't have any real excuse to be out this late, soooo..."

"Don't they watch the balconies from the garden, too?" Kitsune asked.

"Yes," Nathan said, gathering up his grappling hook "But it's Instructor Tek tonight, and he hasn't taken any vows against alcohol. I sent him an anonymous gift with some subtle sleeping elixir in it...He won't know what hit him even after he wakes up. He'll think it was just the wine. He should be out for the next two hours."

"Wow, you've really thought this through..." Kitsune said. "So why are you here? I mean, Kunoichi's probably watching everything we do from her bed, pretending to be asleep, and we can't leave the room without getting caught."

"Operation Secret Keeper is one step ahead of you," Nathan said, "We're going down to the gardens." he said, gesturing to the gardens below the balcony.

"Okay, one, Operation Secret Keeper?" Kitsune said.

"Yeah, what's wrong with that?" Nathan asked.

Kitsune smiled and said "Nothing, it's just kind of nerdy, I guess."

"Nothing wrong with that," Nathan said, "Is there?"

"No," Kitsune said, "But second, it's a thirty foot drop to the gardens and a standard grappling hook has only fifteen feet of rope."

"Right," Nathan said, "So that's a fifteen foot drop, which would break our legs if we were to fall on the hard ground, but we're not going to. I hope you don't mind getting a little wet?"

"It's freezing!" Kitsune said in protest.

"Not nearly," Nathan said, "Can't be under five degrees4, probably a few degrees warmer. And it'll only be colder tomorrow."

"It'd be warmer in spring," Kitsune said, not really wanting to wait that long.

"Yes, but not by much, and then we'll have a million other things to keep track of. That's when finals are. We'll need all our time to study." Nathan said. He paused for a moment, and then said "If you don't want to go swimming, I'm alright with that, I really am. I can just go back the way I came and try to figure out something else."

"No," Kitsune said, "I'm alright with it. I just wish it wasn't so cold up here..."

"Yeah, me too," Nathan said, taking off his heavy winter clothing and putting it into an oil-sealed, waterproof bag he'd brought with him. "Get yours too, to put all your extra clothes in. You'll be wanting them when we get out. And bring an extra cloak, to use as a towel."

"Right," Kitsune said, smiling, and went back into her room to get the bag and extra cloak. Judging by her quick, uneven breaths, Kunoichi, who lay still in her bed, was both not asleep and particularly excited. Kitsune returned to the balcony with her extra set of clothes and cloak in the still-open bag, and took off her cloak, coat, the extra tunic, and her shoes, putting them in the bag and sealing it shut.

Nathan had just his pants on, exposing his well-muscled chest. Kitsune wondered if he'd been that strong before he arrived at the Cabal. She had only bulked up a little since arriving, but maybe all of Nathans extra classes (like Infiltration) had made all the difference.

Nathan started climbing down the grappling hook, which he'd repositioned over the pond in the gardens below. The pond was probably thirty feet deep in the middle, more than enough to slow down their fall. Kitsune followed him down.

Thirty minutes later, Kitsune stepped out from behind some trees she'd been using as a dressing room. They'd stayed in the pond a while, but it was just too cold to stay any longer. Kitsune's teeth were still chattering. Nathan had been waiting for her, staring back towards the pond. He looked over in her direction when he saw her come out.

He stood up and walked over to her, taking her hands in his. As he did, he glanced down at her still soaking wet right glove, the one he'd never, ever seen her take off. "Kitsune," he asked, "I don't mean to pry, but...Why do you always wear that glove? I mean, you didn't even take it off behind the trees."

"I don't have any others to replace it with," Kitsune said simply. "And I did take it off, for a second, when I was changing my shirt."

"But why don't you ever take it off in front of other people? In front of me?" Nathan asked.

"It's...It's a secret." Kitsune said. She didn't like keeping things from Nathan, but she didn't want to ruin the relationship she'd made with him either. What would he say to a gemstone embedded in her right hand?

"Oh," Nathan said, clearly disappointed. "I get it," he said, hiding the disappointment better this time. Kitsune could still tell he'd hoped she would trust him enough with this secret.

"Nathan, it's not that I don't trust you, it's just..." she started, then stopped, realizing that that was exactly it. She didn't trust him. Maybe that was for the best, since she had no idea whether or not she was in love with him for real or just having a normal teenaged romance, but either way, couldn't she trust him? Nathan was a good person, he wasn't going to tell anyone else.

"Nathan...You can take it off, if you want." Kitsune said at last. She really wasn't sure if she'd be able to take it off in front of him, and freezing up like that would only make everything worse.

"You want me to do it?" Nathan asked.

"Yes," Kitsune said, "If you want." Nathan slid the glove off slowly. Kitsune's palm was facing him, so he could see what was beneath it the moment the glove came off. He backed up a few steps, letting go of her when he saw it. Kitsune resisted the urge to turn and run away when she saw the look on his face. She had to stay here. She had to make this work.

"What is that?!" Nathan asked, stepping towards her again. Kitsune inaudibly breathed a sigh of relief. He may have been shocked, but if he was getting close again, he probably didn't think any less of her.

"It's a curse," Kitsune said, "From the warlock who kidnapped my family."

"Wait, what? A warlock actually kidnapped your family?" Nathan asked.

"Sure, haven't you heard?" Kitsune asked.

"Well, yeah, but I've also heard that you're a witch who's trying to destroy the Cabal from the inside out. I figured all the crazy rumors were false." Nathan said.

"The truth is even crazier, now that I think about it." Kitsune said. "My family was kidnapped by a warlock, who let me go after he cursed me with this. I still don't know why. I used to worry that he might have predicted I'd come here, that I was doing what he wanted...But there's no other way I'll be able to learn how to track him down."

Nathan was silent for a moment. Then he pulled her close again and said "When you go after him, I'll help you." he said. "I'll help you find your family."

Kitsune looked at him and smiled. "I'm glad I told you," she said, "I'm glad you'll help." They were leaning closer now. Kitsune's voice grew softer as she said "I didn't want to be alone..."

Their lips met. They had only been kissing for a few seconds when they heard someone shout "What are you doing here?!" They both turned to look in the direction of the voice. Instructor Tek had found them.

Kitsune smiled at Nathan and said "I thought we were supposed to have two hours?"

"I guess I didn't mix the elixir right," Nathan said, also smiling.

"You two get over here!" Tek said, "Morality rules we usually let slip, but sneaking out of your rooms in the middle of the night? Have you no respect for your own safety?"

Kitsune choked down a retort about the lack of imminent danger in the gardens. She was fairly certain goblins weren't going to leap out and slit their throats because they came here during the night.5

-------------

1 Kunoichi>Yuffie

2 I kind of wish I didn't have a greater plot to get to with Kunoichi. I could these kinds of stories as they happen through the entire Skyclaw arc otherwise. Regrettably, Kitsune has a date with Thuule and I can't let her be late.

3 If you had a second string alongside the first one, which was attached to a mechanism which pressed the tongs down until they locked into their second position (the wide one), and that string was attached to a switch on the far end of the rope, then this is possible. This would require some rather intricate mechanics, but it wouldn't requrie any kind of electricity or circuitry, and the Empire has proven itself to be pretty handy with these kinds of things, so it's certainly a believable gadget. Also, I could've been a medieval engineer.

4 The Empire uses Celsius measures, and other metrics.

5 You know what an awesome april fools joke would be? Renaming one of the Shattered Highlands locations "Ajendra Gardens," especially one that's overflowing with goblins.

It didn't occur to me until it was too late that my timing was horrible, and that Grigor and company would be operating in the Skyclaw Mountains for nearly a year before Kitsune would be a fully trained Inquisitor. This doesn't make much sense, since plotwise there are only three or four lairs they can clear out between now and then, and it doesn't take three months to flush monsters out of a lair and into the open. In fact, it's supposed to take a month grand total for the completion of the entire mission.

Fortunately, I've avoided putting any dates on anything, so I can just say that Grigor's and Ashen's (and, by Tsao's comments, Team Evil's) plotlines take place significantly later. Someday I'll go back and edit dates into all of the locations, so that this will be evident without the need of these little footnotes.

Also, the increased character limit appears to be doing its job.
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Old 06-29-2008, 03:20 AM
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Silent Angel Silent Angel is offline
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*sniffs* Loves in the air, keep up the good work.
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