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Thread: [Solo] In the Cradle of Filth

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    [Solo] In the Cradle of Filth



    The Ma’Talzin Order was a shadowy group that dealt in secrets and ancient magics. Few knew of its existence. Even fewer knew of its purpose. The first rule of the Order was this: Do not speak of the Order, lest you lose your tongue.

    There were several ways to be inducted into the Order, of which the Temple of Praxeum is the most common. The Temple was a school. Its exact location has been lost to time, but its facilities were said to be most excellent. For a small donation, students were be admitted into the school as acolytes, where they learned the lore and applications of simpler sorcery. The lucky ones would leave as apprentices to the full sorcerers and sorceresses of the Order, and from there work their way into the heart of the Order. Students who were less lucky were sometimes retained and employed by the Temple as caretakers and staff. The unluckiest ones would never leave.

    Many members of the Order sent their own children to the Temple. At times, the Order also sent out searchers for children with strong potential. The Order cared little for races, sex, or lineage. Even slaves were eligible, so long as they had potential.


    Excerpts from the Book of Three
    On the Practices of the Ma’Talzin
    Last edited by Rogue; 06-15-17 at 08:32 PM.

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    Life as an acolyte at the Temple of Praxeum was a series of trials and tribulations, and if one were lucky, one left the Temple as an apprentice. The average acolyte spent two years at the Temple before they found a master. Arainthe Vardis was nearing the end of her second year, and she had yet to find a master to take her on.

    Old Man Taiu’s eyes were inches away from her hands, and she was sweating visibly. The day’s lesson was fire, and instructor Taiu was testing the acolyte class on the art of conjuring flames.

    Come on. Her eyes were pinched shut in concentration, and her hands were cupped so tightly that she can feel her bones. An eternity later, a spark appeared, and bursted into a small flame. It colored a patch of her gray robes orange.

    “Mediocre,” the instructor allowed in his tweedy voice. “Next--”

    Arianthe sighed in relief and let her concentration go. The instructor had already moved onto his next target.

    Very mediocre. Next--”

    And so it went for the next ten students. The last acolyte in the line was Glorrad Hruine, a youth of good breeding and pedigree. His flames appeared instantly and shot halfway up cavernous hall. Arianthe made a face. She was definitely not envious of that bastard.

    “Most excellent,” the old instructor said, his first words of praise of the day, and turned around to peer at the entire line of his students.

    “All of you are dismissed. We have an important visitor tomorrow, so I expect all of you to be on time for lessons. Don’t want a repeat of today, do you, Mister Darger?”

    Someone at the other end of the line shook his head and muttered a no. Old Man Taiu nodded in satisfaction.

    “Well then. Go away before I blast the lot of you out of here. Don’t tempt me.”

    ---
    Last edited by Rogue; 06-17-17 at 11:38 AM.

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    The Stone Hall of the Praxeum was reserved for practical lessons and evening meals. While a great lover of evening meals, Arainthe had little love for the hall itself. The cavernous chamber was too large for the class of acolytes, too drafty in the mornings, too cold in evenings, and worst of all, it only had one doorway.

    Darger and his boys were waiting for her when she stepped out of the hall. They arranged themselves slovenly around the doorway in a half-circle. She tried to walk past the group, but then Darger parked his pasty face right in front of hers. Arianthe debated if she could smash his shit-eating grin into the granite walls without retaliation.

    Mediocre,” he drawled, imitating the intonation of Old Man Taiu. “How’d that feel, slave? Not so proud any more, are ya?”

    His cronies snickered. Her fists clenched involuntarily. She didn’t like reminders of mediocrity, and she didn’t like being called a slave.

    “And who’s the dead-last, bastard?” Her voice dripped acid. She knew he hated her scorn. “And who’s the idiot who got his fool ass burnt by the old man today, Mister Darger? Did he leave any holes in your pants, you spineless worm?”

    Darger sputtered, and the laughter of his boys died.

    “Oh wait,” she grinned, “I forgot. You’re not a spineless worm. You’re balls-less ass, am I right?”

    If glares could kill, Arainthe would be dead right now. Darger was furious. With a howl, he threw his fists at her, but she managed to sidestep the first. The second was stopped by a hand from behind her.

    “Get out,” came a voice. It was deep and cold and expanded to fill the hallways. It was Glorrad Hruine with his pedigree and god-damned icy face.

    Nobody picked fights against Glorrad Hruine because nobody won fights against Hruine. Darger pulled back unwillingly, and his cronies drew away with him. He nodded once at Hruine -- some sign of respect -- scowled at Arainthe.

    “Ya’ll get yours, slave. Watch ya back,” Darger muttered as he walked away.

    Good riddance, Arainthe thought.

    ---
    Last edited by Rogue; 06-16-17 at 07:05 PM.

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    Arainthe met Darger Ssuap on her first day as an acolyte. He was brat from a well-off family. She was a skinny scrap who had to sell herself into the Temple. It took her an hour to find all the right buttons to push to wind him up. Then he took to calling her a slave, which she technically was. She jumped on him. Neither of them won that battle.

    She met Glorrad Hruine on her second day as an acolyte. He was a standoffish asshole from a line of nobility, and his father was a high ranking member of the Order. She hated him immediately. Then he outdid her in every single practical test they’ve ever had. It took her a year to overtake him in the written tests, but that wasn’t enough for Arainthe. She wanted to win.

    ---

    “Arry!”

    The Temple wasn’t all bastards, and Arianthe didn’t hate everyone. She turned around with glee as Tessa Ree came bounding down the narrow hallway. Tessa Ree was a Temple cook, and Arianthe loved the large woman almost as much as she loved meat pies. They had a most excellent transactional relationship.

    “Tessa!” Arianthe cried, and jumped into the other woman’s outstretched arms for a quick hug. Tessa always smelled like the kitchens. “What do you want today, and what do I get out of it?”

    The conspiratorial glint in Tessa’s eyes grew bright. “News for you, love. Word from the staff is that Mistress Moore is coming tomorrow. Looking for an apprentice, apparently. You're looking for a master, aren't you?"

    Mistress Moore? From the High Council?

    "You'd want to be careful, though. The last one died tragically or something. She's a strange one, this Mistress. I bet that Hruine boy would be all after her. Hey, here’s your chance to humiliate that bastard you keep harping on about in front of someone powerful."

    The mother-fucking ruling High Council of the Ma’Talzin Order? A chilly draft swept through the hall. This was a top-notched opportunity, and Arainthe almost could not wrap her mind around the possibilities.

    “What? Don’t believe me?” Tessa drew close enough to breathe on Arianthe. “I’ll bet you two pieces of gold this time. No backing out, love.”

    Arianthe made a face. “I’m a fucking slave, remember? I don’t have any gold.”

    “Steal it from that bastard then. Promise I won’t tell if you don’t get caught.”

    ---
    Last edited by Rogue; 06-16-17 at 09:18 PM.

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    Arianthe Vardis entered the Temple of Praxeum as a slave. Selling herself was the quickest way to earn the twelve gold pieces needed for the Temple’s donation cum tuition, and she had no time back then to look for another way out.

    She needed to come here. She had to know what her mother died for -- the Order -- and why. The local constable back home had ruled her mother’s death an accident, but Arianthe knew better. It was a murder story that revolved around this mysterious Order, and she would do anything to unravel the mystery.

    After her mother's death, Arianthe had spent a year hunting for pins in haystacks for any hints of the Order of Ma’Talzin. It was a stroke of godsent luck to have found an Order searcher passing through Beinost two years ago, and she latched onto him with fervor. He was amused by her tenacity and offered to buy her way into the Temple. That's how most of us Order folks started, he said. She readily agreed.

    The searcher technically still owned her, and she would return to his ownership unless she was apprenticed or managed to pay back a heavenly sum.

    Arianthe Vardis would leave the Temple as either a Sorceress-Apprentice or a slave. She had swore to herself that it would be the previous. To do so as the latter would be utterly unbearable.

    ---

    Arianthe slept fitfully that night. Her blankets felt too warm, but it was too cold to sleep without covers.

    ---

    Tessa Ree won the bet. Of course she did.

    Mistress Moore sat at the head of the staff table during breakfast. She was a thin, dark human in her fifties, and Arianthe had never seen anyone else with hair that white or robes that thick. Arianthe spent part of breakfast staring at the ring on the Mistress’ spindly fingers.

    The thing is, Arainthe thought, I never actually agreed to that bet.

    ---

    “A trial,” Master Taiu announced, which sent a scattering of whispers through the class of acolytes. All twenty of them were here, and no one was late. “You will go to the Tomb of the Alkar’chuhan. You will seek out the Diadem of Greater Restoration buried in the tomb, and one of you will succeed.”

    The whispers grew louder. They were seated in a classroom at the other end of the Temple. The acolytes were supposed to review fire sorcery lore today, but the lessons were forgone for this announcement.

    Mistress Moore nodded from her spot on the dais beside Old Man Taiu. She spotted a thin smile. “I will be waiting in your instructor’s quarters for the next three days. If one of you poor, miserable acolytes managed to bring me the Diadem, you will be richly rewarded.”

    “Do your best to survive, won’t you poor lot?” Taiu continued. “The Tomb’s in the Red Forest, and I’d like to have a class left by the end of this.”

    The class degenerated into chaos. The Red Forest? Arainthe felt Darger’s eyes drilling into her back.

    ---
    Last edited by Rogue; 06-19-17 at 11:28 PM.

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    She was hiding in a secret alcove with her ear was plastered against a wall. Tessa Ree stood a feet away to keep an eye out for any passersby. The headmaster’s office was on the other side of the wall, and there was a tiny spyhole that carried voices through into the alcove.

    Tessa Ree traded Arianthe the information about this spying spot for a quiet piece of revenge against another staff a year ago.

    “... don’t forget the…compass. The tomb is down… the sanctum is up...”

    Arianthe growled silently in frustration. The spyhole worked both ways, although the headmaster was speaking so softly that only piecemeal phrases could be heard. Useless. There was no point in continuing this.

    She pried herself away from the wall and patted down the dust on her knees. Then she padded her way over to Tessa, who immediately swung an arm over Arianthe’s shoulder.

    “Anything useful?” Tessa asked, steering both of them through a low doorway and into the indoor gardens.

    “Completely shit,” Arainthe muttered. The greeneries and well-tended flowers did little to sooth her annoyance. “Senile old fart.”

    The trial's announcement sent the small class of acolytes into flurries of activity. The Tomb of the Alkar’chuhan? The Diadem of Greater Restoration? Nobody knew what those were. Some of the acolytes headed to the library to research, which was Arainthe's original plan. Then she saw Old Man Taiu steering Hruine into the headmaster’s office immediately after class, so of course Arainthe followed after them instead. She ran into Tessa on the way and commandeered the other woman’s help.

    The headmaster was clearly trying to tell Hruine something about the tomb and this trial, and that annoyed Arainthe to no end. This entire situation felt staged, as though Hruine was the only one of them expected to accomplish anything at all.

    Fucking wealthy bastards and their fucking connections. And their fucking unfair advantages.

    She’d take Hruine on. She’d win. Just watch her.

    ---
    Last edited by Rogue; 06-19-17 at 11:28 PM.

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    Hrunine left before dawn the next day. He was the first of the acolyte class to make a move.

    Arianthe bribed the guards at the front gates to inform her immediately when that rich bastard was spotted. She followed him out the Temple in a hooded brown cloak, and was careful to keep him within her sights.

    So what if the headmaster was playing favorites by pandering to bastards? Arainthe could still take advantage of that. She could take advantage of anything.

    The Temple sat enclosed by a thick ring of trees, and was situated somewhere between the city of Beinost and the Red Forest. It was closer to the Forest than any other beacons of civilization. There was a thin path out of the Temple which forked into two roads past the ring of trees. One of them led to grassy fields and civilization. The other one curved through clusters of overgrown trees and led to the Red Forest.

    Hruine did not stray from the main path, so following him was simple business. All Arainthe had to do was to keep her cloak up and her footsteps quiet. The foliage around her provided sufficient covers for her to remain unseen.

    It took them a mere two hours to reach the furthest edges of the Red Forest. The road slowly narrowed to nothingness. The foliage grew more twisted and gnarled with every step. Fallen green leaves were replaced by crinkly red ones, and healthy brown soil were replaced by black, crumbly dirt. The air itself grew sour. Arianthe’s breaths became shallower almost unconsciously, because her gut instinct was telling her that breathing too heavily would bring danger.

    Hruine’s footsteps were still bold and his back was still straight, so of course Arainthe continued following him.

    ---

    She could almost admire the bastard if she didn’t despise him so much.

    He was good with a blade and good with his magic. They came across their first corrupted forest beast, a wolf cub that had grown to be six feet tall with teeth the size of Arainthe’s forearms. Hruine had it cut down immediately. The feat was impressive -- a clean slice of the blade to the neck, followed by a burst of flames into opened jaws. The bastard was good and hadn’t even been nicked. Arainthe almost whistled in appreciation.

    The next few beasts followed suit. One of them tore a line down Hruine’s arm, but that bastard bounded it with a strip of cloth and carried on like nothing had happened.

    Impressive, Arainthe thought, following close behind. She was ever more careful here, because a misstep could cost her more than discovery. Staying close behind Hruine had became the safest -- and the most economical -- route through the Red Forest. She fully intended to take advantage of that.
    Last edited by Rogue; Today at 11:15 AM.

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