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Thread: Passing of the Flame? [Atzar] [Open to 1 or 2 more]

  1. #1
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    ArcanaFate's Avatar

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    200
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    Name
    Ezoreth "Ezra" Vrall
    Race
    Homunculi
    Location
    Corone

    Passing of the Flame? [Atzar] [Open to 1 or 2 more]

    Crunch, crunch, crunch...

    The sound of snow beneath boots was the only noise hanging in the air, the Homunculi's movement the only noise in the nearby forested area. They hadn't been expecting the hostile reaction that the villagers had when talking about magic, but there was nothing Ezra could do about that. They were in a foreign territory with very little knowledge of the societal norms of Salvar. Probably should have read up on that before making their way so far north, but preparedness was something the Homunculi hadn't quite kept up on, either. Not having access to their full memory was really messing with their common sense. They quietly shook their head and muttered to themselves as they continued their trek through the snow-filled canopy.

    "I bet Ezoreth never would have made that kind of mistake..." They frown as their words reach no one, finally stepping into a small clearing. Feeling that they were far enough way, they closed their eyes and tried to focus on the world around them. The smell of pine was strong here, and although the air was thinner here than in Corone, it was almost refreshing being alone in the calm and the quiet versus the hustle and bustle of the mercantile ports. After regulating their breathing to a calm and even pace, Ezra began to focus their attention to their hand. To unlock Ezoreth's- no, their tome-, the Homunculi would first have to remember how to cast spells. Conjuring fire would be an easy start, right?

    With eyes still closed, Ezra dug through the broken memories, trying to remember the feeling of conjuring flame and taking the first steps into becoming whole once again. They imagined the mana in their body flowing from their heart, down their arm, and building the energy into their palm. They imagined the heat, the light, the passion of the flame. A faint smile graced their lips as they opened their eyes to look at the flame in their palm.

    The flame that wasn't there.

    Ezra blinked a few times, looking at their arm in bewilderment. What did they do wrong? "Fyr." They muttered, attempting to conjure the flame with a vocal component. Still, their palm remained cold and without magic. The Homunculi frowned, uttering any vocals they could think of in order to conjure the spell. After a few minutes of just staring at their hand in confusion, they began to swing their arm out as if to shoot the flame from their hand. And, like before, there was no sign of the spell functioning. They stared blankly at the tree in front of them, and said aloud to the trees and any deities watching from above,

    "Well, fiddlesticks."

  2. #2
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    Atzar's Avatar

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    Atzar Kellon
    Location
    Corone
    It wasn’t my fault!

    I had been relaxing in a small village tavern with a cold pint, chatting up a nice Salvaran lass and otherwise minding my own business. It was shaping up to be a pretty pleasant afternoon until her husband spoiled the party. How was I supposed to know she was married? She hadn’t said a word about it. One moment, I was enjoying myself. The next, I was slammed up against the bar with a big bearded oaf’s rotten breath befouling my air.

    He fed me a typical tough-guy line, and I responded by telling him to learn how to satisfy his woman. Maybe then she wouldn’t come to me for attention. Not the most diplomatic thing I could have said, but hey; when your “nice to meet you” is trying to throw me through the bar, tact is the first thing I toss out the window.

    He responded with a fist to my face. I leaned back and dodged the worst of it, but he did graze my lip. The metallic tang of blood rose upon my tongue. That was unfortunate for him. His wife started screaming, the bartender yelled at us to take it outside, and there was just enough hubbub for him to miss the fact that his boots were now frozen to the floor. I gave him a shove, and he toppled like a stack of books. I hadn’t planned for him to bash the back of his head on a nearby table as he fell, though.

    Okay. That part was a tiny bit my fault.

    Now things went from bad to worse. One unconscious guy in a bar is just Wednesday. But the oaf’s feet were still rooted to the floor by a block of ice, and a few interested onlookers wore gray ecclesiastical robes. The Church of Ethereal Sway; nobody used magic around these people unless they explicitly permitted it. I had goofed. The four of them started pointing and hollering about “witchcraft” and “violating the natural laws of the Sway” and a jumble of other overzealous nonsense, but when I heard the word “crucifixion”, I decided to be somewhere else. I slung a quick apology at the fool's shrieking wife and bolted.

    I left the sleepy little village behind with the foursome hot on my heels. Well; three of them, anyway. The fourth’s physique left him ill-equipped to run more than ten steps in any given direction, and he quickly fell behind, puffing like a bellows. I led the others on a jaunt through the snow and boughs of the Salvaran forest.

    A ball of light whooshed by my head then. It crashed into a snow-covered tree limb, exploding into a hail of twigs and powder. I skidded to a halt and looked back. There my three assailants stood; one of them still held his hands theatrically out in front of him. He was a man of average height, and he sported short, light-brown hair and a neat beard.

    “That was a warning shot,” he informed me smugly. I had heard of this; certain members of the Sway were permitted to use magic in their quest to root out all other magic.

    I turned to face him with an eyebrow raised. “You practice what you preach, don’t you?”

    He launched into a tirade about blasphemy and Sway-given exemptions and divine missions, his nose getting higher in the air with every word. Just as he was getting to the part where I should forsake my heathen ways and come quietly so my soul might be salvaged, I raised an arm. Sparks danced at my fingertips and ignited into a ball of flame, though more slowly than I might have wished. Blood for power; little blood, little power. My cut lip didn't offer me much of either.

    My adversary crouched and extended his hands, one in front of him, one behind. The air shimmered and swirled around him. A shield. I quickly sized up my opponent. His postures and bluster were meant to intimidate me, but his ward was weak. This guy wasn’t very powerful. I had to be careful; I wanted to subdue him, not kill him. My list of misdeeds was already ugly enough for one day. I fed my fireball until it was the size of a melon, then fired.
    Last edited by Atzar; 10-07-2017 at 04:03 PM.

  3. #3
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    200
    AP
    5
    Name
    Ezoreth "Ezra" Vrall
    Race
    Homunculi
    Location
    Corone
    The silence had almost become deafening out in the forested hideaway.

    Ezra had spent minutes, possibly even up to an hour in the frigid cold attempting to get this spell to work and having not even a spark to show for it. What were they doing wrong? Were they really that limited in spell power that even producing the simplest of flames was out of their control? The frustration was beginning to seep into their mind, and they stomped their boot into the snow, the crunch almost a cathartic response to the annoyance. Did the Homunculi even have a chance to succeed in the first place? Or was it a farce from the beginning, a failed magical experiment who was brought to life by magic but never wield it for themselves?

    The existential crisis, however, would be cut short by the sound of footsteps in snow. Rapid footsteps... people were running? Running towards Ezra? That couldn't be a good sign. The Homunculi quickly dashed for the trees, attempting to hide themselves the best they could as a group of four men came into view. They watched as silently as they could manage, hoping the men weren't here to take Ezra back. They didn't know much about the Church out here in Salvar, but the anti-magic mentality was not to be taken lightly and how they dealt with 'heretics' was not an adventure the Homunculi was wanting to experience. It became clear, however, that the four men were not in a group together, but three of the men were chasing a fourth as an orb of light crashed into a nearby tree branch and splintered the wood. Purple eyes looked the man up and down, and the Homunculi couldn't help but be curious. Average appearance, not too skinny or fat. Black hair, rather unkempt but in this region it made sense to worry less about appearance and more about functionality. Rather young as well, with no or very little facial hair to hide his face. Probably a flirt with the women, using that young face to hi-

    Quietly shaking their head and cursing their lack of focus, Ezra began listening in to the conversation between the man and his assailants. Apparently, the group was with the Church, and their leader was preaching the mission of hunting magic users and the salvation of souls and Ezra promptly tuned out the rest of the self-righteous nonsense. Magic itself wasn't inherently evil; at the end of the day, it was up to the caster's will that shaped the magic. Magic simply was, and no amount of zealous speech was going to change that. As the well-trimmed leader got into a defensive position, a spark of energy burst into life inside Ezra's mind. Their eyes almost seemed to glow momentarily, the runes within giving their purple eyes a slight golden hue. The Homunculi blinked in surprise, feeling... something inside. Some kind of veil lingered on their palms.

    Before they could really think about what had happened, the young man the Churchmen had been chasing retaliated with a slow formed fireball and Ezra almost squealed with glee. If the young man knew fire magic, maybe Ezra could learn from him? But first, the clash between the men and the mage had to be settled. As the leader of the little group rolled backwards from the blast, the other two watching on in horror. The Churchman picked himself up and raised his palms towards the lone mage. Ezra could barely see the man's lips moving and a spear of light energy rocketed forth from the leader's hands towards Ezra's (hopefully) new mentor.

    "Move!"

    The Homunculi sprinted from their hiding spot in the trees towards the lone magi, but realized as they ran that he couldn't be shoved out of the way in time. It was possible the mage would dodge the attack but what if they didn't? Ezra didn't really know first aid and the hunters were definitely not going to help him if he was wounded. C'mon, c'mon, gotta protect him somehow! In a last ditch effort, the Homunculi threw up their hands for some kind of miracle spell.

    And miracle spell they got.

    A very familiar barrier formed in front of Atzar, and the spear of light ricocheted off into one of the nearby trees, shattering a large chunk out of the young pine. The Homunculi looked at their hands, looked between the black-haired mage and the group of Churchmen, and quietly blanched. Their face went slightly red out of embarrassment, and in a meek voice, asked,

    "Can we just have a nice talk about this with-without violence?"
    Last edited by ArcanaFate; 10-08-2017 at 01:23 AM.

  4. #4
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    Atzar's Avatar

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    3,416
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    Name
    Atzar Kellon
    Location
    Corone
    I’d have dodged it, of course.

    But when a second shield shimmered in front of me and deflected the ray of light, I wasn’t sure which annoyed me more: that I hadn’t noticed this new arrival, or that my mysterious helper interfered in my affairs.

    I shot the newcomer a glare. “I can handle my own business, thanks,” I said tartly. I’ve made my own way in the world since I was twelve. I take great pride in the fact that I’ve rarely had to rely on anybody else. Ignoring the plea for diplomacy, I gathered my focus for another attack.

    The bearded priest held forth his hands to press his offensive; his companions hung back, content to let him do all the work. A grapefruit-sized ball of ice appeared in my palms and shot into the priest’s stomach before he could protect himself. No silly delays while I built my blaze, no funny business with wards; just ball of ice, boom. He doubled over, clutching at his torso and wheezing.

    Well then. I hadn’t expected the difference between fire and ice to be so great. This warranted further consideration… but later.

    First, I needed to decide what I was doing here. The three priests were a headache. If I let them leave, they would likely call on their fellows and hunt me down. It made more sense to kill them, but I didn’t have the heart to do it. And then there was the matter of my unsolicited ally. My breath steamed as I muttered a few choice words.

    One of the other men crept forward to check on his wounded companion, concern written on his slender, pointy-nosed face. The third, a pudgy man with dark, stringy hair and red ears, made no move. I pointed at them both in turn. “You… and you. Get out of here,” I commanded. “Leave your magic friend. I still have business with him.”

    “No!” Red Ears sputtered from his safe place behind his friends. “We don’t take orders from-“

    Go.” A second frosty projectile appeared in front of my fingers to incentivize him.

    “Do as he says,” Wheezy croaked, still hunched over. “It’s fine.”

    “You heard him,” I agreed. “You have my word that I won’t hurt him as long as he cooperates. You’re another story, unless you get moving. Right. Now.”

    “We’ll be back with reinforcements,” Red Ears threatened. “Nobody gets away with kidnapping-“

    GO!” I thundered, taking a couple of steps toward him. Finally they broke, kicking up snow as they beat a hasty retreat back through the woods toward the village.

    Red Ears’ words stuck with me, though. Not the threat; I had already expected that. But I hadn’t woken up this morning with designs on becoming a kidnapper. This was a new experience that I could have done without. But I had to make a quick decision, and this was what I came up with. I didn’t want the magic-user lurking around behind me, waiting for a chance to strike when my guard was down. I wanted him here where I could keep an eye on him. And there was a chance that he could even be useful to me.

    I grimaced and shrugged, then turned to my guardian. My first reaction was to send him on his way, but the words died on my lips. There was something unsettling about his appearance. Well… perhaps ‘his’ wasn’t the right word. Honestly, I couldn’t tell whether I was looking at a man or a woman here. The being had tan skin and braided not-quite-white hair, and the purple eyes were unnerving.

    “And you are?” I demanded instead.
    Last edited by Atzar; 10-09-2017 at 04:02 AM.

  5. #5
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    200
    AP
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    Name
    Ezoreth "Ezra" Vrall
    Race
    Homunculi
    Location
    Corone
    Well, negotiations had broken down almost immediately.

    Ezra could only watch in surprise at the lone mage, who not only snapped at the Homunculi for saving his life, but then continued the battle against the Churchmen. Now flinging an orb of ice into the chest of the enemy mage, Ezra could only cringe as the man crashed to his knees and began wheezing and trying to breathe properly. Poor guy probably had the air knocked out of his lungs and could really be hurt. They wanted to go and check on the man, but before Ezra could take more than two steps towards him, one of his compatriots was already checking on the wounded man.

    Then the orders started.

    The mage wanted the other two men to abandon their friend and head back towards the town. The portly friend objected to the mage's demand, but the leader insisted. More threats were exchanged, and the two finally ran off. As they ran, Ezra called out, "Don't worry! I'll make sure your friend is okay!" Their boots crunched in the snow, and the Homunculi had not seen two men run so fast in their life. Growing smaller and smaller, Ezra let out a deep sigh of relief. They had not wanted to keep fighting, so in a way, diplomacy had won out in the end. It just took one last measure of violence to end the battle.

    "And you are?"

    Ezra frowned at the tone, looking over their shoulder and shifting towards the grumpy mage behind them. Upon taking a closer glance at the man they saved from getting impaled, the Homunculi noticed the deep set frown the mage was holding. How rude could this guy be? Save his life, get a snarky response. They turned back towards Wheezy and began making their way towards the man, eventually squatting down a good foot away from him.

    "...My name is Ezra. Although common courtesy would dictate you introduce yourself first, but I suppose manners are not a high priority for you at the moment." They paused, still down at about the same level as the Churchman. "You have sent a warning via the two non-magic users to the Church about the 'heretics' out here in the woods and you now have unwittingly taken a hostage to satisfy some curiosity since you mentioned asking this man questions to the two lackeys before they left. Looking at this scenario, I have now become an unwilling accomplice to your accidental, not well thought out plan and I should be more annoyed than I am currently. However," they stood up and faced the mage once again.

    "I really, really do not want to die or be tortured. So, ask your questions. We make sure he's not going to die, and then we leave before reinforcements arrive." Ezra stated, eyes narrowed. The man who got iced groaned, still struggling to get air into his lungs. They looked down at the Churchman with a sigh and adjusted the braid so it rested more comfortably in front of their shoulder.

    "Sir, are you alright or do you need assistance?"

  6. #6
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    Atzar's Avatar

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    Atzar Kellon
    Location
    Corone
    I could feel my temperature rising at every word out of Ezra’s mouth; at the end of the rant, I was pretty sure my breath had turned from steam to smoke. We were going to get along great.

    “’Unwilling accomplice?!” I stared incredulously as Ezra checked on Wheezy. “YOU shoved yourself into the middle of MY affair, you fool! Had you just minded your own damned business, you’d have absolutely nothing to do with any of this – exactly as it should have been!

    I gestured in the direction of the escaped duo. “And another thing. You’re not happy about how I decided to settle this? Run them down and kill them. Kill this guy too, while you’re at it. That’d wrap things up just perfectly, wouldn’t it?” I bit my tirade off there. I kept my name to myself out of spite. Ezra was right about one thing: manners were not a priority for me right now.

    I ground my teeth and closed my eyes to calm myself. I jabbed a thumb in Wheezy’s direction. “His group has a fourth member that stayed back in the village. They’ll run to him, and they’ll rouse the Church to search for the heretics who have taken their brother. I acknowledge this.” I shrugged. “I could have killed them instead. Not only would that have tasted foul, but their friend would have found their bodies. There are footprints everywhere in the snow; wouldn’t have taken long. Right now, we’re heretics on the run from the Sway. Had we killed them, we’d be murderers on the run from every able-bodied man in this part of Salvar. I picked the best option of a bad lot.”

    “You chose your option long ago,” Wheezy creaked, fixing me with a glare of pure hatred, “when you took up your foul power. Heathen dog.” Then his eyes moved to Ezra. “And you’re no better. Devils, the both of you. Untouched by the light of the Sway.” I appreciated him more when groans and wheezes were all that he could utter. He was a tremendously unlikeable individual when he had the ability to speak. I weighed the idea of putting another chunk of ice in his ribs to quiet him, then sighed.

    When I had woken up this morning, I was a – so far as anybody knew – law-abiding man, free to go where I pleased. In the space of thirty minutes, I was a heretic and kidnapper, wanted by the Church. At this rate, I’d be the personal enemy of every soul on Althanas by the time the sun went down.
    Last edited by Atzar; 10-10-2017 at 01:18 AM.

  7. #7
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    Ezoreth "Ezra" Vrall
    Race
    Homunculi
    Location
    Corone
    The Homunculi's face remained stoic as the mage continued to yell and argue with them about how it was 'his' affair and how Ezra should have just 'minded their own damned business' and frankly, it was insulting at this point. They really shouldn't have stepped into this situation. They were a Homunculus in a land that despised magic, and if Ezra was caught... Well, all they could do was shudder in fear.

    Killing Wheezy wasn't the right option, either. As much as they loathed to admit it, the Rebel was right. Rebel was their new friend's name, Ezra decided, since he decided to be a uncouth charlatan and not properly introduce himself. Since he insisted on rebelling against everyone and every path, Rebel it is. They took a deep breath in, reaching down to the knife on their leg and pulling it out with a swift motion. It felt heavy in their hand, at the very real possibility of what could be possibly happening next. They could either kill Rebel in a bluff, leave him for Wheezy as a gift and flee, slit Wheezy's throat so he couldn't alert the rest of the zealots which way the two ran, or just... end it here. The fate the Church would have for Ezra would truly be worse than death, and being treated like a lab rat wasn't in the cards.

    Wheezy spat his rhetoric about the Sway and being 'devils' and generally being a terrible nuisance. He definitely wasn't helping his case on the whole 'getting killed to save their hide' option. Stepping up to the kneeling man, the Homunculus stopped next to the man with knife overhead. He looked up in surprise, then let out a laughing fit riddled with coughs.

    "Go ahead and kill me, demon." The man wheezed, grinning like a madman. Which, to Ezra's assessment, could very well be likely the case. "The Church will gladly come for you, and I'll be remembered as a hero. A brave soldier of the Sway who gave his life fighting the demon scum who dare tread on Salvan snow!" Ezra placed the blade on his neck and all it would take is a single pull, a quick shift of the arm and this man wouldn't be able to harm any other spellcasters. Their hand shook as they stared down this kneeling man, purple eyes peering into brown and not an ounce of fear rest in his eyes. After a long moment, the Homunculi sighed and pulled their knife back into its' sheath. The man blinked, then continued his fit of laughter, tears pouring down his cheeks into his beard.

    "You can't even kill your enemy!? What a pathetic little bitc-" He jeered, only to be interrupted by the butt of Ezra's shortspear connecting with his jaw. The man crashed down into the snow, spattering the fresh powder next to him in red (and possibly a tooth or two). The Homunculi let out a huff, looking at the now unconscious man who would definitely need to see a doctor about his case of broken mouth syndrome. They were content to leave the man down but as they turned to face the Rebel, a small glimmer caught their eye. There, on the man's belt, was a device of some kind. Ezra sheathed their spear and quickly knelt down to the body, ignoring the Rebel's rants (if there were any).

    Pulling the device from the man formerly known as Wheezy's belt, Ezra realized it was some kind of magic lantern. It was metallic, perhaps some form of iron? They didn't really have time to investigate it fully, but it was etched with runes and the rune for 'light' was blatantly carved into the top of it. With another huff, they quickly tied the lantern to their own belt and made their way to the rebellious mage and got almost face to chest with the young man (the curse of being short, unfortunately). They looked up and made sure that the mage could see their eyes and began talking in a stern tone. However, the panic and fear in their voice wasn't easily hidden and was almost obvious.

    "Listen, Rebel. I know I definitely did not help our situation by busting his jaw, since that just makes it look worse. But if he is unconscious, he cannot point the way to us when the others return here. I guarantee that we will both be tortured and killed if we don't work together to get away. Once we leave this place and get far enough to where they lose track of us, we go our separate ways and never deal with anything like this again. Fair?"

    Ezra made a glance between the unconscious Churchman and Atzer, almost ready to bolt like a rabbit depending on his answer. This was not in the cards when they made their way into the snow.

  8. #8
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    Atzar's Avatar

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    3,416
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    Atzar Kellon
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    Corone
    Without a word, I turned my back. I needed a minute.

    I had hoped Wheezy would be useful to me. He was a bad mage-hunter, but he was a mage-hunter nonetheless. I had come to Salvar looking for something, and there was a chance that the zealot would know where to find it – or at least where to start searching.

    And now he lay slumped in a heap with a broken face. I stared off into a blur of white and brown, hands on my head, cursing fate for handing me such unrelenting misfortune.

    I recognized terror when I saw it: the widening of the eyes and shortness of breath; the rambling, tumbling speech; the abandonment of anything resembling reason. None of this was intentional. Ezra didn’t mean to complicate every plan I created. It just happened because the fool was incapable of handling pressure. And for my part? I was incapable of handling fools who were incapable of handling pressure. Some people have incredible patience when others are melting down. Not me.

    “I needed that,” I stated when I turned back, thrusting a finger at Wheezy. “You knew I needed that.” I fought to keep my voice level and my gaze nonlethal, but I had never had much of a poker face.

    “We’re carrying him.” Ezra wanted to work together, after all. This was the condition. I had questions, and I was going to ask them if we had to drag our holy man across Salvar. I wasn’t even sure if Wheezy would be able to talk when he woke up, but I’d cross that stream when I got there – though I expected it to be deep and full of sharp rocks and undercurrents like every other stream had been that day.

    I made to hoist Wheezy’s prone form when I remembered something. “I need your knife for a minute,” I told Ezra. “I’ll need to cover our tracks.” The blood on my lip had mostly dried, and I was going to need my magic for this. I didn’t relish the prospect of scattering snow over our footprints while carrying some hundred-fifty pounds of dead weight, though. At least Wheezy was on the small side.

    Ezra cocked a brow, then shrugged and tossed the weapon over. I caught it and set my teeth in an anticipatory grimace.

    Blood for power. The restriction had existed on my magic for a few months now, but I still hadn’t gotten used to it. And I would never get used to deliberately harming myself to take what had once been free. In a strange way, I preferred being injured by an enemy to inflicting damage on myself. I pulled up a sleeve and did what had to be done. Blood welled up and trickled down my forearm. I wiped the edge of the blade on my tunic and returned it.

    That done, I returned to Wheezy and maneuvered his upper body onto my shoulder. Then the snow churned and eddied, covering footprints and spatters of blood. The priest’s friends would inevitably return here to start their search, but they would have a hard time finding a trail to follow.

  9. #9
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    Ezoreth "Ezra" Vrall
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    Homunculi
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    Corone
    Carry the mage hunter? Oh, this was a sign of a good time. Ezra quietly adjusted their braid to a more comfortable position before putting Wheezy's other arm around their shoulders to help the weight distribution. As the rebel mage moved, the Homunculi watched the footprints behind them fade from view, leaving nothing more than freshly fallen snow. In an ideal world, the mage hunters would have no clue where they vanished off to from here. But, realistically, there was a very good chance there was a hunter who was much more competent who could figure out what they had done.

    The two continued on, their third unwilling participant on their hike through the snow still taking a nap. Ezra had mixed feelings on the situation currently. A part of them enjoyed the silence and serenity of the forest. A part of them did not enjoy the silence of their new ally as the two of them carried the mage hunter's body along with them to whatever location they were headed to.

    "So, is there a location in mind you wish to head to? Or are we just going to wander Salvar until we can leave this accursed place?" Ezra finally asked, purple eyes shooting a glance toward Atzar. Their tone wasn't sarcastic, but genuine in curiosity. What was the actual plan here? Leaving the human alone to fend for himself wasn't off the table yet, but the Homunculi felt that their odds were much better off if they didn't separate. Call it a hunch, or the threads of fate pulling them together for this ridiculous turn of events, but Ezra had to see whatever was happening through to the end. Maybe it would lead to the reason the Homunculi had come out to this snow-filled country in the first place.

    "...And are you going to share your name at some point or should I just keep calling you nicknames based on your looks or personality?"

  10. #10
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    Atzar's Avatar

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    Atzar Kellon
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    Corone
    I wasn’t having a fun time. Ezra was nearly a foot shorter than me, so I had to stoop as we dragged our charge through the Salvaran forest. My back ached already. The sleeve of my beige shirt felt unpleasantly damp and cold against my flesh, stained red from the self-inflicted cut. I dutifully masked our tracks as we traveled. At first, the going had been slow as I painstakingly recreated the texture of the surrounding snow. But I quickly got the hang of the process, and we made good time now – as good as two mismatched-in-every-way travelers could while carrying an unconscious third, at any rate.

    Ezra plied me with a question, their tone oddly amiable after the stormy start to our current partnership. I met the purple-eyed gaze, and again I felt unsettled at their appearance. A face typically has countless small features – pimples, freckles, moles, scars, angles, curves, and minor asymmetries. For example, I have a faint, thin scar just left of my nose, and my left eye is an ever-so-slightly lighter shade of blue than my right. I’m sure there are dozens more details that I just don’t care about. But Ezra… none of that. The tan face sported no identifying marks of any kind, almost as if it had been crafted rather than concocted in a mother’s womb.

    I pulled my eyes away to keep from staring. “Right now, we’re just moving,” I answered shortly. I hesitated. “I’m… looking for somebody. I know she lives in Salvar. Don’t know where.”

    I shifted the zealot’s weight to ease the burden on my back. It didn’t work; I grimaced. “I have a hunch that our Shining Example of Salvaran Faith may be able to help me find her.” I didn’t really want Ezra in my business, but they had a right to know why we were carrying this lump around until he woke up from his unsolicited nap.

    When Ezra pressed me for my name, a grin split my face. “I’ve been called worse things than ‘Rebel.’” I knew little about my new acquaintance, but I had noticed a preference for manners and decorum. I was sure that my impolite, unhelpful response would rankle. I’d like to say that my snark was all in good fun, but I was also sore about having to lug Wheezy through the forest. I didn’t like somebody else tossing their mistakes onto my pile. I had blundered enough today on my own.

    I was admittedly curious about my mysterious companion as well. But I knew I wasn’t likely to get answers if I didn’t give them. Eventually curiosity won out over petty resentment, and I sighed. It had been an entertaining joke while it lasted.

    “My name is Atzar,” I said. “Your turn. I found you in the Salvaran backwoods, alone. What’s your story?” It was as good a place as any to start.

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