Road's End - <River District>

The gray stone face of the Aegis looms over a town that has grown where the roads end their northward march and the great wall begins, dividing the Empire from the Wildlands to the north. The scattered buildings that formed the foundation of the community were built by the armies of Talus Kahar I when construction of the Aegis took place after the Wildling War.
Though small by modern standards, Road's End is notable for two things. The first is that the majority of the township's population are either relatives or family or currently serving officers of the Imperial Watch and Aegisguard, or retired officers of the former Emperor's Blades.
The second point of interest is the architecture, which is somewhat unique within Fastheld on account of all the buildings being log houses and cabins; namely, handcrafted houses that have typically been made from logs that have not been milled into conventional lumber.
Loyalty to the Empire is so fervant in Road's End that you can practically feel it in the air, and monuments and shrines to the fallen soldiers of Fastheld - both past and present - can be seen everywhere. Though lacking a palisade wall, Road's End does feature southern and western gates to control the flow of traffic in and out of the township, as well as perimeter fencing to stop wild animals from wandering into the area from out of the Kahar Woods.
It is a cool night. The air is stagnant, not stirring with the slightest breeze. The skies are perfectly clear.

Loyalty to the Empire may be fervent here. That.. may be a good thing. But.. just because loyalty exists, doesn't mean that loyalty has to extend to liking certain things, only tolerating them. Including.. well.. Marked Mages.

Yes, some still do wear that Mark - and one, of course, is the greying freelander-mage currently at the well mid-town, drawing up a bucket using the fraying rope there. Perhaps he's accustomed to the bubble of no people around him, even at the well - he doesn't seem to mind it, or react to that in particular. No, instead, he simply hauls, *squeek**thump* as the rough pully turns, the bucket swinging slightly.

Across the street, a small group of local farmers eyes the young man with undisguised venom, speaking among themselves with the air of bullies having not yet worked up the courage to do much more than mutter.

But no malice can be read in the eyes of a nameless figure, who embraces the long shadows cast by the flickering torches flanking the entryway to the Darksbane chapel. Light pools to glint a feline yellow-green in the dancing torchlight as they monitor the scene, seeing but not reacting.

*squeeksqueeksqueek* *thump*

And then the bucket's up on the lip, the mage hauling it up to the stone edge, there. The men - technically behind him - are patently ignored as he shrugs off his tunic, revealing that scarred and weather-beaten torso. And then? A simple thing - a scrap bit of cloth tugged from a belt pouch, and .. he sets about roughly washing there, face, hands, arms - the grime of travel apparently having grown a bit much to bear. Not an uncommon sight - but the group monitors him as though it were, just the same.

The grumbling over there is growing, slowly, in volume. "... shoulda jus' killed the lot of 'em.." "...foulin' the well for decent folk.." But, yeah, it remains grumbling.

Seeds sown over generations of distrust bear the darker fruits of discontent. Voices from an older, harder age, unforgiving and intolerant, yet still very much alive and kicking -- these are the rumblings that are beginning to build among the cluster of smallfolk here in Road's End. Rumblings which herald the coming storm. They watch, that small lot, they growl and fuss and gesture angrily at the young Marked man who dares taint their town with his presence. And they do not approve.

Across the square, that same set of eyes watches, too, from the shadow of the chapel. Perhaps they approve. Perhaps they do not. But the watcher remains as quiet and still as a churchyard tomb.

The Mage in question is studiously ignoring. Yup. Simple, easy gestures - an evening's ablution before the bucket's emptied on the ground, lowered with a muffled splash into the well again. Then, he works to haul it back up - *sqeeeksqueekthump

His shirt's still to the side, the young man visibly growing a bit self-consicious as the growling and grumbles continue.

It's a thing that eggs them on, of course. What fear these folk have is tempered by the existence of guardsmen here, and the mage's own attitude. A voice is raised - "Should keep 'em in the woods where they belong, if we can't kill 'em. No right comin' inta town, minglin' with honest folk!"

"So let's bring th' bastard back." Six words nocked and drawn like a poisoned arrow, with just as much deadly intent. "Steel, boys."

And they approach.

The bucket's set again on the lip of the well, the grey-haired mage not turning as bootsteps cross the square. Instead, he simply cups hands, taking a drink, slow and deliberate - with obvious relish. Foolhardy? Perhaps - but there's an air of resignation around him, a grim set to his jaw that's likely not visible to those that come up from behind.

In fact, there's time for two of those deliberate handsful of water before the group is close enough to bring their courage and prejudice to bear. And Kael? Kael relishes the second as much as the first.

Flames lick the night air; fiery, foul-smelling tongues darting from the crudely-made torch wielded by the mob's too-young frontman, who waves the light-giver like a weapon. Moonlight skims the edge of naked steel as his three cohorts brandish breadcutters prized by peasants and paupers -- cheap, flimsy instruments hardly the instruments of warriors, but capable of letting blood all the same.

The clouds break, and the deluge begins. "Hey you!" cries one. "Who said y' could drink from that well?"

"M' nae lookin' fer trouble. If y' want t' fight, w' kin fight - " Kael finally turns his head - revealing burning eyes and a very sad, wolfish smile, "-but m' nae really wantin' to. Wi' be movin' on soon enow." The light in his eyes mirrors.. and somehow moves against - the flame the man carries. "But m' nae goin' t' let ye try 'n hurt me an' nae give a bit back, m' nae."

"I think that was a threat, boys," says one.

Another agrees. "Aye, an' he ain't much answer th' question, did he?"

"Nope," says a third. "Reckon we oughta clean his ears out."

"Mmm. I agree," the first remarks.

And then all hell breaks loose.

He shoulders past the torchbearer, then, that knife-wielding farmboy, and with one great big muscly hand reaches to seize Kael by the hair and dunk him forcefully, and face-first, into the pail of cold well-water. The others hoot and guffaw.

... well, he reaches. It's close! It's a try! And.. it reaches out to someone who moves with the ease of long familiarity of this, or another scene that's awfully similar. With a simple step and a reach, Kael moves under that grasp, looking to put a knee in the man's gut, and move through him in the direction of his companions.

There's a gravity to the mage's motion, a surity that likely wasn't there a dozen years ago - but he doesn't reach for knives, and.. as it stands? Those eyes do not flare.

Fastheld's cornfed fieldhands, most of them, have never seen a day of combat in service to their liege lords -- and certainly not a second of formal training. Evasive maneuvers on Kael's part are improperly anticipated with a clumsiness that belies the man's ineptitude, and he takes the shot to the stomach with all the grace of a sack of potatoes.

Hesitation manifests behind the eyes of the other three. "Stay back," howls the torchwielder, waving that flame back and forth as if it could create a barrier between himself and Kael. His comrade is bolder, stepping forward where the others step back, though the taste of fear is thick on Kael's lupine tongue. Courage borne of Light-knows-what boils to the brim, and he stabs with a blind rage at the mage's midsection.

And those eyes, watching from Darkbane's doorstep? They narrow. There's no finesse, no grace, no fluidity to the way the figure there suddenly jerks a crossbow from its sling. It rings and pings noisily, metal bolts clanging against metal frame. Perhaps the wielder is trying to draw attention away, or perhaps the wielder is a complete idiot who wouldn't know discretion from a horse's backside.

Either way, one of the three swings his head in that direction.

The mage apparently wasn't expecting getting stabbed at - or perhaps the noise distracts him just as much. Either way.. well, the farm-hand gets close, but not quite close enough as the Mage slaps his hand away, coming in with a right cross that may not be pretty, but certainly has intent behind it. Silent as a hunting wolf, he keeps back from the flame, chosing instead to engage the man that's being vicious with a knife.

But, still, he moves - never staying still, his upper lip lifting in a silent snarl.

There is not a second thought on the part of Caprice Firelight when she emerges from the blackness. Vice belches out a bolt with an unholy *thrum*, zinging the lethal projectile at breakneck speed straight and dead-aim for the fellow who chanced a look in her direction. And lucky he did, too: he throws himself to the ground in a wild dive, the torch flying from sweat-slicked hands, and when reality reconciles itself with his dizzied brain, the bolt has safely planted itself in a fencepost some distance away. Caprice shoulders her weapon again, countenance grim, eyes never leaving the breathless and panicked lad.

The others make a stupid and desperate gamble. As one reels from Kael's backhand, the other lunges forward with renewed confidence to seize him by the crook of the arm, aiming to twist the elder Firelight's arm behind his back and buy time for his friend to recover.

And Kael, who isn't paying a whit of attention to that one, isn't really lucky enough to avoid the grab-and-twist. Finally, they get a sound - a yelp, that then comes with a snarl...

A trapped animal, it's said, fights harder than one with a direction to run. Finally, those eyes flare - but it's not Shadow he reaches for. Instead, the mage drives a heel back at the man's foot, working to wrench himself around - pain be damned, striking with head, foot, elbow - a wolf held by the tail still tries to snap.

It's certain he notes Reese's approach - saying the first words of this encounter. "Donnae kill 'em!" It comes out a dangerous snarl.

That torch is finally employed as a weapon in truth. Reese plants a booted foot on the fallen boy's chest, pinning him to the ground, and levels the burning, business end of the torch mere inches from his face. Wisps of pale blonde hair curtain the icy stare that lifts to fix itself upon the pair seizing her Shadow-cursed brother. She says nothing. But every syllable of that silence is a promise.

Holder is a bit busy. See, he got a face-full of greying head, then a crushing boot to his instep, and an elbow to his gut - he's not holding much beyond his belly, groaning and stepping aside. Didn't stop the other one from piling in, mind you - it's a sort of scrum that comes to a breathless halt at 'Reese's unspoken promise.

On the ground, the one that's got a torch levelled at him is trying to crabwalk backwards and away - with no success. He's blubbering something... and.. that seems to be enough.

There's no panic, just... a letting go, hands held out, a growled, "C'mon then - " To the others. One by one, the group fades back, away from the torchlight.

And Kael nurses a split lip and a twisted arm, rubbing at his shoulder, and looking across to Caprice, the light in his eyes dimming. "I love ye too, y' ken." He even grins, lopsided and tentative. "Y' kin let m' up."

But Reese doesn't. She looks past Kael to the instigators, watching them until they vanish into the dusky gloom. She gives her heel an agonizingly slow twist; elicits a squeal of pain from the lad beneath her. The torch twists in her hands, angles downward the slightest bit. Its flame is close enough to kiss the sobbing, terrified boy on the lips...

One slim eyebrow arches curiously, expectantly, at her prey. Kael is so much white noise.

The boy's a blubbering mess.. "Light - what d' ye.. wi' go away, jus' get 't away from me!"

Kael moves up slowly, "Reese - let m' up." More serious, for all it's gentle. "'e donnae deserve 't. 'es afraid enow - let m' up."

When Reese blinks blue eyes to Kael, red-orange light is writhing in them. They fall to the young man one final time, but in the end? In the end the younger Firelight releases him, hefting that heavy boot from his chest and shoving him roughly with the ball of her foot. His torch is cast away; left to snuff itself out in the dirt and gravel. She watches him sidelong, watches him scurry away, then glances at Kael once more before drawing up the hood of her cloak and turning away.

That is Kael's only acknowledgement from his sister: the sound of her footsteps as they recede into the darkness.

Return to Season 7 (2008)