The Winter Canvas


1. Prologue/What is Happening?


     Their eyes falter and their senses decay. Resolution and the steadfast have become as ones who sleep. Amidst them all, who can find one devout? They have all fallen away as scales fall from thee, Leviathan; as that which I have made, my heart longs for their embrace. In the days of old when my precious ones had mouths of swords and minds beyond the fathomable deep, none would hesitate to invoke my name, my being. Followers and descendants as countless as the stars and as numerous as the sands of the Itrearian Sea all held within the warmth of the palm of my hand, now gone. The sorrow wearies my eyes and my bones have of long ago become restless; is there but even one that remains? Their turmoil will match my own before this age becomes one with the countless that have past; a darkness deeper than pain, more ancient than the ruins of my temple courts wakes, yes wakes, even now; its time now pressed into the fabric of the world in accordance with that which was told of long eons ago. A message delivered to the shadow that works beyond the darkness:

     “The days mire and are mine, surrendered to You not of willingness, but of passion and of need. Within the shell, I remain. I will remain, just as the darkness itself shall reign while he sleeps. Your ambassadors will fall, and your warriors will be slain. Not one stone will be left on top of one another, just as not one breath will remain in the life that has flowed continually from the beginning until now. Decay will replace and will renew; your world will rot. Your name will be lost. It will die just as those who are forgotten from even memories perish. Look into the picture. Yet dare I go no farther. He sleeps, and I await.”

     These times are upon us, and yet, forever I am, was I, I was, will I, I will. I am what none are and what none will ever be; the Creation and the Destruction, Time and Space, years , months, days, seconds, hours, weeks. I have been before and I will be hereafter. I am all. Be not afraid and fear not, but be very bold and very courageous. Though you know it not, your story is about to unfold. You, yes, even you have been chosen, my child, and it begins soon. What is mine is yours, and even what you possess shall no longer be of you alone, but of us; it will be ours.

     I will not let this darkness surround you, nor will I let it overtake and forever be unchecked, just as I will never let your own darkness drown you in the wake of its endless tide. For from the highest heights and to the lowest of lows, forever I am yours, and you are mine. I see a new age of prophet arising; I see a new order of warrior conceived. My people will return. Before the darkness fell and his words were etched, I was, and the splendor of the King’s people will be made new.

     These days of dusk will pass, and the morning will shine once more, but not before the advent of the sun. Be strong and very courageous, and let the withering of the trees and the destruction of the roots worry you not. When those that sing to the soil lie in waste, and you find that the oceans begin to boil, worry not. When home becomes the emptiness that was the space of home, and all you have loved is lost, and all you have known is gone, and only silence seems to remain amongst all that was, worry not, for always, I am, and I remain, and you are mine, one of my very own. You are a son of light, born into the shadow to serve where you are unseen. Wait on me, and I will see to it that you will burst forth as the break of dawn over the hills and the clouds. I will not let the ruins lie in ruins. I am the author of your story, writing, forever, with a pen of mercy. This is not your end, but the beginning, or rather, the middle; I have foreseen all. This is but one period of one sentence of one paragraph of the tale that has been penned into the Scroll of Infinity, and this is far from over. I am the architect, and I will build you up again, and you will be restored. Oh, Babel, I tell you the truth, I will rebuild you up again; brick on brick, stone on top of stone, I will make your disaster into my masterpiece. I am the alpha and the omega, and I am yours, and you are mine.

     It beckons; confront The Heart of Darkness.   

Chapter One: What is Happening?        

     As the leaves of Liveblood swirled and fell amongst the various currents and contortions of the wind, Merest spared himself a moment - perhaps a moment longer than he should have - to let currents such as these mussy and tussle his hair and allow the gradient of the ever-changing colors to take his mind to the place it always wandered to when anything that ever is wanders. A place of beauty, of questions, and of that just-right balance of confident certainty and beautiful uncertainty. Mentally, he snapped himself back to the day, and to where he was headed, as he was already going to be late unless he used a bit of the speed with the Phazehook that he’d become known for amid the folk of Lunding. Standing high atop the walls of his home manor, or, rather, one of them, Merest straightened up from the haunches of his thighs and pulled the hood of his Blackmore's hood over the top of his head to stop the wind that he had been enjoying only a moment ago. Breaking into a sprint along the length of the high-top walls that surrounded House Harenhall, Merest jumped from the closest corner into the nothingness of the ground below as he activated the Phazehook, shooting him at blurring speeds towards the nearest tree, where he attached himself, and repeated this process, attaching to, Phasing from, and sprinting over various buildings until the line that was his home city started to appear over the horizon of trees and various buildings and farms that inhabited the area around which he lived. You see, the Phazehook is a marvelous little contraption invented by the city’s own Professor of High Technology, Doctor Everstein Gram. Though it still happens to be in its prototype stage, the Phazehook, as Gram dubbed it, is a devise that attaches to the bottom of your forearm, and allows the user to transport their body at almost unreal speeds in any direction and over various distances, and attach and cling to whatever they aim for or are near enough to grab on to. Merest took a moment to take in the sights that immediately jumped out to him from atop the closest building as he crested the last of the trees that led from the Vale to the city. He was standing atop one of the buildings that ran parallel to the street the farmers market was taking place on nearby.


     “No shortcuts 'round here. Garen, you better not make me regret this. Guildhall's about as far away from home as it gets.” thought he. Then, he found that which he was seeking: a ways farther down the road the group of buildings he was nestled on went was a group of low-flying, docked airships.

     “Probably unloading or docked for the day, it’s getting late.” thought he, and that was all the incentive he needed – his thoughts. It's never illegal to set foot on something you aren't supposed to as long as there's not a soul there to tell you so. Sort of. Er. Well...Yes, you get the point.

     Off he went once more, running atop this building and phasing to that one until he was close enough to phase up onto the nearest airship. As he phased from the deck of the lowest ship, he swung up to the deck of the highest, his suspicions confirmed. The docked airships made an almost direct beeline to the guildhall, with just a few buildings and streets leftover between. Lucky. And if Merest had ever been anything, it had always been that. He took out his communicator and checked the time, as it had always been difficult for him to tell the time from the position of the sun in the early on days of Liveblood. 6:15. He voicelessly chided himself for learning to tell the time without a watch during the easy times of the cycle and not the harder, but it made no matter, he would still be early to the Guildhall; fifteen minutes was about ten or twelve more than he needed, though he was still a ways away. It was a small air vessel he found himself standing on the deck of, meant more for speed and light cargo than some of the heavier galleys ahead of him. Since he happened to have time neatly under his thumb, he decided to spare a moment to take in and breathe the beauty of his city from the highest point that happened to not be a skyscraper, as the sun had just started to set over the high hills that had always formed the horizon of the city. As he sat back on the haunches of his thighs once more, the Guildhall, with the sun behind it, seemed to form the pinnacle of the city, the sun framing a picturesque outline of the building with its wide runeglass windows and multitude of steps that led up to the two sets of gigantic double Everwood doors. The thought had ever so briefly crossed his mind before, but now Merest turned his mental capacities to wondering why Garen had called him to the Guildhall on an off day, and whether or not Leiras had been called and would also be there or not. Or if, for that matter, anyone else at all had been called.

     "Strange," thought he, "that no matter where I be, she follows me through it all, whether I will it or no. Such is the mystery of affection, its depths I'll leave unsolved, for I mind the wisps of the lingering ghosts she leaves in my mind not, yet I embrace them with arms opened wide."        

     Though it would in all probable likeliness amount to naught, Merest was the type to let his mind take in every possible possibility as to the reason for the summons, or, any sort of possibility in any mystery, really, before letting his mind become focused enough to let the true answer become more clear within himself. Always looking for the meaning in the circumstances, Merest prided himself on being able to read beyond the masks of the people in front of him, and beyond the veil of mist shrouding events and happenings, and he was not wrong for the trust he placed in himself.        

     After a few more moments of the peaceful respite atop the airship overlooking the sunset, the pocket of his slim combat pants began to vibrate mildly. Taking out the rectangular object, the screen of his communicator came to life in his palm, where the picture and name of one of his greatest and most trusted friends appeared; Legis. He answered the call midway through the third vibration.        

     "Hey, man. What's up?" Merest began.       

     "MEST." Legis' voice rang through with his nickname, a bit loud, if I may say. "Where are you at the moment, I already checked with your mother, should I check the estate?"      

     "Nah, I'm over the corner of Waldenburg and Third right now, on a docked airship, as a matter of fact." Said he as he looked down over the edge of the ship to the streets below.

     "Garen called some sort of secret meeting something-er-other on the eve." Merest had no qualms with telling him things that may or may not have been meant to be kept secret. Legis was one of the few persons in his life that that he trusted completely and without question. A friendship forged as one that is usually forged only as two born of the same womb. Not one to give away trust as easily as any man, Merest's confidence in those close to his side is not misplaced by the risk of betrayal.      

     "Where ar- nevermind. Strange. Whata you think's up?"       

     "No idea. BUT, I've got a few very certain ideas. Mind if we discuss this further later this fine eve? I've gotta get going, Heavens forbid I'm right on the nose of time."      

     "Aye. Shore. I'll gather Greyan an' Jorn up and we'll meet you back at Haren when you're all finished, yeah?"    

     "Yeah. Sounds good. Pick me up a Dark Shore from the market while they're still in town before you guys head over to the manse? They won't be here much longer. Pay you back once I arrive, promise. I shouldn't be late."      

     "Shore thing, think nothing more on it. We'll have it when you get back; I know the type you like."       

     "Thanks, brother."         

     And with a goodbye, Merest straightened up, and shot off in the direction of the guildhall, one airship or gunship at a time.

     "...Gunships...?" The sight registered strange within him; gunships almost never entered the interior of Lunding, more often on the outer skirts of the hills on the horizon. True, there was a dock for all manner of air vessel within the city, but rare was the pleasure of getting to see a gunship take off, let alone getting to gaze at one docked midair. In the middle of the city. His mind immediately drew the strange sightings into place with the strange summons, sure of the fact that the two must be connected in some way or other. He'd be sure to bring it up.        

     Phazehooking from the staircase of descending airships to the lowest and closest of the buildings adjacent to the Guildhall, he drew up in time to look down on the the massive obelisk that was his livelihood. Something was wrong. Not wrong, necessarily, but different. Usually, no matter the time of day or night, beyond the runeglass one could always see the flicker and shine of the combination of warm florescent lighting and open flame hanging along the walls on one of the many torches or in the middle of the main foyer from the Symbol Flame, a large fire pit in the middle of the entryway, representing the unity, passion, and eternal continuation of a society dedicated to thriving, and causing one another to thrive. Now, however, there was not a single flare of brightness to be seen, a stark and unsettling contrast from the monolith that seemed to always ebb and glow as a beacon for the city. He ascended the forty yards of stairs that held up to the plateau that housed the Guildhall after he had blinked (a term Merest had often used to shorten explaining what using the Phazehook looked like when referencing its speed) down from the building he had been perched upon, and gingerly opened one of the sets of double doors with a whisper of the password phrase "Entreetis Eternis, I am the eternal unlocker." The words known only to those members with unrestricted access to the Hall, and Leiras. Merest told her only in the case of an emergency, and she knew the weight of the secret which she now bore. The Guildhall is home to many things, from the weapons, goods, and money of those that make it their place of business, to its own personal armory and treasury, to magic older than the world is large, and wiser than the deep of the oceans that is the mind of man.        

     Stepping inside, the air felt old and still, as though the life of the building itself was asleep. It was dark and gloomy within, though strangely and unsurprisingly beautiful, as the now almost completely set sun cast shadows and but faint trails of light through the exquisitely shaped glass, its runes and their meaning more visible as light fades away. He took a few steps and stood still before the fire pit in the center of the foyer. Everything about him felt heavy and weighted. His sleek brown and black buckled combat boots as if he'd stepped in a bog, his scarlet and night hooded Blackmore (a special kind of half jacket and half cloak armor) and the t-shirt beneath as if they were soaked through, his black combat pants as if they would need a tighter belt to be held up, and the changeable single to dual sword scabbard on his back felt as though it was made of drudge metal and not the lightest materials known to swordsmen. The only thing on him that didn't feel as though it were covered in syrup was Orpheus, his enchanted shortbow which curled and wound its way around his left arm, glowing slightly, the life from the Everwood pulsing about him.        

    The shadows were moving. Merest's eyes had always been above and beyond the normal archer's, further augmented beyond even his natural by one of Orpheus' runes. They moved not as the darkness that shivers and crawls from the Abyss of Oblivion, as where all things come, as the light recedes back to the radience of the Father of all heavenly lights, but as snakes and serpents of one swarm that slither and sneak to bind and immobilize.        

     Then, he'd deduced what was happening, and acted accordingly.        

     With a thought, Orpheus unfurled itself from his arm and resumed the shape of a shortbow in his hand once more. A split second later, after forcibly shaking the Shadow Down that had caused the sluggishness off of his consciousness, he was airborne, all the strength his legs had in him into one massive jump skyward (or, rather roofward). He positioned himself midair so that he could aim downward with Orpheus, drawing back the string of the bow as if there was an actual arrow notched, but where a real arrow probably should have been, a green shaft of light in the shape of an arrow materialized and took its place instead. He released the shaft he'd named a breeze bolt when he first discovered how Orpheus worked downward (sending him a bit farther upward with all the force that had gone into his draw), directly in the center of where he'd been standing only moments ago as the first of their heads began to wander up out of their cover, wondering where he had scurried off to. The bolt stuck exactly where he had wanted it to strike, and exploded in a massive gust of supercharged air that sent other razer-sharp arcs, blades, and waves of wind outward in a dizzying number of directions. As large a number of the shadow that had been destroyed and sent back from whence they came was, there were still more that had evaded the blast. Still midair, Merest shifted so that his back was facing the ground, and blinked up to one of the horizontal roof beams. From where he perched himself, he could get a much better look at the chaos about fifty feet below him. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness that now shrouded the foyer well enough to make out even the tiniest of the various shadows scurrying around like mad below. There were a lot of them, and he had a sneaking suspicion, so he decided that his best bet for the moment would be to take out as many as possible from on high before they fully knew what they were up against, as there were still too many to dive directly in the midst of. That would come later. One by one, the shroud their being formed over the room began to fade as they fell; one arrow, then two, then three of the breeze bolts at a time were loosed from Orpheus' maw; it was rather hard to miss, them being made of shadow in a dark room and whatnot. It was time. Their numbers were dwindling, and Merest had been blinking from rafter to rafter to keep them off his trail, but they'd finally figured out his placement overhead, and began to slither up the rafter beams. As one nearly reached the top, Merest made Orpheus return to its curled place on his left arm, and jumped from the beam to the darkness below. Blinking slightly sideways before the impact with the ground to lessen the fall, he drew both his blades from the sheaths on his back as soon as he felt the cold, too cold to be natural, polished stone floor. As soon as his skin connected with Herenhall's hilt, it was as if his spirit ignited. Thomas' bravery, Edward's cunning, Ramza's power, and many other feelings all coursing through him in the space of but a second from the blade. Lelais was cool to the touch, and its dark edge reflected and shone in the darkness as any regular sword would shimmer within the light; a small trail of mist beginning to flow from tip of the blade to the base. Both swords in hand, he took his stance, and everything around him began to slow. It was happening again. He began to mentally mark the positions of each and every one of the shadows in sight, for shadows themselves are always in sight, taking advantage of the slow that did not feel the need to include him in its grasp. Once all the shadows had been marked with his mind's right eye, he began using the left to plan exactly where and how each one of his blows would land, and where each block would need to come, and how the blocks would flow into ever stronger counters. This in itself had never been particularly hard; the scamps moved as if they were rag dolls. Slow, zombified. He knew, however, that if one managed to reach him, that he would be dragged down to unimaginable depths.        

     Then, time seemed to wake from its stupor, and the flow of things resumed. The shadows seemed startled at the explosion that was his movement, calculated and with purpose. Herenhall pierced the first of the shadows with ease, little pressure required to split the torso of these almost-shapeless humanoid things. Before it disappeared into a dark mist and vanished, Merest had time to confirm his suspicions; the shadows were indeed the creatures know as Hardened Hearts. Their lifeless eyes the only thing bright about them, they live to serve those that enslave and manipulate the darker side of the deep. Whirling around and swinging with his left, Lelais cleaved through the neck of one, and Herenhall plunged into the chest of another as the momentum carried his right arm around. Both Lelais and Herenhall were slim, double bladed broadswords, perfect for dual-wielding, not to light and not too heavy, Merest could block and parry with two swords better than most men could with a shield. There were six left. He accelerated at the three before him about 15 yards away, spun around left once and brought first Lelais and then Herenhall around on the Heart farthest to the left in a fast swirling arc. He allowed the momentum from the swing to carry his left leg full circle, bringing his leg up where his boot connected with the middle Heart's ruddy face, a brutally satisfying impact ensuing before the shadow disappeared. As expected, the last of the three was waiting behind the one he'd just defeated with what could only be described as a raised claw, which was promptly swatted away by the blunt edge of his blade, and then dissected into four pieces in a flurry, just as the rest of the shadow's bodily from was moments later. Two of the shadows that had been watching from a ways beyond where the three had been standing previously were now closing in faster than Merest would have expected, and he blocked both of their strikes simultaneously with both blades raised, vanquishing them both with a swift dual bladed slash in the shape of an X. Turning, he found the last one, perched on the rafter of where he had been firing his bow. Not enjoying the thought of chasing the thing all the way back up there, he pointed the tip of Lelais directly at it, at which time the mist that surrounded the sword began to swirl and become more intense. To have been able to capture the look the Heart gave as the ice spike shot from Lelais and pierced it through.        

     All the shadow expelled, and the blanket of the dark relieved, after a few moments from the time the last shadow had been destroyed, the lights in the roof and some of the torches on the walls began to flicker back to life. One at a time at first, then in groups, until at last the Symbol Flame reignited. After returning the blades to his back with the satisfying sound of sword on sheath, he wandered towards the center front of the room in front of the fire pit, and promptly fell to his knees. The very sudden burst of activity had taken it out of him; the Shadow Down placed on him when he first arrived was no laughing matter to dispel, and he was more green of a fighter than the performance may have led you to believe. He had never faced as many enemies as that at one time before, in the dark, taken by surprise. His breathing was heavy and his mind on the verge of frantic. What on earth was that? Where had they come from? Who was controlling them, and why were these entities in the Guildhall? Where was Garen? GAREN. Regaining his sense of reason, which he realized he should have never began to lose, for a calm mind kills the unknown, his mind began to put the pieces together, and the pieces formed two separate, yet connected, puzzles; one, that something had gone terribly wrong, and that Garen and the others were dead or in danger, or two, that this was all part of some master plan put together as some sort of test. He was not willing to put either option out of his mind completely, and he had numerous more questions, and a certain amount of anger that came with a few of them. If his first assumption was correct, then Garen, and many others that he cared about would all be dead, and what if Leiras was called in as well, and fell to the same fate? No. He suppressed these thoughts immediately. Both of them were as able fighters as himself, they would not be gotten the best of by the likes of these. Still, the worry nagged, as it inevitably does no matter how much one forces it out. He played with the idea of the second option a bit more; was this a test from Garen, or was he actually up to something nefarious? He hated the idea of the latter, but since there was no way to rule it out as impossible or improbable, he let it remain. If it was simply a test, then he determined to press on solely to find out what the test was for. If, however, this didn't happen to be a test...well, he'd cross that bridge once he discovered it. He just hopped Leiras was okay. He had no way of knowing whether or not she had even been called to come as well, but the thought would not leave his mind, and if Garen, or anyone, had caused her any damage in the slightest with malicious intent, then whoever was actually responsible would die by his blades.        

     He had slowed his breathing, and his muscles had relaxed from the tension of surprise movement, so he climbed to his feet once more. He already knew what the outcome of his next two actions would be, but he thought, as one should always think, better safe than sorry. He pulled the communicator out of his pocket. Dead. Shadows and apparitions had a tendency to drain all sorts of energy, particularly from flame and electricity. Returning the devise to his pocket, he turned and crossed the small distance between him and the two pairs of double doors that made the front entrance. Locked. Even the open-all password offered no results. He wanted desperately to get a hold of Legis and the others. They should only be getting to the farmer's market by now, and he wanted the help only his most trusted comrades could offer. He could have Legis contact Ra'ume or R'hyel to get to Leiras' house to see if she had been summoned or not, and they were all more-than-able fighters, even more so because of all the years they had trained together, learning each other's moves in and out, synchronized to near flawlessness. But, alas, there seemed to be no way to get word to any of them, the runeglass created to be unbreakable by a single strike (or many, many strikes, really), and the only other exits were pressed deeper into the labyrinth that was the Guildhall, which he assumed would also be locked. He supposed he knew it from the beginning, but the only way he was going to figure this out was to pass through the Hall, and discover what was happening. By himself.        

     He was glad he came prepared in his full combat armor, for it may have some use, after all. Since joining the Guild at an early age, Merest had always been a natural born sword fighter, and never a bad shot with gun or bow, and thus, after his basic training was complete, he joined the Rangers division. The Rangers were of this Guild and many others were often compared to mercenaries, but with a few fundamental differences. The Rangers of the Guilds are always given the most diverse amount of tasks, from taking bounties on criminals or organizations, to patrol missions, to odd jobs such as going to the market for elderly women, to hunting and scouting. Excelling quickly at his jobs, he was eventually given the option of choosing one of the higher up factions of the Rangers to join, and of the five to choose from, he selected and was accepted into the Blackrend. The Blackrend were a secretive organization of the Rangers given only high risk bounties, special patrols or scouting jobs, and monster hunter requests. It was an exciting life, and he loved it.        

     He checked the armor portions of his Blackmore and his other pieces of equipment for any damage or disruption, and with a sigh set off toward the other end of the room where numerous long sets of hallways and stairs would eventually take him to where he needed to be. He could see through a few of the doors and windows that some of the rooms were lit, while other portions of the building remained in complete darkness, giving the Hall an eree flicker and faint glow. Merest had never once considered himself to be afraid of the dark, and rightfully so, for he was, indeed, unafraid of the dark; Only of the things that live in and jump out of the shadow, and the things that cause the night to go bump, rather than the night itself.        

     Merest walked down one of the more well-lit hallways toward where he could only imagine would be the cause of all this. The Great Cistern was actually located far underground from where the Guildhall lay above ground, a massive dead end opening of a now renovated tunnel carved eons ago by peoples untold. The opening that was the cave held a great yet oddly quiet waterfall that fed into a small pool; in front of the pool was a grand carved stone table where all the elders gathered to debate or plan, or both. Crystalline stalactites of various shades of blues and greens and the darker hues of red all hung lazily from the ceiling, providing more light than one room could possibly need, though there were still torches hung along many of the walls to make the light that passed through the fire flicker and dance with the water, making The Great Cistern easily one of the most beautiful places in all the grand city, as well as one of the most secret. Merest had only known about it because Garen had taken such a shine to the young Blackrend; he had never actually seen it before, though he knew its location quite well, as the Blackrend were often assigned the task of safely escorting foreign Guildmasters and town elders to the gates of the Cistern, where they were to follow no farther. This was where he was now headed. And though Garen had never explicitly told him all the Guild's unlocking words allowed him to open, he now knew within him that they would also open the gates of the Cistern, seeing as how fewer people than you could count on two hands knew the sacred words.        

     As he wound and twisted his way around the Guild toward the Great Cistern, looking for anyone that may have been inside as well, he had forgotten just how large it actually was. His time in the Blackrend mostly kept him outside, though this did little to diminish his memory of the Guild's layout; it was said that everyone that's ever come to call the Hall home over the years never forgets their way around, just as one is familiar with their own anatomy. Numerous stairways and halls looped back and forth, and some places ran underground only to reappear above ground in a completely different section of the absolutely gigantic plot of property that contained the Guild.        

     Eventually, he found himself in one of the libraries where he'd oft noted many of the city's alchemists, changers, and technicians working, many of the books unkempt from their shelves and strewn along the desks where many of the info cubes of this particular library were. He walked quickly down the rows of books, checking if anybody happened to be in the room, which there was not, and then returned to the front most portion of the library near where the door opened back up into the wide hallways. He then wondered why he hadn't noticed before. Someone had been in this very room, very recently. When on the rare occasions that the Guild was completely locked down for the night, such as when the holiday of Fullheart rolled its fat self around the cycle, the same such time as this time of the cycle happened to be, everyone is sent from their living quarters in the Guild to either spend the holiday with family, or to enjoy it with friends, anywhere as long as it wasn't the Guildhall. While daytime activities still occurred, no one was to be living inside the Guild around this time of the cycle. This time was usually used by the higher ups to check how the local economy was faring, decide if any buildings would need to be repaired around the city, and other such business and financial ventures. All this to say that the books left open mid-page on the tables should have been collected by the librarian and returned to their proper shelves after the Guild was closed up for the day. Moreover, the books that were being read were certainly not random. Picking a few up and examining both the title page and the page they had been left open to, Merest found that all the books were related to magic, the old way, particularly the powers that took their form from the land of the nether, the underworld where all demons across our lands flow from. Summoning, dispelling, dictionaries of known creatures, rune books, and many others. The only book he hadn't reviewed now lay across from one of the tables, open on a podium. It was older, and larger, than the others, but other than that, the book had no title. It seemed to be some sort of journal, filled with many different topics and information, only wiser and more knowledgeable than any journal he had ever seen. After a few moments of flipping and skimming through the pages, he came to one that had a diagram of a man in a very sleek, technologically advanced battle armor that looked no heavier than what he was wearing now. He had only had a chance to glance over a few words in a sentence, something about defenders of the high, born low to work in the shadows, when he heard a low growl come from the hallway, accompanied by the footsteps of something large.        

     "Of all the forsaken..." he mused. It was a Grog. Definitely a Grog. No other sound could be as unintelligible as it was distinct. He closed the large book as quietly as possible, and blinked up to the tops of one of the gargantuan bookshelves. It was fairly dark toward the back side of the room, and he waited in the shadows near the roof as he watched to see if the Grog would enter, or simply pass by. To his dismay, it entered. He should have guessed as much. A Grog is the cross between an Orc and a diversified species of Goblin, most very large, portly, and slow, but not particularly unintelligent, and possessing a massive strength. This must  be the thing responsible for the apparent research. Merest wanted that journal, if not to take it with him, than to hid it somewhere so that he might find it again when all this was over. The Grog was as large as his footsteps indicated, and mostly naked except for a bit of leather armor. He would have to make his next few moves quickly, for he was sure the Grog would eventually notice what he perceived was the most important book in the room missing. As soon as the Grog turned his attention from the direction the journal was in, Merest blinked down from atop the towering book cases to directly in front of the journal, grabbed it in both arms as silently as possible, and blinked out the door to the hallway that the Grog had left ajar. He closed the door behind him slightly, just enough so that the Grog probably wouldn't notice, and quickly scanned both ends of the hallway to make sure nothing else was coming. Peeking back through the opening, the Grog was still preoccupied with some other such madness that he could only imagine went on in their minds. He ran as silently as possible in the direction of the Cistern once more, the large book a bit cumbersome to run with. Rounding a corner that led to an opening to the Cistern's main passage of entry, he noticed something high up toward the ceiling descending down towards him. He probably could have moved out of way in time, but he recognized what the figure was in those last few moments before the impact, and a wave of relief washed over him as the ocean envelops a vessel, deciding to embrace the attack. The small form crashed into his chest, the weight amplified by the fall, knocking him to the ground flat on his back, and sending the book a couple feet from his reach. The figure lowered her shortsword sooner than she had raised it, and her expression of contained fury changed instantly to shock, and then even sooner to joy, tears beginning to well in the corners of her eyes as her lips and defined cheekbones turned up in the most genuine smile and grin you've never had the pleasure to see. With her knee still in his solar plexus and the wind still gone from within him, he could still manage a smile and a faint "Ho, there. I've been looking for you." His smile mostly matched hers, widening every second. She let the shortsword that had been in her hand, that he had helped her create, clatter to the floor, and slowly knelt down over top of him, wrapping both her arms tightly around the back of his neck, and burrowed her face snuggly into the small space between his shoulder and the side of his neck. He wrapped one arm around her back and brought the other up so that he could run his hand soothingly through her hair as they embraced there on the cold, almost comforting stone floor. Her torso bobbed up and down rhythmicly as she laughed slightly into his neck, the tears that she didn't even feel coming rolling down his collar bone. The true brown color that was her hair that she'd pulled into a loose ponytail now fell slightly in his face, but he didn't care. He was beyond the point of relieved.        

     "She's safe. She's in my arms." Thought he.        

     Her smell was familiar and pleasing, the feel of her body in contact with his more comforting than he would have imagined, and he wouldn't have rather had anyone else here with him now in this seemingly forsaken place. She was his best friend and greatest ally, his sun and moon, and the only person other than the one who gave him birth that he knew he truly loved. She was Leiras.

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