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The Evit Merriman Accounts: Brotherhood of the Crow

Relaying the series of events that occurred in Blackwatch on the way back took a far briefer period of time than I originally thought, owing to Shadden's uncharacteristically silent attentiveness. For a brief moment, I mused that such an experience must be the same as those of his clientele. After a few moments of silence, my friend asked, "My memory's a little rusty... a geas?" "A curse, a very unique and ancient curse. It will drain the life from me if broken, specifically if I bring harm to this 'Brotherhood of the Crow'." There was another hesitation followed by yet another query, "And I'm sure there's a reason we didn't talk to the Lady about this?" "I'd already gone to her about a geas in the past, and she confirmed that there's no way to lift such a curse." "So then what are you going to do?" "I can't act against this them directly, or I'll die. However, I can investigate without any ill intent." "... leaving me—" I interrupted him before he inadvertently caused me harm, "Due to my geas, I could never ask you to harm this 'Brotherhood'. I will, however, share my findings with you." He nodded, now clearly understanding my necessary lack of specificity. "Well then, I can't wait to hear about it all. It should be... informative." "I'm glad to hear I'll have an eager audience. Now if you'll excuse me..." I climbed into the back of the carriage where Count Sald, now dressed in the clothes that were packed for him, rode along with the remains of the mirror that served as his prison for so long. "Our direction... are we going to Blackwatch?" he asked. "We are. If you're looking for passage back to Odarain, I would recommend traveling by train." The nobleman seemed mildly taken aback by my answer, "You mean to tell me that Mr. Okaine won't be accompanying me?" "Correct. I'll need his assistance in Blackwatch, witch hunter business, I'm afraid. I'm sorry, Your Grace." "Very well, your business is your own, Mr. Merriman." I nodded in acknowledgment, before removing my hat, coat, and equipment belts. With my most distinctive dress removed, I went back outside and sat next to Shadden. "Look at you," he said, "a normal, sane human being." "Merely a disguise. This coven is expecting Evit Merriman the witch hunter, and if they're even half as influential as they claim there will be people searching for me." "Aye, good plan. We'll also need to stay somewhere they won't look. Fancy a visit to the bad side of town?" I chuckled bitterly, "Of course, it ironically seems like the safest place right now, does it not?" "I'm sure our passenger'll be just as eager. Or were you about to say we should drop him off at the edge of town?" "Were you about to suggest that we simply drop him off at whatever flophouse we stay in?" He laughed mirthfully, "I was. Could you imagine a man like him in that sort of neighbourhood?" "I don't have to, I've seen it first-hand. He could very easily be killed, you understand." Shadden's good-humoured smile was faded, "Have I ever told you I hate it when you're right?" "You might've mentioned it once or twice." Our conversation finished, we said nothing more and continued the journey home in silence. I didn't even realize I'd fallen asleep until Shadden shook me awake. "You really need to start sleeping more, mate. Anyone ever tell you that?" I ignored his concern and looked around at our surroundings. The ramshackle buildings, unclean streets, and rather strong fragrance made me keenly aware that we'd reached our destination. "I trust Count Sald is not still with us?" I asked through the weariness of one freshly awakened. "Yeah, I let him go. You had a point, he'd probably be robbed and maybe killed. I'm responsible for his safety and all that." "I knew you'd see it that way. I suppose we can find accommodation there?" I asked, while indicating the large building next to us. "According to the man I asked, aye. Said they don't ask any questions here." "Good. I'll obtain a room if you would stable the horses and hide the cart." He nodded, "Aye, will do." That said, I climbed off the carriage and to the flophouse's door. The hinges were of such poor quality that it took a great deal of force to push open the door and make my way inside. An unwashed old man greeted me with a smile, revealing a whole array of missing teeth. "Well hello there. Need a room, then?" "Yes I do, how much?" "Ten grams a night." "That's outrageous, I could get a room in a quality inn for that much." His toothless grin widened, "You didn't go to no 'quality inn', did you? You came here. A fancy man like yourself should be able to afford that price." I wanted to argue, but my need overcame my desire for frugality. With a sneer I counted out the necessary coins and handed them over. He snatched them away and pocketed them with far more alacrity than I would've expected of a man his age. "Top floor, first door on the right. There's a locking bar in the room." "I'm expecting a guest, a large red-haired northerner. Could you please direct him?" "Yeah, I've got you." With my business concluded, I made my way to the indicated room. Given the nature of the establishment, I wasn't expecting quality lodging, but I was not expecting what I saw. My accommodations included nothing more than a bed and bucket in a room barely large enough to fit them. I closed the door, lowered the bar and sat on the bed, considering how little I wanted to sleep under those quite probably lice-ridden sheets. Before long, I heard a knock on the door. There was a peephole on the door, but it was unfortunately too high for me to use. I very carefully opened the door to see Shadden on the other side. When I admitted him, he said, "Can't be too careful, can you, friend?" "Indeed not, considering the situation. Can it truly be paranoid if there is a very real conspiracy against me?" The man put his hands up, "I'm not touching that one, just like I'm not touching whatever's in that mattress." "Agreed. These are by far the worst accommodations I've been in, and that is saying a great deal, as you know. Fortunately, we'll not need to stay here simultaneously." "You're not going to start that investigation of yours tonight, are you?" "Should I not? Would you rather I waited until they tracked us here and killed not only me, but you as well? Also, it would be rather poor planning to break into their mansion in broad daylight." He sighed, clearly desiring to argue, but unable to find a logical objection. "Alright, alright. I'll be here when you get back." I nodded and lifted the bar, and when I opened the door to leave Shadden said, "Be careful. You know it's serious when I'm the one saying that." "I will. I don't intend to die this day any more than any other." "That's not a comfort, you know, seeing as how no one ever does." I nodded, deep in grim thought, "You're correct, of course, but I'll still be sure to try and prevent such an outcome. It is, after all, all I can do." My friend gave me no response, merely nodding in such a way that made it inescapably clear that the conversation was over. Thus, I left the rough flophouse in favour of the even rougher streets outside. I was accustomed to far more prosperous neighbourhoods, where nightfall ensured that the streets would be cleared to the point of desertion. Those streets, however, were home to far too much activity to avoid, however much I desired to. There were groups of rough-looking individuals still lingering, looking for victims, I assumed. When I was met by their menacing gaze I drew my firearm, but made no further efforts to appear threatening in an attempt to avoid undue attention. I had only just begun to assume the success of my plan when I heard a voice rise up from behind me, "Oi! Where do you think you're going?" I turned to face the source of the call, only to find myself face to face with half a dozen large men wearing enough red to be considered a uniform. They were armed variously with clubs, cleavers, and a few firearms. I said to the group, "I think I'm going from this neighbourhood and into another. I don't mean to cause any trouble, I assure you." The large one with a large axe slung over his shoulder who was standing in the centre of the rough formation was the one that answered me, "This here's Crimson Cockerel territory, and you think can go wherever you like because you 'mean no harm'? Who in the bloody hell do you think you are?" "My name is Evit Merriman, and I assure you I'm far from helpless." The ringleader laughed and turned to his fellows, "Do you know how many wankers come through here saying they're big, hard witch hunter Evit Merriman? You? You're two bloody feet tall, do you expect me to believe that you kill man-eating beasts?" "I don't, but you'd be incorrect. However, that matters very little, as you are not a preternatural threat, so you and I can part ways amicably." The ruffian hesitated in confusion, "What...?" One of his comrades answered, "I think he's saying that since we're not monsters, he won't kill us." Their leader turned his attention back to me decidedly angry, "That so? Well, maybe me and my mates want to see you try." I didn't want to wait idly by and see what violent intentions they had planned. Therefore, I shot the ringleader with a single, well-placed shot to the chest. I didn't have any desire to remain and await retaliation, so I very quickly retreated into a nearby alley. Now sheltered from the incoming gunfire, I turned to the pursuers of mine who were wielding close quarters weaponry and shot them both in the chest. Unfortunately, the larger of the two men required two shots to be properly subdued. One of the criminals poked his head out from around the corner, and I responded with gunfire. My first round hit the wall, scattering shards of brick upon impact. The second round found its mark, scattering something rather different. As I changed my revolver's cylinder in favour of a full one, I called out, "I still have no quarrel with you! There's no need for you to die!" "You just shot four of my mates! What do you expect me to do?" "I expect you to consider that this fight need not have been started in the first place, and you need not see it finished!" I heard murmured voices, clearly the two remaining ruffians planning their next move among each other. Their discourse grew more urgent until one of them replied with a shout, "Oh, all right! You can go, but if me and my boys catch you in this neighbourhood again we'll kick your teeth in so hard they'll come out the other end, you hear me?!" I answered while in the process of taking the red scarf from one body and the red bowler hat from the other, "I couldn't fail to. I'll leave you to your own now." As I said I would, I departed, waiting until I turned the corner before applying my makeshift disguise. From then on, I met a few more groups of "Crimson Cockerels", but none of them even bothered to give me so much as a second glace. Before long, I found myself out of the slums and in a far more respectable neighbourhood. From that moment onward, I avoided any signs of life on the assumption that anyone out and about here was a member of the police force. That thought was so troubling not only because I was disguised as a violent criminal, but also because the believe that they were searching for me would be more likely to keep me alive. My caution and care were sufficient for me to reach the mansion of the Brotherhood of the Crow. I was heavily expecting the grounds to contain a significant presence of hired guards, but I was relieved to see that was not the case. There were only a few such sentinels on patrol. Their uniforms told me that they were organized, but they were most certainly not official, implying a mercenary nature. It was their attitudes that were of greater interest to me, however. They displayed a sense of complacency, as though my expected arrival had come and gone and their patrol had become routine. I was easily able to take advantage of that very lack of awareness and make my way to a window undetected. The window was locked, however, the process of unlocking it was rather simple. I was able to make sure that by the time the guard came around, no evidence of my passing could be found. A swift inspection of the window frame revealed that it, too was inscribed with the geas that afflicted me, and that the inscription was very much intact. A look around the room revealed a sitting room with none of the writings I was searching for. Systematically, I searched room by room, carefully avoiding the clearly fatigued mercenaries patrolling the halls. I checked each window in turn for the carvings and found them every time. My search for information wasn't nearly as fruitful, owing to the organization's secretive nature. From there I moved on the second floor, waiting and advancing in a way that kept me out of sight. My search on the upper floor was exactly as productive until I reached one locked door in a main corridor. Picking that lock led me to an office, which the violet robe hanging from a hook marked as likely belonging to the man who menaced me—the leader of that "Brotherhood", I assumed. The basic layout of the office included a central desk in front of a balcony door as well as a side shelf full of books. I inspected the other door frame and found that it was also carved with the geas runes, but the repetitive impact of the desk chair left them worn to a point that I was certain all efficacy had left them. From there I examined the texts, searching for anything that could potentially be of use. Most of them were books of magic, although none that either Shadden or myself did not possess. Fortunately, I was able to find a volume entitled Bylaws of the Brotherhood of the Crow. I paged through it searching for meeting times, or the name of their leader, but I didn't find anything of that nature. That doesn't mean, however, that I found nothing useable. I read that their leader was referred to as the First, and that he was elected by the other members. An election would take the place around the circle in the basement the night after the death of the previous First. Armed with that knowledge, I searched through the desk, looking for the name of that office's owner. After an extensive search I found it signed at the bottom of a letter: Lord Gerion Traven. My investigation complete, the only thing left to do was escape. Due to the general inattentiveness of the mansion's protectors, it was a simple matter to leave the way I came while leaving no evidence of my presence. Before long, I was down the street into the twilight before dawn. Being away from the guards left me with a palpable sense of relief. It was quite difficult for me to remember that I was not yet safe. That, however, was no issue as I reached the flophouse that served my sanctuary with no further trouble. When I reached that decrepit place, I ignored everyone I met and made my way to the room, where I knocked at the door. After a few moments, a bleary-eyed Shadden met me in the corridor. "Looks like you're not dead," he said. "Nice outfit." I slipped passed him and into the room while removing my disguise. "An unfortunate necessity. Street gangs seem to have a propensity for violence that defies rationality." The large man nodded, "I suppose you have findings to share?" "Indeed. This 'Brotherhood of the Crow' seems to be quite preoccupied with security, to the point that their hideout at 822 King Marth St. has the same glyphs at every entrance." "Every entrance, you say?" he asked, sounding despondent. I ignored him and continued with my painstakingly composed report, "However the warding is extremely worn on the second-floor balcony. The only time and place I could find out for certain they gather is in the basement after the death of their leader, a man they call 'the First', who is properly called Lord Gerion Traven." "So what I need to do..." I interrupted him before he caused any accidental damage, "I truly don't need to know what it is you intend. However, I will tell you that if I need to find anyone within the city I usually see Telva at the Office of City Planning in the Hall of Records. She'll be more inclined to assist if such assistance would involve some level of drama." Now finished, I nodded to him, wishing him luck in the only way I dared to. ~~*~~ I had to hand it to him, that Evit Merriman sure knew how to put a plan together. I tried following his directions, but I'd only been to Blackwatch a few times so I had no idea were to find that "Hall of Records". It may have taken a few hours, but I did find the place, and the time it took meant that it was truly daylight when I got there. It was no trouble to walk inside and stop the first person I found there, "Hey there, lad, do you know here the Office of City Planning is?" The man looked at me with a confused and uncomfortable look on his face. I figured he was intimidated by my size and arsenal's worth of weapons. "Umm... follow that hallway until it turns right. It's the first door on the right." "Do you know if...Telra is in today?" "I... don't know who that is. Look sir, I have somewhere to be, so if you don't mind..." He then left very quickly. Left on my own, I followed his directions and walked into a stuffy office and met a heavyset woman. She smiled widely when she caught sight of me. "You're a witch hunter, aren't you sir?" "Aye, that's right." "I know the look. Do you know Evit Merriman? He works with me sometimes." I smiled and nodded, "Aye. I've ne'er met a better man. He could use your help, you know." That seemed to get her attention, I quickly wondered how little excitement must be in that woman's life if helping in her little way made that much of a difference. "Really? What's happening?" I debated with myself whether or not to actually give her the second-hand excitement she needed. I determined that nothing bad could possibly happen, so I answered, "There's a warlock conspiracy who wants him dead." The old woman's eyes lit up, "A warlock conspiracy..." She then put on a more professional veneer. "So what do you need me to do?" "I'm looking for the address of one Lord Gerion Traven." "Should be no trouble..." she pulled a book out and looked through it. In moments she had an answer for me, "19 King Marth St." I nodded in acknowledgment; it was impressive that she was able to find the answer I needed quickly. "Thank you kindly, ma'am. You've saved Evit's life, I appreciate it and I'm sure so will he, even if he doesn't say it." The old woman smiled proudly, "It's my pleasure to help in my small way. You have yourself a pleasant day Mr... I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name." I gave a short bow, the only courtesy I ever bothered with, "O'kaine, ma'am, but you can go ahead and call me Shadden." "'Mr. O'kaine' will be more appropriate. I wish you good luck in whatever it is you're about to do." "If a man like me has to depend on luck, he dies. Good luck, ma'am." The old woman chuckled dryly, "Mr. Merriman says the same thing." "Aye, we all say that. Witch hunters like us don't have the luxury of believing in luck." "That explains a great deal. I'm still going to wish you well, though." I chuckled in response, "You might be the first, then. I'll wish you well right back." After that friendly exchange I left that grim place on the way to the rest of my business. Some time later, I'd started regretting that I forgot to ask where I was going before leaving the Office of City Planning. Luckily, aimlessly wandering around eventually led me to where I needed to be: a large four-storey manor surrounded by a wall with a spiked fence on top. Evit might've even used a word like "austere". During my attempts to find the place I should've spent that time coming up with a plan, however I wasn't nearly as good at that sort of thing as Evit. My methods were far more fluid, so I had no plan to ruin. I walked in through the front door with barely a thought. A young, well-dressed man met me at the door, "Can I help you, sir?" "I need to talk to Lord Traven." The man's expression didn't change, but a certain distain crept into his voice, "Lord Traven is a rather busy man, may I ask why you desire to see him?" "I have a message from Evit Merriman. He wants to talk terms." A smile almost too small to see crossed his lips, "Your visit is expected. I will, of course need to relieve you of your weapons." I considered very carefully whether or not to obey. I figured I could be walking into a trap, but it was also very necessary for me to see the man. As usual I decided not to think about it, and handed over all my weapons but my iron knuckles. If I ran into trouble, I would figure something out as I always did. After that business was done the servant led me all the way to a door on the top floor, and opened it for me. I walked inside, finding myself in a large office alone in the presence of a man with a greying beard sitting behind a desk in front of a large window. As soon as he saw me, he said, "Ah, a witch hunter, sent by Mr. Merriman I presume?" "So he said," the man behind me answered. "Very good. Leave us." I heard the sound of a door closing behind me. A few moments later, the nobleman continued in a tone of voice that made it seem like he was studying me, "Is Mr. Merriman's intent surrender or attack, I wonder?" I started waking slowly towards him. He didn't react to me at all, as if he thought himself completely immortal. "You seem to have your mind already made up 'Your Grace'." He smirked in a smug way that gave me the strong urge to punch his teeth in, "Even if he did send you to harm me, he would die. Surely he told you about his geas." I walked around slowly as I spoke until I was behind him, looking out the window. "Aye, he did. You might think you're so clever—you might even be that clever, I don't know. Still, you made one fatal error, you have." "Oh, and what would that be?" "Thinking you're more clever than Evit Merriman. Oh, there's nothing in this world that would make me want to cross a man like him. You could be a million steps ahead, and in a day he'll still be that far ahead o' you." The man chuckled arrogantly, "I'm afraid it doesn't matter how resourceful you think your friend is, if he sent you here to harm me, than that is a violation of his geas and the Crow Maiden's power will kill him. No mortal power can prevent that." It was at that moment my turn to chuckle, "I ne'er said he sent me. What he did was some harmless investigation, and he told me some very interesting things. Very educational, it was." Lord Traven turned around to face me with that smug look wiped from his face. "What are you doing back there?" he asked with a hint of fear. I answered as casually as I could, "I'm just trying to determine if the fall alone would be enough to kill you. Let's find out, shall we?" The warlock tried to escape, but he didn't move fast enough to slip my grasp. I was then able to throw him clean through the window. My concern about his survival was rendered unnecessary when he was impaled on the fence above the perimeter wall. I wish I could've had time to enjoy the moment, but I figured that loud crash of breaking glass followed by a very undignified scream would attract some attention. Sure enough, while I was vaulting over the desk and slipping my hand into the iron knuckles, the door swung open. I just barely had the time to notice that the man who entered was the servant who escorted me armed with my own gun before I punched him in the face as hard as I could. Blood sprayed out of his nose as the young man was knocked on his back. He didn't move as I retrieved my things, leaving me a little bit guilty. If he was still alive, he was going to have one serious headache. Now fully equipped, I wasn't going to wait around to be arrested. Yes, law enforcement was more understanding to we witch hunters, but I was very sure that relationship didn't extend to the very public murder of someone who had "Lord" in front of their name, evil warlock puppet master or no. On my way down the stairs, I heard the sound of several urgent footsteps coming from the bottom. Quickly, without thinking I ducked into the third-floor hallway. Seconds later, the activity passed me by. I shook my head and muttered under my breath, "I can't believe that really worked." With no more time to celebrate my almost stupidly simple idea working, I quickly but quietly as I could ran the rest of the way down the stairs. I thought there was no possible way things could be going so well, but sure enough, it actually did go that smoothly. Before long I found myself in the Wolf and Swallow, passing the time until night-time. I needed to stay sober, so I just stayed upstairs with the owner rather than going downstairs to drink with Cluri, the brownie in the basement. That turned out to be a great decision, as I was perfectly clear-headed when the sun set. I was thankful I passed by the Brotherhood's hideout on my way to kill their leader, or there was no way I was going to find that one fancy mansion in the middle of all the others. The first thing I noticed was that there were surprisingly few guards posted outside the place, I assumed to maintain their secrecy. I knew there would be far more of them inside, but slipping by the exterior ones would be no trouble. If there was one thing Evit Merriman was good at it was thinking, if there were two it was overthinking. His plan was well and good, of course, but it was a little too elegant for a man like me. I had no desire to climb all the way up to the balcony, so I counted my grenades and counted four—the perfect number. I replaced one fuse with a longer one and another with a shorter one. Then I crept over to a side window and broke it as quiet as I could manage. I waited a moment for a response and when none came I lit the long fuse and dropped the grenade in the window. Without hesitation, I started padding over to the other side as fast as possible. I couldn't help but smile a little when the bomb went off as I made my way. I slipped through the confused response until I was on the other side of the building. I casually lit the short fuse, tossed the bomb through the window, and took cover. The glass didn't even start hitting the ground by the time I climbed through the window. I looked back at the warded window frame to see it ruined by the blast. I only gave myself enough time for that one short look before I drew my gun and started sprinting down the halls. My distraction seemed to have worked flawlessly; I didn't meet a single guard until I made it to the door into the basement, which was flanked by two of them. I quickly shot the both of them, grabbed a nearby chair, and ducked inside the door as the first gunshots were fired in my direction. I found myself on a grim stone landing in front of a gently curving staircase. I barricaded the door with that chair and fled as the men on the other side tried to break it down. Eventually, after almost a full circle, the hallway opened up and I found myself overlooking a massive circular chamber. What had to be at least a score of black-robed figures knelt around an ancient-looking stone dais. On its face was carved a many-spiralled rune that glowed with a soft purple glow. After a few precious moments, it became clear that the assorted witches and warlocks were deep in a trance, so I felt the need to get their attention. It was rude of them to ignore me, after all. I put longer fuses on my remaining two bombs, lit them and held them behind my back. I called out to my enemies, "I'm sure you're all wondering why I've gathered you all here tonight...!" One by one they started standing until one near the middle asked, "What is the meaning of this intrusion?" "I want to explain, I really do, but you all took so long getting up and the fuses are starting to get a little short." "Fuses...? Bah, just kill the intruder!" I threw the grenades into the middle of the room while several gunshots rang out in my direction. Time seemed to slow down to the point where I could actually see that one bullet flying towards my head. An even stranger thing happened when the thing hit me: it bounced off without even causing any pain. A fiery rage rose up inside me. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my own heartbeat and the only sensations in my entire body were white-hot heat and a vein in my neck pulsating. I didn't have any control over what happened next. I just ran back the way I came, somehow punched the door off its hinges and brutally killed every man on the other side with my bare hands. I continued my berserk rampage almost completely unaware of what I was even doing. Eventually, I chased one fleeing man upstairs and punched him into and through that floor and the next, until I landed on the already-broken dais, shattering it completely. Upon landing, that haze was lifted from my mind, leaving me standing over the shattered stone and the red smear that was all that remained of one terrified young man. From where I stood, I left slowly and carefully from the carnage of my bombs through the far more horrifying scene at the top of the stairs. I'd seen a lot of blood in gore in my line of work, but the barely recognisable human pieces that were somehow the work of my bare hands was the worst of it all. I just didn't want to be around the aftermath of whatever happened anymore, the thought alone nearly sickened me. I tried as hard as man could to get all that out of my mind, but I just couldn't do it. I was practically in a trance when I knocked on the door of Evit's room in the flophouse. It was opened almost right away, "Is it done?" I couldn't do anything more than nod. "Are you alright?" I answered as strongly as I could: not strongly at all, "Aye." The man didn't pry, but it was very clear he didn't believe me. He moved on in his conversation, "We should leave this place now. I've a sudden, overpowering desire to be elsewhere." "Aye, I'm sure you do. Let's get moving, then" As we made our way outside, I continued, "I'd leave town for a little while if I were you mate. Things got a little... bloody. I can write my friends in the Ministry, get us cleared." "That sounds almost uncharacteristically prudent of you. I take it you won't object if I stayed with you in Odarain, then?" I hesitated in my answer, I didn't want him endangered by whatever it was that happened to me. "I... don't think that's a good idea..." He clearly was about to ask, so I quickly shot back the first halfway rational answer that came to mind, "We were both involved, you know. There's no need for us both to be arrested if it came to that." He nodded, surprized by something he hadn't thought of, "Indeed, you're right. I think I'll stay with Reila in Handervelt, then. She'll understand the need to hide from the authorities, surely." The two of us had long since gone outside and got fairly far down the dark streets when a crow landed in the street in front of us and started growing. It had grown into a beautiful dark-haired woman in a feathery cloak by the time my shot went off. Much to my shock, she caught the bullet out of the air and looked at it intently, like she was studying it. "Such weapons you people use... you really shouldn't lose such a thing." She flicked it back at me idly, as if I weren't even there. I was just barely able to catch the thing, I was so baffled. I was far too stunned to speak, but Evit was, as usual on top of things. "You must be the so-called 'Crow Maiden'." She turned her attention to us for the first time, as if she'd only just noticed that we existed. A sneer crossed her lips, "They called me that. To their more worthy forebearers I had another name. To them I was the Morrigan." I regained my voice just in time to ask, "You're not... angry at what we did to the Brotherhood?" She laughed in a way that sounded like a song, both beautiful and fearsome. "Angry at their demise? Hardly. That 'Brotherhood' took the gifts I gave them and stagnated. They disgusted me. "You, though..." she regarded Evit, "overcoming that geas to slay your enemies anyway... well done." Her gaze turned to me, almost like she was seeing through me with a desire that both excited and frightened me, "And you... I haven't seen a display of power like that since... well, in a very long time." Evit interrupted the Morrigan's contemplation, "Do you have some purpose for this conversation beyond simple praise?" When she shifted her gaze to him I started to worry. Whatever she was, I could just feel that she was far more powerful than anything I'd ever seen, and I was willing to bet even Evit hadn't seen her like. She smiled, though, and walked towards us, "I could hardly expect you to entertain me so without reward, now can I?" She passed something to the two of us: thin stones on necklaces with a spiral rune on them. "A protective talisman of some sort..." Evit observed. "With them the magic of man will not touch your mind." "Thank you, madam. They will be put to good use." I spoke up hesitantly. Being so unsure of myself made me very uncomfortable, and I figured that was a bad thing around the Morrigan. "Evit, would you mind going to get the horses from the stable?" He looked back and forth between she and I. His response was very careful and diplomatic, "Remember your caution, Shadden." "Aye. I will for sure." He had an especially strong look in his eye, I'm sure cautioning me about my taste in companionship. There was no danger of that sort of thing on that occasion, though. Even I know that going somewhere like that was a very bad idea. When he was out of earshot, I asked, "Did you see what happened to the Brotherhood?" She only said one word, but somehow seemed able to put all the mystery in the world in it, "Yes." "Will you tell me?" She started walking around me, putting her hands on me. "If you desire." After a very uncomfortable moment she stepped in front of me, still running her hands all over me, "The riastrad is both a blessing and a curse, passed from one to another since the sun's first rise. It will give power, and it will give you victory." "I figure that's just the half of it." Her eyes shot up to mine. They were such an icy blue that they were nearly white. I wanted to look away, but for some reason I couldn't. She continued with a strange glee in those hypnotic eyes, "You know the price: a mind savage, primal, a complete lack of control. So strange that it manifested so late..." With an immense force of will, I turned away, both from her eyes and her hands. "You sound... glad about all that... that loss of control." A certain coldness entered her voice, "Should I not be? None can deal death like you. Is that not glorious?" "No, not like this. I'm not an animal, or a monster." That creature's voice seemed to fade away, "No. You're so much more..."

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