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Song of the Valkyrie - Ch. XIII
“Time to wake up!” A guard shouted, hammering a small gong. “Eat, then it's off to the training yard with the lot of you!”
Amaris sat upright on her bed and stretched, catching the eye of the large orc in the cell opposite hers. She immediately retracted, and he went back to his business. Plates with bread, water and jerky were passed amongst herself and the other inmates in the high-security prison, all of whom were shackled to a bolt in the center of the floor of their individual cells by a thick iron chain, ending in a cuff latched onto an ankle. Trying the food, the bread proved slightly better than the stale bread in the other prison, and the water less tepid. The jerky was dry, more salt than meat, and tasted like boot leather, with the same toughness. She watched as the guards undid the bonds on the other inmates, leading them out of sight. Finally, they came for her. Four of them. One with an arming sword, two with spears, and the fourth with a crossbow.
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Song of the Valkyrie - Ch XII
“You told me that earthquake would work! Why are they still alive!?” Romulus shouted at the formless visage before him.
“It's... intriguing. They managed to survive a fall of two hundred meters, and the girl only suffered a broken arm. The male was unharmed.”
“Is there anything you can do? An earthquake in that city they're in? A plague? Anything!? I want to hold up my end of the bargain, Master, so you can hold up yours.”
“Nothing quite so drastic, no. This requires a more... delicate touch. I have servants all over the continent who would be more than willing to take care of our little problems.”
“If I could speak with them, that would be ideal.”
“No. You are to stay put in your palace. If your guards catch an outsider in your race's territory, all of this could be for nothing, and if you go missing for even a couple hours, that will raise alarms. I will contact them, myself. However, there are forces that work against
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Song of the Valkyrie - Ch. II
The General scratched away at the pages in his log book with an ornate glass pen, a pendulum clock counting the seconds in the corner off to his right amidst walls stacked with innumerable books he collected throughout his long life. Despite his great stature and grossly apparent physical strength, the pen would only leave black scars in the paper, and not shatter into thousands of tiny crystals as one might expect. Turning to the clock, he groaned in disappointment. She was late. She had never been late before, but today was the day. Her fiance could say where or when and he couldn't lift a finger to change it. Accepting the fact she wasn't going to show, he returned to his work, hoping to finish in time to clean himself up and put on something more regal in appearance than his standard uniform, a solid black vestment with violet ribbons running across its surface, connecting opposing buttons. A knock at the door interrupted his pondering and concern.
“Enter,” he said flat
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Song of the Valkyrie - Ch XI
“Judge, sir,” one of the building's guards began, standing at attention on the office's blood red carpet. “The dark elf who helped capture the shadow elf has arrived, escorting a merchant. What are your orders?”
“Bring him to me. I wish to have a conversation over some tea,” a tall, thin man in a black robe with swept back, graying hair ordered, taking a sip from the goblet he was holding between his right middle and ring fingers as he stared into his prospering city. “Not a scratch.”
“Yes, Your Honor.” A few heavy footfalls and light clinks of armor followed by the closing of a heavy oak door, stained dark brown to contrast the carpet and compliment the walls.
“Such a beautiful jewel, my city. I wonder just how long the peace we've enjoyed all these years can truly last...”
“You, there! Dark elf!” A voice boomed, catching Levant's attention. Looking around at the crowd of people, he failed t
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The Song of the Valkyrie - Ch I
“Tell me again why we're here?” A dark elf asked his much larger and older orc companion. The midday, summer sun beat down on the two men as they trekked down an overgrown trail littered with shrubs and felled trees. The sky remained devoid of any cloud cover, and while the day wasn't excessively warm, the humidity wasn't helping as sweat ran down their arms and legs, dripping off their noses and fingers and pooling in their boots. “If we end up facing a monster, I don't think I'm gonna be able to hold onto my lance. Not when I'm sweating like this.” His breathing was heavier than normal, and while the leather hauberk with underlying steel mail was designed for protection, it wasn't to insulate him from the elements. “Are you ignoring me, Uzurol?”
“I'm just tired of your complaining. I thought you dark elves were supposed to be heat resistant?” Uzurol grunted. He was in a full set of orichalcum armor, stylized after the battle armor of th
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Song of The Valkyrie - Ch. X
The scratching of a pen on parchment stirred Amaris from her rest, as the early morning sun broke the horizon, its light pouring in through the window. Levant was kneeling in front of the night stand, scribbling, briefly pausing to dip the quill into the ink pot or tilt his gaze toward the ceiling and touch the end of the feather to his chin in thought. A brief few strokes of the quill ended the note, the dark elf lightly blowing on the parchment to dry the ink before folding it up and sticking it into a hidden pocket at the end of his leather hauberk's left sleeve.
“What was that?” Amaris asked as she sat up, curious.
“Mission report,” he replied, standing. “I'm hoping we run across a courier so I can send back word of the mission's success in a hurry, along with a blood sample and a scale from that hydra. I'll let you get dressed. Meet me out by Crassus' carts when you're done.” Heading toward the door and closing it behind himself, Amaris turned h
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Song of the Valkyrie, Ch IX
The sun is up, birds are chirping, people are buying the fat man's wares, there's a beautiful woman sleeping on top of me... and I can't feel my arm. I guess this wouldn't be so bad if she hadn't thrown a knife at my head yesterday, Levant thought, simultaneously trying to figure out a way to get up without waking Amaris.
“Will you stop moving around...?” She groaned. Seemingly oblivious as to where she was, with her hand finding its way inside Levant's mouth. The sensation made him instinctively gag. “Now I've got you...”
What is she talking about!? Levant raced, his eyes crossing from the discomfort as she grabbed his tongue. This is by far the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me, and that's not counting the prostitute jester and a man who thought he was a flying rodent.
“Come here, little light,” she muttered, poking Levant's uvula. The motion made him vomit, stirring her awake. “That is just disgusting!”
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Song of the Valkyri, Ch VIII
“How long until we reach Havelaan?” Levant asked, giving an exaggerated sigh to emphasize his boredom as he sat on a large wooden beam between the box seat and cargo hold of the first cart.
“Not long.”
“I hope so,” Levant replied, leading to a brief moment of silence. A steady breeze helped cool the otherwise hot, humid air, which had prompted the merchant to lose a few articles of his clothing.
“Your lady friend is quiet,” the merchant said, gesturing back toward Amaris, who was sitting on the left side of the second cart. She was staring off into the wilderness, likely watching birds scatter and regroup between trees, and watching them sway slightly in the wind. “Almost too quiet. It's starting to scare me, really.”
“She's not really one for starting conversation. Never really has anything to talk about. Not very social, either. Doesn't like taverns, parties, or anywhere with more than two or three people.”
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Song of The Valkyrie - Ch. VII
The heat and soft crackling of a nearby fire stirred Amaris from her rest. She was still in her armor, sitting up against a tree with her hood pulled up over her head. The sun had just set, the last rays of light fading from the sky above. Some heavy tromping could be heard coming from behind. A man carrying firewood made himself known to her. As he set down the pile a few feet away, she was almost relieved to find it was just Levant.
“I'm assuming you have questions?” He asked, taking a seat across from her and tossing a couple logs into the fire.
“Where are we?”
“This is the White Forest, not to be confused with the Wight Forest down south. I carried you on my back for several hours while on the road to Havelaan. We're still a day's walk away from the village. From there, we can go to Durq and report in. Don't worry, we're far out of sight of travelers on the road.”
“What happened back there? After the hydra died?”
“It started glo
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Song of the Valkyrie - Ch. VI
“I thought you brought rations with you?” Amaris inquired, fishing a chunk of meat out of the boiling kettle. “And I've been meaning to ask, how did you even transport all this stuff?”
“A zero-dimensional plane one of my contacts prepared for me. You may get to meet her soon enough. Let's just say she's been around for.... quite a long time, and has contacts in some pretty high and low places.”
“Black market dealer?”
“No. She just keeps everyone in line. Besides, while I did bring rations with me, leviathan is better eating. Makes you full longer. Besides, the meats are preserved, and on me, but not with me.”
“Another pocket dimension, I'm assuming?”
“Yes, except.... wait. Something isn't right.”
The kettle's lid danced on the rim, with the large pot slowly lurching over to the edge of the fire pit, where it dumped scalding hot water.
“A quake?” Amaris asked the wind, the shaking steadily gr
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Song of the Valkyrie - Ch. V
Opening her eyes, the ceiling of the room she had slept in previously tilted in and out of focus.
“What happened...?” Amaris muttered to herself, before noticing Erisanwe at the other corner of the room.
“I was wondering when you'd wake up,” Erisanwe said.
“How long was I out?” Amaris asked, before realizing her identity was known.
“You needn't worry. I've known about your identity since you arrived here. I just thought I should tell you personally that since you have expended so much energy dealing with so many threats yesterday, you are extremely lucky to still have a pulse.”
“I guess I should be prepared for the pole weapons and windlicht, then...”
“Uhh, Wind- what?”
“Windlicht are special torches that, instead of turpentine or brandshutz torches, are crafted in the style of a mace or maul, and electrocute anyone unfortunate enough to come into contact with it. Very compact, and very deadly, each one carri
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Song of The Valkyrie - Ch. IV
At first, she felt nothing but grief for Samson, how he had so fruitlessly allowed himself to die, so she might have an uncertain future, then seething rage toward Romulus, who had so callously deceived her, and ordered the death of Samson.
“You made the mistake of deceiving me and killing Samson, Romulus,” she growled, under her breath. “One of these days, I'll return the favor.”
Rising from the bed, she noticed a bucket of water with a rag had been left beside the end table. Pulling it away from the wall, she dunked the rag in the water, wrung it out, and firmly scrubbed the stale make-up and dirt off her face. Satisfied with finally being able to remove what felt like clay, she quickly slipped into despair as her mind wondered back to Dissidium.
“I'm not strong enough... but I can't let Samson's death go unavenged. Oh, why do I even bother thinking on it?” She asked herself, curling up on the bed and burying her face in her knees, her mind numb fr
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  • Listening to: TSFH piano covers
When changing the names of characters, edit the files currently on the hard drive BEFORE the published files...
The General scratched away at the pages in his log book with an ornate glass pen, a pendulum clock counting the seconds in the corner off to his right amidst walls stacked with innumerable books he collected throughout his long life. Despite his great stature and grossly apparent physical strength, the pen would only leave black scars in the paper, and not shatter into thousands of tiny crystals as one might expect. Turning to the clock, he groaned in disappointment. She was late. She had never been late before, but today was the day. Her fiance could say where or when and he couldn't lift a finger to change it. Accepting the fact she wasn't going to show, he returned to his work, hoping to finish in time to clean himself up and put on something more regal in appearance than his standard uniform, a solid black vestment with violet ribbons running across its surface, connecting opposing buttons. A knock at the door interrupted his pondering and concern.

“Enter,” he said flatly. The door opened to reveal a much smaller female elf with flowing, raven black hair, chocolate skin, and eyes like lapis lazuli. It was no wonder she caught the prince's eye, if he were to be honest with himself. “I see you've made it.”

“Please forgive me for my lack of punctuality, General Viirahk,” she said hurriedly, bowing her head.

“There is no need for such formalities when we're alone, Amaris,” the General reminded her in a cool voice, completely unfazed. “I had actually wondered if you would show up at all, considering what's happening this day.” Giving her his full attention, he stuck the pen into a drain pot, draped a bright red ribbon across the spine of the log book, and closed it with a noticeable thump, the aging yellow pages crinkling in unison.

“So... Samson.... what is it you wanted to speak with me about?” Amaris asked, obviously uncomfortable with addressing a superior so casually.

“The conditions of your marriage... concern me,” he said in a low tone, folding his hands.

“And what is the concern? I was asked to marry our prince at this day.”

“It's the nature of the gesture. Did you know Romulus simply told your father when and where your marriage was to take place? If I recall, you two have barely even spoken; the last time being at a party last year, and even then, it was only brief.”

“I know you don't have very high thoughts of Prince Romulus, but please, give him a chance.”

“I have, but I'm beginning to doubt him. Recently, I've been looking into some disappearances that have taken place across our underground kingdom. The guards think there's no connection, but they're all women, from wealthy families, around your age. All of the bodies went missing, but I did detect some residue of dark magic at the scenes of the crimes. There have been seven in total, and with each disappearance, it's from an increasingly wealthy family.”

“What do these disappearances have to do with me?”

“Because the latest disappearance was in only the second wealthiest and most powerful family in Dissidium. The only one left is the Royal Family. If you'll recall, there are no daughters of royal blood, only a single son. Whoever this murderer is, he's quite capable of sneaking past even the most alert guards and making away with a full body completely undetected. I'm just asking you to watch your back.”

“I'll be fine. The royal palace has the best security available. And you live there.”

“I find it suspicious that you're in an arranged marriage. I just can't shake the feeling...”

“General!” A tall, skinny elf with skin almost as dark as Samson's exclaimed, bursting through the door without so much as a tap or knock. While clean, his appearance seemed to be an afterthought, with messy hair and heavily-wrinkled clothes. “What ever are you doing with my bride-to-be?”

“I was discussing important current events with her and why she should be mindful of the company she keeps... Prince Romulus,” Samson said with a faint growl, slightly wincing at addressing the throne's heir by his official title.

“Not to worry, your Lieutenant will be under the highest security both at the wedding and while she stays at the palace. Why don't you like me, General? I'm the heir to the throne, after all.”

“I didn't take this position to make a bunch of friends,” Samson began, standing, appearing as a titan or giant in the eyes of his guests, even though he was only a head taller than either of them, but with far more muscle mass. “I took this position to do a job, and that job is protecting our race from extermination. If you really want to go into detail of why I don't like you, though, you're spoiled rotten, you don't ever knock, you're never on time to anything, your clothes are always a mess, your hair is an embarrassment, you're extremely vulgar in your speech, particularly when it comes to women, should I go on?”

“Well, it seems the old-fashioned, old croat has made up his mind. My love, I shall be preparing for our wedding,” Romulus said coolly, taking Amaris' hand and kissing the back of it, then leaving without another word. Samson gestured toward the door, and it closed on command.

“I think you can do much better than that worm,” he hissed, glaring at the door and sitting back down. “Anyway, this is an arranged marriage. This is not how our culture works. Personally, I find it disgusting he tell your father where and when your wedding be held, and make a public spectacle out of it to make it look like you even had a choice in the matter.”

“I'm about to have the happiest day of my life, and you're just hell-bent on ruining it, aren't you?”

“What makes you think you're going to be happy? I swear, that boy's changed and not for the better. You still have a chance to get out of this fallacy, to save yourself from a life of misery with someone you don't even know.”

“And what if I do go through with it? Would I not be happy living in the palace with Romulus? I'm sure there will be much time to find out about each other.”

“And what if it turns out you can't stand each other? I'm just asking you to think this through. It may not seem like it, but you can do better if a serious relationship is what you want. Just please, take an old man's advice and reconsider.”

“You're not that old, General.”

“I assure you, I've lived no less than twenty of your lifetimes. I may look young, but I have lived longer than most. I don't know what will happen if you do refuse, but all I ask is that you reconsider the path you're about to take. You're coming to a crossroads, you know. No matter which path you choose, there is no going back. Choose carefully. You are dismissed.”


“What's the matter, ma'am?” The assistant asked, helping Amaris piece together her elaborate wedding dress, the white silk contrasting with the palace's dark granite. Crystal chandeliers scattered soft white light in polygonal patterns throughout the room. “You don't seem too excited for your big day.”

“I just finished speaking with General Viirahk, Chalia. He's concerned, but I think he's just old-fashioned. After our conversation, I think I may be getting... what's the term...?”

“Cold feet?”


“General Viirahk may come across as extremely old-fashioned and traditional, but he does care for his subordinates like no other. He still commands them as a general should, but the way he does it, I doubt any one of them would hesitate to follow him into Hell itself. He follows the philosophy of a great warrior from well before his time, and I dare say he gets more respect than even our own king.”

“I do respect his word, but he says I could do better. How the bloody hell could I possibly do better than a prince destined to become a king?” Amaris asked, turning to the assistant. She sat down in a nearby chair and pressed her fingers into her forehead. “I'm nervous. What if he's right? What if I won't be happy?”

“I hear things, you know. I heard that General Viirahk never had children of his own, so he treats each of his subordinates like a son or daughter, to an extent, while still being their leader. I guess having a family of your own is a measure of success of sorts. Listen, I think he's just being overly cautious. He cares for you, yes. He and your father are almost like brothers. But that doesn't mean he's not being too careful or controlling. In the end, the choice is yours to make. I feel there's no wrong answer here. It's what you want, Ari. If you feel you will be happier outside the palace, then that is your choice. Conversely, if you believe you will lead a better life at Prince Romulus' side, then who's to stop you?”

“Ari? I remember you calling me that when I was a child.”

“It's how you always introduced yourself until you were six,” Chalia giggled. “Oh, how I look back on those days with fondness. You were always getting into some sort of trouble, you know. If your parents didn't have me look after you while they were at work, I don't know what you would have gotten yourself into.”

“Throughout my life, you were always my favorite maid. In fact, you were almost like a second mother to me. Thank you, Chalia.”

“Don't worry about it. Is there anymore to be done?” The maid asked. Amaris could have sworn she was starting to cry a little.

“No, I don't believe so. You may return to your duties.”

“Very well, ma'am,” Chalia said with a bow, exiting the room. The door clicked behind her, and all fell silent. Taking a breath to steady herself, Amaris folded her hands and bowed her head to pray.

“Father God, guide me in the way I should go. I need to know if I should take Prince Romulus' hand or not. Both decisions scare me. Tell me, is General Viirahk right, or is he just worrying too much? I'm so confused. I need your wisdom, your hand to guide my path. Amen.” Standing, she made her way toward the door, and was greeted by her father upon opening it. In his suit, he looked like he belonged in the palace.

“You look absolutely stunning,” he said, walking with her to the ballroom, arms interlocked at the elbows.

“Father, do you think General Viirahk is too worried about my wedding?” Amaris asked abruptly.

“What do you mean?”

“He thinks I won't be happy, and also seems concerned for my safety.”

“Samson and I are good friends. I trust his judgment, not only because I trust him, but because he's also been around since... since forever, it seems like. He has a lot of experience, but even he isn't right all the time. Ultimately, the choice is yours to make.”

“I see,” Amaris replied, not making any further sound.


“Why are you bothering with that bow?” Uzurol asked in an annoyed tone as Levant fiddled with a short length of yew and some string, the camp fire popping and crackling as he set up bed rolls and small tents.

“It's a double bow. And I've just got this feeling that I might need it tonight,” Levant replied, hooking the cord and picking up an arrow, lacing it with a colorless fluid. “I was always told to trust my gut, so I'm going with it.”

“You sure you didn't just eat too much? Or eat some bad meat?”

“It's not that kind of gut feeling,” Levant replied, not bothering to hide his mild annoyance. “I'm going for a walk. I'll be back in a couple hours, at most.”


“Are you ready?” Amaris' father asked.

“Yes,” she replied, to which the guards pushed the large, iron doors open. Escorted by her father, she made her way to the alter that had been placed at the end of the aisle in the weeks of practice before just for the occasion. Dozens of powerful families watched as she passed by, multiplying the pressure she was already feeling. On his throne sat Romulus' father, King Vaersai, and on his right, Samson, standing at attention with his arms folded behind his back, completely disinterested in whatever was happening around him. Approaching the alter, the priest silently greeted her as her father stood off to the side.

“Today, we are gathered here to celebrate the joining of man and woman as husband and wife,” the priest began, briefly pausing. “In the eyes of God, this bond is one most sacred, more than mere parchment as many would so foolishly believe. A binding of souls, a joining of two halves to make whole. Prince Romulus Vaersai, you may recite your vows.”

“I, Prince Romulus Vaersai of Dissidium, take you, Amaris Saetham, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

“Lieutenant Amaris Saetham, you may recite your vows.”

“I, Lieutenant Amaris Saetham, take you, Prince Romulus Vaersai, to be my lawfully wed-,” she stopped herself abruptly, suddenly feeling ill, a sour feeling in the back of her throat. Clearing her throat and head, she continued, “to be my lawfully wedded....” Instead of simply feeling slightly sickly, her gut rejected what little it had inside it prior to the event, a residual stream of bile dribbling down her chin and staining her dress with the slightly yellow-green, foul-smelling, sour liquid. Clearing her eyes, she noticed her vomit soaked Romulus' pants. “Oh, God. Romulus, I'm so sorry...”

Her would-be husband first was in a state of shock, then rage as he balled his fists and swung, punching the priest directly in the face, knocking him unconscious.

“Either you will calm yourself, or you will face the full force of the law,” King Vaersai hissed, displeased with his son's temper. Samson turned his attention to the pair and placed a hand on his sword's sheath, right behind the crossguard as if in preparation to draw.

“Let's skip the vows; do you take me to be your husband or not?” Romulus growled, still furious.

“I... No. I can't. I'm sorry,” she replied, causing Romulus to become visibly enraged, baring his teeth and contorting his face into a dramatic snarl.

“Then leave Dissidium. You have until sundown to pack and say your goodbyes.”

Tearing up, Amaris turned to run for the door, only to trip over her own dress. A hand went to help her up, but she swatted it away, not even looking to see who it belonged to through her blurred vision. Picking up the front of her dress, she fled out the palace doors, which slowly closed of their own accord, the palace guards pushing against them in vain, being pushed back themselves as she ran out the door just as they closed behind her. Frantically, she half-ran, half-stumbled down the stairs, then sprinted through the courtyard before tripping over a raised stone. Looking back at the palace, wiping her eyes dry, she only felt fear and loneliness as the tall windows glowed a soft white with silhouettes moving about inside. White lamps illuminated the courtyard, leaving no space dark. Discarding her veil, she looked around to find all was still in the subterranean air. Getting to her feet, she brushed herself off, dried her face, and continued on her way. The sound of groaning metal filled the atmosphere. Spinning around to face the noise, the palace's iron doors were being forced backward on their hinges by two large, transparent, clawed violet hands, with a large silhouette standing in the center. Not wanting to speak with anyone, she continued on her way toward the edge of the palace's property, toward the Amethyst District.

“Amaris, wait!” Samson called out, his distinct voice the only thing filling the empty streets bordering the palace. “Please, just wait a moment!”

“Why, so you can talk me out of something again?” She spat, continuing on her way.

“No. I wanted to say I'm sorry if I pushed my hand too hard in your decision. I had no idea this would happen.”

“What do you mean you didn't know!?” She shouted, whipping around. “You know the law like the back of your hand!”

“That doesn't mean I knew what that worm was going to do. Is there anything I can do to make this up to you?”

“You can get out of my life!” Amaris roared, turning away from Samson.

“I'll escort you home so you can pack, then I will leave you.”


“No, no, no. It's all wrong,” Samson muttered, tearing apart the book shelf and starting over again, trying to decide if the books should be arranged by title or author name, an activity he always took up when tense. In his hand, an old war tactics manual, one he had read possibly hundreds of times, whose instructions have held true on and off the battlefield. “If I could have only learned from you personally, how different a leader would I be? How much wiser? I have studied your work in great detail, but I feel I could have done better. Not that it matters. Titles it is, then.” As he placed the war manual on the shelf, a slow, timid knock came from the door. “Just one moment.” With a wave of his hand, the books piled haphazardly onto the floor flew onto the shelves in no particular order while leaving no gaps on any of the previously empty shelves. “You may enter.” The walnut door slowly creaked open, and to his surprise, entered Amaris, head low and evading eye contact, focusing instead on his boots. She had come dressed in full armor, the thin plate hugging her body over a black suit with mail running underneath, forming a diamond across the center of her chest. Longer, angled plates forming the sides of an armored skirt, chain mail running across the middle. “What brings you to my office?”

“I just wanted to apologize for the way I talked to you. You were right about him, I could have done better.”

“Don't be too hard on yourself, he could have fooled anyone. If you're expecting me to carry out disciplinary action, don't worry about that either. You're no longer under my control. You follow your own path, now. Where it leads, I don't know, but that's half the fun, and all of the terror. I can't make a clear way for you, but I do hope you gain the trust of the surface empires, and find yourself someone worth the time of day. They may not be any prince, but it doesn't need to be. Could be a bastard child, for all you know.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Address me as a friend.”

“If you insist, Samson. You always told me to trust my gut, but I don't think you meant it in the way it happened back at the palace.”

“Indeed,” he chuckled, though he strangely found no comfort in her presence.

“What's this head?” She asked, approaching a large, reptilian head mounted on a plaque. Its lips were curled back in a snarl, exposing sharp, fang-like teeth in a long snout covered by a white exoskeleton whose plates went across the whole of the head. On top were two large, curved horns, pointing forward.

“That head belonged to a creature I hope you never encounter. They're dangerous enough alone, but often form small packs. Should you find yourself squaring one up, however, avoid the teeth and claws, and be mindful of that tail.” A knock at the door interrupted his thought. “What is it?” The door opened to reveal the Major General of the royal guard.

“I have just come here to inform you that you have been relieved of your duties, and I will be taking over your office. You and Amaris are to be escorted to the surface by six men of my choice. Pack your things... Samson.”

“Very well, now leave us,” Samson hissed, slamming the door with a flick of his wrist, from the other side of the room.

“You've... you've lost your,” Amaris choked, staring at the floor, blaming herself. A large hand appeared on her shoulder. While it should have been able to easily crush her, its grasp was surprisingly tender. Looking up, she saw Samson with a subtle smile, as if he were at peace with himself. An emotion she found odd, given the circumstances.

“It's not your fault. I don't need very much to survive, but an escort?” His expression turned from calm to alert concern. “Be on your guard.”


Surrounded on all sides by powerful men in full armor, Amaris felt tiny as she looked up at Samson, who appeared completely emotionless as they were escorted mere yards from the cave exit.

“This is as far as you two go,” the group's leader said as they all drew their swords. “It's a pity, really. I greatly respect you, General, but orders are orders.”

“Amaris, I have one final order for you: run and don't look back,” Samson ordered, drawing his sword in his right hand, a spell manifesting in his left. Not waiting for an attack, he fired a lightning blast at the soldier blocking Amaris' path, knocking him to the ground.

Obeying the command, she sprinted toward the exit and left the caves, being forced to listen to metal clashing and spells being fired off during the final moments of light as the ground turned a deep shade of purple. The sounds of battle quickly faded with the sun's light, but she did not slow her pace.


Staring at the sky, Levant couldn't help but admire the strange beauty of the stars combined with the last bit of light disappearing over the horizon, his only company the crickets singing their summer songs. Bringing his head level, he massaged the back of his neck. Rapid footsteps came up from behind, with the sound of armor clinking and scraping. Backing into the bushes, he drew the double bow, loaded the arrow, and fired right as a shadow passed him by. A woman shrieked in pain and the running slowed to a halt. In the moonlight stood a woman in glossy armor, the arrow's shaft sticking over a foot out her left side. Reaching up to her shoulder, she snapped the shaft, tossed it to the side, and drew her sword, turning to face Levant.

“Are you alright?” he asked, approaching from the bushes. It was probably a foolish decision, but he came out with his hands raised, one poised to snatch the polesword from his back. “I just heard someone running up from behind me, and...”

He never saw it, but instinct made him jump backward. Looking over his arms, the thick leather gauntlets had suffered some deep cuts, the underlying mail perhaps the only thing saving his arms.

“Okay, I get it,” he said, holding his hands up and watching her carefully. The second her feet shifted, he drew his own weapon and blocked a potentially lethal strike. “I shot you, and now you're mad.”

She withdrew, and he extended the polearm to prod, attempting to force her to maintain distance until the poison could take full effect. His legs tingled, then hundreds of thorns stuck into them. A snare spell. The sheer force of the pain had stunned his nerves, causing his calves to spasm. In the back of his mind, he thought he had heard someone cry out in pain, before realizing he was the one screaming, his mind so focused on his legs, it had not watched his mouth, or the woman in front of him. She had disappeared. Almost as if they had a will of their own, his arms brought the polesword behind to block the weak of a sword, much to the wielder's surprise as she gasped in amazement. He twisted the polearm, bringing her locked blade up and away, opening her up before striking her on the side of the head with the back of his fist, knocking her unconscious.

“Didn't think I was that strong,” Levant muttered to himself, waving his throbbing hand in front of himself. Summoning a ball of light, he inspected his weapon. Deep cuts had been made through the wood, even biting deep into the fluted steel core. “I'm going to need that fixed... Now, what about you?” Taking a closer look, he found himself amazed by the beauty of the woman who had just tried to kill him. Even so, she seemed oddly familiar. “Great. Now I feel kinda bad...”

“Levant!” Uzurol shouted, running up to him, then halting suddenly, a mix of disgust and confusion on his face. “Am I interrupting something...?”

“Oh! N-no!” He exclaimed, standing up, feeling the burn of embarrassment on his face. “It's not at all what it looks like!”

“I see. I heard you scream in pain.”

“She cast a snare spell. I shot her when she ran by me, though, so she won't be waking up at least for the next couple days. That will give us time to get home and get her some real treatment before she wakes up again.”

“Bring her back to camp,” Uzurol began, walking away. “I'll take point.”
Song of the Valkyrie - Ch. II
3rd draft of chapter 2. Had a play with perspectives this time around, and am much more satisfied with this version than the previous.

Going to be changing some names in the tale to things more... sensible.
“Time to wake up!” A guard shouted, hammering a small gong. “Eat, then it's off to the training yard with the lot of you!”

Amaris sat upright on her bed and stretched, catching the eye of the large orc in the cell opposite hers. She immediately retracted, and he went back to his business. Plates with bread, water and jerky were passed amongst herself and the other inmates in the high-security prison, all of whom were shackled to a bolt in the center of the floor of their individual cells by a thick iron chain, ending in a cuff latched onto an ankle. Trying the food, the bread proved slightly better than the stale bread in the other prison, and the water less tepid. The jerky was dry, more salt than meat, and tasted like boot leather, with the same toughness. She watched as the guards undid the bonds on the other inmates, leading them out of sight. Finally, they came for her. Four of them. One with an arming sword, two with spears, and the fourth with a crossbow. The swordsman uncuffed her, and lead her to the single-file line of inmates, where she stood at the back. Two spearmen and an archer with a crossbow stood at the back, the swordsman took point, and other guards flanked along the sides. They were lead through a long corridor, a ghostly blue light emanating from magic orbs stuck in the seam at the top of the vaulted ceiling, where the stone bricks and mud neatly met. The tunnel abruptly opened into a cavern, and an iron gate slammed down behind them. The swordsman leading the group stepped off to the side to face his audience of criminals.

“Before me, I see bandits, murderers, traitors,” he glanced at Amaris, “exiles and abominations.” He started to pace, looking every man and woman in the eye as he went. “In my prison, you are all maggots, you are not even humans or elves, you are the lowest form of life on the continent! I do not look down on murderers, whores, traitors, or tax evaders; in my prison, you are all equally worthless. While you remain in my prison, you have no value to me. You are only kept in separate cells so you don't kill each other between matches or training sessions, as the only value you have is in entertainment for the guards, mercenaries, bounty hunters and impoverished. You will be divided into teams of six. Survivors of the first round will then choose four to go out. If four cannot be achieved, teams will be combined, and after the second round, two will be chosen. If two cannot be met, one will be taken from the other remaining team that was not chosen by vote amongst the team's members. After the third round, it will be one-on-one, and the victor will then move on to the Capital, where you will fight for your freedom. Dismissed!”

The crowd dispersed, some grabbing wooden swords to spar with, others grabbing bows and sending arrows down range, a circle in the center of the room remaining vacant. Off to the side were extra sparring swords and straw dummies. Hesitating slightly, she headed over to the equipment, grabbed a sword and a dummy, and brought them over to an unoccupied area away from the reserve equipment and everyone else. She assumed her stance, and struck. The dummy took the blow as it stood emotionless on its stake. She struck again, this time across the neck, and followed up with a blow to the chest, and instinctively struck at the pelvis, breaking the sword. Exploding into a rage, she plunged the broken tool into the dummy's face, breaking the sack body and penetrating through the straw stuffing. Relentlessly, she punched the dummy's chest and kicked it in the side, the potato sack refusing to give.

“Easy there, sister,” a woman said, sounding somewhat amused. She turned around to find a short elvish woman who was effectively an inverted image, with fair skin, silver hair and amber eyes, along with a pair of white wolf ears. “By your expression, I'd say you're surprised by the extra set of ears? Most people aren't aware us wood elves have these. Anyway, I don't think I've ever seen anyone take out so much of their hatred on a dummy. Who are you mad at?”

“Does it matter?” Amaris hissed.

“Ooh, feisty!” She smiled. “Someone really must have done you wrong for you to break your sword and then plunge it into their face. So, shadow elf, who is it?”


“Oh?” She inquired, ears twitching in her curiosity. “And what did he do?”

“It's a long story better suited for another time,” she growled, plunging her hand into the dummy's chest, retrieving a fist-full of straw.

“He stole your heart, did he?” She folded her arms and cocked an eyebrow, adding to her smirk.

“Stole?” Amaris asked, turning around slowly, also cocking an eyebrow, then narrowing her eyes. “Crushed, more like. How were you able to guess?”

“People are predictable. When someone is wronged, they often seek to repay their transgressor equally, or completely destroy them. He crushed your heart,” she paused briefly, placing a finger on Amaris' sternum, “so it only makes sense you would want to take his.”

“What does this have to do with anything?” She asked, brushing the shorter elf's hand aside.

“It has everything to do with anything when you're talking to a fellow inmate. I'm in here for stealing horses, among other things,” she grinned, enjoying the conversation. “Not just any horses, mind you. These were Imperial war horses.”

“Aren't we going to get in trouble for just standing here, talking?”

“This isn't the military,” the wood elf chuckled. “No, they don't care how we squander our time, as long as we don't try to kill each other outside The Pit. So, what's something like you doing in here? I'd call you delicate if I didn't just watch you shove your hand through a potato sack.”

“You already know what I am, so what's the point in asking?”

“Alright, alright! You've obviously got a stick in your ass! Follow me,” she said, curling her fingers and sauntering toward a small group of two human men, and elven-looking male, and one brutish woman.

“Oh, Sheilagh. 'Ave you met the new lad?” The burly Nord asked the wood elf, gesturing to a smaller, but obviously strong Azhurian.

“No, I don't believe I have, Rodrick. I was actually going to introduce you all to our new friend,” Sheilagh said, motioning toward Amaris.

“What's a pre'y li'le thing like you doin' 'ere?” Rodrick asked, his strange enunciation muddling the meaning of his question. She wondered if his thick, red beard had anything to do with it. Whatever it was, his heavy accent didn't help, either.

“Do you want the real reason or the official reason?”

“Yes,” the Orc woman said.

“The official reason is because of my race. I'm a shadow elf, and most would see me dead, if they could manage,” she said, brushing some loose strands of hair back. She put a hand on her hip. “The real reason is because a dark elf bounty hunter turned me over to the authorities sooner than he was expecting. We were on our way to Durq, and we were stopped at a military checkpoint some time after leaving a village called Havelaan. Of course, the official reason is just the short version.”

“I think you might have it the worst of any of us,” the high elf with white hair extending just past his shoulders, leaning against the wall said. “I'm in here on twelve counts of necromancy. All I wanted was some free labor from mindless, soulless thralls. Besides, they were bandits. What's the harm? Name's Ivlisar, by the way.”

“Oh, that's cute lad,” Rodrik laughed. “I got put in 'ere after I killed a 'omicidal oak tree and took one of its branches as a weaponized trophy. Turns out, it was some kind of ancestral spirit defendin' its 'ome. I wa'n't doin' any 'arm, jus' passin' through!”

“You all know my story; stealing Imperial war horses. Dozens of them,” Sheilagh said, brushing her fingernails against her rags, and inspecting them. “What are you in for, Haelga?”

“Murder, banditry, arson, theft, assault,” the orc paused, “and lollygagging. Not exactly in that order, though.”

“What about you, lad?”

“I was in a bandit gang, then I went to prison, and then I robbed a bank.”

“I thought you said your father left your mother when he found out she was pregnant, then you were put in here after robbing a bank?” Ivlisar inquired.

“I want to see what this shadow elf is capable of,” Haelga said, eyeing Amaris like a cave spider stalking a lost racoon, an instance she had witnessed in its more literal iteration once before. The encounter ended well for the young, dog-sized arachnid.

“So do I,” the Azhurian said, in a slightly different tone.

“Not like that, you buffoon!” Haelga shouted, raising a fist. “I want to see if she can fight.”

“You'll get your chance on the battlefield, Haelga,” Sheilagh informed. “Also, Rodrik, who's the human?”

“Lars,” Rodrik replied, gesturing to the Azhurian.

“I'm getting anxious!” Haelga exclaimed, gritting her teeth.

“Haelga, you get anxious if you go two minutes without getting to fight someone!” Ivlisar exclaimed, having not moved from his spot on the wall since Amaris joined the little group.

“Whatever, Ivy. I just want to sort out the weak.”

Ivlisar,” he hissed removing himself from the wall. “My name is Ivlisar, you pea-brained, oversized she-male!”

“Whatever you way, Ivysaur,” Haelga shrugged, folding her arms. “I still want to know if the so-called shadow elf is as dangerous as the rumors claim the race is.”

“Why?” Amaris asked, incredulous. “What sort of rumors have you even heard?”

“The common rumor is your race is tall and gangly with sunken eyes, sharp teeth, and long claws,” Ivlisar stated. “Of course, that's usually just farmers mistaking feral vampires and ghouls for them before the Söldner come through and, as they say, 'clean house.'”

“The ones I've heard is that while you're not strong, you're fast and can turn invisible in even the faintest shadow,” Haelga said. “Then you wait for your target to get close enough before tearing open their throat. Oh, and there's the ones where you steal children from their beds at night.”

“I can assure you, those rumors are false,” Amaris began. “The first one, you only have to look in front of you. Second, some of us may be fast, but we don't turn invisible on a whim; that's very specialized magic. Third, as a former Lieutenant, you can rest assured none of your children have been taken by our race. The former General of the Royal Guard would have personally executed anyone doing that.”

“That's why they're rumors,” Ivlisar shrugged. “Rumors are often, unsurprisingly, lies. Although,” he cupped his chin in thought, “those rumors did originate from the upper echelons of the Azhurian government, likely to instill fear in the entire continent. It worked, though. Haven't had a major war in centuries.”

“Rumors or not, if she's too scared to fight, I'll find someone. Rodrik, you look like a good opponent.”

“Haelga, leave the lass be. She-”

“I will accept your challenge, Haelga” Amaris said, receiving bewildered looks from the group, then amusement from Haelga.

“Lass,” Rodrik began, “you don' know what yer in for. She can easily tear you in half at the waist!”

“I have never disappointed an audience, and I don't intend to start today,” Amaris stated, heading over to a circle in the center of the training floor. She could feel Haelga directly behind her, and noticed other prisoners looking twice or dropping what they were occupied with to watch. She went to the opposite edge of the circle, and turned. Haelga stood mere feet away, straight, arms crossed, sneering.

Grappling won't work with someone her size, Amaris conceded, analyzing her opponent for any weakness to exploit, and finding none. A thought briefly appeared, only to be quickly dispelled by the orc's bantering.

“I'm going to wipe that dumb look off your stupid face!” Haelga exclaimed.

“I thought we were here to fight with fists, not with words?” Amaris asked, raising her fists and assuming a traditional posture. Haelga followed with almost identical movements.

The orc stepped forward and bluffed with her left elbow, instead bringing her right arm forward to cross. Amaris deflected the blow to the inside, side-stepping left, and bringing a right uppercut into Haelga's solar plexus. The orc stumbled backward, struggling for air when a follow-up punch to the flat of her forehead knocked her to the ground, groaning and barely conscious.

“That's... impossible!” An inmate exclaimed.

“Did she really take out Haelga in two hits?”

“Was it two? I only saw one.”

Three guards broke through the crowd and collected the stricken orc, placing her on a stretcher. The crowd dispersed, some men eyeing her warily. Even Sheilagh, the wood elf who had approached her so openly before, now withdrew cautiously. Rodrik stared, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, and Ivlisar had an unmistakably evil grin on his face.


“Took several good men to bring Haelga in, and you just take her out in one good hit?” The guard at point asked, leading her down a spiral stone staircase, magic orbs stuck to the ceiling illuminating the stonework with their pale blue light. “Now I know why everyone's so afraid of you... people.”

“Any big, dumb brute can be taken down if you know where to hit,” Amaris said sharply. The guard remained quiet for the remainder of the walk down the stairs and through a short hallway, no more than ten meters in length, ending at an iron door. Ushered through it, her binds were undone, and the guards left back through the door, locking it behind them.

The hallway she now found herself in only went to the left, a solid wall of stone behind her. An arrow had been painted onto the wall at the end of the hallway, pointing right. She followed the arrow down a second hallway and a flight of stairs, coming to a room with others equipping armor or testing weapons. Looking over at the armor rack, all the pieces, regardless of their material, had a purple sash around the waist.

“Looks like Team Purple finally got its newest member,” a male orc leaning in the far corner said. He had a battle axe leaning against the wall next to him. The other members looked to see who had arrived. All men. Two looked away even more quickly than they turned to face her, producing confused looks from the others.

Diverting her attention away from them, she headed to the armor rack, finding worn, neglected iron breast plates. Large dents, punctures, and scratches scarred their surfaces, scaling rust covering older battle damage. The cloth protecting the wearer from abrasions by his own armor had yellowed, and stank of something stale.

Sighing, she grabbed one that appeared to be in better condition than the rest, The leather had become stiff, flaky and brittle, and the top of the breast and back plates had been crudely cut away to make room for the head. Slipping her arms through and sliding the armor over her head, the smell of death hit her sinuses like a war hammer, and barely faded when it finally rested in place on her shoulders. In need of a distraction, she headed over to the weapons rack, a muscular man stepping clear of her, holding his hands up. Spying a hand-and-a-half sword, she plucked it out of the bunch, inspecting the corroded blade, pitted from old rust that had since been cleaned off, nary a smooth spot on the steel from the almost criminally negligent maintenance.

“Don't bother inspecting the iron too much, missy,” the orc said, removing himself from his spot on the wall and approaching her. When she entered the room, she saw he was big, but now that he was in arm's reach, she could see he was a full head taller, and over double her width at the shoulders. “All of this iron, wood, and leather is defective product, unfit to be sold. It's too expensive for the smithies to try again on the same metal, so what they know they can't sell, they send down here.”

“Believe me or not, we don't really have this problem back home.”

“Oh? How can you not have this problem? Any smithy, no matter how competent, gets a blade wrong at least once every few years.”

“All of the metals used in our weapons and armor are very pure. We go for quality over quantity, and it shows. You cannot break a shadow elf's sword. The metal has been tempered to withstand incredible levels of stress.”

“Well, so were these, and look what happened.”

“Combatants,” a man said, coming out an iron door Amaris had not noticed before. It was solid, with only a small grate, and opened from her team's side “it is almost time. You will be fighting Team Yellow. Might want to devise a strategy. Lord knows you'll need one.” He disappeared behind the door, a dull thrum resonating upon closure.

“So, does anybody have any battle experience or training in tactics?” One of her team members asked.

“No, but I'm sure the lass does,” a Nordic man said. Amaris didn't turn to face him, but from his distinct voice, it sounded like Rodrik.

“I don't have a plan,” Amaris said calmly, leading to groans from three team members. “We are facing a rag-tag group of criminals, much like ourselves, not an army. Coordination will be nearly impossible between us, and we don't know what they will be planning.”

“Then what do you suggest, if anything?” A young, nervous Azhurian asked. Even in the prisons, it seemed Azhurians provided the majority.

“We improvise. Find an opponent you believe you can easily counter, and take care of them. Odds are, Yellow is taking the same strategy. Keep in mind, we are up against several unknown quantities. Just keep your wits about you.”

“Considering you took down my sister in swift order, I think we'll do just fine,” the orc said, heading down a flight of stairs, battle axe slung over his shoulder, followed by the others.

The way the orc carried the word sister in his speech made it unclear to Amaris if he was referring to Haelga as his sibling, or merely a clansman. The orc race did lack a unified government body, instead preferring various clans and elders for individual governments, and warriors for soldiers. The city-states often skirmished with each other over territory, mates, and resources, and while they didn't make it a habit to think long-term, what the race lacked in unity, they made up for in raw brutality and endurance. At least, that's what she had been taught, having grown up surrounded by enemies, just waiting for an attack to come from anywhere, by anyone, at any time.

Following her teammates out to the arena, it had a very green hue, lit from the center of the dome-like ceiling. The attending audience was minimal. A few mercenaries, a bounty hunter or two, some beggars, and many empty rows on the stair-like seats to the arena visible through the steel cage closing up to the ceiling. Turning her gaze to the opposing team, it was all humans; some with weapons, some without, likely mages, separated by an iron gate standing a full ten feet high. The one opposite her wielded a morning star and a heater shield of such questionable condition, it would be quite dubious to even call it a shield anymore.

The gate dropped, and the opposing team charged. Amaris backed out of the mayhem, the mace wielder in pursuit. He charged forward, clumsily bringing down the morning star, not at all like a trained soldier, or even a bandit. He missed, the spiked ball crashing into the sandy floor, kicking up debris, then bringing it back up, both times directed at her face. Charging a spell, she sent it toward the ground, catapulting sand into his face. He fell to his knees, wailing, clawing at his eyelids in a vain effort to remove the coarse soil. Amaris ran her sword through his chest, and the cries ceased. She removed the blade, and he crumpled to the ground, dead. Looking up to face her team, the orc butted the handle of the battle axe against the remaining opponent's face. Stunned by the force of the blow, he bent over, and the large axe came down on his neck, decapitating him. The four remaining fighters recalled to the fitting room.
“You told me that earthquake would work! Why are they still alive!?” Romulus shouted at the formless visage before him.

“It's... intriguing. They managed to survive a fall of two hundred meters, and the girl only suffered a broken arm. The male was unharmed.”

“Is there anything you can do? An earthquake in that city they're in? A plague? Anything!? I want to hold up my end of the bargain, Master, so you can hold up yours.”

“Nothing quite so drastic, no. This requires a more... delicate touch. I have servants all over the continent who would be more than willing to take care of our little problems.”

“If I could speak with them, that would be ideal.”

“No. You are to stay put in your palace. If your guards catch an outsider in your race's territory, all of this could be for nothing, and if you go missing for even a couple hours, that will raise alarms. I will contact them, myself. However, there are forces that work against us, and they are not pushovers. I will contact my servant nearest them, and he will act accordingly. Just call my name, for I will hear you scream,” the visage said before evaporating.

“Your time will run out soon enough, Amaris. Try as they might, my Master's enemies cannot protect you forever,” Romulus hissed at a small painting of his ex-fiancee, glaring at her confident, subtle smile. “What's so important about you, anyway?”


“Damn it!” Gwynnestri exclaimed, tossing a bloodied cloth to the side and wrapping her little finger in bandages. “Damn that old man, making me craft a dress for that monster!”

“What are you griping about now, Gwyn?” The tailoring business' owner, a tall and thin Azhurian man, asked, leaning against the door frame.

“That old fart in the attic is making me put together a dress for some... some beast!”

“If you worked anywhere else, you'd have been a strange smell in the attic a long time ago. Seriously, could you calm down and elaborate?”

“Judge Amor wants me to make a dress for a prisoner so she's presentable, but I've never worked with a skin tone that dark...”

“Do you remember anything particularly striking about this woman?”

“It's a shadow elf.”

“Okay, seriously, Gwyn. Tell me what it is you noticed.”

“The prisoner in the jail by the courthouse is a shadow elf. I'm not joking. Judge Amor wants me to make her a dress so she's presentable, but I don't know what color I should even use... I don't know why I care so much about what a monster wears.”

“His Honor has always been a bit on the eccentric side, I'll agree with you on that. What did she look like?”

“Knowing you, the first thing you'd probably notice wouldn't be the eyes, but her bust.”

“Ah, so she's a pretty one? If you don't want to deal with this woman anymore, I will happily deliver the dress for you. On another note, do you remember her eyes or her hair?”

“Dark blue eyes, raven hair, dark brown skin. My other notes should be nearby, somewhere in this mess of fabric...”

“Then make the fabric match the eyes. Perhaps with some gold trim? This shouldn't be  that hard, Gwyn.”

“That's not a bad idea, really. I mean, we are getting paid well for this.”

“Now, as for the cuts...”

“No, we are not making her look like a tavern wench. I don't want to have my throat torn open in the middle of the night.”

“You're no fun.”


Judge Amor awoke to a tapping coming from his bedroom window in the early morning light. Branwen continued to peck the glass until the window was opened, in which she fluttered down to the bedside night stand, looking at the old man expectantly.

“Oh, you're expecting me to give you something, aren't you?” He asked through a yawn, retrieving a small stone the size of a grape from the night stand's drawer. “Give this to Vanguard.” Without a sound, the raven popped the stone in her mouth and swallowed, storing it in her gizzard. Scratching her way up the stone wall, she briefly perched on the window sill before spreading her wings and taking flight. “Safe journey, Seeker.”


Pacing atop Crassus' carts, Viizhiar found himself unusually frustrated. Unable to figure out why, with curious onlookers not helping, he planted himself on the center cart, facing a clothier's shop. A guard entered the business, and through the large display window, he noticed him holding a conversation with a white-haired, elven woman inside, who held up a package wrapped in parchment, secured with thin string. She and a human male exited the business, locking the door behind them as they followed the guard, package in hand. He found it curious why a seamstress of all people would need a guard to transport a simple package.

“Crassus!” Viizhiar nearly shouted, garnering the fat man's attention. “I have some business I must tend to, so you won't be seeing me for a couple hours, at least.”

“Fine,” Crassus sighed, waving his hand in dismissal.

Taking his cue, Viizhiar pursued the trio, maintaining a distance as they wove through the street traffic in the market, ambient chatter and footsteps rendering any conversations the group may have been having impossible to hear. Exiting the market, they headed into the Silver Quarter, a more affluent section of town in the second ring with large stone houses and some manors. The streets were far less populated, save for the occasional carriage. A poor-looking man with a long beard and dark overcoat ambled down the avenue with what appeared to be a slight limp, bumping the woman holding the package and knocking it out of her hand. He picked it up, apologized, and moved on. Taking a closer look, the coin purse on her left hip had disappeared. The bearded man continued on, sneaking a small leather bag into his coat, the white-haired elf and her partner none the wiser.

“Well, if it isn't my favorite drinking buddy?” Viizhiar asked quite loudly, wrapping his arm around the man's shoulder, feigning a slight slur and drunken amble. “Let's get some mead!” The thief tried to repel him, only for Viizhiar's grip to become tighter. “Come on, old friend. I know a shortcut!” Escorting the pickpocket into an alleyway between some buildings, he waited until they were some way inside before pushing him to the ground, becoming quite serious. “Cough it up.”

“What are you talking about?” The thief queried in a semi-hoarse, accented voice, playing dumb.

“Don't think I didn't see you rob that woman blind, taking her coin. This is your final chance to hand over the purse, or things will get ugly.” He knew the thief could see the polesword slung over his back, and so grabbed the end to swing it over his shoulder should the need arise. “But, being a thief, I think you value your life more than you value a bit of coin. So, what will it be?”

“Take it,” he hissed, tossing a leather bag to Viizhiar. It jangled as it was caught, coins impacting and sliding against one another. Opening the sack's mouth, it was not a flash trap as he expected, just an ordinary coin purse. Pulling the draw strings taught, it closed tight. “I may be a thief, but I ain't much for lyin'.” Without another word, he vanished into the shadows.

Coin purse in hand, Viizhiar quickly exited the alleyway and sprinted through the Silver Quarter, hunting for the white-haired elf and the guard. Passing under a guard's catwalk marking the border between the Silver Quarter and government facilities, he found them in front of Judge Amor's court and office, where a small prison resided only a few dozen yards away, constructed so the cells were all underground. On approach, he overheard mumbling between the seamstress and the human. Both sounded quite nervous.

“Excuse me, ma'am?” Viizhiar began, drawing her attention and holding out a coin purse. “I believe this was taken from you?” She checked her waist to find her coin purse was, in fact, gone.

“Thank you, stranger,” she said, handing the package to her human partner and receiving the coin purse. “How did you know?”

“I have my ways. Considering you're a seamstress who has a guard to take you to Judge Amor's private office, I must know what's in the wrap.”

“It's a private sale. Aren't you a wanderer? Why does it concern you?”

“I help keep the peace. Hunting dangerous monsters that could tear me in half may be my primary job, but I do have duties where civilians are concerned, being a Söldner and all that.”

The seamstress sighed, “His Honor ordered a dress to be made for a particular prisoner that has piqued his interest. He says she must be presentable for trial, and I'm looking to see if my handiwork would be considered adequate.”

“Fair enough,” Viizhiar replied with a slight shrug, leaving the tailors to their business.


“Your Honor, the dress has arrived, just as you requested,” the office guard said, accompanied by the tailors and their escort. The Judge relaxed into his chair and interlaced his fingers.

“Perhaps I was negligent in saying it needed to be delivered to the prisoner, and I had no need to see it beforehand? However, since you're here,” he paused, procuring a key from a desk drawer and tossing it to the escort, “do let her use my bathing chambers, then notify the handmaids to clean as per normal. I'd rather the courtroom not smell like something died.”

“Yes, sir,” the escort said, bringing the tailors with him out of the office, the heavy doors closing behind.

“So, this prisoner,” the guard began, “do you think she's....?”

“We'll have to wait and see.”


She stared blankly at the floor, sitting at the edge of the prison bed, forearms on her knees and hands clasped together, as if in prayer, but her lips stayed closed and her eyes fixated on nothing as she waited for something to happen. A small centipede crawling across the floor brought focus until its shimmering white legs disappeared into a large crevice between stones. She glanced up at her neighbor, who had been busying himself by drawing on the floor with his fingers.

“If what you've said is true, and that you really are a shadow elf, you're never getting out of here alive, you know. Who was this mercenary that ratted you out, anyway? He sounds like a ripe target. Judge Amor probably gave him a large sack of gold and diamonds, maybe a platinum coin or two in there.”

“That mercenary is extremely dangerous. He can cast fire jets that maintain their strength at over ten meters, and wields a polesword that he uses to carve up his opponents like they're fish, as I once witnessed. If you think you're going to just freeze him, think again. He can conjure a flame cloak so hot, it overwhelms frost spells.”

“That's impossible. Even the strongest flame cloaks don't burn until you get in their radius, and even then, they don't do anything against frost spells.”

“I once witnessed a mage freeze him in an ice block. It shattered, and the flames weren't yellow or bright orange like you would think. They were dark red and produced more heat than a busy forge. And I was pretty far away from the action. If you still want to press your luck, he's a dark elf named Viizhiar, but I would advise against it for your own sake.”

“There are better thieves than me out there, missy. The streets are rife with pick-pockets, especially in the bigger cities. I'm more of a break-in-and-entering kind of guy, myself. Although, there is this one flea bag that's a master pick-pocket, and the tax man. Over forty years of crime, and they're still going at it. You'd think those old men would have enough to retire by now?”

Footsteps echoed from the stairwell; several heavy footfalls, a dull clopping mixed in. Armor and equipment clicked and rattled as the soldiers made their way down the stairwell. This wasn't a normal patrolling guard. They were coming for someone. Curling up into a ball, she tried to make herself as small as possible, her senses heightening where she could watch lice scurry throughout the bed sheets, and the footfalls sounding like rolling thunder and the armor as chimes. A striped spider the size of a cat stalked a roach not far ahead of it, then pounced. The sudden movement snapped Amaris out of her tunnel vision, her hearing and sense of time also returning to normal. The wolf spider could only be made out by its movement now, dragging its doomed prey back to its hovel. Removing her attention from nature taking its course, there were three guards outside her cell. Two with steel body armor and open-faced helmets, and a third wielding a winged spear with leather armor and a wide-brimmed steel helmet.


“What is it now, Gwyn?” Tycho asked. “The dress will look fine.”

“It's not about the dress,” Gwynnestri replied, visibly troubled as she leaned against the stone wall, arms crossed.

“Then what is it, if not the dress? You always seem troubled whenever someone walks out the door with one of your works.”

“It's the one wearing it. She's... not like anyone else. Whenever a customer walks out with one of my works, they're representing us. If it's found out a monster like that is wearing our product, we could be run out of town.”

“I don't think the race matters as much as you think. She's a young woman, well-spoken, well-educated. She's just scared. Wouldn't you be scared too if people wanted to kill you simply because you existed? I hope the dress you've made will provide some form of comfort for her. Perhaps it will remind her of home?” Tycho said, attempting to comfort his employee.

“You're a fool, Tycho,” Gwynnestri sighed, turning away.

“It's a nice dress,” Amaris said, looking herself over, her right leg almost entirely out of the slit in the side that ran up to her mid-thigh as she shifted her balance, “if a little revealing.” The crimson garb hugged her midsection and lower neck with equally tight sleeves running down to her elbows. As she brought one hand up, the section of sleeve on her forearm drooped and hung like a hammock between her elbow and middle finger.

“It's to make smuggling weapons into His Honor's presence that much harder,” the guard said flatly.

“Oh, sure,” Amaris said sarcastically.

“Take solace in the fact that while people may look, they aren't allowed to touch you. Not with anything just before you meet with His Honor,” the guard said in the same flat tone, standing upright from his spot on the wall. With a snap of his fingers, the two guards from the prison appeared from around the corner leading to a staircase. “Just watch my six and make sure she doesn't try anything funny.”

“Yes, Commander,” both guards replied in unison, standing at attention and saluting with their right fists in the center of their chests.

Following the Commander around the corner and up the stairs they had come down previously, the two guards behind joined at Amaris' back, flanking at either side. About midway up the stairs, the Commander pressed in a stone brick to reveal a hidden door leading to a garden. The passageway had been cloaked by vines and hanging moss as it opened, moved out of the way by the Commander. Two mages practiced at the opposite wall seemingly oblivious to the sound of grinding stone.

“We don't really use that passage, but it's the best way for the occasion. You will essentially be paraded through the streets, but the walk isn't too far.”

“Why isn't the bath located below the court building?” Amaris asked as they neared the street. “Why under the library?”

“His Honor enjoys a good walk through the city's night air when the weather's right. Otheriwse, it just gives him an excuse to relax with a book,” the Commander informed. “Now, cease your questions until you meet with His Honor.”

The nearer they came to the judicial building, the density of the crowd increased as people stopped to watch. Jeers and mockery resonated from the masses, some ready to throw old fruit or random objects they happened to be holding.

“Just keep your view forward and pay them no mind,” the guard with the spear said. “The last thing they need is provocation, the sheep.”

Remaining silent, she did as she was told, the insults and threats increasing in volume and intensity as they neared the court building, a group of several extremely muscular men blocked the stairs as the other peasants took up knives, pitch foks and torches.

“Citizens, you are obstructing the justice system! Move now and return to your daily lives, or be arrested or struck down where you stand!” The leading guard said commandingly to the surrounding mob, drawing a bastard sword. The other two guards followed suit by drawing their own weapons. “Damn it, these idiots want to start a bloody war...”

“Citizens!” A charismatic voice called from above. “I'm sure you're all nervous about having a shadow elf in your midst, but I assure you, you have nothing to fear!”

“What are you on about old man?”

“That monster could kill us all. It's a wonder the guards aren't dead yet!”

“I'll say it again. You have nothing to fear. If she were as dangerous as you believe, do you honestly think I would have just three of my men escort her to my court?” The shouting and jeers reduced to murmurs as the crowd scattered. “Philto, you and your men may proceed.”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

Sheathing their blades, the guards urged Amaris up the stairs and through the entryway and immediately right into a small room with a chair near the back, where she sat to wait. It only had a tiny window for light, illuminating a crimson rug with gold trim that ran up to underneath her seat. Bare stone walls remained close, the bricks her only company in quite possibly the world's loneliest room. People could be heard passing, slowly moving in to crowd the courtroom. The relentless murmuring on the other side of the heavy, wood door never ceased, but in their hushed tones, it was difficult to tell what was being said. One such noise that stood out was a child asking about a pretty woman, and his mother ushering him into the court room to await the proceedings. In Amaris' mind, she believed he must have been talking about one of the statues out in front of the courthouse. She didn't get a good look at them, but by memory, one was certainly a bronze blindfolded woman with a straight sword, holding a scale. The door knob clicked over, and outside stood Philto, once again with the same two guards at his side.

“It's time,” he said, marching over to Amaris and placing irons on her wrists. Motioning to her, she stood and followed Philto out of the room, the other guards flanking behind. The door opened, a large area of flat ground narrowing to a point in front of the judge, an older man with graying, swept-back hair and a small, pointed beard. He seemed to be eyeing her expectantly as she made her way to the chair in the center of the floor, positioned in such a way as to make the accused feel small and vulnerable. The onlookers murmured amongst themselves, the whispering halting when the judge cleared his throat.

“When they said they were bringing in a shadow elf, this was certainly not what I was expecting,” he remarked, earning a chuckle from the crowd. “Before we commence, do you speak New Viochion?”

“Yes, Your Honor,” she said flatly.

“I don't believe I have been provided your name?”

“Amaris Saetham.”

“It has certainly been a long time since a shadow elf has been spotted on our continent. Tell me, for what reason do you appear, now?”

“Exile,” she said simply.

“Exile? Intriguing. For what matter was deemed worthy of your banishment?”

“I was to be wed to our prince, and I refused at the last second. I narrowly escaped death, only because another sacrificed himself.”

“You say you were exiled, but you only just evaded death. Why?”

“It was supposed to be an escort to the surface, myself and a top officer who had been relinquished of his position escorted by several men. Instead, their orders were to lead us to the surface, and kill us. I never saw my General die, but I don't believe even he could have bested those odds. We were taught to always assume the missing are dead until they turn up. If they turn up.”

“And what were the circumstances that lead to your inevitable capture?”

“I was one of the escorts for a merchant. All of his guards were killed by bandits, and they chased him right to us. Some time after leaving a town called Havelaan, we were headed to this city, but passed through a military checkpoint, where I was found out.”

“Have you ever killed before?”

“Not out of anger, no.”

The audience begun to murmur and whisper. She wondered if she had phrased anything wrong.

“Then if not out of anger, have you expressed joy in taking lives?”

“No. I felt nothing when I took the lives of those bandits in the process of saving the life of that merchant, my former employer, who was none the wiser to what I am.”

“When you were a soldier back home, what was your rank and branch?”

“Infantry, Eighth Scouting Division, First Lieutenant. I was scheduled to be promoted to the rank of Captain and transferred to the Royal Guard six months from one week ago, today.”

“What does any of this matter!?” One of the large, barrel-chested men who had previously blocked entry into the judicial building, bellowed. “The only thing that should matter is getting guilds like the Söldner to take care of these monsters! There will never be a restful night for anyone while these monsters, that one in particular, still breathes!”

“There is no reason you should fear this one,” the Judge said, giving a casual wave of his hand. The man's expression went blank as he quietly sat down.

“There must be something that can be done!” A woman exclaimed. “Before any of you shout me down, I have worked on the council for years, and know that if there is no crime committed by the individual in question, and said individual is executed even with due process of law, it is an act of war.”

“I don't care how long you've been on the council!” Another woman shouted from the other bench. “The truth remains, we are dealing with monsters in our midst. As such, any measures must be taken to ensure they are dealt with in the most efficient manner.”

“Have you lost your mind!?” The first woman exclaimed, standing. She was older and quite portly. “This girl has committed no crime, no act of aggression. In fact, she has done us all a favor by ridding this world of some bandits. Many of you might consider this blasphemy, but in the eyes of the law, she has been illegally held hostage by the government. That's not my law, that's the law.” Some attendees murmured amongst each other and nodded in agreement.

“Have you, you bloated toad? This thing could kill half the city in a night and the guards would be powerless to do anything because she could just sneak through the shadows, completely undetected!”

“There is no evidence of nocturnal activity from her race to support your erroneous claim. This girl has not shown any unsanctioned acts of aggression or assault, even on easy targets like the tailor that crafted that dress. No. I stand by what I said. You have no proof this woman is a threat! None of you do!”

“And you have no proof that it isn't!”

“That's enough!” Judge Amor shouted, slamming down his gavel. “Any more interruptions will be held in contempt of court. Guards, undo her bonds and step away.”

They did as ordered, and Amor, as if to prove a point, walked behind some audience members, through the iron gate, and onto the courtroom floor mere feet in front of her.

“Miss Saetham, if you were to kill me where I stand, how would you do it?” Amor asked. She dared not take her eyes off him to see the reactions from the audience.

“Your Honor, I would never...”

“Answer the question.”

“Very well. The easiest approach would be to snap your neck. To do that, I would simply grab the back of your head and your chin and twist hard.”

“And how would you take out my guards?”

“You're questions are quite unnerving.”

“Miss Saetham...”

She took a deep breath, preparing herself for the answer that was making her heart run a race to perform a lifetime of rhythms in the span of a few minutes. The fact there were also dozens of witnesses to her answer wasn't helping her confidence, either. “The one with the sword, I would kick in the throat, incapacitating, if not killing him. I would then grab his weapon and engage the other two guards with sword and magic.”

“And why not also grab Philto's shield?”

“Because I am accustomed to fighting without one,” she said flatly, avoiding dancing around the question.

“That is all I needed,” he said, heading back to his seat, the audience once more conversing with one another.

Her entire body was now covered in a layer of sweat from the judge's line of questions, causing the dress to stick to her skin. She could tell the soap was no longer keeping her smelling nice as the smell of musty onions worked its way up through her nostrils, the fluid feeling like slime in the fine fabric, making her grimace internally.

The constant whispering and muttering from the onlookers ceased as a young man stood and said, “Your Honor, we have reached a verdict.”

“Let's hear it.”

“The accused will fight in arena matches for her freedom. Victory will result in freedom and acquisition of citizenship. Failure will result in execution or being sold at auction to the highest bidder.”

Only at the last sentence did she notice the Judge's lips moving in unison with the speaker's, mouthing the words.

“This court is dismissed,” Amor said, hammering the gavel onto his stand. Slowly, the attendees made their way out. After a few short minutes, the doors shut with a groan and hollow, resonating clang only iron could make. “Philto, do escort her to the holding cells for fighters in The Pit. I have business I must tend to.”

“Yes, sir. Come with us, ma'am.”


Amor quickened his pace to his office. He needed to contact her immediately. The large double doors opened before him, and closed once inside. With a snap of his fingers, they locked.

“I can't believe you had the stones to do it,” an uninvited guest said, causing Amor to jump. Turning around, it was Levant, leaning in the corner by the pendulum clock. The elf glanced at the time, then turned back to him. “Risky business, using your power like that.”

“She noticed,” Amor said, flopping into his chair. “She noticed me use my Persuasion. I may have just endangered us all.”

“She's not the one you need to worry about. If anything, she probably doesn't understand what just went on. Who would?”

“What are you doing here?” Amor asked, annoyed with the dark elf.

“I assume you're going to contact Matriarch? Let her in on our little impromptu rescue mission?”

“Yes,” Amor nodded. “How much longer must we wait for your raven to reach the capitol?”

“Shouldn't be long. Why?”

“Matriarch isn't the only one I need to talk to. That is all you need to know.”


“What's that racket? Did Levant's bird get locked out again?” The caretaker shouted, opening the plate glass windows Branwen was attacking, only for the raven to give up and enter through the main door, frightening the farmer that had just entered. She landed on the front desk and held out the leg with the sack wrapped around, which was promptly emptied of all contents. Rather than wait for a reward or return message, Branwen instead took flight and left through the now-open windows, where a red-tail hawk returned and sat upon a perch, waiting for its message to be received.

“Caretaker Cario, please hand over these contents to our alchemists. I want to know what's so important about them.”

“Yes, sir,” Cario replied, taking all but the letter.

“The letter, I want you to deliver to our scribes so it can be logged properly.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good day to you, farmer. What ails you?

“I have a problem with a creature I can't identify. It's killing my sheep, several each night.”

“I can have someone deal with your wolf problem.”

“It isn't wolves. At least, not one I've ever seen. This creature has wings like a bat and long, sharp claws, its cry only muffled by a banshee's. Before it strikes, I can hear it imitating a young lamb crying for help.”

“Sounds like a gargoyle of some sort. Very well, I will have someone take care of your little problem. Just fill out this forum.”

“Thank you.”


Soaring above the city, Branwen took a perch on top of a bell tower, surveying the area for her next delivery. Taking flight, she headed toward the palace and landed on a balcony overlooking the courtyard. An elven man with long, silver hair and pail skin was running a training session with a much less-experienced young man, training swords clashing in time and on instruction. From directly beneath, a large man in a red coattail uniform with bandages wrapped around his head appeared and started walking toward the trainee and his instructor. Swooping down toward him, he held out his arm, where she landed and sat comfortably.

“How is the training going, Colonel?” Vanguard asked.

“Prince Augustalis is improving, sir. However, he still has a long way to go. Sir.”

“It's an honor to be in your presence, General. Colonel Shiro has been teaching me well while you were away.”

“That's always good to hear.”

“General, if I may ask you one question?” The prince asked.

“Of course.”

“I know it's probably more of a personal question, and one you probably don't like talking about, but why do you wear those bandages over your entire head? War wound?”

“I wish it were that glorious,” he replied. “No. It was a magic-based accident. A fireball blew up in my face, disfiguring it beyond repair. Let's just say I have only the highest respect for mages, now.”

“I see. I'm sorry to trouble you about it.”

“Don't worry about it. You aren't the first to have asked that question. So, Branwen. What brings you to me, today?”

The raven's only reply was a choking sound as she coughed up a small, spherical black stone into his gloved hand.

“What is it?” The prince asked.

“A message. My eyes only. Stay quiet for a few minutes. I must concentrate.” Turning his back to the pair, he tightly clenched the stone and closed his eyes, standing very still for some time. He took a breath and locked eyes with Branwen before turning toward the pair behind himself. “Colonel, I must speak with you alone. Milord, you may wash up and return to your daily life.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said, leaving the courtyard. Neither of the military officers said a word until it was just them and Branwen.

“What is it, sir?”

“Suno, I may have an assignment for you in the coming weeks, potentially going through the festival.”

“What kind of assignment?”

“By the end of next month, a shadow elf will have arrived in the city. Be on the lookout for a dark elf in a leather hauberk wielding a polesword with a long, curved blade around the time the shadow elf arrives.”

“A shadow elf? And of what concern is the dark elf?”

“This one is female. The dark elf is male. The dark elf in question served as her guardian for a few days before she was finally caught. They're both dangerous, Suno. That's why I'm having you watch the dark elf. Don't be around him too much, or he will begin to suspect you.”

“Understood, sir.”

“You are dismissed. Branwen, you should head back to your guild hall and rest.”
  • Listening to: TSFH piano covers
When changing the names of characters, edit the files currently on the hard drive BEFORE the published files...


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SchattenLotus Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2018
Ahoi, :wave:
" Thank You " for inspiring the Idea Ghostbear3067 to use "Links" in his glorious Cross-Over between "RWBY" and a amazing Space-Army obsessed with Bears :XD:
Neutral-Death Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2018  Hobbyist Writer
You're welcome?
SchattenLotus Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2018
He asked me to thank You, so i had no Choice :XD: :D
RobotCatArt Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
2015-1024-ChibiNekoSticker by RobotCatArt  
GlassLotuses Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so so so much for the watch!!! :squee: :squee: :squee:
Alienotic-Freak Featured By Owner May 25, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Happy Birthday!
Neutral-Death Featured By Owner May 25, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
KreKael2 Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Keep up the great work!
Neutral-Death Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I'll try.
Alienotic-Freak Featured By Owner Edited Nov 25, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Hey man did not talk to you for a while! how are things going?

I am currently sick with bronchitis and a fever
Neutral-Death Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Things are going pretty well, I'd say.
Alienotic-Freak Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thats good! :D (Big Grin) 
LucyJayy Featured By Owner May 25, 2014
Happy Birthday! Patrick (Cake) [V1] 
Neutral-Death Featured By Owner May 25, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
LysoDesigns Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Also -- I think you need the one that does this:
Neutral-Death Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I saw that one in the Steam Workshop. It looks neat, but Hyrule and Tamriel just don't meld together as one would expect.
LysoDesigns Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I would love to see a Zelda game with the scope of an Elder Scrolls game. I mean, I LOVE the Zelda games, but the stories are always so linear. I would love some huge side quests other than hunting skulltulas and bizarre masks.
Neutral-Death Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Even still, it's not very lore-friendly to either series.
LysoDesigns Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
How about the mod for Thomas the Tank Engine?
Neutral-Death Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I've heard of that one, and while it's funny, I find it to be ridiculous.
jgilronan Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Neutral-Death Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
You're welcome.
GoldenBrownNugget Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist

Neutral-Death Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
GoldenBrownNugget Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Stupidity ever wins
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