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300 years before the events of Invidere...


A solitary ray of sunlight was cast on the man's face, forcing him to wince slightly. The little cabin was almost laughably isolated and quite serene - almost too much for his taste. One of the room's windows was slightly ajar, allowing a cool breeze to seep in and cause the hair on his arms to perk up slightly. Though most of Kilran was well into the season of spring - surely, a harbinger of good things to come - the month or even time of day meant little to the few inhabitants of the frosted mountainpeaks of Apollyon. In some ways, he preferred the cold. It reminded him of his mother to some extent, while the warm, overbearing rays of summer brought back echoes of his father's fiery rage. The same rage he had begun to sense within his brother some time ago.


This cabin was pleasant, and overbearingly so. After so many months of laying quietly in his modest bed, he would sooner retreat to the hectic streets of Belial and listen to the endless chatter of enterprising merchants and stingy guardsman than stomach one more day here. Despite this, he had resigned to the fact that he had to remain here. His condition had been steadily improving for several weeks now, but it was still far too early to even consider returning to the fray. Yet still, he wished so desperately that his healer would simply say something. Anything. Even a short bitter anecdote or flat-out insult would be preferable to her almost impressive silence.


"I suspect the relief efforts in Aragon will have come to fruition by now," the man strained to say. "Those people didn't deserve such hardships." With great effort, he turned his head slightly to get a better look at her. She was irrevocably beautiful, much more so than any mortals he had seen before. Her crimson hair was slightly past shoulder-length and complimented her pale skin remarkably well.


The woman said nothing.


"Perhaps the king of Medriaas will contribute as well," he continued, returning his gaze back to the ceiling. "I would like that very much." The woman placed a small rag over a red mark on his right arm, soaked in chemicals that caused him to barely audibly moan in intense pain. She gently placed his hand in hers, holding him carefully so as not to upset him further. Her long white fingers ran up and down his arm, their coldness soothing him to great effect. Still, she would not meet his eyes.


"I cannot... do this, forever," the man wheezed, clutching her hand tighter. She sighed softly and finally lifted her head to get a better look at the man's face. He was remarkably handsome, with tanned skin and thick, slightly gray hair, and though they were unusual to her, there was something alluring about his piercing white eyes, which she would often see light up in the dead of night, silently watching her. He looked at her graciously, but there was pain in his expression, unlike any she had seen before. It did not strike her as physical pain. The source of his anguish was internal, that much was clear.


She sighed again and placed her other hand over his chest. "You will endure, my love," she nodded softly. "You are more than a man, or even a god. The name Notch is a concept. An idea. One that inspires hope and light within all men. And one that will not die."


Notch cleared his throat and smiled at her with all the strength he could muster. He could have sworn that she had managed something of a half-smile as well, though it faded as soon as he began to wheeze again.


"Sleep now. You will need your strength," she whispered.




Home. Kuwaktana was far from home for Lady Thash, though she was content to live here as long as it provided safe haven from the prying, fanatical eyes of her pursuers. Those bound by flesh, at the very least. For some weeks now, she had doubted the remoteness of the location could protect her from threats that stemmed from the incorporeal.


"You devote so many months to caring for a man you do not know," the presence observed. "Your compassion intrigues me."


Lady Thash looked up and down the valley, scanning for the source of the voice, though she knew she would not find it. She had convinced herself it was not truly here - it was merely a shadow, and a persistent one at that, which she doubted she would be able to expel through normal means. Up until this point, she had simply ignored its attempts to probe her, and when she was lucky, her method served her well, and the presence eventually lost interest and left her alone. Not this time.


"Who are you and what do you want?" the Lady spat, quickening her pace towards her camp at the end of the valley.


"I am an old man," the voice confessed. She could have sworn there was a newfound weariness in its tone that she had never noticed before. "I am alone, confused, sick, and in need of healing. Surely, you could lend some aid to a helpless geezer."


The presence's words were desperate and rang with a faint echo of sincerity, but she had sensed its true nature some time ago; it reeked of death, sadness, despair, and destruction. It was dripping with hatred and contempt. In some way, it was truly pathetic, perhaps even worth of pity. But Lady Thash would always remind herself that it is a fool's errand to pity the strong.


"I won't be swayed by your lies," the woman stopped. "I do not know what you are or why you have come. But it is time for you to leave."


"Ah, you wish for me to step out from the shadows? You desire to look upon me with your own to eyes, to put a face to the tiresome spirit that has perturbed you ceaselessly for so long?"


"I-"


"You need only to have asked," the presence said cordially. Thash quickly pivoted her gaze to the east, where the sound of footsteps had manifested. From the darkness of the valley, a cloaked man with a severe hunchback emerged, stepping towards her with a peculiar pace. She strained to look under the figure's tattered black cloak as it approached her.


"Is that what you were looking for?" the figure asked hopefully. Thash slowly extended a hand out to remove the man's hood to get a look at his face, but the man did so himself before her shaking hand could reach him. The man's hunchback disappeared, and beneath the hood was a bright, muscular young man, perhaps in his late twenties with light brown hair and calm green eyes. The man smiled at her.


"T-Triton?" she asked in disbelief. The man's smile faded, and with the blink of an eye, he had transformed into another individual. Gray hair, white eyes, tanned skin...


"Or perhaps you were searching for someone else," the presence offered. Even after assuming a physical form, its voice was positively ethereal, coming from all directions at once and echoing with sinister reverberation.


"It matters little. I evolved beyond the bounds of a singular form long ago. Perhaps you could as well, in due time."


Lady Thash stared at Notch in disbelief for a moment before continuing on towards her home. She didn't bother to continue conversing with the spirit. Whatever it was, it clearly had no intention of hurting her. Surely, even if it did wish for harm to come upon her, she would be strong enough to protect herself. She didn't look back, keeping her eyes fixed upon the end of the valley, where her modest home of dark oak lay in wait.


"I will not be ignored."


She finally turned back to face the spirit with malice in her expression. But she saw nothing. The last thing she laid eyes upon before everything went dark was the weathered rock wall of the valley, blurry as she quickly turned around to confront her pursuer.


Several hours later, as the sun had begun to set, a dozen men in regal red and golden armor arrived on Kuwaktana and raced with great haste towards Lady Thash's home. Their leader, who wore a strange golden helmet with a gleaming sword dangling from his belt, rushed toward her cold body, lying still a matter of meters from the entrance of her home at the end of the valley. Under her was a pool of black blood, oozing out in all directions and steadily growing in size. This was not her blood.


Triton unfastened his helmet and threw it aside as he kneeled down in the pool of shadows and clutched the woman closely to his chest. There was no sign of a struggle - no cuts or bruises, and certainly no trauma. She had been in perfect health. It was as if she had spontaneously collapsed to the ground for no apparent reason at all. But he knew this to be untrue. The entire area reeked of death. His worst fears had been realized.


"What will we do now?" Cato asked as Triton rose from the shadow pool with Lady Thash in his arms. The brown haired man erased any hint of grief in his eyes. He was determined now.


"We will do what is right," Triton began. "We will avenge her death, come hell or high water."


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