Call of the Darkness

/ By Nullification [+Watch]

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Juniper's enthusiasm was a big like Fir's and Taog still wasn't sure how to deal with it. At least she was alright, which was the important thing. Tao gently pat her shoulder, unsure of where to put his hands so they wouldn't interfere with her wings.
Fitting? Taog looked confused. He didn't remember any of that, given he'd been asleep for it, dreaming. He did however, remember what those first few dreams had been about and they weren't nice. Tian said his rite hadn't been graceful. Was that what she'd meant?
"You don't have to worry," Taog said with an encouraging smile. He was alright now. His legs were a bit off, as if they weren't quite his own, but the sensation was steadily replaced as he moved and remained awake.
Juniper however seemed tired. Taog caught her leaning against her horse, which simply stood and waited. Tao reached out to touch Juniper's arm, but she seemed to steady herself. Eventually he seemed to have passed Juniper's check, because she mounted her horse again with some effort. At least she'd gotten a little better at it now. A hoard of memories, some real and others from visions rose to the surface of his mind and Taog closed his eyes for a moment to give them time to just sink to the bottom again and find a place.
Right. The caravan was moving.
The caverns they'd uncovered were really spectacular. Wild purple and blue coloured veins crossed the walls, illuminating their passage. They were vast halls, large enough for their beasts to pass through. Taog took Juniper's hand and sat down in front of her, taking the reins. That way, he wouldn't have to worry about Juniper's wings being crushed between them. Juniper's horse was little different from his and with a few encouragements, followed the others.
There was so much he'd seen, Taog didn't even know where to start or what to say to Juniper.
"Tian said I talked to her about the Dwarves and they now know where to look," Taog said. That was probably the easiest to start with, wasn't it? Rather than the past or future, where they were now was more important.
"You did really well, breaking the rocks," he complimented. He wouldn't mind if Juniper rested. Maybe it'd be better if she did. Soon they'd have to deal with the Dwarves and their dislike for other races. Hopefully though, they could offer them protection from the Council. Taog rather not meet another of those, but while the Dwarves were no match for the Great One, Taog did know they were matched to the Council. The Dwarves had fierce warriors and a great understanding of magic, employing it creatively in their weapons and armours.
The knowledge just rose to the surface as he thought about, like a forgotten dream reaching memory just in time. Taog knew it would pass.
Soon his thoughts would no longer be soiled with dreams of past and future.
"Rest for now, June. We're safe here," Taog said. He knew it to be true. The dangers in these halls were not ones that would hurt them.
  Taog / THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen / 12d 19h 45m 25s
Juniper was content to just walk in the middle, she didn’t want to set the pace or really lead the way, she just wanted peace and quiet for a while and to be left with her thoughts. Her horse whinnied whenever Taog took the reins and Juniper looked down at him, dismounting her horse in a flurry and hugging him tightly, she hadn’t seen him awake since Barut’s story telling and even though Tian had told her everything was alright, she didn’t believe it until now.
“I’m fine, I’m fine, it’s good to see you.” She breathed quietly, giving him a squeeze before remembering his issues with touch and close contact. She stepped back and cleared her throat, looking apologetic and she sighed out.
“I was worried, I saw you in the cavern, you looked like you were fitting.” She said to him quietly, just relieved he was doing alright and he was conscious because she had been terrified he wouldn’t wake. She didn’t understand the exact details of the rite he had taken and she was too scared to ask. All that mattered was that he was awake.

Juniper knew such a quick movement would catch her out and she leaned against her horse for stability. She didn’t want to pass out, she wanted to know what was going on and if Taog was really alright or if he was putting up some sort of front. He looked different somehow and her eyes trailed over him, catching a glimpse of some of his markings on his arm that peeped out from his sleeves. She smiled a little to see they had more of a shape and weren’t just inky blotches. They weren’t like others but she figured it meant that Taog had passed his ceremony and whatever had gone on in that Cavern with Tian. Juniper could honestly say that she didn’t ever want to witness something like that ever again, even the small snippet had been enough to make her think Taog was dying while the others just lay around.

Juniper realised they would get left behind like this and she pulled herself up onto her horse, reaching down and offering Taog a hand up, if he wanted to ride with her for a while. She figured it would be good for them to talk but she knew he liked his own space and figured he wouldn’t mean it offensively if he declined,
“We shouldn’t get left behind.” She said to him.
  Juniper / Nullification / 12d 21h 1m 18s
Taog got the feeling Tian had answered his questions before. Had he been awake? She didn't say he'd slept a day.
"Was I awake before?" Tao asked. Tian looked at Taog and cocked her head. A smile played across her lips. "We talked before, yes. You don't remember?" He shook his head.
"What about?"
"About what you saw during the rite," Tian replied casually.
Taog's face crunched up in mild confusion. Was what he'd seen important somehow?
"You helped us a great deal. We have a much better understanding of how to find the Dwarves and how to approach them now thanks to you," she said with a satisfied smile. Unlike hers, Taog's visions and his interpretations of them hadn't been as muddled by multiple versions of the future. It seemed his gift wasn't overly present, but when he did dream, he seemed sure. Perhaps it was his fire magic cleansing any taint diluting his visions.
If they could prompt Taog to see more, they could be assured of his visions' accuracy. Taog seemed to fight it though. Tian got the feeling Taog didn't like being lost in a dream world. He was tethered quite firmly to reality, both a boon and a curse at the same time for a Seer.
Their wagon ground to a halt. They'd reached the summit then.
Taog sat up, eyes a lot clearer than they had been these past few hours closer to awakening.
"Why are we stopping?"
"We reached our destination. Now it's up to Juniper."
Tao's face flashed with concern. Were they calling upon her powers again?
"I want to see," Taog started and reached for the opening in the canvas. All he saw were the horses that had wandered behind them and the cold late afternoon sky.
"Your clothes," Tian said. She stepped out of the wagon ahead of him and Taog realized they'd been in the smaller wagon together. No one else was there. What exactly had they talked about? Taog watched Tian walk away, but then realized she'd given him privacy to change back into his old clothes. He left the white garb behind and stepped out, awkwardly finding his footing on the rock. It felt like his body wasn't quite his. He remembered it being both younger and older somehow.
Slowly, he made his way to the front of the caravan.
Mirriam was there, with Juniper.
Barut snatched his shoulder, "she needs to concentrate, boy."
He seemed pleased though, rather than reprimanding. Taog didn't quite understand, but nodded and remained at a distance. After a few minutes, Fir nearly bowled him over with how fiercely she hugged him, "Tao! I was so worried."
She put him at arm's length and let her eyes regard him.
"I'm fine," he assured. Had Barut been worried for him too? "Tian said you'd be fine, but you wouldn't wake up for so long and..."
Barut looked at Fir.
"I'm glad you're alright. Come, you must be hungry," Fir said and guided him to one of the wagons. There was bread and more cheese, some of the milk and Taog ate quietly for a while. Visions didn't quite taste this real. It was almost overwhelming how sharp reality was in comparison to the dreams he'd lived through.
The caravan started moving as he finished. His eyes searched the caravan for Juniper and Fir gave him a nod, "go on then."
"Thank you," Taog said, and then weaved his way through the others to reach Juniper. She seemed tired and out of it, but there was no blood this time. She was being stubborn again though.
Taog reached for the leads of her horse.
"Are you okay?" Taog asked softly. He had half a mind to slip in behind her, just to make sure she wouldn't tumble from the horse.
  Taog / THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen / 12d 22h 54m 13s
Juniper was exhausted, a whole night and day on horseback and Mirriam had assured her that Taog was being looked after but that hadn't stopped her from peeking in now and then and making sure that he was alright. The mountains were colder but not as awful as when it had been snowing and blowing. She rode beside Mirriam who had her use some magic in short bursts as well as topping her up with the foul scented tea and such. It wasn't long before they came to the caved in tunnel and it looked formidable, it looked heavy. Juniper stopped her horse, dismounting and eyeing the rocks. They had been here for a long time, embedded. She stepped forwards and touched the surface of the stone, closing her eyes.
"Gentle, we just need to be able to get through." Mirriam said and Juniper nodded a little. Too much and it would risk someone getting hurt or a whole cave in.
"Easy, be ready." Mirriam said and Juniper felt a pulse of energy leave her fingers.

It kept pulsing and Juniper stood back for a moment as the rocks cracked and crumbled, turning to gravel in a controlled rush of pebbles. It was difficult because every instinct in her body wanted her to just let loose but Mirriam was murmuring gentle reassurances behind her as Juniper breathed deeply, her breath escaping her in thick clouds. It took around half an hour before the rocks and boulders were broken apart and able to be safely traversed as Juniper inhaled sharply, finally stilling herself and she climbed back on her horse, looking completely exhausted. She slumped over a little as they started into the tunnels that were dimly lit by glowing crystals that lined the walls and Juniper watched them go by.

"You did wonderful, do you need to ride in a carriage?" Mirriam said and Juniper shook her head, a little dazed but she felt much better than the last time and she wasn't bleeding. She took a drink when it was handed over and passed the water skin back to Mirriam, lazily.
"This will take a few days off of our journey and no doubt be a lot safer, providing there is nothing unsavoury lurking down here." She pointed out and Juniper gave a small smile. It was pretty down here and perhaps if she was more alert then she would be enjoying the sights and more curious about the crystals. Would any of the Council attempt a stand off down here? Juniper slowed slightly so she wasn't up front, moving into the middle.
  Juniper / Nullification / 13d 10h 28m 17s
They were moving. Taog woke to motion. Horses hooves echoed against stone. For a second Taog thought himself to still be caught in dreams, but he felt different. The air was more crisp, the edges of reality more defined somehow. Tian was there, in the wagon with him. A gentle, yet crisp cold breeze tugged at the canvas shielding them. Tao rested there for a while, his body drained in ways he failed to recognize. His magic was there, soothing and warm, but another source was depleted somehow.
"Are you awake?" Tian asked.
"Here, water," she offered. Tao looked up at Tian and after a moment of nothing, he pushed himself up enough to drink. Thirst seemed to surface the second water touched his lips. Hunger followed in its wake.
"How long did I sleep?"
"A day has passed," Tian replied. "Not the most... graceful rite, but you woke."
She almost looked proud, Taog thought.
"Do you know your name?" she asked after a moment.
Taog nodded. "Yes, yes I do."
He wasn't wearing his usual clothes. Not that he minded at the moment. He'd prefer to have the clothes Elroch gave him however. It reminded him of simpler times. The future wouldn't often stay that way. He sighed out and laid back down. There was so much to sort and think about that he'd seen, even though now they felt like distant dreams. Not entirely visions, not entirely dreams. It felt like he'd already lived a life-time, just watching each facet of his future. Or some. Taog figured there were many more he could've seen. Was that what Tian did? Watch each facet over and over again?
It seemed tiring to him.
"Rest a while longer," Tian suggested.
Taog nodded, though he'd likely also have listened to Tian's instructions if she'd said to ride his horse or do something else. His mind was overflowing with so many thoughts and impressions that it was easier to just do as instructed. Maybe she knew that, which was why he was given time to just rest.
Tao noted that some of the markings peeping out from a dislodged sleeve looked a little different. Not too different, but enough to notice that they were meant to be patterns maybe, rather than blotches of black on his otherwise paler skin.
Tian watched her pupil. Hopefully the rite would allow Taog more awareness of his gift, so that it would interfere less when he fought or grew tired.
"Where are we going?" Taog asked after a while of peace.
"The mountains."
Taog felt he may have talked with Tian about the Dwarves, but he couldn't recall speaking the words. Had she shared his faceted dream somehow? He'd definitely felt Tian's presence.
His face flushed when he recalled seeing him and Juniper together. They'd looked different. Older. Taog wiped at his eyes and sat up to look outside. Everything still felt distant and detached, but reality had a way of creeping back in and establishing itself as real. It was grounding, after so many dreams.
  Taog / THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen / 13d 11h 2m 9s
"Wake up." There was a nudge to Juniper's shoulder and she shifted, uncomfortable for now. She had dozed off propped up against the wall. Her fire had gone out at some point and she hadn't even noticed. She looked up to see Mirriam standing over her and Juniper frowned, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand.
"Am I late?" She asked quietly and got to her feet, almost staggering and Mirriam shook her head,
"We're getting ready to leave, down into the mountains. Eat, you're going to need your magic." She said and Juniper looked around, not seeing Taog and she felt her chest tighten with worry. The last she had seen of him he had been fitting on the floor, seized by dreams and whatever they had been doing to him. Mirriam had briefly explained a ceremony of some sort privy to the Seers.

Juniper could see people starting to pack up into carriages and canvas wagons, tacking up their horses and getting younglings ready to for the journey.
"Drink this." Mirriam said placing a hot brewed something into her hands, "It's herbs and petals, from this earth, it will help." She said to Mirriam who didn't want a repeat of the incident at the bridge and she sighed a little, it didn't smell or taste pleasant as she wrinkled her nose but finished it all the same. Mirriam made sure she ate, supervising her almost like a mother and she eyed the girl over,
"Once we get to the Dwarves, I'm going to sort you something better to wear, and cut that hair." Mirriam remarked and Juniper squinted at her.
"Those are not fit for battle, you can barely move in them now you're putting on some muscle. And that hair is easily grabbed, too much of it." Mirriam said and accepted no arguments as Juniper watched her leave.

Juniper stood around looking a little abandoned before going to find her faithful companion, he was grazing at the nearest patch of grass and snorted when Juniper approached with the saddle. She was tender still from the bruises and was in no rush to get moving, at least she wanted to check on Taog first. She led her horse with her and mounted up, using her ventage point to look across the people to see if she could catch a glimpse of Taog, growing concerned now and worried.
  Juniper / Nullification / 13d 11h 42m 40s
Just as he thought he couldn't take it no more, the dreams shattered into a million pieces. In every single piece, he could see a future, a facet the result of his choices at each decision there could possibly be. From the small decisions to the big cross-roads, it was all there. In some shards Taog saw he was old and lived a long live, with friends and love. In others, he died a bloody death at the hands of the Council, the Great One or another weapon, by people he had yet to name. Every time he was forced to watch it all play out and his gaze would flick to another facet to repeat the whole ordeal again. He saw the war, play out several ways. Each time, only minute details would differ, but they would impact the outcome in ways he could've never predicted. There were too many choices.
Too many paths for him to see and remember them all. Taog felt time fall apart, like sand being swept away by a gushing river. He was old, young and everything in between. At times what he saw was beautiful, then ugly. The rot was there, as were the shadows. It was obvious that these were pivotal events in his life that would shape who he would become. And he saw Juniper there, at his side.
In some versions she wasn't there, but more often than not, she was.
And in some futures, they were together.
Taog felt a calm come over him. These were all possibilities. There were too many for him to see them all and that was alright. He didn't have to see how life played out to live it.
The last shard Taog saw, was his reflection. He recognized it because of the mark Tian left there before he'd gone to sleep, an event that felt like it'd been years ago now. A name welled up from within himself. A name detached from these futures. A name powerful enough to shape his own.

Tian signalled each Seer.
One by one, the twelve that had watched over Taog's rite of passage doused the fires they were tending. It was well into the night when finally Taog's fight eased. Tian worried. Her fire was still burning. Soon she would have to douse it too and when Taog didn't wake before it, he might never wake at all.
Most had gone to sleep not far from where the rite was taking place. They dreamt and Tian waited. Tian knew well the risks. A young mind had far less to see than an old mind. She'd wanted to take the risk because Taog's life in the Vale had been shielded enough that his experience, while rough, was limited to the simplicity of base survival.
Barut watched from a distance. Tomorrow they would travel and he too worried. Barut worried for all those of Haven.

She looked back at Barut. The sorcerer's expression betrayed little. Tian looked at Taog's limp body and the embers near her hands. She took the larger bowl and carefully went to place it to cover the fire. Just as the larger bowl touched the floor, Taog's eyes flickered open. Tian breathed a sigh of relief. She would reprimand the boy -no. Man. For taking so long.
Few of their species had taken this long to awaken.
It was easy to forget Taog was half-breed. His powers were warped in unexpected ways.
"Took you long enough," she said, unable to quite erase the relief from her voice.
Taog watched her with tired, ancient eyes. Tian knew the memories of today would fade.
"What did you see?" Tian asked softly, brushing his hair from his forehead. Some of the other Seers woke along Taog now.
"A great battle," he whispered, mouth and throat dry. "We will wage a war against darkness." His eyes looked at Tian. "Some of us will fall."
"The Dwarves?"
"They are with us."
Barut relaxed his stance and perked his ears. He knew the Seers used these rites for their most accurate divining, but hadn't ever been witness to one.
"How will we defeat the Great One?" Tian asked.
Taog blinked at her, a little amused.
"In the memories of his past, the answer rests, hidden from sight," he said. "You like riddles. You might lose yourself, Tian."
"Lose myself?"
Barut hadn't often seen Tian lose her composure.
"To the shadows. To the rot. Beware your steps."
Taog was fading fast, tired after struggling with his dreams for hours on end.
"Sleep," she whispered and pressed her hand to his head. Taog did as she commanded and easily slipped under. He would not wake for some time. Tian stood and watched over the other Seers as they tended to Taog's drained body, bathed him and dried him, then dressed in white garbs, was allowed to rest undisturbed. His markings had defined themselves more, but they would remain warped by his fire. That was something the rite could not undo.
  Taog / THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen / 13d 11h 28m 4s
Juniper watched as Barut moved and she figured maybe she could ask him some questions. She got to her feet and followed where he went, keeping quiet because her curiosity got the better of her. She caught w glimpse of the Seers and then of Taog on the floor in the center looking as though he were seizing,

“Tao-“ it wasn’t a good view and before she could make any further sound Mirriam’s hand was over her mouth,
“Hush. It’s a ceremony, for Seers. He is completely fine and Tian is with him. You two need to stop wandering so much, come along.” Mirriam said, steering the woman out of the caves she had been following Barut down with a click of her tongue, disapproving.
“Why’s he like that?” Juniper asked and Mirriam thought for a while,
“Seers do things very differently, Juniper. They see the world differently.” She pointed out and eyed the woman over, tutting at Eritreya’s work.

“Barut said I have to use my powers in the tunnels.” Juniper said to Mirriam and Mirriam nodded,
“You’ll be fine. You need to start understanding that your powers, your magic it incredibly potent.” She murmured and eyed Juniper over at her bewildered expression. Mirriam smiled a little and shook her head,
“You know your parents lineage don’t you?” She said and Juniper nodded,
“My father was a sorcerer and my mother was Fey, I remember them a little.” She shrugged and Mirriam nodded at that.
“Sorcerers are powerful, mixed in with Fey blood and magic means you are capable of creating strong magic. Your talents are Earth.” She explained as Juniper listened intently.
“There are no rites for your kind, for our kind. Taog will go through his, one way or another. Both of you must protect each other. You know each other’s strengths, but do you know his weaknesses?” Juniper had to think for a moment and she furrowed her brow. She didn’t know,
“I know he doesn’t like being touched.” She suggested and Mirriam laughed,
“Would you like people pawing are you when you have lived a life of solitude?” She pointed out and shook her head, “Barut wanted you both to understand one another so you could identify strong points and weaknesses, so that you could trust one another.”

Juniper thought on it for a while. She knew Taog better but she wasn’t sure if she knew him enough to trust him unconditionally. He had weaknesses, his fire was not completely under his control but that was emotion led, panic led.
“Rest. Tomorrow we will start to move.” Mirriam said and she had given the woman a lot to think on as she left Juniper to bed down for the night. Sleep wouldn’t come as Juniper watched the flames lick at the dry wood. After an hour of tossing and turning, Juniper sat ip and rubbed her bleary eyes, looking out at the springs and just resting her mind.
  Juniper / Nullification / 13d 17h 23m 17s
"Lay down," Tian instructed. Taog gave her a look of suspicion, but then did as she instructed. The cave they were in was calm, quiet and the noises from those of Haven didn't reach them here. The other Seers started to put down herbs around him in a circle and Tao wanted to open his mouth and protest. What were they doing?
"It's a rite of passage," Tian said as she put down a bowl and sat near his head. "All Seers go through it, but as you are not whole, it was not given to you," she remarked. Taog noted that Tian's voice was filled with remorse. Did she pity him?
"What is it, the rite?"
"You will be made to sleep using a rare herb," Tian said, she soundlessly nodded at the other Seers to take up their place. "In the dream, a Seer is expected to find themselves. Their true name," she explained.
"It is a ritual that marks the passing of a boy into an adult," Tian ventured.
"The herb will only work once."
So if he didn't find his name, he wouldn't become an adult? Or be recognized as one, Taog suspected. Was that what was needed for these Seers to acknowledge him into their circle? But he wasn't one of them. Not really.
"You will face your doubts," one of the other said and lit the herbs set out in front of her.
"You will conquer your fears," another echoed, as if in reply.
She too lit the herbs.
Taog felt uncomfortable, but Tian put a streak of something on his forehead.
"A beacon, to find home," she said soothingly. By the time the last Seer said her words, Taog was already captured in dreams.

He woke gasping and spluttering, swimming his way out of dark water. Taog found himself coughing up water on the Council member's floor. Mothra walked up to him, her grin a distortion of what could be considered beauty, sharp teeth ready to shred and maul. Taog scrambled to get up, but he was cold and his magic wouldn't work.
"Pitiful creature," Mothra hissed as she grabbed him by the neck and pulled him up.
"Don't you long to die?"
She morphed into the emotionless man, with Ren watching. He sharpened his dagger and looked back, as if he'd only just arrived. Taog was bound and fought against the restraints. Another was watching. A man with dark markings, like those of a Seer.
The dagger was lifted, ready to plunge into him and though Taog became aware of the fact that these were dreams, the pain still felt real. He also failed to wake up and this frightened him more. The more he struggled, the more destructive and painful his dreams became.

Barut watched the circle of Seers from a distance. He'd argued the boy was already too old for the rite, but Tian was difficult to reason with and even harder to argue against. She'd insisted. Surely, in one of her possible futures, the boy hadn't woken up.
Barut watched for a while as Taog thrashed in the circle of Seers, sweat pearling on his skin, fighting enemies that only existed in his mind.
  Taog / THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen / 13d 18h 1m 43s
“Can we take a break?” Juniper asked as she tried to catch her breath, muscled agonisingly tight and her heart pounding. She was being put through her paces and Juniper would rather be fiddling with her magic and creating things. Eritreya paused for just a moment,
“Your enemies won’t give you a break, Juniper. Now I’ve heard enough stories about you to know you’ve lived entitled-“ A swipe was made and Juniper managed to stop it, barely.
“Privileged.” Another swipe and Juniper wasn’t quick enough as the pole smacked her in the back, sending her staggering but not down,
“And proud life.” A sting across her side and Juniper gasped. She managed to stand straight and glare at Eritreya,
“This is not the Vale. You are not pride of anything here, people will not bow and bend to your requests. If you can’t defend yourself then you can’t defend anyone else.” Eritreya commented. He had little time for self indulged brats and Juniper just looked confused and hurt.

“Enough.” Mirriam said as she stepped forward from where she had been watching. Juniper felt relieved and Eritreya grumbled,
“You are going to battle, a war. There are no breaks, Juniper and you will face steel.” Eritreya reminded her before taking her pole and shuffling off. Juniper limped over to a fire and sank down,
“Eritreya is stern, but trust him. When your lessons are over you will be as formidable as he.” Mirriam explained and Juniper just gave her a look of utter doubt.
“Soak your skin in the springs. It will help the bruising.” Mirriam remarked before going after where Eritreya had disappeared to. Juniper did not want to move but she knew sore muscles would just be another problem to add tomorrow. She slowly got to her feet and found her way to the springs, glad it was at least quiet as she shed her clothes, very slowly and carefully. Eritreya has done a number on her, skin littered in bruises. It would heal up and Juniper sank into the relief of water.

She never thought being called the Pride of anything would backlash on her in such a way. She always figured it was something celebrated but maybe she had been privileged. She closed her eyes and soaked for a while before climbing out and redressing, she didn’t have much of an appetite but bread and cheese sufficed her enough as she sat by the fire. Eritreya’s message was clear, no one would have mercy on her in a battle and there was no begging for a break. Juniper figured he was right and she ran a hand through her hair, half heartedly chewing some bread. She hoped Taog’s day had been more productive than hers.
  Juniper / Nullification / 13d 19h 8m 41s
Taog sighed out and stood when Barut said he was done. He'd known, though wasn't entirely aware, of the fact that his powers impacted one another. That was why he sometimes lost himself while fighting or why his fire intervened with how many dreams he had. Juniper's questions were waved away by Barut and neither of them were very happy to see their mentors.
"Good luck," Taog said when Juniper said they'd see each other later. He didn't envy Juniper. Eritreya could be relentless. Tian gave him a curt smile, arms crossed, but when he approached, she moved further into the cave system. They wandered for a while, until they came at a sun-kissed hot spring. He recognized several of the other Seers.
Unlike before, they didn't seem to be dreaming. Rather, they'd put out some things on the floor and were carefully mixing and blending herbs.
For the potions Tian gave him?
"I'll teach you two today, which you'd do well to remember. One is for a dreamless sleep and the other is for more dreams," she explained and waved him over.
Taog watched curiously as Tian showed him several plants. Some he recognized, but hadn't ever thought to use or eat. She made him grind them up and once that was done, the grounds collected in bowls, Tian showed him how much of each to use in one mixture.
"When sleep isn't natural, nothing is seen," Tian said, pointing out the plant that was the most potent in the mix. They divided them in satchels for later.
The second mixture was less elaborate. Whereas the first one had several herbs combined to create the effects of a restful sleep without too many side-effects, this one was all about the effects of one plant. Taog hadn't ever tasted that one either, but the smell alone was enough to wrinkle his nose and shield his senses.
"It smells foul," Tao said.
"It's preparation is different too," the older woman said. Taog noticed her fingers had fine and elaborate markings on them, like most of the Seers. His were jagged and shifted with his flames.
"Kindle the flames," Tian gestured.
Taog did as instructed. They poured water into a bowl and boiled it. The plant was added, creating a familiar smelling smoke. Oh.
"Stay awake," Tian teased. He did recognize this. The scrying pool. It'd smelled similar to this. Less intense though and at the same time, heavier.
"When you wish to provoke your gift, rather than feed your flames, you could inhale the scent or drink the dredges," the Seer explained.
"I wouldn't advise the latter," another Seer smirked in a soft mumble. The dredges were bitter and it was intense. Most of them had though, at some time, as part of their training.
To navigate dreams and gain control, one had to first dream and lose themselves in order to learn.
Tian poured the boiled liquid into a flask using a funnel and Taog watched, feeling a bit detached. What remained in the bowl was a foul-looking cooked goo and Taog pushed the bowl away when Tian showed him.
"When you're experienced, you won't have to rely on the herbs," Tian explained. Taog furrowed his brow at that. So he could provoke visions or keep them at bay? He lacked that sort of control. Tao wiped at his eyes, having stilled. Just the fumes of that process were enough to make him drowsy.
  Taog / THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen / 13d 19h 43m 6s
Juniper had a million questions, some were answered and some weren’t. She hadn’t ever heard of powers resonating with others, that was something Drit had never told her in all her time at the Vale. Had Drit known what they were going into? Had he known that he was sending Fey to their death? Juniper didn’t want to believe it and she also struggled to think they could raise any sort of army. They were just two Half Fey, they weren’t even full blooded so why would anyone listen to them. Then again they had some powerful people with them and Taog has proven himself to be very powerful too. An army of creatures like Ren and Ren has stick around, Juniper had no idea why and Barut seemed to be finished with answering them. Juniper pulled a face when he mentioned Tian and Eritreya were waiting on them. Tian wouldn’t be training her so it looked like Juniper was stuck with Eritreya for the day and she could feel her bruised muscles tense at the thought.

Moving boulders and rocks from a tunnel was no easy task and it seemed daunting now but Mirriam had been working on how Juniper used her powers and with any luck she would be able to ask Mirriam some questions too, later. Juniper looked to Taog and pushed herself up, sighing a little as she stretched her back. She looked to Barut and wanted to question him about more things but he waved them off, effectively shooing them to their day of training. They couldn’t afford to lapse in their routine because a full out battle would be upon them soon enough.

Juniper just exited the cave and caught sight of Eritreya and Tian standing patiently. Eritreya held two poles in his hand and nodded to Juniper when he caught sight of her. Juniper paused and took a deep breath,
“I’ll see you later.” She said to Taog with a very small smile as she headed down to Eritreya.
“No holding back.” Eritreya said as he handed over a pole and Juniper just rubbed her face, alerting herself and taking a stance.
“No, no. You can’t always take a defensive stance, waiting for your enemy to come to you can be just as dangerous. So, attack me.” Training was hard, Juniper listened to Eritreya as he gave her advice, barked at her to use her small frame and speed to advantage and Juniper was proud of herself when she put Taog’s tip to aim low into action and managed to sweep Eritreya’s feet from under him.
“Well-“ Eritreya said as he got to his feet, “You have been listening to your fiery friend then.” He said and for a split second there seemed to be a glimmer of pride in Eritreya’s eyes but it was gone as more attacks were launched and Juniper struggled to keep up.
  Juniper / Nullification / 13d 20h 41m 55s
"What makes you think we can? Get close to the Great One, that is. What is Tian seeing that we aren't?" Taog asked. If others had so much trouble getting close to the Great One, including the Dwarves that made his weapons and the conduit window for draining others' magic, then what was different about them? Taog knew their powers were rare and he would believe Juniper and him to have a talent for magic he hadn't seen in many others, but truthfully? Why couldn't Mirriam face the Great One? Why couldn't Eritreya?
Taog looked down at his hands again and sighed out. And what if they could get close? Did that mean he would have to maim and kill again?
Normal. Well. Taog didn't know what was so much better before that wasn't now, because he didn't know any of the stories, but that didn't mean he didn't care entirely. He rather not die, for one, but the Great One seemed equally as likely to kill him whether they would face him or not. Him or his Council.
"The Great One is well protected," Barut said with a sigh in reply to Taog's sharp questions. "We need an army to fight his," he said, looking Taog in the eyes. Tao met Barut's gaze, but then looked away, recognizing the older man as his superior. He'd seen the army they'd need to fight the emptiness and rot the Great One had reaped.
"He has an army like Ren, doesn't he?" Tao said with some venom to his words. His amber eyes were still directed at his hands. Taog looked up to see what Barut's reaction was however. The man seemed pained, conflicted.
Taog wondered why the Great One benefited from having the factions, rather than a cohesive blending of race. Did it allow for the Council? Was that why they looked at them with both dread and hope? Because they were half-breed? None of the others were. Few others were. Taog knew that.
And he hadn't seen magic as fierce from any of those living in Haven either.
"What's special about half-breeds?"
Barut took a deep breath.
"What did you see, boy?" Barut asked. Tian told him some of it, but not all. She often spoke in riddles, even to him.
Tao looked away, then locked his lips. "I saw rot and shadows," Taog explained. There was no better way to put it. "He is empty, but... there's something as wrong about Ren as the rot that I saw."
"When half-breeds have powers that resonate, the resonance amplifies their abilities rather than hamper them," Mirriam said. She was leaned against the entrance of the cave. Taog turned to watch her.
"...and your powers both resonate," she explained.
"As for Ren, he is pivotal to the plan we have," Barut said. He raised a hand when Taog opened his mouth to ask something else. Barut looked at Mirriama and took a deep breath, "you weren't kidding when you said they had questions. Enough for now, Eritreya and Tian are waiting for you."
  Taog / THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen / 14d 11h 35m 14s
Juniper listened intently. Everyone seemed so reluctant to share information and she wasn’t even sure why at this stage. They were all going to the same place and it wasn’t as if anyone was going to leak anything, then again they were travelling with Ren. Juniper tilted her head, going to recruit the Dwarves? Juniper had heard they were incredibly stubborn and difficult to get around. Juniper doubted they were going to just welcome them as friends. Juniper glanced at Barut when he mentioned moving rocks from a blocked pathway. She thought for a while, apprehensive because the last time she had really exerted herself she had been exhausted. Everything about fixing the bridge was fuzzy still and she just nodded, it was worth a try and if she couldn’t do it then hey, it was only her pride.
“I can try.” She mumbled, without much conviction because she wasn’t sure she would be in any sort of favour with the Dwarves if she removed their blockade but then wandering in the snow really didn’t seem all that appealing either. At least in the caverns it would be warmer and the breeze wouldn’t chill then all.

Barut gave a nod,
“If we can convince them to join our cause then their crafting mastery will be of a great benefit to us. They built a lot for the Great One, they know how to take it down.” He pointed out and Juniper furrowed her brow at that.
“Why haven’t they, then?” It sounded a little foolish once the words were said out loud and she almost regretted them.
“Getting close to the Great One is no small task, if it were someone would have ended him a long time ago and things would be normal.” What was normal? Barut could see the question on Juniper’s mind and sympathised with her, these two likely hadn’t ever experienced normality or heard stories.

“There were no separate factions, not before. That’s how so many Half-Fey found themselves existing. Of course, some still crossed paths, obviously.” Barut gestured to them both with an amused chuckle. It was funny how love and relationships worked like that. Then again no one could control that, no amount of magic or laws or risk of death could ever stop emotions.
  Juniper / Nullification / 14d 12h 54m 11s
Wrong with the Vale? "No, no it was... it was fine," Taog said. Of course Juniper would worry about the Vale. He sighed. Maybe he should've told Tian that his dream was different in a way whereby Tao felt he could've controlled the dream if he so desired. Juniper wasn't going to understand, obviously. She seemed more concerned with what Mirriam and Tian had been talking about behind their backs. To him, it just proved that there was no set future. It wasn't his concern that Tian couldn't see clearly where the future was taking them and maybe no single being ought to know.
Barut was a hard man to find. He was busy, though seemed to adjust his demeanour upon seeing them approach. They were guided into a fire-lit cave and left for a while. Taog sat down near the fire and watched Juniper. Her stance told him plenty about how much Tian and Mirriam's conversation had unsettled her resolve. They might not survive this ordeal. In some of Tian's futures, they didn't make it.
Taog stared into the fire and sighed out. If they died, Taog wondered what would take their lives. Tian wouldn't say, he already knew. She barely said anything that wasn't convoluted or complicated.
Before his thoughts could antagonize his peace, Barut returned.
He looked up as Barut spoke and sat near the fire. Taog didn't deny that he had many questions. They did, after all.
Barut looked old. For a while the man thought about what to say, but finally the words came out. Dwarves.
"Didn't you say that they left and are elusive ever since?" Taog said, poking holes in the story Barut told. How would they convince a hidden race to join their cause? It did make sense. Taog still didn't recall whether Dwarves had been there in the vision he had, but maybe. Maybe they'd chosen their battle-field strategically. It'd make sense. The Earth would be easier to split open if there were caverns already underneath.
Dwarves could help them achieve that. Or at least provide the knowledge.
"While it's true they left these caves, we have a rough idea of where they might be," Barut said.
"The mountains?" Tao asked.
Barut nodded.
"They won't trust us, will they?" he ventured. A head-shake.
Taog looked down at his hands, which were draped slack across his ankles. The mountains. His eyes flickered up towards Juniper. She wouldn't much like the cold up there and Taog felt that once the sun became obscured, he wouldn't either. His flame would simmer down to nothing in that sort of cold. A shiver rippled through his back like a wave at the memory of the icy lake.
"These caves are connected," Barut's eyes flickered to Juniper. "They buried some of the tunnels to block passage, but with your powers..."
They might not have to travel on the outside of the mountain.
  Taog / THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen / 14d 13h 17m 48s
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