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 Post subject: Hunt for the Shroud
PostPosted: Fri Jul 18, 2008 7:27 pm 
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[NOTE: Being that circumstances have changed since the start of this solo, it's to be considered little more than 'what if' fiction. I.e., none of this ever happened.]

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Night sky, bright stars, the dance of cool ocean air; Carmina Gadelica was a paradise that Zan so rarely was able to stop and enjoy. Recent events, ones that plagued his memories of the Juk Prison Field like a tumor of thought, had driven the Heavy Blade to seek solace. Like so many horrendous moments in his life, the Lycan had been unable to stop what had transpired. Things he should have figured out, that he should have seen coming from miles and miles away, proved to be detrimental to the tragic outcome of the Eventide Crescendo’s trek through a sick and disturbed world. It was because of this, because of the lycanthrope’s tendency to place all responsibility on his already-overburdened shoulders, that the tranquil aspects of the Root Town did little to still him. He had hoped, perhaps childishly, that he’d find some peace here. Elbows on the lofted edge that overlooked the softly churning waters, Zan’s head hung low. Behind him, the other players of “The World” moved on through their digital lives; a hive of ignorant drones. Part of him wanted to spin around and yell the truth at them, to force them to see what was really going on through sheer presence, but that part was hardly an ember amongst the torrent winds of his busied mind.

He should have been able to stop it.

Zan half-expected a lecture at that thought, something from Nulus that involved calling him a dipshit or king of the Pity Party Parade, but there was nothing. Silence. The Shade was still weak from his effort to hold back the Swath spawn before the Merged had taken over. He’d recover, in time. Still…the absence of the normally obnoxious individual made the werewolf’s sense of isolation only intensify. There were people that needed him back at the Hideout, that would need his comfort, but the Heavy Blade only nestled his chin into ledge-folded arms at the responding cowardice. Not yet. He needed to piece himself together before he went off trying to play the supportive shoulder. Moving his head to the side to rest his cheek along the strong length of his forearm, Zan’s thoughts moved toward a different tangent. The player had grown so confident in his shapeshifting power, one that had plateaued, that he had stopped growing in his potential. A common theme in the darker side of “The World” was the simple truth that power is needed to fight power. Heart, determination and passion were all important as well, but without the right power to make them count they just never seemed to be enough; impressive components to a computer with no electricity. As the noise of bartered deals and monotonous NPCs rose to a level that muffled his musings, Zan gathered himself up from the hunch to travel further down the ‘road’, a trip that brought him bumping past and pushing through the offending crowds.

Though the actual scenery hadn’t changed, as Zan was again slouched against the small wall that blocked him from Lambda’s sea, the sound pollution had dropped to something tolerable. Rather than stand behind it, however, the Lycan hopped up to sit on that edge. It made him feel closer to older things than cities, to primal things, and because of that his Beast - the proverbial wolf within - paused in its insistent pacing. Head risining upward, eyes drooping to a close, the Heavy Blade took it all in with a deep, searching breath. It wasn’t long afterward that his worries again morphed back to power. Fact of the matter was, he needed more of it. There wasn’t any prettier way to put it. And…then his eyes just snapped open. Like these things often do, the memory, one rather critical to the topic at hand, hit him without any particular path that led to its discovery. One moment he was sulking over his ineptitude, the next…BAM. During his forced trip to the Data Vestibule, Nahnan had mentioned a Wyld Shroud. By the way it had been spoken of, it was another piece of the power trinity that included the Garou and the elusive Conall Lann. Nahn had made it clear that he couldn’t even begin looking for the six pieces of the great weapon without first having the Wyld Shroud attached to his Twilight. There was the question of how to get the damn thing, but the player already had an idea of where to go for that. The figure’s only concern, for a heartbeat, revolved around how long he’d be gone and the persistent knowledge that he was needed back at the Hideout. Then the passage of time in the Shadow pinged in his memory, how it functioned, and the decision was made.

He was going to Zeta…and the Shroud.

----------------------//~//----------------------


It had all become somewhat routine for the Lycan; approaching the blue/gold spin to activate the necklace, the swirl of moon phases switching this way and that like a locker combination being turned, and finding himself in the so-named Gauntlet within the Shadow of The World, a cookie file from the main game itself. The Gauntlet was a place of nothing but thick, rolling fog and the metal-on-metal grind of innumerable Chaos Gates spread about. There was little doubt in Zan’s mind that the place held an unknown significance, but that’s not why he was here. With the Knights of Revelation gone, his path was as obscured as the land he currently occupied. The only source of guidance left to him was an area within his own code that he had only recently come to discover - the Data Vestibule. The program had been written as a bundled map and mental haven, existing inside of him to tutor, to reprieve, and to help heal wounds that bore deeper than the scars of the flesh. The Heavy Blade had been forcefully drawn to it previously by the positive side of the Merged coin - Nahnan - and he wasn’t sure it was something he could force on his own. Without any other choice, however, Zan had to try. What better way to draw into yourself than meditation, right? If that didn’t work, maybe he’d dive head-first into the ground or something.

The expected laugh didn’t come. Nulus was still out.

With no banter to keep him occupied, Zan went right to it. The ground of the Gauntlet was cold, appearing not unlike cracked cement if you looked hard enough, and stone dust lay scattered over its abused surface. Still, it was as good a place as any to imitate one of those yoga poses he had seen on television. What was intended as a wise-looking crossing of his legs looked more like the way a teen positions himself in front of a television, but it would have to do. Just like everything else lately, he was going to settle with mediocre. The cliché slow, steady breathing was indulged, but the effort only made Zan feel like he was hyperventilating. So instead of that, instead of forcing it, he just relaxed, let every muscle loosen up until he started feeling more like a bundle of butter than the stress case he usually was. The sounds of the broken Chaos Gates grew faint. The cold through his pants became hollow. Each breath stretched on, taking longer and longer entire life times blurred past him…and he was falling, falling, falling, falling into himself, falling into blackness, into a void of binary and things he didn’t understand.

No.

Zan was falling towards something.

It was an ant in the distance, but coming up quick like a field from a sky dive. Except…the Heavy Blade didn’t have a parachute. Soon it was less like falling and more like floating on air, floating on clouds, floating on a serenity that never ended. The image wasn’t slowing down, rushing at him at terminal velocity, but he suddenly didn’t care. For the first time in ages, Zan was smiling.

So, of course, everything crumbled apart.

The illusion, the tranquility of it all, sifted through his fingers like wiggling water drops and he was the man in the desert who just wanted a sip. All it took was a blink to clear away the lull, the lag, and the heart of the Data Vestibule could be seen around him. The main chamber was a place that should have seemed darker than it was. Most every inch of its walls were crafted from inky marble, emerald veins threading through it like jungle vines. In its center, four spires curved inward toward a hovering orb of that same green hue. Across the Hub Sphere - as it was called - crawled streams of programming language, unintelligible runes and the one thing he did recognize. The glyphs of the Shifter Tongue, something the man who had designed all of this insanity, who had designed the very strain of Twilight that curled around Zan’s digital DNA and kept him here had invented, read to him various facts on the orb’s mien about his life. It garbled about his child hood and read off random snippets of conversation with Sekai, parts of that exchange muddled by the intrusion of ones and zeroes. Anyone who had access to the Hub Sphere would know all about the lycanthrope. They’d know every weakness, every ache, and every strength that punched its way out. It would be all any would need to control him. Not just control him in the way Xenobia could, but really control him. No, that wasn’t the right word.

Own him.

Shaking that paranoia free, his mind needed for other things, Zan’s glacial view was moved to the four doors, each at a diagonal angle of the room, that housed the names of those closest to him. Aside from the one with ‘me’ scribed along its top, Sekai, Raquar and Dien each had one that belonged to them. Dien’s was faded, weak and wrapped in chains overlapping boards, but it was there. Sekai’s and Raquar’s, on the other hand, had no such obstructions or obvious weaknesses. The lumber that made their doors was dark, healthy and tough…but the doors had no locks. Nahnan had said this made them ‘pack’ and the repercussions of that decision had given him a certain bond to them. It had been used in the Juk Prison Field, albeit without much success, but it had allowed him to get vague snapshots and fleeting sounds of where the stolen Archer had been taken. Located at compass points in the main room were double glass doors, not unlike those outside large office buildings, that led into everything from memories to fears and (what he was looking for) lessons about his power. Seeing that he had never navigated these halls, their rooms stretching and seemingly endless, it was time to call upon a native.

“Nahnan.”

Animal instinct and preternatural senses whispered of the presence that was suddenly behind him, but Zan didn’t flinch. The individual’s scent was familiar; half his, half belonging to the fatigued Nulus.

“You rang?” Nahn’s voice was deeper than Zan’s, aged a little older, but there was enough similarity to make the two words a little unsettling.

“I need-”

“It’s this way.”

Zan understood their connection, but he still wasn’t a big fan of people cutting him off.

“Sorry. Just got ahead of myself.”

The mind reading thing was kind of a bitch too.

They had approached one of the glass doors almost arbitrarily, something Nahnan was quick to confirm. “The fact that the halls are separate is just for show. The Personas that designed this probably thought one long path might not go over well. Too reminiscent of horror movies.” Zan laughed, but it was brief. “After you.”

Rather than voice his dislike of being the one doors were held open for (far too aware of the jokes Nulus would be making if he wasn’t unconscious in the cuffs at Zan’s wrists), the Heavy Blade simply walked through without so much as a hitch in his step. The hall seemed to go on for several yards before abruptly turning to the left, almost like a hotel, and the werewolf had a good feeling that it would do that again and again in various branches until its existence as a labyrinth was clearly established. The design of the passageway wasn’t of the archaic, mystic mood of the central room, but rather more simplistic. The previous comparison to a hotel was made, Zan realized, because the Data Vestibule’s jumble of rooms and twists and turns were made to look like one. The wallpaper was a soothing beige with brick red stripes spread out over it. The carpet, cut short with little cushion to it, held that same beige hue. The ceiling paint continued this trend. The doors were an old, but noble shade of wood and looked to hold ages of use and faithful service. All in all, Zan was enjoying his time out in the big bad world of his mind more than he had expected. Sure, he wasn’t actually facing any fears or painful memories - the things that had made him afraid to venture this way before - but that wasn’t why he was here. Now, how to progress…

“So which of these doors is going to give me information on the Wyld Shroud’s location?”

Standing next to him, clad in almost the same exact outfit as Zan (with the exception of his black shirt with its overlapping Juk and Ani runes and the larger trench coat that was made to fit the Merged’s broader shoulders), Nahnan shrugged. It made his ethereal green ponytail, the color shared by two rogue strands on either side of his long bangs and the eyes that now looked to Zan, bounce.

“There is no right answer to that. Technically, all of these doors can take you where you need to go. The trick comes in focusing on what you want, letting it occupy the front of your thoughts, and allowing yourself to summon the right threshold as you walk along. The structure of this place isn’t so rigid as to follow exact spatial mapping.” Nahn chuckled.

“No, of course not. That’d make this too easy.”

And he did as he was instructed. Despite the lack of information he had regarding the Wyld Shroud, Zan pushed pondering echoes of it over everything else. Thoughts of Sekai, Takua, Kira, Raquar, the Eventide Crescendo…they all began to grow faint. The Heavy Blade imagined the promise of the item’s unknown power, imagined finding it, and even went so far as to summon the two words as a visual in his mind’s eye. The dull shuffle of combat boots along the carpeting grew monotonous as, despite his best efforts, no door shouted itself out to him. Had he passed it? No, Nahnan was still following. The figure would have said something, right? God damn it, all he wanted to do was find one fucking door. Why was this so hard? Shouldn’t this place be helping him, not hindering? The lycanthrope pleaded to nothing in particular for some kind of insight into what it was he was even searching for. The Merged hadn’t been entirely forthcoming with what it was, and Zan suspected that was because he didn’t know either. Was it a weapon, another virus, or something alive? Would it become another smartass voice in his head? Because he totally needed two of those. Oddly enough, it was this line of questioning that finally paused the Lycan in his advancement through the endless halls of his mind. Without a real explanation as to how, Zan simply knew the door a little on and to his left was the one.

A plaque rested above the knob-less door, displaying a simple lead: ‘Home is the lock, the crown is the key.’

Zan’s posture rose, grew notably taller with a creak of black leather as he realized the meaning behind not only what was being asked of him, but what the first part indicated. As a whole, the riddle that probably served to keep foreign mental invaders from finding things they shouldn’t meant that he’d not only have to do something to make the knob appear, but make the thing able to actually turn. Home was a breeze, if he was right. The Den of Lykoi had served as the home for the digital lycanthropic kind before Zan had come along. If the Personas had thought any place to be his home - however wrong they may have ended up being - the Den is only location that seemed logical. Mind you, the Heavy Blade was notoriously awful at word games, but maybe he had come through when it mattered. For him.

Story of his life.

----------------------//~//----------------------


A goodbye to Nahnan and he was tumbling clumsily back towards his body in the Gauntlet, the impact of his mental realignment jarring his form and leaving him splayed awkwardly across the wounded, semi-visible pavement. Zan rose to his feet with a quick roll of his neck and shoulders. Cracks and pops sputtered from under his skin like popcorn before he settled again. Using his honed sense of hearing, the Heavy Blade slowly maneuvered his way through the wall of fog and towards the sound of the nearest Chaos Gate. As per usual, what he came across was a shell of the real thing; a gate gone to a hell of rust and metallic fractures. It mourned its state with the groan of steel against shoddy steel, the energy within that usually held a blue shade belittled to something more akin to mud. Accessing it, however, proved to be as similar to accessing any of its more healthy brethren. The proper screens came up, requesting keywords or a change of server (which he know wouldn’t work), and three of the former were quickly entered: Shifting Lupul Moor. Following the theme of the Chaos Gates, the trio of rings that whisked him to his destination were battered, aged versions of their ilk, but they got the job done. The pause in transportation was longer. Darker. Suspended in nothingness, the Lycan could only wait for the program to right itself.

When the lull ended, Zan’s feet lightly planted themselves into the forest floor. The Den of Lykoi was a place of towering trees, dense vegetation and the actual presence of animals found in such a place. To the werewolf’s knowledge, there were no Monster Portals to be stumbled upon. Here, the creator of Zeta had intended those with the lycanthropic Twilight infection to be kings at the top of the food chain. This lush beauty extended miles in every direction but one. It only took a one-eighty turn for Zan to come face-to-face with a dry an desolate canyon, its soil dead and barren of even the simplest of plant life. This too stretched on and on, eventually leading into a realm of existence within Zeta of sheer blackness (where one went, here, during their movement from field to field from the gates) created by the mass deletion of most of the server. This void, referred to as Nonworld, housed a mutation of sentience and Twilight - called the Quorum - that held a death grip of fear over the emaciated server’s inhabitants. If that wasn’t enough, Zeta’s sophisticated firewalls and security protocols had malfunctioned and spawned life of its own because of Twilight’s heavy bearing during the deletion process. The Fahmor, named after the Fahmorian Firewall System, operated as a hivemind and showed little more intelligence than primal predators, going after anything viewed as foreign as anomalous within the Shadow of the World. The Quorum and the Fahmor were constantly waging battles all across the server, a conflict that often resulted in the death of any innocents caught in the middle. Zan had never actually seen these Vagrant AIs, but the book he had come across in Angel’s library assured him they were there, no doubt hiding from the continuous stage of war their home was in.

Turning away from the canyon edge and towards something drastically less ugly, the Heavy Blade couldn’t help but think about what Nahnan had told him back in the Juk Prison Field. Those AIs were waiting for him to save them, to clean up a server that was his sole responsibility simply because of the strain of Twilight that ran through his veins. It felt unfair, too heavy for him to bare alone, but who else would do it? There were no Lycans left alive to aid him. He had, through acts of rage and self-pity, seen to that. As was per his usual when left alone to think, Zan’s mind was serving as a less of a tool in this quest and more of a fatal distraction. He needed to not simply disregard the bombardment, but soak it in. Accept it. Deal with it. Move on. The werewolf did his best to take that personal advice with each step towards his destination in the distance, yet he knew there would always be a lingering thread of guilt because, deep down, he liked to believe he had a good heart. A part of him would always suffer for the deaths he had caused even back then because a true heart never stops feeling the pain of snuffing out another life. Mercy came like a sympathetic pat to his shoulder and the weight lifted. For now.

A bird, a predator in the distant canopy, called out its war song as Zan drew deeper into the green depths of the woods. All around him he could hear the various creatures withdraw from his proximity, pre-programmed to be cowed by the thing that paced hidden within him. Though he didn’t want to admit it, the Heavy Blade basked in the scent of fear that bathed him, the edge of his lips twitching with self-satisfaction as step after step trudged him through snapping twigs, mildly damp soil and low-set foliage. The sun served as his backdrop when, at last, intricate branches and hearty trunks gave way to the sight of the Den of Lykoi. Resembling something like a Mayan temple, it was an edifice of chipped grey stone and overgrown vines that moved with skittering insects and the promise of safety. Whether or not the player cared for the place as ‘home’ was of no concern to the wolf that lay just whispers beneath flesh, muscle and bone. Ascending the side nearest him, making way to its peak-rested entrance, the lycanthrope did what he could to steel his mind against the obstacles likely to follow. Should he discover the meaning behind the second half of the riddle, claiming an apparent relic wouldn’t be met with anything but difficult and opposition. This was knowledge bestowed upon him through experience with the ways of “The World” and the general mechanics of karma. Zan had simply done too much to others to have anything fall in his lap again.

As the Merged had recounted to him in the Higher Field: no rest for the wicked.

The brief journey upward led him to a door of solid rock. In this wall was a massive handhold, requiring a strength to move that no normal player could hope to accomplish. ‘Luckily’ for Zan, he fit the bill. One fingerless leather glove dug into the nitch, calloused fingers scraping against the furrows within, while the other grasped the nearest wall as an anchor. As a whole, he pulled, dragged the construct with an almost hollow sound of granite gritting with friction against granite until it groaned open. With just enough room for him to slide sideways into, a panting Lycan ceased his efforts. The door was meant to be opened with the meaty paw of the Garou - and its accompanied strength - in one smooth motion. Zan was neither willing to waste the time or energy to open it the rest of the way for sheer cosmetics nor foolish enough to induce a transformation to his War Form to open a fucking door. Once he was past that particular blockade, the lycanthrope found only darkness ahead. Every time he had come before, the passage had been naturally illuminated, but now…now the field seemed to be physically portraying the absence of shifter life within. Though he could not explain why, Zan knew the Den was decaying because whatever program dictated its setting had deemed it increasingly obsolete. The only reason it was still here, the player surmised, was because it still had a lingering purpose. It still had to direct the so-called Warden Wolf to his Shroud if Zan’s theory held any foundation.

With a hand on the rough stone wall nearest him, the Heavy Blade used it like a blind man would a waving cane. From the times he had been here, Zan had become familiar with several of the routes inside. As long as he could visualize the map within, maneuvering his way around shouldn’t be too big an ordeal. Then it hit him: he didn’t actually know where to go. Getting within the Den of Lykoi had been his only objective, fulfilling what he believed to be the first portion of a puzzle. The next - “The crown is the key” - needed to be pondered over. Contemplation was aided by the invading ink around him, limiting distractions as he scoured his brain for knowledge. What could represent a crown in this place? What had he seen? There was the room where Lowen alone had slept before the Lycan had ever met her. Was this ‘Alpha Room’ what the words pointed at? It was the only idea that pinged as plausible. Moving again, trudging through the void, Zan was halfway there before something else queried his thoughts. What if crown wasn’t a metaphor for something of lycanthropic interpretation, but of actual royalty? After all, Michael Grahm (the programmer who had woven both this server and Zan’s infection years before the player had ever touched “The World”) saw werewolves as humans just as much as the animals they carried within. Was there some kind of throne room that held within a crown to place atop his head? Was there…wait. Throne room.

Throne.

The very first time Zan had come into the Den he had been brought to some kind of mess hall or common room or something of that nature. Rows of long wooden tables were filled with werewolf NPCs, a few that had begun to achieve AI-hood, and the handful of humans wrapped up in the whole mess…but best of all? Lowen had been sitting on a singular throne at the back, the thing slightly raised to really paint the lavish picture of her superiority over the others. That had to be it. Whipping around, the Heavy Blade achieved a pace that was both mindful of the surroundings he knew were there and itchingly anxious. Hurried steps of his black combat boots echoed around him, the thud thud thud serving as some kind of victory march song to his bustling mind. Already he was getting close to his objective. He’d go to the throne, open the door in his mind, and follow that clue to the next tier of his power. Never again would tragedy be inevitable in front of his glacial eyes. Never again would he be powerless to help those around him. Never again would- ow! Fuck! Soon lost in the confidence of what the Wyld Shroud would deliver, Zan had forgotten the general arrangement of things within the sought-out room and had proceeded to bounce both shin and knee off of the nearest table. The pain was gone almost as soon as it had arrived, preternatural healing soothing his nerves and laughing off the simple bruises the strike had sought to blossom, but it served as a fruitful reminder not to get ahead of himself. As Robert Frost had said, as the Juk Prison Field had spelled out in one of its own riddles, ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.’

Reoriented and paused, Zan took only a moment to get his bearings. Even if he had been spun around a hundred times and hung upside down, still the werewolf was confident he’d know where to head. His directional sense in the Den was extremely engrained and unconscious. As long as he had been there before, Zan was certain he could retrace anything. There was firm doubt that such a talent was possessed in other fields in the Shadow, but that was neither here nor there. Even without that particular skill, Lowen’s scent hadn’t left the throne. The Heavy Blade could follow that until the ends of the earth. In the chill air, everything as black as ash, Zan couldn’t help but feel as if he was traversing a graveyard. The cold crept up and into his skin, burrowing further with each creaking step towards where he knew the once-great seat of the Alpha to reside. Usually it took more artic weather to breach the boil of his lycanthropic blood, but he seemed to possess no such boon here. By the time he had passed half a dozen of the elongated tables, their dying finish leaving the wood beneath dry and unpleasant beneath rough digits, the player was shivering despite himself. Upon finally reaching the throne, its once glorious stature now tired and decadent under his hand’s exploration, the Lycan realized where the cold was ebbing from. Right there. But why? It was ice, the surface a tundra of the old and forgotten. It was with sadness, one without origin, that Zan pulled himself to rest upon it. Was that frost at his back?

Focus. One problem at a time.

Falling into a trance wasn’t as easy as it had been the first time. The temperature was a hindrance, a distraction, but his determination to see this through won in the end. The tremors that rattled him became a far away thing, like watching a movie. The freefall was a little less disturbing the second time around and, when the world around him filled back in, Zan was right where he had left off. The hotel hall wasn’t as welcoming as before, all of the vents seeming to pour in the air conditioning, but the door before him that previously lacked a knob now possessed that very thing. As sure as he was that the sun was hot, the Heavy Blade knew it would turn. Still, he was shivering again.

“I have a theory.” Nahnan’s sudden voice, and body next to Zan, made the Lycan jump a little.

“Gah, Jesus. What? Theory on what?”

“Why the throne is so cold. Why the lights are off. I’m surprised you didn’t come up with it yourself.”

Zan was eager to get on with this, but indulged the Merged. “Why, then?”

“Because it’s connected to you. The Den of Lykoi is under constant sway of the strongest wolf. Which, as of late, is you. Where she used to be in your heart…that place is frozen now. It’s hurting, suffering, dying. It would also explain why everything seemed a lot more worn than your last visit.”

Hand on the knob, head drooped, Zan’s voice carried no edge of anger or shame. Everything spoken, somewhere buried, he had already known. “Maybe.”

The Heavy Blade twisted his hand and pushed. The door fought to move. It wasn’t as if it was still locked, but as if something was against it on the other side. Before too many questions about opposition could be brought about, writing began to carve itself into the door, filling in with a faint green glow.

Image

Zan’s eyes followed every word, his mouth moving along in silent reading. The Wyld Eye? Other? Na`Halesh? Was it a reference to the lore of the Shroud, nonsense about some outsider snatching up the artifact to make following the trail more colorful? More questions, and more questions, but the contents of the room seemed promised to give the man his answers. This time, the door did give way, swinging open to a room twenty feet by twenty feet. A box. One might have been inclined to call it an oversized closet, but Zan was too busy reading the same word scribed in thousands of different handwritings over every inch of space. It was the one-word password to a Gateway, his next stop.

Lineage.

_________________
Lv. 50 Heavy Blade
Wishlist
Special: Levels, GR Sendai, PL Sakai, Darklore.
W: Tonosama Sword, Mineuchi, Jundachi.
A: Samurai Helm, Able Hands, Rare Greaves.
I: Holy Sap, Treebane, Cooked Bile, Nightbane.
EX: Elemental Summon (Lv. 2), Overdrive (Lv.1), Elemental Attacks (Lv. 2), Enhance Dark, Elemental Breath (Lv. 2).


Last edited by Zan on Fri Jun 19, 2009 6:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Hunt for the Shroud
PostPosted: Wed Oct 08, 2008 8:33 am 
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Joined: Sat Jan 22, 2005 10:28 pm
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Zan came back to himself in a jolt, one moment aloft in a land of mental projection and the next set uncomfortably on a chair as cold as the sun was hot. One thing had changed, however. Be it Nahnan’s realization of the artic presence’s meaning or some sort of trigger from being present on the Alpha Throne, a dim light had filled the previously blind and destitute environment. With vision again granted to him, the Heavy Blade could see his breath in puffed plumes from his mouth. As he had suspected, frost had indeed overtaken the back of the cushion he had been set back against. More than that, it ate away at the walls around it, overtaking a quarter of the room with glistening ice and still flakes of white like creeping, needy tentacles. It didn’t seem to actually be moving, but Zan knew it was more like watching a flower bloom. You couldn’t actually see it, but it was always there, always happening. If it was unavoidable, so be it, but if it was his inadvertent doing, the Lycan needed to do something about it. He thought most therapists and their practice to be a joke, but was fully aware of the eventual effect on his psychosis if didn’t allow himself to feel Lowen again. She was dead, gone, and he had grieved. Yet, that wasn’t the problem. That same mourning had ended in memories of her, thoughts of the first love of his life sealed away in the chill. Lowen deserved to be remembered. Her abuse at the hands of Wolfsbane had earned echoes of her to be thought of until the day he died.

She had lived a hard life and died a hard death. Because of him.

The room was given one last fleeting look before Zan slipped from the throne and retraced the way he had come in. The small puzzle had been solved and the next breadcrumb had been spotted. A Gateway, requiring a one-word password to be accessed, always guarded a very important field or location of some kind. Even if you knew the keywords to that field, if you hadn’t passed the Gateway’s test you’d find it denied to you. Only when that test had been triumphed over could you finally skip the Gateway’s obstacle. The only one Zan had been to in the past had been the ‘Blights’, the name of the Gateway that guarded this very Den and had exposed to him his Big Lie - that his mother had shot herself in front of him and caused a domino effect of mental instability on him from childhood on - before granting him the right permissions to enter. That a Gateway could potentially be that life changing again was frightening. Not exciting, frightening. In “The World”, the lycanthrope was already a creature of constant change. It had driven him to seek some kind of stability in it all and the past had taught him that Gateways offered no such thing. Alright, so the plural was misused. Having only visited the one, his expectations could be shot to hell. Whatever it was, though, it most certainly wouldn’t be easy. Not for something that stood between the Zeta masses and one of the most powerful items of the server’s creations.

When the player emerged again from the small slidespace his efforts on the door had allowed, it was to a gibbous moon and a blanket of stars so clear it made his heart skip a beat. So beautiful. Beyond that, however, was the almost immediate confusion and ‘what in the hell?’ fly of thought that struck him like a slap across the face. He hadn’t been in meditation that freaking long, had he? There was no way. Temporal law was forged differently here, Zan knew, but he hadn’t expected those differentiations to effect someone on this side of the Shadow. Maybe it was just the ‘ohhhm’ crap he had been doing in the Data Vestibule. Its tendency to lag his perceptions of time could have collided with the obtuse accelerations of Zeta’s time zone, resulting in some sort of fast forward. Gah. Did it even matter? Zan was putting off the next Gateway by talking himself in useless circles. Leave it to him.

A step down the long temple side and the werewolf paused, an unknown sound rattling against his eardrum. Someone was here. Remembering the last time that had occurred in this field, Zan’s body jerked towards the way he came, expecting some cliché attacker but finding only the echoes of his own haunted recollections. Idly, a fingerless, leather gloved hand touched the scars that ate up his left cheek and a good portion of the flesh that rested a little higher still. The noise came again, more distinct than before. With it came a familiar scent and the hairs on the back of the Heavy Blade’s neck rose like hackles. Again he turned himself around, combat boots thudding with each fall against the stone as he drew closer to the earth. The figure, a mystery only seconds ago, stepped out into the moonlight, the silver luminance offering fictitious comparisons to an angel. Under the eye of the heavens, her skin was paler than normal. It made her look fragile, almost like a delicate doll, but Zan knew that to be a lie as well. The jaw-length raven tresses framed the reluctant beauty of her face and the cautious expression it held. A left clump of bangs were streaked with a dark, but noticeable, lavender. It was a color that was repeated on her shirt and the ethereal hue of her irises. It was a purple to bring tears to the eyes of any good poet. The rest of the wardrobe, however, was as black as an Alaskan sky in the throes of winter. Like the Lycan, obsidian pants gave way to equally dark boots and, over it all, a sleeveless leather coat that ended just below her knees. She was jasmine, blooming in the pitch of blackest night.

Zan hated that he noticed.

The rest of his descending trek was made in silence, the woman still, and only when he scuffed fresh earth did he speak. The moment felt like glass; smooth, yet precarious. “How’d you get here, Atra?”

There was no anger in her tone, but the careful inflection continued on from more than just her face. “Once I get in somewhere, my Twilight gift allows me to move my data there again whenever I want.” A pause. Zan’s accusing eyes bore into her as they always did. “It’s actually pretty c-”

“Leave.” The callous violence he had addressed her with during their last meeting was gone. Now he just sounded tired.

“I want. I don’t know. I want to help you. Ever since you told me about Lowen, about what happened…I can’t sleep. I feel like I’m responsible, like I won’t be able to catch a wink if I don’t make things right somehow.” Yet again, her words were met with a lull. “When I realized you were accessible again, I tracked you to Lambda. You were gone, so I came here. Figured my chances were high enough.”

Zan gritted his teeth with a closed mouth, wanting to shout, to scream at her until he was hoarse, but he was dealing with his grief better than that. The werewolf, evolving? Miracles were possible. “Things will never be right, Atra.” As much as he wanted her to suffer through his own pettiness, the next words came just the same mingled with a sigh. “You’re not responsible, okay? Wolfsbane’s to blame. I know that now.”

“But I worked for them. I delivered their message to you, their threats. My hand is in that cookie jar too.” There was a subtle edge of desperation in the way she said it, as if she needed him to hate her. Would that make her sleep a little better? Would it be the penance she sought? Oddly, it made his dislike for her wane. They were more alike than he wanted to admit.

“You said it yourself. You’ve been in here, trapped in this place, for too long. The real world had become the video game for you. This was your home and you were just fighting for the right to persist in it under CyberConnect’s iron hand. You aren’t the first.”

Atra’s head hung. “But…”

The Heavy Blade’s words stopped her. “No, no buts. I’m not going to help you crucify yourself. If you want to be punished, find a priest who cares.”

The message did the job, silencing the player’s objections, and the quiet that proceeded it had Zan scrolling through the menus for the ‘Gate Out’ option. As if sensing it, Atra spoke with his mental cursor above that very thing. “Whatever you’re doing here, let me help you. You may not think my part in the whole thing is sizable in the grand scheme, but I need to do this. I won’t be a burden.”

Too late, Zan thought. “What makes you think I’m doing anything?”

“You’re telling me you come to this place to relax? Even I know there are too many bad memories rooted here. Some of which I, again, am at fault for.” As she said the last part, amethyst eyes glazed over his disfigurement.

The thought of company, despite himself, did appeal to the lycanthrope. Before he could stop the action, she had been invited to his party. Atra’s icon decorated the a part of his reflexive part of his mind, a place once occupied by goggles he no longer viewed “The World” through. “You so much as get on my nerves and I’m dropping you, got it? I’m not fucking around. I’m on a bit of a schedule.”

The woman tried for a smile. “Heh, more damsels to council?” Again, her effort was rewarded only with a look that could cow weaker minds. “Nevermind. Sorry.”

Rather than meet her attempt at conversation, and apology, with something of his own, Zan let the trio of golden rings consume them both without anything further. Still, his thoughts couldn’t help but linger over her attempted joke and the sliver of truth it held.

Sekai…

--------------------------------------=||Z||=--------------------------------------


The two, still and quieted for their own reasons, found themselves dropped into what, for Zan, would be a familiar place of fog and grinding metal. Though she seemed to know better than ask questions about where they were, the Lycan still heard a fain gasp escape Atra’s lips at the new environment. Before the Gauntlet, Zan had never been to a place like it. It appeared such was the case for her as well. The woman followed him - a bit closer than he liked - as they waded through the obscuring thickness with only a few inches of visibility in front of their faces. The creep of unnerving isolation that usually writhed under the Heavy Blade’s flesh seemed absent this time. Just having another’s heartbeat thud against his sensitive ears was some kind of comfort. Zan ached for other amenities to quell the new surge of grief that buffeted him like angry waves in response to the memory of what it felt like not to be alone in the Shadow, of who had originally given him this companionship, but it was a pain that was subdued. There wasn’t time for such nonsense. If the werewolf was to be successful, it would be the warrior’s mind that needed tapping, not the self-pitying wretch that always waited beneath the surface. The thought made him angry and the anger cleared his head like a deep breath. By the time they had found the nearest dilapidated Chaos Gate, it was with nothing short of stoicism pulled tight over Zan’s expression.

He didn’t give Atra the chance to inquire about the device’s current state or where it’d be taking them. One word halted such potential. “Lineage.”

As per usual, upon the culmination of all his efforts to find progression in his quest, doubt ebbed into his skull. What if the word was wrong? What if it was a trick? What if it hadn’t been a Gateway keyword at all? Would he be embarrassed in front of the dark-haired woman? Would he give up? Also following the routine, however, was reward for his work and not punishment. A second set of golden rings enveloped the small party and whisked them away as binary and blackness. Zan half-expected Atra to finally break her consistent silence and bitch about the lag in transportation, or voice some squeak of fear at that same thing, but it continued on as if to defy him. He realized, then, in the midst of the void in a deleted server, that he wanted her to talk. As much as mere memory of her past deeds would inflate every time she uttered a syllable, Zan still wished for a voice outside the singular one that lulled its blasphemies in his head, its taunts and faithlessness. Atra’s presence, he assured himself, would certainly not be needed if Nulus wasn’t currently sleeping off his fatigue. She would have been dispensable then; trash to be thrown away when he got bored of it. Yeah.

--------------------------------------=||Z||=--------------------------------------


Well, this was unexpected.

Lineage had inspired images in Zan of great castle halls and royal robes. Perhaps, perched on the walls, a few scattered images of great leaders past. What did he get instead? A vast white ‘room’, a sea of the monotonous color that stretched on…and on…and on. Panic rose in his throat, clenching its acidic claws around his heart, as the possibility that the transportation had glitched and deposited them into oblivion presented itself at the front of his frantic ponderings. Atra, standing beside him, had taken the liberty of actually pivoting her view at a three hundred and sixty degree angle to get the full scope of things while the Heavy Blade warred inward on how to fix his blunder.

“Hey, Clark Kent.” The odd title drifted the player’s focus to her. “As much as I’d like to watch your eyes war over how fucked we are and how it’s all your fault, like the whole world is set upon those broad shoulders, you really should turn around.”

Eyes narrowed at the remark, curiosity had Zan doing exactly as she asked. Lo and behold. At the heart of the seemingly empty room rested a metallic desk - all grey and cold shine - with a chair behind it to match. At polite attention behind it, arms folded neatly behind his back, was a man in a suit. Yeah huh. A suit. Here. It was something high end, made of some kind of soft and sturdy sapphire fabric with an even darker blue shirt underneath, and the tall stranger pulled it off. As much as it reflexively pained his heterosexuality to admit, the guy looked pretty damn good. Maybe, when he got out, Zan would buy something like it. He’d have the money to do so right around the time King Flying Pig declared himself president and the people of the world abandoned technology for a life of loin cloths. Tangent aside, the individual’s white, cleanly shaven dome seemed to reflect light almost as brightly as his smile. Even the bone structure of his face was chiseled and smooth. It’s like the son of a bitch was made in some lab by a team of undersexed, code-genius librarians. Which is right around when the werewolf realized he probably was created, but not exactly by the humorous image he had slapped together in his head. Be it for the looks to set intruders at ease before he butchered them or to hide some kind of crush Michael Grahm secretly had on the mangina, Zan’s favorite programmer was likely the culprit. A quick look to Atra revealed a woman with a quirk to her brow that meant only that her thoughts had drifted to a fantasy land. Great. Perfect. Go starry-eyed over the x-factor in the room. Real professional. At least, that’s what Zan was pretty sure he was feeling.

Time to break the silence. “So. Uh.” Quick. Something authoritative and demanding! “Yo.”

The well-dressed man smirked a little broader. “Please. Sit.” A manicured hand gestured to the uncomfortable looking chair.

“Yeahhhh. Gonna have to pass on that, man-out-of-a-romance-novel. Perhaps you can help me, though.” The Lycan’s arms crossed over his chest.

“Oh?” Giorgio Armani seemed amused. “Absolutely. Please, go on.”

Zan let both sarcasm and humor (however little was present) empty from his face. “I need to find the Wyld Shroud. I was told it was going to be here. You’re going to tell me where to go.” There. Much better than ‘yo.’

Again, the chair was motioned towards. “If you pass the test, I have every intention of doing just that, my friend. If you’d sit…”

The Heavy Blade’s eyes dashed suspiciously between the seat and its eager endorser. “Who are you, exactly? Why are you here?”

The stranger lofted his open hand to his forehead, a clear gesture of embarrassment. “Nch, nch. My manners. Atrocious.” The hand was removed, returning to its position comfortably entwined with the other behind his back. “I am the Emissary. I serve the Maker’s wishes in a number of locals. Here, I first test the stability the Twilight of any who wish to seek out the Shroud. If their levels indicate they are ready to begin the journey, I move on to the second test. Painlessly, I will flash an executable program through their data and, if they are the Warden Wolf, it will give me proof. When all of that is satisfied, I’d show them where to go next.”

Though he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted the answer, Zan asked the next question anyway. “And if they fail your tests?”

The Emissary’s smile grew almost shark-like then. “If they fail the first, well, I simply dismiss them from this place. Should they fail the second…well, there are punishments for attempted fraud of the Great Beast.”

The werewolf’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t suppose people survive these punishments?”

The man only kept up that dark, still-charming smile.

“Yeah. Figured that.”

What did he do now? Nahnan had said Zan was this figure in the Shadow of the World, this Warden Wolf, but what if he was wrong? The lycanthrope was confident in his combat abilities, but who was to say he could match something like the Emissary? After all, if the confrontation with Xazyx had taught him anything, Zan was far from invincible. Time away from the Freedom Fighters had almost made him forget that in the Juk Prison field. It came down to weighing the pros and cons, as these situations often did. Failure would likely end in his and Atra’s deletion. He wouldn’t be able to go back and console the one person who needed him. He’d never be able to see his father again. However, if he passed it could put him one step closer to gaining that next shred of power; power that would help him keep back the tide and keep those safe that he had vowed to protect. He had failed them in the Higher abomination of a field. Never again. Zan shut his eyes and tried to will the stink of fear out of his blood, out of his heart. People mistook him as someone fearless, to a fault, but the Lycan was afraid of so much. So much. Dying in ‘The World’, really dying, was certainly near the top of that disgustingly long list. Despite that…

He had made his decision.

The walk to the chair wasn’t entirely the chest-puffed stride he would have liked, but it got the job done. The constant temperature of his blood prevented Zan from registering too much of the seat’s cold, but he could only imagine what kind of yelp another would have let out. Was there a point or did the Emissary just like watching people’s nipples stab through their clothes before he ripped off their faces and chased it with a nice Chianti? Questions for another time. The man, eyes always on Zan’s, made a slow stride around to the other side of the table and set both impossibly big hands upon its chilly surface like a cop leaning in to intimidate a witness. A second later and his eyes suddenly had power, two gleaming magnets that drew the werewolf in without his permission. He tried to hold on to something, to get his bearings as he lost himself in the lion-gold fields of the Emissary’s irises, but it was hopeless. Bugs crawled under his skin, burrowed hives and colonies in a span of seconds. And then it was over. Zan came to himself feeling a little small in his own skin, like he had been pushed aside to make room for something larger that had left. Uncool.

“You have passed the first test. Your Twilight is capable of taking on the burden.”

Moving yet again, the suit-clad man walked around until he teetered behind the Lycan. Again, it felt like he was being interrogated, like another officer should have been in the room playing ‘good cop.’ It took all his will not to turn around. Zan had a feeling that wouldn’t make this go any smoother. He froze at the feel of the Emissary’s hand open on the back of his head.

“And now for the second.”

There was a flash of green energy, a gasp from the unseen Atra, and fractures of light began to drift away from the Heavy Blade (from his forehead, it seemed) and take shape a few feet away. The action was lulled and sluggish like a resistant child being told to build the Eiffel Tower with Legos at three in the morning. Zan’s organs danced.

Please, please, please…

What formed…Zan would have liked to say that it was alien, that it was nonsense, but not sense his memory bond with Sekai had he felt so connected to something.

Image

It was gone almost as quickly as it formed, but the feeling it left him lingered. He didn’t need the Emissary’s proceeding words to know the truth as he came to Zan’s side and spoke them.

“You have passed. Give me your hand…” Before Zan could comply, the Emissary added with a smile, “Warden.”

The lycanthrope couldn’t help but notice the almost submissive respect that came with the title’s annunciation. It felt…not for him. Still, the gloved hand was given and Zan noticed the glow of the same mark he had seen projected from his skull on the Emissary’s hand too late to pull his back. Images, numerous and maddening, flashed before his eyes with a jab of emotion punctuating them all like a knife through his heart. People in pain, people suffering, crying, fighting, dying…all in the Shadow. All waiting for him. When it was over, the same mark resided in the palm of his leather glove for a moment or two before lightly fading away and leaving the Lycan with yet more realization of just how big this was. Too big for him…but there was no choice. There was no one else.

Zan rose from the seat, expression again lacking in anything but seriousness. “Where?” Atra walked to his side, just a step behind him.

“To Sun’s Forgotten Wastes. To the Desert City, Na`Halesh. I can transport you there now, if you desire it.”

No need to think about it. “Do it.”

The Emissary nodded, twitched his wrist, and golden rings drank the duo in.

Zan was one step closer.

_________________
Lv. 50 Heavy Blade
Wishlist
Special: Levels, GR Sendai, PL Sakai, Darklore.
W: Tonosama Sword, Mineuchi, Jundachi.
A: Samurai Helm, Able Hands, Rare Greaves.
I: Holy Sap, Treebane, Cooked Bile, Nightbane.
EX: Elemental Summon (Lv. 2), Overdrive (Lv.1), Elemental Attacks (Lv. 2), Enhance Dark, Elemental Breath (Lv. 2).


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