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Ascension of the Wanderer
The Bard smiled at The Magician's question. 'This is it. This is where it happens.'

The Bard licked his lips and excitedly wrung his hands. "As Raine said, to test humanity the old gods and supernatural powers of this world forsook us." His smile broadened. "It sounds to me like there's a lot of vacancies right now. We ascend. If we must fight gods with no gods on our sides, then we ourselves must become as gods."

The Bard found himself once again in the sprawling cityscape of his mind. Unlike the first time he found himself here, he no longer felt alienated or afraid while here. This was his place, a place of reflection and strength. As he wandered the streets he laughed aloud. 'It's funny. This place is almost like the city that the Magician has taken claim to.'

The Bard looked around him, taking in all the architecture and sights of the city. 'No. I suppose not. My city is still cold and foreign to me. While it is my place I still do not understand everything about it, nor to I hope to ever have a full understanding. The perpetual unanswered question of how this place came to be is precisely what makes it such a wonderful place to reflect upon my own unanswered questions of my soul. That is why the shades of my mind are drawn to this place.'

A new yet familiar voice cracked through his head, threatening to rip the Bard back into reality. "Human... What is this place?.. I can sense that you are still here, but you are elsewhere as well."

The Bard took a moment to push away some agitation, and calmly responded with his mind's voice. "Your internal voice is like your personality... excitable. Ever since my pact with you I have been more sensitive to loud noises. It would do you well to learn some restraint."

A sensation of embarrassment flooded from the other side of the connection, followed by a barely audible whisper. "Sorry. Can you tell me about where you are right now?"

The Bard smiled. 'So juvenile. So innocent. At first he thought that he would find no synchronicity with this young dragon, but he was finding the opposite to be true. The fact that he too was so innocent at the start of this journey was what allowed so much growth to happen. His connection with this dragon was giving him back a piece of the price he had to pay for the power he now had. His innocence.'

"This is my mindscape. Or least that's what I've come to call it. Those of psychic and magical faculty typically have something like this. It is a place they have created with their inner eye and soul for meditation and solitude."

With a surprising maturity, the dragon spoke. "A place of solitude?.. Does that mean you don't want me sharing your senses and following you while you're in here?.."

The Bard shook his head. "No. I think you could benefit from this place. If you are to travel the world with me, then you must first see this place."

At these words, the dragon's form slowly started to appear next to the Bard. Within a few seconds, the dragon had reached complete tangibility.

The dragon quickly circled around the large street and began chatting excitedly. "So cool! What a strange feeling! I can sense my body back in the real world, but this one feels so real too!"

The Bard let the dragon enjoy the moment, waiting a while before clearing his throat. "As I understand it, our souls our now one and the same. This place is now yours just as much as it is mine. Please treat it with respect however. While mages and psychics create their own place, for whatever purpose this place came to me. We are guests here." With that, the Bard began to continue his walk.

The dragon followed him, twisting its head round about as it did so, a look of amusement on its face as it studied the many towers and buildings that seemed to disregard all need for foundations or physics.

And then the Bard stopped. Once again he found himself in that fateful courtyard. Rather than waiting to explain it, he voiced his inner monologue for the dragon's benefit.

"I first found this city the night after I died." The performer in the Bard paused and waited for that to sink in. The dragon could sense the seriousness of the situation and didn't say anything. The Bard continued. "Sleep came to me slowly that night. I wrestled with myself, playing the scene in which I chose to come back over and over in my mind."

As the Bard continued his story, shades began to creep inward from the edges of the courtyard towards him. Tears began to form at the edges of his eyes. "I didn't have an answer. That woman of pure Anima sacrificed part of her essence so that I could go on living, and I couldn't say why I wanted or deserved that. The unanswered question of why I chose to stay was killing me."

The shades now stood in a circle around the Bard as a single bead escaped from the Bard's eyes and streaked down his cheek. "That night the city found me in my dreams, asking me questions about myself. Showing me the horrors that had befallen the world, asking me over and over the question that I couldn't answer. Why did you come back. Why did you come back. My ego couldn't take it anymore, and my personality snapped."

The Bard slowly lifted his left hand, clenching it and unclenching it. "I did what I had to do to survive. I became this. A twisted and deranged form of my previous self. The only part of my personality that carried over was my love of adventure and excitement over new things." The shades that had encircled the part slowly began to merge together, forming two entities, shadowy images of himself, one on either side of him.

The Bard pointed to the form on the left. "This is my past life." Images began to flood his mind, and he shared them with the dragon. Memories of traveling the world, the gypsy family he had once belonged to, the women he had loved, and the world he had enjoyed. "Regardless of what I have become, this is still part of me. This is my beginnings, and the foundation of my soul."

The Bard then pointed to the right, but he didn't need to explain this one. The dragon spoke. "And that's your future self. What you are about to become."

The Bard nodded. "When I first came to this place, I had plans to let it consume me, erasing all other facets of my personality." The Bard turned to the dragon. "However meeting you has changed my mind."

The Bard let his arms fall. "Bonding my soul to you has re-exposed me to a personality that I used to share. A love of life and self exploration that used to not only be apart of me, but was my everything. It was my identity. Out of respect for myself, I cannot leave it behind."

Tears forming once again, but now full of confidence, The Bard reached out to the form on his left, clasping arms with it. "Whatever the future holds, we go forward as one." As the Bard reached out to the form on his right, he could feel the resistance as he pushed through the mental barriers and prison he created for himself before shattering them and grabbing the arm of his future.

"If we are to ascend we are to do it together. For we always have been and always will be, The Wanderer."
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Fallen heroes
Nancy fell to her knees, blood soaking through her sundered leather vest and tattered silks from the wound at her side.

That was a much closer call than I expected... How embarrassing.

Her eyes flicked across the room, over the bloody and unconscious bodies of the men who had thought to reject her will. Seeing their broken forms was almost enough to make her smile. The pain in her side quickly put a stop to that however.

Many of them have prowess with supernatural abilities. They should provide excellent materials for the Sultan. Er, the "Lord", as he prefers to be called now days. I suppose that power breeds pretension, and he does have a fair amount of both.

A wave of pain rocked her suddenly, her side aching as though aflame.

By the gods, I hate this place. I feel so weak without my powers.

Standing with some difficulty, Nancy sheathed her blade and removed her leather gloves. Old, and stained with blood from the many battles they had endured, the power they possessed was fading each time she used them.

Behind her, the "templars" had begun to remove their helms, revealing pale white skin and feral, noseless faces. While they feared the light, it was not enough to drive them from the warm, bloody meals that lay before them. A sharp command from Nancy served that purpose however, and at her words they began to gather the bodies, and one by one they took them from the room, down into the depths of the citadel, to await their terrible fate.
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Reflections of a Dead Man
The Bard restlessly tossed and turned in his sleep. Every jolt of anxiety that ran through his jerking body sent out a wave of pain as newly obtained scars threatened to reopen.

He was trapped in an alien city scape, the architecture featuring impossible geometry. Completely surrounding the city was that same darkness he had seen while with the mysterious woman from the ice. That same overwhelming sense of dread radiated from the shrouded miasma.

Despite the towers that spiraled out horizontally, despite the homes that had no foundation, the city had a pristine clean feeling to it. The conflicting observations of so much chaos and order within one space made the Bard's mind swim as he desperately tried to force his own laws of order and sense onto the structures. For some reason he expected results, and the agitation causing his tossing and turning grew from frustration.

A familiar yet hazy voice echoed through the cityscape. 'Why did you do it, Bard? Why did you come back?'

The Bard wildly spun about, attempting to locate the source of the sound. "Who are you?! What do you want with me?!"

Silence was the reply he received. As The Bard strained his ears waiting for a response, he realized how truly soundless his surroundings were. 'Was it this quiet before?.. Or is this whole accursed place refusing my question?' The fever grew, enveloping The Bard's head in a warm cloth, blurring his mental perception.

He collapsed, knees slamming into the cobblestone street beneath him. "I... I don't know." The miasma seemed to creep further into the city, sneaking and prowling in closer to hear his words.

"I'm just a bard- a traveling minstrel. I just wanted to become famous and wealthy, bringing joy to those that I visited and leaving admirers in my wake. But no. We had to go to that damned island of ice!" The Bard slammed his fists into the ground, bruising his knuckles and splitting them open. "WE RUINED EVERYTHING!"

The darkness briefly retreated from his cry. Silence smothered The Bard, and slowly the darkness returned to its embrace of the fallen man.

'No... The evil that the woman showed me had already consumed everything that I could see to the south of us. Regardless of where we had been, we would have fallen victim to it.' Tears trickled down his cheeks, tears that seemed to be brushed aside by the darkness that held him.

'The truth of the matter is that if we hadn't been in that village... If we hadn't met that woman... The darkness would have killed us all.'

The Bard shuttered from a sudden cold that radiated from his heart and soul. 'Is that why I came back? Is it some irrational debt that I felt towards her?' His mind flashed back to her sad smile as her soul departed to the other side in his place. 'No... She said herself that there was no shame in fleeing from this world. "You have earned a right to rest" she had said. So why did I choose to remain?'

The Bard remained unmoving from that spot in the city all night, the darkness and fever acting as both his blanket and his torment.

-----------------------------------------------

"We can't delay. We must go there now, I do not think it wise to see what repercussions there are for ignoring the request of a dead king."

The Magician also had a visitor last night it seemed. At least his visitor spoke back to him...

The others were divided. Ringabel was the loudest voice in opposition with The Magician. The Bard couldn't be bothered participating with the group. What did it matter? The night would consume them all anyways. 'Why did I come back... What possible reason could there be in this world for me to stay?..'

Finally, the group was decided. They were going to head out in search of the fabled Lord of the Undead. The Bard couldn't help but smile. 'Fitting. If we manage to find this supposed God of the dead, we'll be able to swear fealty to him while we still have breath, as opposed to doing so by force after the darkness thrusts us into early deaths and shallow graves.'

The Bard wordlessly broke from the group and headed to the blacksmith. There would be no time to wait for the custom weaponry that he had requested. The Bard hefted a long sword and deftly made a few short close swipes through the air. 'This will have to do for now.'

As the Bard mindlessly shambled back to the rooms where everyone else was packing, he suddenly lost his footage and slipped on a piece of ice, falling on his back. Rather than picking himself back up, he chose to lay there for a moment, staring up at the monstrous sky above him.

'Something out there is calling to me. The rest of my party may bear the marks of heroes, but I no longer share that with them. They may seek adventure and glory, but there is some other fate out there for me.'

Something snapped in the Bard's feverish mind, and a wicked smile crossed his lips. 'Whatever it is, I hope it's fun.'



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A World of Tricks
What defines what is real? It is our senses, is it because we can see, hear, or taste something? Is love then real, or fear? What about our thoughts, or the things we dream?

What is "real" is simply a matter of perception you say? Well, if you think you can trust your own perception you may find yourself mistaken my friend. Come, I'll show you. Walk with me along the fine line between illusion and reality. Let me show you what it means to balance betwixt them, and how it drives the soul mad!

It'll be fun I promise! That is, if you survive :)

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Setting:
Ga•a (1st)
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