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Castle Vespida

Ahnya took a deep breath, offered a small prayer in her native tongue to one of the Av'rae peoples' many gods, and nods at Dolich. "Third, yes. Ranyaa and I shall wait for your command, Tahl and Kahn will watch for any climbers." With that, she looks over her shoulder at her friends and barks out an order in their strange dialect, pointing in the direction Dolich had directed them.

They split off from Dolich to take up position along the third battlement, and steeled themselves for the onslaught. Raynaa didn't seem to have any issue loading her crossbow with steel-tipped death, and firing with the others into the horde. Her bolts flew true, and a lot straighter than the arrows, and every one of them found their mark. Most struck into the fleshy midsections of the beasts, and only the ones that hit the softer sections of the beasts' heads and extremities passed through and into the next creature, one of the benefits of such a weapon.

Ahnya's weapon is far different, however. She loads black powder first, then the iron ball, and takes aim. With the next volley, she pulls the trigger and the weapon erupts in a loud bang, sending the iron ball in a surprisingly accurate collision course with her target. Much like the crossbow, the bullet flies straight and true, but due to its size and the force behind it, it cuts through flesh without a problem, and sinks deep into the body behind her target, no matter where she hit. It took perhaps a second or two longer for her to load the weapon again, but it seemed to be worth it. To an inexperienced gunner, it would likely take more than that, but Ahnya was well practiced and trained for such a weapon.

Her breath catches in her throat as she sees them combine and evolve into some sort of flesh monster before her very eyes. "What I would not do for a dwarven firecaster..." she murmurs as she loads her weapon once more. "Ranyaa!" she calls over. "Boltaí ag pléascadh!" The other Av'rae nods to her leader and switches the next bolt out for one that's much thicker and quite a bit heavier. Using the tip of the next archer's flaming arrow, she lights a long string that sticks out of the bolt, loads it, and immediately fires.

The bolt soars out with the next volley and embeds itself deep into writhing flesh, now surrounded by the fire that spread over the beast. Ranyaa begins preparing another such bolt, nodding to herself and counting down until finally she looks away. Inside the beast, the fuse finally reaches the black-powder filled bolt and detonates it, blowing a small, bloody chunk out of the beast. "Coimeád sé suas!" Ahnya calls over. "Dolich will replace them!" Well, he better at least. Ranyaa nods, and begins continues to fire her exploding bolts into the beast.

Ahnya curses more to herself as she fires iron ball after iron ball, each one punching deep into the ever growing mass. "Do you have oil?" she calls across to the nearest commander-looking fellow. "Or catapults? Anything to get the oil onto it?" She had seen castles with large pots set on the walls, and even the D'neirs had tried using flaming glass orbs of oil against her people, but the stories went that they had been sabotaged before firing. There are many theories on that, but none Ahnya felt the need to speak of at that moment.
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
The Book of Night GM
The archers lined up on the battlements jumped at the sudden boom of Ahnya's long gun, unfamiliar with seeing such contraptions on the battlefield. However, the monstrosity rising from the masses before their eyes soon took their attention away. Flaming arrows streaked through the air, searing the abomination's flesh as they thudded into its writhing form. The humanoid forms beneath the skin thrashed in pain as the fire burned through the cursed flesh, but the beast itself seemed to pay them little heed. The blast of the exploding bolt left a gory crater in its body, revealing the tormented Twisted within. The figures were intertwined in a tight mass, arms twisting around heads and merging with bodies as they clung to one another. As the horrified defenders watched, dozens of hands pulled the skin around the wound together, sealing the injury shut within moments.

It took a few moments for Dolich to register what Ahnya had asked him, but he managed to tear his gaze away from the beast long enough to lock eyes with his blue-skinned guest. He shook his head, glancing back into the castle for just a moment before meeting her eye once more.

"No," he said. "No oil, not in that kind of quantity. Catapults would be useless anyways, they're far too slow to hit something like that. We have poison, though. Poison enough to kill that beast a hundred times over. Listen now, Ahnya. Listen closely. Your group is allowed up here because I trust you. I trust that you'll not let slip our secrets to anyone on the road. Can you promise me that? Promise me that not a word of what happens here tonight will reach outside these walls?"

Behind them, the buzzing grew louder, a harsh drone that seemed to make the very air vibrate. It was enough to set anyone on edge, but none of the archers seemed to pay it any heed. Their arrows peppered the beast, covering it with little points of fire. However, their efforts were like bee stings to the creature, which reared up and rushed forward towards the castle. A long, pale leg swept across the battlement, slamming archers away like ragdolls and sending braziers and crates of arrows flying. Dolich grabbed Ahnya and shoved her aside, narrowly avoiding being knocked over by a flying corpse as the unfortunate man sailed through the air.

"Use the acid!" he called, seizing a spherical glass flask filled with a colorless fluid from a case on his belt. He flung it at the retreating tendril as it drew back for a second stroke, and the flask shattered against its flesh. A cloud of acrid smoke billowed out from where the liquid splattered, searing away the skin and burning at the multitude of bodies beneath. The limb spasmed and thrashed, the hands from within unable to pull the wound closed. All around him, troops began to follow his lead, hurling caustic concoctions at the creature. Dolich pulled a dark cloth over his mouth and nose, tying it securely behind his head.

"Don't breathe the smoke," he advised, offering Ahnya a handkerchief. 'It's...not pleasant."
 
Seeing the archers jump at the sound of her weapon made her smirk just the tiniest of bits. Humans usually had the same reaction, one she herself once had when she first travelled through the Dwarven holds many years ago. If they thought the handgun was bad, they should hear the cannons. The thought proved to be a welcome distraction as she reloaded for another shot, but the reality she found herself in quickly returned.

As Dolich begins to speak to her, she fires off another shot, cutting off one or two of his words, unintentionally of course. "Huh?!" She called over as she reloaded, then takes a moment to listen. Ah. More secrets. "I have told you before, Lord Vespida, I do not care about spreading secrets. If you do not want them spoken of, then we will keep them to ourselves! We have bigger things to worry about!"

She let out a startled shout as she feels the wall rumble under her, followed by Dolich pushing her aside. She had only seen the strike coming out of the corner of her eye, but had it not been for her host, she would have ended up down with the arrow-movers below. She stumbles to her feet, but before she can respond, the acid has begun to rain on the creature. It took her but a moment to recognise such a concoction, but only from stories she had been told by her cousin, and not of the Vespidas. Both she and Raynaa pulled a scarf-like vestment from inside their armour and pulled it up over their nose and mouth in response to Dolich's instructions, and it seems quite effective at avoiding the smoke.

Something bothered Ahnya though, that buzzing sound. She thought it was one of the Vespidas' weapons, but nothing seemed to have happened yet. She takes a moment from the action, as she had no acid of her own, to look for the source of such a buzzing.
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
The Book of Night GM
The foul stench of dissolving flesh and caustic vapor filled the air, stinging the eyes and prompting all the surviving archers to pull similar cloths over their faces. They seemed no stranger to this style of fighting, using all manner of tricks that other houses would consider barbaric and uncivilized. Bottles of acid flew through the air and smashed into the beast, splattering their agonizing contents across its tormented flesh. Unfortunately, the volley was short-lived. Strong acid was costly to produce, and each archer had been issued only two of the precious vials. When the smoke cleared, the monstrosity still stood tall, although the marks of the barrage were clear on its body. Patches of skin had been burned away all around the body, revealing the tangle of still mostly-human limbs and bodies beneath. The hands and faces that reached out from these wounds showed the marks of the acid as well, the flesh scorched away to the bone in some cases. Dolich surveyed the scene with a cool, calculating eye, making a quick head count of his surviving troops as the buzzing grew ever louder behind them.

"The walls will hold," he repeated, almost more to himself than Ahnya. "The castle will stand. They'll not take our home from us."

The strange buzz would rise to a crescendo as Ahnya glanced back, and she would see a strange figure rising up into the air from the keep. It looked vaguely humanoid in shape, shrouded in a familiar-looking yellow-striped hooded cloak. Four membranous, insectoid wings sprouted from its back, almost invisible as they buzzed back and forth to lift the figure into the air. They hovered for a moment, scanning the situation before rocketing towards the monster, flying directly over Dolich and Ahnya's heads. As it did so, Ahnya would be able to make out the silhouette of a woman's body, clad in the dark leather uniform of the Vespida family. The head, however, was anything but human. It was unmistakably that of a gigantic wasp, triangular and predatory with its huge, compound eyes. The wasp-woman flashed past the monstrosity at blinding speed, skimming over its body and deftly avoiding its sweeping tendrils. A sharp-eyed observer would see the flicker of a blade for just the briefest moment, before a long slice opened up in the beast's back along the wasp's flight path. Hands grasped out from within, pulling the skin back together, but the hooded figure made a second pass, sending severed fingers and hands flying. Dolich said nothing, his jaw set and knuckles white as he watched the events unfold.
 
Ahnya looks to Dolich for a moment, picking up on something in his voice. "Lord Dolich... Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?" The answer to that would usually mean the difference between Ahnya feeling somewhat relieved, or scared for not only her life, but all of her friends. Yes, joining the Vespidas in their castle undoubtedly saved their lives this time, but had she only prolonged the inevitable?

Those thoughts all fade away as soon as her attention is stolen by the creature that rose into the air. She grabs her rifle and is ready to aim, but when nobody seems to aim at it themselves, she hesitates. A good thing too, considering it took her a moment to notice it wore a uniform not unlike those that the Vespidas wore.

"What is that thing?!" Ahnya asks as she readies her rifle again. "It wears your colours... Is this the product of your artefact?" There's a sense of anger in her voice as she asks, an anger that many Av'rae had when exposed to human magic, magic reserved for the rich and undeserving. She had met no Av'rae who was not bitter over humans abusing what once came naturally to them.

Lucky for Dolich, she takes out her anger on the beast with more well placed shots. They were human enough that she thought she was punishing their kind at least a little. A healthy way to deal with it? No, but there was nothing healthy about that day.
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
The Book of Night GM
At Ahnya's words, Dolich tore his eyes away from the scene before them to whirl around and face her, showing none of the boyish excitement he'd expressed earlier. He was deadly serious now, his face a grave, solemn mask. Behind him, the hundreds of bodies that made up the beast howled, a hellish chorus of agony that rang out over the castle battlements and echoed over the walls.

"You'll do well to watch closely," he said, meeting her gaze with a steely stare. "That thing is Lady Vala Vespida, soon to be the head of the house. A blind carpenter could count on one hand the number of outsiders who have seen the family's artifact in use and survived. This is one of our most closely-kept secrets, Ahnya. We're a family built on secrets, hundreds upon thousands of them kept safe within these walls. We'll never let our secrets escape, and so those fiends will never break through our walls. You have my word on that."

Looking up to the sky, he called out, loud enough for his voice to carry out over the battlefield.

"Kill it, Vala!" he called. "Do it quickly!"

The wasp-woman turned its insectoid head back towards him for a moment, its mandibles clicking before it sped off in a blur of motion back towards the monstrosity. A pair of blades appeared in her hands as she whirled around the beast, slicing through its clammy, pale skin as though it were paper. The Twisted began to spill out of the cuts like fish from a slashed net, pouring out onto the ground in still-attached clumps of four or five. Little by little, the beast began to deflate as more and more of its component creatures were wrenched from its body and fell to the ground. Dolich wasted little time, running to rally the surviving troops.

"Now," he called. "Kill them all, before it can reform. Use the Strangleroot concentrate, shower them with arrows until nothing moves!"

Once more, the poisoned arrows began to pour down upon the Twisted, even as they tried desperately to separate their fused flesh from their neighbors. They screamed and cried out as the arrows struck and the poison wracked their bodies, but the Vespida troops paid them little heed. Up above, Vala continued to dart in and out at the beast, cutting open more and more wounds for the Twisted to fall out of.
 
Ahna's eyes don't seem amazed or happy to see Vala, but instead have a fire burning behind them, and if Dolich could see her face, he'd be greeted with one hell of a scowl. It seems Av'rae don't like having magic flaunted around before their noses, regardless of if it's useful or not.

"I do not care who it is, or what her stature is, and I care even less to speak of it with anyone!" She's quick to reply, with just as much cold Steel as Dolich. The only sound from her after is the blasting roar from her rifle, launching black-powder-propelled iron balls into the mass of the beast, even if it is deflating.

Just as Dolich gives his orders, another comes from down below, one from a voice that Ahna knew well. It is a simple order, but one she hadn't expected. "Duck!!"

She looks down for just a moment to see Moors' large frame standing beside the team's beast of burden, a porcupine-like monster that stands about the size of a mighty ox, and as strong as about three. It didn't face them, instead, it pointed it's rear at the wall, it's spines bristled and pointing right up at them. Ahna knew exactly what that meant.

The Av' reaches out and pulls Dolich to the side, and just in time too, as Moors' looks up into the air, and upon spotting Vala pulling up to a higher altitude he gives the beast a bark of an order and the air is suddenly filled with the beast's long, javelin like quills.

The volley flies just over the gap created by the monster, where Ahna and Dolich stood just a moment before, and blankets the creature, each projectile piercing deep and crippling it's movement even as it melts. The ground around the monster isn't much safer, now covered in a blanket of long, sharp quills that pin whatever still lived below.

Ahna peers over the edge before looking down at Moors and her partly-bald porcupine beast, and merely gives a thumbs up. The rotund man gives a small sigh of relief, mostly that it hadn't hit the wasp, then gives the beast a well deserved pat on the head. He may not be able to swing a hammer with his injury, but he still had use.
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
The Book of Night GM
Dolich glanced down at Ahna, somewhat shocked at the malice in her tone. If any subject of the family had spoken so harshly about Vala, they would have been met with the most severe of punishments. This woman was a guest, though, and so Dolich was powerless to do anything but tsk disapprovingly. He considered reminding her to remember her place, but his train of thought was interrupted by a call from below to duck. He glanced down, eyes growing wide as he struggled to comprehend exactly what he was looking at. From this angle, the monstrous beast looked like little more than an enormous sea urchin, bristling with spines. He barely realized what he was looking at before Ahna was dragging him out of the way, dodging the blistering hail of quills that perforated the deflating monster like a volley of arrows. Getting up to his feet, he glanced down over the wall to survey the battlefield. The sight before him elicited a sigh of relief; the few writhing bodies of the surviving Twisted were quickly being dispatched by the family's archers. After calling out a few more orders and assembling a group to clear the bodies deal with the deflated skin of the monstrosity, he turned back to Ahna.

"You and your companions were a great help," he said. "I hope you'll forgive me for putting you in such danger, especially as guests of the family. I never knew those spiked creatures of yours held such an ability, but I pray I never find myself on the receiving end."

With a buzz of wings, Vala landed next to him, stumbling and grabbing Ahna's shoulder for support. As she flipped back her hood, her appearance would be startling: her face was that of a giant wasp's, black and yellow with enormous compound eyes. She scratched and grasped desperately at her face, hooking her fingers underneath the razor-sharp mandibles and ripping the entire wasp-face off like a mask. It fell to the ground with a hollow clatter as she let out a hiss of pain, the skin around her eyes and lips torn away as though they'd fused with the wasp mask. Dolich steadied her, casting a worried glance at the wounds.

"Are you quite alright, Vala?" he asked. "Two flights in a day is a lot. Go to your quarters, go rest. I'll send a physician immediately."

"I'm fine," she snapped, although the tightness in her voice and the way she leaned against Ahna showed otherwise. Wiping the blood from her eyes, she seemed to realize exactly who she was leaning on and sprung away. A long knife appeared in her hand as she glanced between her brother and the nomad, her eyes wide.

"What is she doing up here?" she hissed. "An outsider! What have you done, Dolich? You've killed her. She can't leave, not after seeing that. She dies here."

Dolich stepped between the two women hurriedly, raising his hands placatingly towards Vala. He glanced back at Ahna, giving her his best attempt at a reassuring look before speaking to his sister.

"Vala, relax," he said. "She's a guest, and a nomad to boot. Her people have little interest in our affairs, they'll not speak a word. Don't you worry. There's no need for that. No harm need come to them, they helped us. Put down the knife."

Vala clenched the knife more tightly for a moment, knuckles turning white as she glanced between Dolich and Ahna for a tense moment before resheathing the blade. Shaking her head, she shoved past Dolich and headed towards the steps, pausing for only the briefest moment to speak over her shoulder.

"Our secrets define us, Doli," she snarled. "Remember who we are. We spill blood before our secrets. Don't you make a habit of forgetting that every time you see a pretty girl or we'll see how much the ladies like you without a tongue."
 
Ahna meets Dolich's gaze, but she didn't care that he seemed to feel indignant about her words. She had spoken the truth, to her status meant nothing, just like the secrets of some self-obssesed noble house. She'd sooner forget them than share them, as she had stated time and time again. His disapproving tsk was met with a deeper scowl, one that didn't approve of his condescending. However, once he's pulled out of the way, the animosity was lost, replaced with the desire to not become a pin cushion.

Once the fighting had finished, she pulls down the task covering her nose and mouth and gives a genuine, albeit tired smile. "It was our duty," she says, as if it was a point of honour. "We would be dead if it were not for you, Lord Dolich. To keep these walls from falling is to keep us alive to roam another day." She glanced down at her beast and grins. "There is a reason my people breed such wonderful creatures. They have been our companions for generations." Her attention then shifts back to the man who's gaze she meets. It isn't often she met a human man as tall as her! "Perhaps you will consider our debt to you for saving us on the road repaid?"

Before she gets an answer though, she feels the weight of Vala on her shoulder. There is no malace or action against the noble woman, but instead she wraps an arm around her shoulders, and holds one hand to her chest, keeping her stable. The look of concern in her eyes betrays any hatred she once felt for the woman using magic. Perhaps the injury was payment enough for flaunting such magics before her, but she didn't bother vocalizing it. Instead, she remains silent, nodding over her shoulder at her companions as they approached from along the wall.

Once Vala pushes away an draws her blade, however, she's met with the sound of steel escaping sheaths. Before the group knew it, there were four Av'rae around them, each with weapons drawn, including Ahna and her dagger. An instinct most likely, but not one she is about to apologise for. Dolich's look of reassurance failed, as her knife remained ready, and she gave no order to stand down to her companions.

When Vala's blade is sheathed, however, Ahna breathes a small sigh of relief, spins the knife in her hand, and sheaths it in a hidden sheath at her side. "Thank you," she says to their host as his sister disappears. "Defining yourself with secrets... Is it any wonder the other houses apparently hate you." She looks to her group and nods with a hand gesture, causing them to sheath weapons and stand down. There would be no need to come to her aid tonight. Her attention shifts back once more. "If she comes to take my tongue, I will take something of hers in return. We do not go down without a fight." Most definitely a warning. "I will say this one final time. We do not sell secrets, and we do not care to remember them when they are not our own, Dolich. So do not waste your breath telling me, once again, how important they are. We know." Hopefully that would be the end of it.

She does smile, however, and takes one of Dolich's hands in hers. Without her gloves on, her hands are rather soft, almost surprisingly considering her profession, but that's a secret of her own. "Thank you again, Lord Dolich. Regardless of the unpleasantries, we will forever appreciate what you have done for us, and we will speak highly of your house with our own people. You will always have a friend in the Av'rae." Unless they take advantage of it, that is. Word spreads fast between Av'rae in the human realms.
 
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