V S M Earthly Troubles

Cho

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If Cho had been told the next morning: ‘Cho! You’ll be killed if you don’t get up this minute!’ — Cho would have replied in a languid, barely audible voice: ‘Kill me, do what you like with me, I won’t get up.’
Not only not get up, it seemed to him that he could not open his eyes, because if he were to do so, there would be a flash of lightning, and his head would at once be blown to pieces. A heavy bell was booming in that head, brown spots rimmed with fiery green floated between his eyeballs and his closed eyelids, and to crown it all he was nauseous, this nausea, as it seemed to him, being connected with the sounds of some importunate servant bustling around in the room adjacent to his.

The lovely effects of whatever alcohol the Emperor has pushed on him had quite disappeared and only the nasty ones were left; the taste in his mouth, the splitting ache in his brow and the impotence of not being able to clarify one's thoughts. His mouth had been used as a latrine by a small creature of the night, and then as it’s mausoleum. If he had the clarity of mind, he would have done something about the taste. The mere thought of moving churned his stomach, even more so than the alcohol. He cracked an eyelid for the briefest moment, long enough to peak the sunlight blazing through an open window across the room, before closing it again; eager to keep the encroaching light at bay. A rasping groan rattled around in his throat as he rolled onto his back.

Then came another groan. But it wasn’t his. He thought nothing of it to begin with until there was movement; an arm snaked its way across his chest. Cho’s eyes shot open, disregarding the pain that seared through his forehead. He froze, glued in place, perhaps out of fear — he wasn’t overly sure, he hadn’t been in this situation before. With his mind made up, the Earthbender did his best to slide out from underneath the, he assumed, woman's arm whilst doing his best to keep from waking her. He crept from the bed, quickly realising his distinct lack of any form of underwear. He rifled about in the pile of clothes by his feet and pulled his pants up and about himself.

“Leaving so soon?” the female’s voice rang out, sending a shockwave down Cho’s spine, “The Emperor asked me to come here last night. He asked me to.. see to you.”

“I- uh- did he?”

“Mhmm. Not that you were up to it. Not much of a drinker, hey?”

Cho took a moment, eyes wide as he turned to the woman in his bed. A gorgeous brunette with the most striking blue eyes, plump red lips, not a single blemish on her face, hair down to her - the boy choked and turned away, flustered — his already dark skin turning a shade darker. The woman, Karyn, chuckled wryly. She drew the blanket around her, concealing her modesty. She eyed the Earthbender quietly as he skittered around the room, trying to make himself look busy.

“It was.. nice meeting you. I’ve got some things to do around town.. I’ll- uh make yourself at home, I guess?” Cho turned to face the door, eyes clamped shut and a quiet, exasperated sigh escaped him. Useless in the face of Emperors and naked women alike.
 

Cho

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Cho sighed as he backed out of his room, closing the door behind him and Karyn behind it. He couldn’t see her, but he was more than sure that her expression would be one of sheer confusion. Regardless, he shook his head quickly and set off along the halls of the palace. The Earthbender grimaced as he rounded corner after corner. The echo of a door closing some way off in the distance reverberated through the halls. It felt like, to him at least, as if the myriad halls were endless. With a groan, the Earthbender rounded a final corner to be faced with the sprawling hall from the night before, still littered with the remnants of the slave’s antics. He sighed, relieved.

Cho practically bounced down the steps of the palace, thankful to be free of the maze. He took a moment, at the bottom of the staircase, to take in his surroundings; the beginnings of Wolfe’s empire. The cavern which housed the capital was alive with the dull echoes of distant activity within the volcano intertwined with the cacophonous hubbub of the it’s residents. Aside from the fact he was inside a cavern inside a volcano, a sense of odd familiarity washed over the teen. Republic City was just as alive, if not more so. Crowds of people flooded the streets, bustling to and from whatever business they had to attend. Cho allowed himself a quick smile as he dipped into the faceless crowd.

The Earthbender followed the crowd for a while, passing innumerable shops and stalls, each with it’s own Dwemer merchant; hellbent on peddling their wares, each with more greedy vigour than the last. Clothing, food, small parts of golden machinery most of which Cho had never seen the likes of before. One particular Dwemer rounder his stall, clutching a length of ebony fabric in his fists, a ravenous, toothy grin overwhelming his features.

“New in town?” He enquired, “Bet’ya never seen fabrics quite like this, eh?” he pushed the fabric toward Cho’s face and rubbed it against his cheek, “Soft, hey? I’ll do ya a deal, as you’re new in town. One of Wolfe’s lot, right? You went into the Palace last night with him right? I’ll get you something real fancy made up, three quarters off, how’s that sound?” His seedy tone grated the Earthbender’s ears.

“I don’t have any money.. No way to pay you.”

“Well, well.. We can work out a deal, huh?” The Dwemer wrung the fabric around in his boney fists, “I could always take it in installments. You’d be doing me a favour, actually. You wear the suit out and about and it’ll be like a walking advertisement. Aw, think of the possibilities! If you’re seen wearing this around the Emperor, business would boom! You give me some time, I’ll get the suit made up and you can pay me the first installment when it’s ready. How’s that sound, kiddo?”

“I mean, if I’m doing all that advertising for you, surely that’d be payment enough, right?”

The Dwemer burst into a guffaw, “Damn, you got me there, kid. Hell, if you wear it and word gets out and I end up making at least what the suit is worth — full price, I mean — in let’s say.. A month? I’ll let you have it for free. Otherwise, you gotta face the price. That’s the best I can do, otherwise I’m out of pocket and you’ve got a fancy new suit for free, just for wearing it around the place.”

“Alright, alright. Deal.” Cho grinned, extending a hand out to the Dwemer. The Dwemer returned the gesture with a firm shake, after throwing the fabric across his shoulders.

“Grudgir Gritarn’s the name, you better remember it!” the weasley Dwemer chimed, “Every chance you get, you gotta spread the word, eh?”

“Yeah, yeah, you got it.” Cho nodded firmly and released the Dwemer hand, “I’m Cho. I’ll be back at some point to pick it up.”

“Good deal, Cho! I’ll send someone when the suits ready. Gimme a week or two, tops!”

“See you around, Grudgir.” Cho wafted a hand in farewell and turned back into the crowd. He followed the capital’s pathways and alleys for a while before coming to the outskirts, a small cave, dimly lit by a relatively small river of lava running along the foot of the cave’s wall. It was quiet, peaceful even. Only the vague echoes of the capital rung around the cave. Cho turned on his heels and drew his arms into his waist. He slammed a foot onto the ground, sending waves of vibrations through the rock of the cave, like some mock echolocation. This seismic sense provided the information Cho desired. The walls of the cave were thick, no pockets of air or lava this deep down. He could train in the cave without fear of a cave in or springing a leak in a tunnel of lava hidden within the rock. The visible lava stream provided a decent amount of warmth, not too hot to cause discomfort but just warm enough to allow him to train without having to wrap up.

Cho turned to face the far wall of the cave and took his normal stance to begin his training; feet spread apart beneath him, shoulders squared above and his arms bent, parallel with his feet, at his waist. Cho leant on one foot and slammed the other into the ground once again. This time a trio of perfectly circular discs of rock, no more than 2 foot wide and each with a square hole directly in the centre, sprung from the ground and hovered in front of the Earthbender, now tethered to his will. First, a punch. The movement threw the central disc careening into the back wall, shattering into innumerable pieces which littered the ground below. A second punch followed, this time an uppercut. The left disc flung into the air, reduced to rubble against the solid rock of the ceiling. Finally, the Earthbender threw himself into the air, performing a spinning heel kick. The third disc was sent flying like the others, however the momentum of the heel kick affected the speed at which the third disc moved. It slammed into the rear wall of the cave with much more force than the other, leaving a decently sized indent in the rock. As the Earthbender landed, he crouched low and used the momentum of his previous spin to twist and sweep his leg across the ground in a wide arc. This movement, however, did not affect the rocks of the cave. Much to the surprise of the Earthbender, the lava contained in the small stream reacted to his movements. A wave of molten rock burst from the banks, soaking the cave floor with a burning crescent before the Earthbender. He scrambled backwards, away from the liquid rock, shock and awe crept their way across the boy’s features in turn.

“Are you serious?!” He breathed, the adrenaline of the moment robbing him of his voice.
 

Victor Wolfe

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The emperor smirked as he was thrown out of the pyramid by an annoyed Sigmund, he was a nice boy but sometimes he failed to see the bigger picture that the assassin was painting. In one evening Victor had helped to build a bond between the priests to strengthen their unity and lit a fire under two of their highest potential members. Either they would take the defeat into their hearts and let it eat away at them until they where useless husks. Or they would set it alight and use that fuel to drive them to a point that they could not be put back down to that level again, either way, the emperor would have his entertainment.

He did have to mend the damage with the high priest, after all being excommunicated from the church so soon into leadership would not do well for the stability of the nation, thus Victor decided that he would go one beyond the old saying and instead kill an entire flock of birds with a single stone. Because if there was one thing Victor could do efficiently, it was killing.

The scouts had intercepted reports from some nearby villages, apparently, members from their tribes in the tundra had been going missing, and there appeared to be no sign of the usual suspects, no deranged lone killers stalking and then eating them, no xenomorph liquids frozen in the ice, and no whampa tracks. It was as if they had accepted what had lead to their disappearance. Of course, Victor had his ideas but decided that it would be more fun to put his new follower to the test. After all, if he was to be in the diplomatic branch, then he would need to be both good with people, and capable in a fight. If Victor was right then this mission would require both of these skills.

As Victor waltzed up the steps of his palace, he had expected that the boy and the wench he had set him up with would likely still be out after an exhausting night but was surprised to see that the gorgeous brunette that Victor had convinced to take Cho back to his chambers looked rather, unrocked and well-rested. A little confused the emperor gave a polite head nod before addressing the women.

"So it looks like your night was, more uneventful than we had planned." Victor chuckled as the brunette pouted.

"It's not my fault that kid was a lightweight. He passed out and then ran out of the room when he woke up!" She said with an angry glare, Victor had promised that it would have been easy for her and that getting with Cho, a future NNB elite would only lead to good things.

"Well, of course, he did my dear, can't you tell that he has about as much experience in the ways of women as you do in wrestling bears. For timid creatures like Cho you need to attack. You tried to be a deer to a rabbit, instead, you need to be a wolf." Karyn rolled her eyes at the emperor.

"You think you could do better? The boy had no spine!" She stamped one of her heels against the marble floor of the palace. Victor smirked as he grabbed her by the hand causing confused looks from the crowd and Karyn herself, eventually leading her to a wall, Victor leaned over her, her back now to the wall and the blond in front of her suddenly seeming taller than she had previously thought. Victor grinned sadistically as one of his fists slammed into the wall next to the girls head causing her to yelp.

"Now listen here my sweet, if I had decided to go after that boy the rest of the palace would know about it and still be knowing about it. Because unlike you, when I really want something, I have the guts to just, take it. If I want something so bad, because I love it, or more likely it secures my future of mediocracy in a loveless but well-paying relationship. Then I would do whatever it takes, until that little innocent target, is another trophy on my wall. Do I make myself clear harlot?" Face red the Burnette with a flustered voice replied.

"Why my emperor, it sounded like you were asking me to be mounted against this wall!" Victor sighed as he dropped his arm before turning to walk off, knowing that Cho would have likely run off somewhere to hide or train. Before leaving he shook his head at the brunette.

"Sorry but I already have someone who if things go well I may be mounting against a wall, and a bed, and well, you get the picture. And if she has half the claws her mother does then I am going to need all the stamina I have. Just focus on someone more your level. Like Cho, or perhaps guardsmen number 5, I think we could get a real character arc out of him!" With that, the assassin set off for the caves on the outskirts of the cavern if there was anywhere someone who could move rocks would go to train it would be an area with plenty of access to rocks.

Victor arrived at the cave where he suspected Cho to train, the scout's maps revealed an area with solid rock and no lava pockets that were easy to detect and thus would make a solid training area for an earth bender, what Victor saw however took him aback. The boy had not informed his new benefactor that he could move magma using his powers and judging by his expression this was a new experience for both of them, the look of happy shock turning to surprise as Cho heard the clapping of hands, turning to find Victor with a warm smile across his face.

"Well done my boy, with a power like that who needs conventional weapons? After seeing what you can do I am more than certain that you can pass this little test!" Victor said with glee as Cho looked a little concerned at what the Emperor would consider a test.

"Don't worry Cho, you are already a Neo Nippurian, and thus I am sworn by my title to keep you alive. But as you have seen Neo Nippur has much wealth and potential to offer ones such as ourselves, we have a problem with people disappearing from a cluster of villages on the outer expanse of our territory, now I would like to one day unite all people under our banner so helping out these tribes may convince them that our protection is the way forward. I want you to accompany me and lead an investigation into these disappearances, I will give you hints but will mostly observe. I want to see what you can do. After all, if you want to be in the diplomatic branch and thus my personal circle then you need to be good at working with people, and figuring out the truth when the entire world is trying to deceive you. Now this mission may get dangerous, but I swear that as the emperor I will do everything in my power to keep you alive. But if you do not wish to continue that is fine, go and live in the city, enjoy your life, but if you really want to make the most of your future, and something tells me you do. Then you just need to answer this one question." Victor offered his hand out to Cho.

"Do you trust me?"
 

Cho

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Cho couldn’t help but chuckle inwardly. The Emperor, regardless of intent, possessed nothing short of pure bravado; every sentence constructed in such a way to instill the Earthbender with a sense of confidence. He had a way with words, that much was certain. Who knew if Wolfe truly had as much faith in the teen as he insinuated or not, it didn’t matter too much. Cho’s confidence was slowly, but surely, beginning to swell.

The Emperor extended a hand, “Do you trust me?” Cho’s lips twitched, a vague, fleeting smirk. He shook Victor’s hand quickly. A brief recollection of their meeting played out in the boy’s head as he considered his choices. The look on the slaver’s face as he crumpled to the ground, his blood dripping from the Emperor’s dagger, staining the blue-white ice at his feet.

“You’ve not given me much of a reason not to so far. We’re headed to the surface, right? I’ll need something warmer to wear. This, uh..” the boy gestures down at his clothes, “this is all I have, for now..”

The Emperor grinned toothily, “We’ll find you something on the way, hm? No time to waste, my boy, the outliers are relying on us to figure out what’s going on. We’d best get under way, we wouldn’t want more of them to disappear while we twiddle our thumbs down here, would we?”

“Lead the way, then. I’m sure you’ll have a better idea of where to get some decent clothes.” Cho mused aloud. The duo departed the cave, the Earthbender gave one last look over his shoulder at his handiwork. Victor adopted a coy smirk as they approached the city. Citizens of all shapes and sizes gawked as the Emperor walked the streets alongside them. Their voices lowered, they whispered between themselves, some pointed, others gave the Emperor and his companion a wide berth, not wishing to disrupt their jaunt through the streets.

“Here. This will do.” Victor gestured to the doorway of a clothing shop. Cho nodded slightly and entered. The shopkeeper gave a vague grunt in acknowledgment. However, his demeanour quickly shifted as he noticed just who had entered his little shop. The Dwemer stammered as he hustled from behind the counter, to greet the Emperor, quickly dropping into a deep bow.

“E-e-emperor Wolfe! W-w-what b-brings you to my shop?!”

Wolfe turned to his companion, sharing a quick wink, “Why, we have some business to attend on the surface. Unfortunately, my friend here finds himself without suitable clothing for the harsh conditions. We need to find some cold weather clothes, more specifically a coat and some snow boots. Would you, perchance, have any such items in stock?”

The Dwemer hesitated for a moment, considering his stock. Of course, nothing but the best for the Emperor and his friends.
“I have, as it happens! A fresh stock as well! The very best for you and your friends!” The Dwemer bustled about his shop, gathering the required items as he did so; a pair of thick soled snow boots, lined with soft fur and a winter coat, also lined with soft fur and a wide hood. He thrust them toward the Earthbender.

“Try them, try them! I’m sure you’ll find them to be to your liking!”

“What would you charge for these, friend?” The Emperor chimed in as Cho stuffed his feet into the snow boots.

“For you, Emperor Wolfe? Nothing. Please, take these as a token, if you will.”

“You are too kind, friend. I am forever in your debt!”

“Oh- n-no. Think nothing of it!”

Victor flashed a grin as he turned to exit the shop, “Now that the Emperor has shopped here, you’ll be inundated with customers. I hope you are prepared, friend!” He didn’t wait for the Dwemer to reply before dipping out of the shop, Earthbender in tow.

“Let’s get to it then, shall we?” The Emperor asked, rhetorically.
 

Victor Wolfe

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The pair had left the warmth of the volcanic caverns by foot, taking the elevator to the surface, the loud creaking of the heavy steel doors as they opened to the howling of the arctic winds. The protective gear only dulling the pain from the bite of the cold on their extremities. It was the first time since acquiring his mercenaries that the emperor had set foot outside of the mountain they now called home, the snow blinding him as a bitter reminder that so close to their little slice of civilisation was the most barren of wastelands.

Once down the volcano itself, the pair waded into the snow, starting off as a small blanket across the volcanic rock until their knees were feeling the icy grip of winter. The earth bender had offered to try and clear a way through the hellscape but Victor rejected the proposal with a shrug of his shoulders and shouting over the wind that if this was their new home, then they would need to get used to dealing with snow eventually.

Their march continued as the storm continued to build, it was something that the assassin had never experienced, letting out a sigh as the white mist of his breath filled the air he knew they had to soldier on to get to their location. Looking behind he noticed that the earth bender was not so keen on just soldering through it. His eyes darted around his compatriot's figure, he was slumped over, and quick puffs of vapour filled the air and his muscles tensed with every forced movement. It was then that the assassin remembered that not everyone had the need to work on their physical core to the same extent as Victor. Still, he appreciated the effort and lack of complaints from his little engine that could.

Ever so slowly Victor diverted the course of their journey, taking a small detour on the way to the village as the party reached a rocky outcrop. Victor gave the order that they would be stopping for some rest and wait for the storm to die down, Cho climbed out of the snow and onto the rock, collapsing with a sigh, his legs still shaking as Victor started to gather stones in a circle.

Opening his bag the assassin placed a log of giant mushroom onto the stones.

"When I give the order, I need you to huff and puff and blow your hardest comrade" Victor grinned as Cho crawled over to the log, getting the idea. With one fluid motion, the assassin channelled energy into his blades, scraping them together as the sparks from the tension between them burst onto the log, Cho's heavy breathing turning the small embers into a larger fire as the pair took their places around the heavenly glow.

"Get some rest, when the storm breaks we move on with no more distractions. I will keep watch" Victor turned towards the tundra. Cho now using the wall at the back of the outcrop to support his weight seemed puzzled at the emperor's orders.

"Shouldn't you take the first rest, Emperor Victor?" The raised eyebrow on the earth benders face almost made Victor let out a chuckle at how adorable he was being.

"Just call me Vic, and no, I will not be taking a turn I don't exactly need it. Being emperor was not exactly my first career choice in case you can't tell." Victor rolled his eyes at the absurdity of the situation as Cho seemed even more intrigued.

"Oh?" he questioned, a yawn leaving his mouth as his muscles started to lose tension.

"Well, before all of this I worked for the last King of New Babylon. Trust me when I say this Sir Cho if you think that I have done a good job so far then you would have loved Gilgamesh. In all my years in the last world, including the few deities I did meet no one ever did live up to the title of living diety as much as old Goldie did. He was able to turn a ragtag group of misfit primes into something that I had never had before." Victors eyes stared out to the horizon as he thought about those he had lost, the melancholy filling his voice.

"New Babylon was more than just a city-state, it was an ideal, a family united under one man to conquer all that unfairly opposed us! Why he was so brilliant that he made a twelve-year-old ninja his right-hand man, and it worked for him. To give yourself such a handicap and still be able to run a peaceful city-state in an area with even more bandits than this entire moon probably has always amazed me."

The emperor reached to his chest as he unpinned the badge that he had so proudly wore to represent his rank, the golden lions head still as shiny as the day he was given it. Gripping it tightly as he recounted his tales Victor let out a cracked chuckle.

"You see Cho, when I arrived in my last world, I was directionless, masterless, what I needed was a purpose, some higher goal to strive towards,otherwise I may have just given in to that despair and fought and made merry until one of those things finally killed me for good, at least once the smiling one realised that I was not going to play his game and finally let me die. I found that purpose in Gilgamesh, tactical brilliance, charisma, and endless ambition. It was like my actions had a purpose, his ambition gave me a new life. So I gave that life to serve him. Even literally at a few points, things finally seemed to be getting back on track."

Victor let out a deep and long sigh as he wiped away a single frozen tear from his cheek, the transparent drop of ice dropping to the rocky floor of the outcrop as it shattered out of sight of Cho.

"But then I woke up here, and once again I found myself without a master, and without my family, so in that great golden god of a man's honour I took on that ambition, I took what I knew about empire building and the ideals of New Babylon, merging them with my own ideals of a state to create Neo New Babylon, and yes, its great and I have met many new companions. But I will tell you a secret Cho. I would trade it all away if it meant I could get them back." The emperor felt relieved to finally get his thoughts, normally contained to his room out into the open. The sound of snoring started to fill the crevice as Victor turned to find Cho passed out from exhaustion causing Victor to break the sombre tone with a giggle.

"Sleep well rock man."

__


The storm started to die down as Cho arose from his slumber and the party set off on foot towards the village, this time with the assassin making sure to measure his pace, allowing Cho to set the pace whilst Victor guided the direction. The treck was still hard on the boy but he soldiered through the last leg of the journey as they arrived at the village, a spiked perimeter fence and makeshift scrap metal fence painted with warnings to stay away being their only welcome.

Before the pair could knock they found themselves surrounded with multiple spears aimed at their necks, both of the Babylonians holding their hands up as a wave of loud indistinguishable shouts were targeted at the pair. Eventually, the mob settled down a little, one of the larger in the group using the point of his spear to knock down Victors hood. A wave of gasps and whispers spreading across them as their eyes almost pierced through his own.

"I am guessing you seek your kin red eye?" one of the tribesmen announced as is eyes darted between Cho and Victor, eventually settling on the still smiling assassin.

"My kin? Why I have no idea who that could be, most of my kin are dead and buried, unfortunately." Victors eyebrows raised before his eyes narrowed, staring directly into the eyes of the speaker, apparently, there were factors that even the emperor had not taken into consideration for this mission.

"Someone who looked like you, bright red eyes, and blonde hair. Same cocky attitude too." The tribesmen proclaimed as he pushed his spear evermore into Victor's throat. Victor just froze, could it really be who he was thinking of? Was it just another alternative universe lesser version, or the real thing? Snapping back to reality Victor knew how rediculous his thoughts were starting to sound, but there was a sliver of hope in the assassin.

"We are here to help with the disappearing people issue, my protege Mr Cho here would very much like a word with your chief. And I would like to ask more about this "kin" of mine hat you referred too, where are they now? I would love to meet a long lost relative."

"Oh they are gone, they went out to train one day and never came back. Probably disappeared too." Pain spread through the chest of the assassin as panic set in, his tone turning forceful.

"Then it is imperative that we speak to your chief and get all the information to figure this out!" A spear blocked the assassins windpipe before he could bark any more orders until one of the tribesmen proclaimed "Fine, the chief was expecting at least one of you, something about an offer of protection, so he would like to have a word." And with that the pair where guided spears still at their necks towards the hut of the chief.
 

Cho

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In some vain attempt to save face, Cho resolved himself to not breaking down into tears and begging for his life in the face of the tribesmen and their spears. He managed, to the best of his ability, to remain somewhat passive despite being shoved into the tribe’s village at spear point. Barely worthy of the title, the village was little more than a rough circle of fifteen or so tents and huts, gathered around a central pit, most likely used for communal cooking and gathering given the roasting spit and grill in the bottom of the charcoal filled pit. The gaggle of tribesmen jostled the duo of Babylonians towards the grandest of huts, the only one to have its own entrance “hall”, much to the surprise of the locals who peered out from between tent flaps and doorways, hoping to catch a glimpse of the outsiders. While the structure itself was impressive, as far as huts go, it’s adornment was far more spectacular. A vast skull of a long dead creature sat atop the entrance way. On first glance, the Earthbender was reminded of the Unagi; a gigantic, carnivorous Eel that made Kyoshi island it’s home. Taken aback, Cho took a moment to gawk at the skull only to have the handle of a spear thrust into his back, forcing him into the entrance of the Chief’s hut behind the Emperor.

The first thing that struck the Earthbender was the stench. A heavy cloud of body odour and rancid meat wafted around the hut, presumably from the chief and the rack of fetid meat beside him, though the Earthbender couldn’t discern which actually came from which. The hut itself was far more lavishly decorated than the Babylonians had expected. It was nothing when compared to Wolfe’s palace but for a hut, it was almost respectable. The Emperor glanced about with his nose turned up, regardless. The walls and floor were decorated with numerous animal hides and furs. Lengths of crimson fabric were draped across the ceiling, most likely lifted from Dwemer that ventured to the surface.

The Babylonian’s admiration took the wayside relatively quickly as the tribe’s Chief emerged from his room, almost tearing the makeshift door frame down as he did so, due to the sheer size of him. A veritable hulk of a man, the Chief waded into the central room of his hut and took up his position on the sort-of throne in the centre. He eyed the New Babylonians for a moment, whilst scratching his bearded chin, with his knuckles and without so much as a word, the tribesmen responded, forcing the duo to their knees before him. Cho glanced between Wolfe and the Chief. He could see the cogs turning in his Emperor’s mind, most likely in consideration of the Chief’s sense of perceived grandeur. Upon glancing at the Chief, the Earthbender didn’t get quite the same feeling. He attributed the Chief little more than a singular cog, his assumption being that the Chief had wrapped himself up in the respect and sway that a Chieftain holds without considering the implications of such a standing.

“Ngh you’s are the cave dwellers, eh?” The Chief bellowed. Wolfe’s eyebrow twitched.

“Cave dwellers? I suppose you could refer to us as such-” Victor began.

“Cave dwellers.” The Chief blurted out, stomping a furred boot to the ground. The Emperor’s lips twitched into the briefest of sneers.

“Be that as it may, my protege here has come to discuss the issues you are having with your Tribesmen disappearing.” Wolfe gestured towards Cho, knelt beside him.

“Protection first. You give us protection, the disappearing will stop.”

Cho cleared his throat before speaking, “That may be so, Chief, however.. I believe we might be able to provide you with a more - uh - comprehensive form of protection if we knew how and why your tribesmen are disappearing.” The Chieftain rose from his chair in a swift, yet firm, movement and pointed a finger an inch from the Earthbender’s face.

“You question Rottooth?!” He roared. Wolfe clamped his eyes shut and inhaled sharply, fighting back the urge to burst into fits of laughter.

“N-no. I think the best course of action would be to figure out how and why your Tribesmen are disappearing before providing you with protection. Say the reason they’re disappearing is because they’re simply underestimating the conditions on the surface, us providing you with guards isn’t gonna do too much, right? But, let’s say it’s some kind of animal with a taste for Tribesmen, we can definitely help you with that and provide some kinda protection against that.” the Chieftain considered the Earthbenders words for a long moment before slumping back into his seat. Cho breathed a sigh of relief.

“Fine. You’ll stay here for the night. We’ll show you how it happens. It always happens in the dead of night. When the sky reaches its darkest.” The Chief gestured widely, his men with spears shrinking into the background as if the mere mention of the disappearances were enough to strike fear into their hearts, “When the clouds cover Ioun and not a single star shines its light onto the surface and not even a whisper dares echo through the snow, that’s when they disappear. You’ll see, Cave Dwellers. It ain’t so cozy up here. You gotta worry about more than them Deep Elves up here.”

1551 words so far, including my last post
 

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If not for the steely gaze of the warrior chief Victor may have rolled his eyes, the emperor had met beings that would stretch the mental limits of horror for such simple-minded fools, why had that demon Dean turned up he likely would have murdered every member of this tribe just for the entertainment. But Nippur needed to expand and small tribes were about as easy a test as any for Cho to really show his potential.

As his compatriot took control of the situation the assassins face curled into the tiniest of smiles, he negotiated well, making a joke of a man feel as important as he clearly felt, the small rusted crown atop his head reeking of overcompensation. Not that he was one to judge, after all, he did once declare the formation of a new empire when its only constituents were some rather buff villagers. But where Victor had used that momentum and title to springboard his ambitions it was clear that this "king" merely wore a crown to give his rather meaningless life some sort of importance.

Despite Victor's lack of interest in the chief as a person he was at least a formidable warrior, the walls of his hut lined with many trophies from years of hunting the big game that stalked the land, his hunting prowess did seem to at least be keeping his tribe going, as despite the harsh conditions many of the tribesmen appeared to be in good shape, their bodies lean but not famished, with well-developed muscles. It was a simple life, but one that was under threat from two sly foes. First whatever was picking the tribesmen off one by one. And lastly the Neo New Babylonians themselves. This brutish simplicity would simply not have a place in a world ruled by the more civilised Neo Nippurians.

Victor finally met the gaze of the chief, a silent conversation taking place, a gaze that spoke a thousand words. Even for someone as primitive as Rottooth it was clear that he understood that no matter the result of this investigation there was no going back to the old ways, he would no longer be King of his little patch of the moon, instead just another cog in what will become a sprawling empire. By inviting the emperor for aide he had opened a pandora's box that could never be closed, and all he could hope for was that his people would have the opportunities to integrate into Neo New Babylonian society.

This would not be an issue for the emperor, after all, they where all humans capable of physical labour, there would be plenty of employment opportunities for their kind, and even if their chief wore a tiny crown on his head insulting to the very idea of one as noble as himself, it was just another drop in the ocean that he planned to turn his empire into. The pair set about exploring the tribe now free from spears being aimed at their neck, although the daggers they where being shot from the suspicious eyes of the villagers stabbed almost just as hard.

As the pair scanned the ground looking for any sign of potential clues, maybe footprints of a creature or something left behind to lead them to the missing villagers Victor crashed into someone, the stranger falling onto their ass as a ring of keys fell into the snow. A look of shock crossed the strangers face as he reached over and tucked the keys back into his pocket.

"Why I must apologise, that was most rude of me and I should have been watching where I was going!" Victor apologised as he offered his hand, pulling the stranger to his feet. Now that the pair could get a good look at him both of their eyebrows raised in unison as this individual was clearly well out of place. Unlike the lean, muscled spear-wielding hunters dressed in the furs from their hunts, this gentlemen wore a more normal tattered cloth clothing, likely old due to the damage to it, and a large amount of leather. Leather boots and gloves coating his extremities. Spotting this rather strange leather it took Victor a moment before he had to suppress a rather malicious grin from spreading across his face. It was not just the clothing that gave the boy away but his entire build, with wiry red hair and a soft and squishy body this was not the build of a lean mean hunting machine.

"No no, it was my mistake, I was just changing the locks on one of the doors and was to busy looking at my keys." answered the stranger as he wiped himself off. Glancing at Cho he had not caught on to the extent that the assassin had but things seemed to be adding together in his head just fine. Thus Victor decided to play along and see if Cho could figure out the mystery on his own.

"Well that certainly is a unique skill, does not seem like something that would be to useful in the getting food to survive endless winter department though," Victor questioned as Cho listened attentively.

"Well you would be surprised, my people were always good with metal work but with most of the local tribes agreeing to a ceasefire we were at a real risk of starvation, not much use trading for really high-quality metalwork when it is usually easier to fix things themselves. That's when we realised that if we use our metal works we can craft locks and keys, paranoid villagers will trade you their food if it means that they don't get spirited away. " the pair could have sworn that they saw the sides of the villagers lip twitch as he mentioned the spiriting away line.

"But anyway I have to get back to my village. It was a pleasure meeting you Emperor Victor and friend. And I do hope that you visit us someday soon so we can give you some, real hospitality. With that the overly friendly individual skipped away, a happy smile on his face, clearly unbothered by the air of misery that coated the village.

"What just happened?" Cho asked as he turned to Victor for reassurance.

"You tell me, I figured it out days ago." he teased with the slyest of grins, the young earthbender unsure of exactly how much of that statement was an exaggeration.

The pair asked around the village and had found that at least eight different people over the course of a month had disappeared, including one infant. And that this was not the only village to suffer from this issue in the area with at least four other villages reporting the same issue, uppon hearing this Cho decided that they would wait for nightfall to try and catch the culprits in the act. The pair sat in a makeshift tent as Cho ran Victor through his thought process the assassin merely adding in the occasional yep and sure as he was not yet ready to spoil the fun.

One thing did weigh heavy on the mind of the assassin however, as the last person to be kidnapped was, in fact, the individual that the villagers had referred to as Victors "kind". If it was who he hoped it was however there would be no issue, just a lot less fun to be had.

Before the pair could finish their debriefing a panicked villager burst into their tent.

"It happened again! Another one of us has disappeared from their bed!"

The pair without a word rushed to the crime scene, there was little sign of struggle, just the furs of the bed thrown to the floor, and the back door of the house left ominously open, strange as the chief had proclaimed that every villager would lock their door. almost as if it was someone that they trusted, or they just got up and left.

"So, what are your thoughts Sir Cho, what is our next move?" Victor asked with anticipation filling his voice.


4,253 words across my last three posts.
 

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The bitter wind of Inverxe whipped around the room, knocking the door against the wall a few times, causing the Earthbender to start a little. The room and it’s occupants had gone quiet, save for the wind. Cho glanced about, eyes a little wide. He’d expected to come across something when he was brought to the room where another had disappeared, but there was nothing. Barely even a shred of evidence that whoever’s room this was had left unwillingly. He wrinkled his nose and screwed up his face into a grimace. A shiver ran its bitter touch all the way up the Earthbender’s spine, resulting in the boy shaking it off, rather abruptly. The Emperor snorted.

“Someone stepped on your grave, huh?” Wolfe sneered, his typical shit-eating grin nigh ever present.

“Huh? Oh. Yeah. Guess so.” Cho mumbled, clearly distracted. It wasn’t even the fact that the person had disappeared, it was that they had disappeared so quietly. So uneventfully. So peacefully. To him, it looked like the missing person had sat up in bed, thrown their furs onto the ground and just wandered out into the snow. Cho furrowed his brow at the thought, “There’ll be tracks in the snow, right? We can just.. Follow those? See where we end up? Anyone got a torch?” Victor nodded approvingly and peered about, waiting on someone to retrieve the torch. One of the Tribesmen bumbled around the shack-like home and finally produced a torch, thrusting it into Victor’s hands. The Emperor took a few moments to light said torch and siddle around to the door, so as to not smoke the place out.

“We should probably go as a group as well. It’s pitch black out there and I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy getting lost and freezing to death.” Victor spoke out, to no one in particular.

“Uh, true. Yeah. A group is a good idea. Thanks.” Cho cleared his throat and nodded a few times, “We’ll take three of you. I reckon the rest should wait here to make sure they’ve just.. Not gone out for a walk, or something.” A few of the Tribesmen muttered between themselves and took a few steps back, clearly unwilling to saunter around the side of a volcano, in the dead of night, during what looked to be like a blizzard rolling in. Three remained in place, obviously signing themselves up for the midnight jaunt. Two males and one female who could’ve easily passed as a male, if Cho hadn’t given her a second glance.

“Let’s go, then.” The Earthbender breathed as he stepped out into the snow. Victor held the torch out in front of him as all five of the group turned their gaze down to the snow. Thick, grey clouds roiled in the sky, the glow of Ioun temporarily blacked out. Snow and wind buffeted the rag tag group, quickly clinging to their clothes and hair. Cho narrowed his eyes against the storm, in some vain effort to keep his vision clear. He stooped down low, using one of the Tribesmen as a windbreaker.

“Shit.. the blizzard’s covered up their tracks. There’s.. Nothing here.” the Earthbender grumbled to himself. He grimaced yet again and set about removing his snow boots and tossing them inside quickly. Victor quirked a brow but cocked a coy grin, regardless, watching as Cho took up his typical stance. With his feet, deep in snow at this point, about a shoulder width apart, he drew his arms into his waist and took two heavy steps forwards. The snow that’d barely settled on the surface visibly trembled as waves of vibrations through the moon’s surface. The Earthbender inhaled deeply and closed his eyes, focussing solely on his Seismic Sense. The vibrations emanated out from the Earthbender’s footfalls before returning upon impact with another object, like some false sonar. Cho grimaced, doing his best to ignore Inverxe’s innate activity. The deep caverns below carried their own vibrations. The volcano that dominated the landscape gave off such a sheer amount of activity that it made the Earthbender’s job practically unachievable. Cho exhaled through his nose and took one more heavy step forwards. As the vibrations were launched from his footfall once more, he inhaled again. The first return was Victor, pacing impatiently beside him in the snow. Then came the rest of the Tribesmen, leaving the shack from the front and returning to their own homes. The earth trembled as the volcano heaved. Footfalls of some unknown animal off in the distance in front of the house. The volcano heaved again. Cho quirked his brow for a moment. It was almost like the volcano itself was breathing. Then, finally, a singular footstep, on the side of the volcano, accompanied by what felt like something being dragged along behind it. Cho’s eyes burst open and his spun around, a finger jabbed in the direction that he assumed the Tribesman had been taken.

“There! Pretty sure that’s the direction they went.. But they’re a fair way away. We need to get moving, quickly!”

2400 words altogether. Am bad I know [/i]
 

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Victor gave a happy nod as he finally spoke up, a glint in his eye as he watched his new pupil unravel what he had figured out from the get-go.

"Oh, we don't need to be in that much of a rush, its a long walk after all." Cho and the rest of the villagers seemed stunned by the casualness of the emperor. Who was leaned against one of the walls of the hut, spinning one of his blades on a finger without a care in the world.

"But what about the villager? Isn't he in danger?" Cho asked with a look of concern on his face. He wondered if he had miscalculated the threat level, perhaps Victor realised that this was all some sort of trap or big joke to play on the silly civilised cave dwellers.

"Oh, he is in immense danger. Just not in immediate immense danger, and if we want to keep it that way it may be best that we don't turn up all guns blazing. Just play it cool like this planet and never let other people in on exactly what you are planning. That is the last clue you are going to get from me though after all, I am merely an examiner testing out his student. All I will say now is that all of the clues are there, you just need to put them into their place to see the entire picture." The assassin said with joyful glee as he set out into the snow, the tracks now almost entirely covered by the powdery snow, much more pleasant than the storm of the night before had been.


"You know Sir Cho, I used to love the snow when I was younger. Every flake was unique in its own way, small and fragile but able to unite together to bring even the most mighty of armies to a halt. Then I grew up and realised that snow is a lot like a society." Victor said enthusiastically, it had been so long since he could discuss his ideas on philosophy with someone who would actually listen. Or at least try to, Sigmund seemed very set in his ways and Ahana would probably just build snowmen and then kill them when they refused to become a society for her to boss around.

"You see Cho humanity is at its strongest when it is focused, united under a common banner and everyone has a clear view on what their role in life is." With this Victor scooped up some snow from the ground and used the heat from his hands to harden it into a snowball.

"This is an ideal society for me, united, every snowflake has a purpose in keeping the ball stable, and if you put pressure on it, it is actually a lot harder to crush than you would think." Victor over-exaggerated his efforts to crush the snowball as he walked, Chos eyes fixed on the white orb.

"You see this is possible because the unrefined masses of snow were moulded by a greater force to achieve their maximum potential. Much like what I try to do with our citizens, make sure that they are getting the most out of their lives that they can so that they can better the lives of those around them, thus everyone ends up better for it. This is our job as the head of government and diplomacy in Neo-Nippur. To figure out what we can do to make sure that everyone is working towards the snowball, and moulding the shape to keep it as strong as possible."

Victor then grinned as he held the snowball with each of his fingertips at a different point. " Now there may come a time when there is another snowball, and this snowball may not appreciate the style of a snowball that we wish to create. Now if we were to just smash the two together there is a chance that our snowball does well and loses far less than the other one. But I tend to be of the idea that in a straight-up snowball vs snowball collision, no one wins. " Cho seemed to be following along somewhat although he was a little puzzled about how far the snow metaphor would go.

"No, instead it then becomes our job to use our powers of diplomacy, to get into positions that will allow us to cause... structural damage to the other snowball, after all, if you target some important points..." Victor put pressure into his fingers causing the snowball to collapse to the ground. He then made another snowball and rolled it through the remains of the previous ball, now with a much larger snowball in his hands Victor grinned.

"It is only through people in our position that our goals can be achieved. Don't worry if you don't get it right away, stick with me enough and you will one day. And with that, we are here!"

The two villagers had almost gone glaze eyed as they listened on to the strange man from the mountain talk about snow being like people. They wondered just what was in the mushrooms that spread through the caves as they snapped back to reality.

"This can't be it, this is the locksmith's village!" One of the villagers loudly announced.

"Oh, well it is the only major location in the immediate area, and I do not see any fresher tracks around here so perhaps we should at least stop for directions? It is up to Cho though, so what do you say, partner?"
 

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The Earthbender scratched at the back of his head. The snowball metaphor had gotten to point across, no doubt, but he was still at a relative loss. He turned away from the Locksmith’s village to face Victor again.

“So, you’re saying that as “diplomats”, we need to get in a position to cause damage? So you’re not really a diplomat, I mean really?” Cho enquired of the Emperor, “Sounds to me like you’re some kinda spy or something.” the boy snorted a wry laugh. Victor shrugged lightly, neither confirming nor denying Cho’s claim.

“The title matters little in the grand scheme of things, Cho. All that matters is the thing we’re looking to protect and help bloom.” Victor grinned, toothily before continuing, “Anyway. Locksmith’s village. What’s your next move?”

Cho sighed quietly. He turned back to face the village, taking note of it’s comparative security. There was a fence encircling the village itself. Instead of hide tents and the occasional shack, this village had opted for wooden or stone huts, each with a proper door. Smoke rose from each hut’s chimney, light from the fireplaces flickering and illuminating every nook and cranny of the huts. Every so often, a face would appear at one of the windows, glance about a bit before ducking away again. A few villagers milled about in the snow, small groups, heading back to their own hut after an evening in what Cho assumed to be a communal hut, like the village pub or something. Each villager was dressed in the same odd leather that the Locksmith had been wearing, accompanied by the tattered cloth and fur. Aside from the communal hut, there was one more hut that stood out from the rest. It was huge. It could almost be considered a mansion, in terms of huts. Dim light crept from every window, occasional shadows stretched and crept across the walls. The Earthbender shuddered.

“You lot should stay here. Me and the Emperor will go in and see what’s going on. If you can keep an eye on the gate and make sure nothing strange goes on, we’ll be out soon.” Cho gave an apologetic smile as he and the Emperor stepped into the village. The villagers huffed but agreed nonetheless.

“We should ask around for the locksmith. We might be able to get something out of him, at least. He knows who you are.” Victor nodded in agreement, “But.. let’s stick together. Something’s off.” Victor nodded once again, his lips twitching into an almost sadistic smile. The smug bastard knew exactly what was going on. Regardless, the duo approached the first hut they came to upon entering the village. Victor rapped his knuckles on the solid wood door and a short time afterward, a short, rotund barrel of a woman answered swung the door open.

“Oh- oh hello, strangers.” She chimed. Victor looked to Cho practically begging for something to have clicked by this point.

“Hello. I don’t suppose you could point us in the direction of the Locksmith, could you?” Cho asked, clearly not quite on the same wavelength as Victor just yet, but certainly inching his way there. The woman, however, looked quite despondent.

“No time for a quick cup of tea? It’s freezing out!”

“No time, no. Thank you for the offer, though. If you could just…” Cho trailed off expectantly. The woman jabbed a sausage like finger toward the mansion-hut.

“He lives next door.” She snapped and slammed the door. Cho narrowed his eyes briefly before turning to the Emperor with a quizzical look, eliciting little more than a shrug from his companion. The pair stomped through the snow toward the mansion-hut, before they could even think about turning to face what was pointed out as the Locksmith’s house a familiar voice called out.

“Oh, Emperor Wolfe! How good it is to see you again!” the Locksmith called out, standing up from whatever he was doing in his little fenced off garden outside of his hut.

“I’m afraid we were never introduced properly what is your name, Locksmith?” The Emperor asked. Cho quirked a brow, the Emperor’s tone was off. He was being coy. The bastard knew something and was keeping it to himself. Cho shook his head slightly, drawing himself out of his head and zoning back into the conversation the Locksmith, who’s named he’d just missed, and the Emperor’s conversation.

“Another one of the villagers has gone missing. Their Chief has asked us to look into it, I hope we’re not intruding.”

“Oh, that is awful. Truly, truly awful.” the Locksmith wrung his hands together, another twitch of his lips. Cho noticed this time, “Come. Let’s go and speak to the village Elder. Maybe she can shed some light on the situation.” The locksmith lead the way to the mansion-hut and banged on the door.

“It’s the middle of the night, how come everyone is still awake?” Cho spoke up for the first time in a few minutes.

“Truth be told, Cho, it’s always been this way. The inhabitants of this small stretch of land made the decision many life times ago.” The Earthbender nodded a couple of times. Finally the door swung open, another short, rotund woman answered. Greasy, blond hair framed her chubby cheeks. Cho eyed her up and down quickly, his gaze frozen on the bloodied apron that she wore. The brownish material was stained and still wet. Both Cho and Victor furrowed their brows in unison.

“Wha’ d’you want?! I’m busy!” the woman cried out as she opened the door. Her demeanour quickly shifted upon noticing the Earthbender and the Emperor, “Well, now. Who do we have here?” the woman smiled as politely as she could muster, despite how gappy it was.

“This is Emperor Victor Wolfe and Cho, his companion. They’ve come from the Dwemer City to investigate why villagers are going missing from the next village over. I thought you might be able to shed some light on the situation. Perhaps we could come in for some tea?” The Locksmith rambled, all the while ushering Cho and Victor into through the doorway.
 

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The matriarch of the village's eyes lit up as her tongue dragged itself across her dry lips, her blonde hair matted with shades of crimson as her entire demeanour changed, gone was the crabby old lady who seemed ready to put the locksmith on her butcher's table for daring to interrupt her work. In her place was a seemingly warm and inviting motherly figure, wanting to give the strangers at her door all the hospitality in the world.

Cho could feel the hair on his arms stand on their edge, there was something off about the entire place, it was almost too inviting for such a hostile environment. He looked to Victor for encouragement but was simply met with the emperor's usual shit-eating grin. Turning back from his pupil the assassin locked eyes with the Elder, spotting something in her eyes that the assassin could have probably seen in his own reflection, hidden under all the pleasantry was exactly what Victor had hoped to find, something that would prove a valuable lesson to his protege.

Unusually it was the Emperor who took the initiative, this was far too valuable a learning experience for the future diplomat to miss, and thus Victor politely announced. "Why it would just be utterly disrespectful and uncivilised to refuse hospitality when invited into someones home, and I am sure that it will be far easier to speak in private and out of the cold than it would be at this doorway. Besides I feel that talking to people at doorways is more of Sigmund's job than mine so it would be an honour to enter your home" Victor gave a small bow out of courtesy, the sparkle in the Elders eyes seeming to grow in intensity.

The pair where ushered into the home, the locksmith leaning against the door as the pair where guided to an old couch, much like the clothing that many of the villagers had been wearing this couch was also made with that oh so familiar leather, Victor recognised it instantly from the feel of it on his skin, but Cho seemed to still have the wheels on what sort of creature could make such a leather jamming for an answer.

"So you boys are looking for a missing villager? Our neighbours do seem to have a habit of losing them. Such a horrid thing to happen, I could not imagine waking up to find out that one of my sons or daughters had just disappeared into the night." The village elder said with a sigh as she began to brew some strangely familiar-looking leaves, an open fire quickly bringing the water to a boil as she filled two cups, placing them on a table that appeared to be made of bone in front of the two guests.

"Drink up boys, would not want to let good tea go to waste!" The elder said with a cheery smile. Whilst Victor remained calm Cho seemed on edge, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and the strange metallic smell that radiated throughout the room made him squirm in his seat as he looked at the cup.

"Uh, I am not really thirsty, but thank you for the offer" Chos voice was soft, as he pushed the tea away trying to stay in control of the situation.

"Now now boy, you heard what the emperor himself said about how uncivilised and rude it is to refuse hospitality, and I put the good tea on for you, so please drink up." The old lady more forcefully pushed the cup towards the earth bender. What the lady had said was true, Perhaps that was a sign from Victor that he should drink the tea. Looking over to the emperor Victor was holding his cup, a look from his eyes letting the earth bender know that if he drank, Victor would follow his plan.

With a sigh he downed the tea, Victor letting out a groan as he did the same, Cho could feel his world spinning, the laughter from the old lady and the locksmith echoed through his head as he slumped forwards, falling into a deep sleep.

The celebrations of the two native villagers were cut short however as Victor continued to grin whilst staring at them, a small yawn being all that followed.

"Uh, What a surprise! Must have been quite the tiresome journey, why don't we put him to bed and we can get you some more tea Mr Emperor." The Locksmith bumbled as he tried to think of an excuse.

"You can cut the act, its exhausting to watch nevermind perform. I figured this all out a while ago." Victor said as he leaned back into the couch.

"Well aren't you the smart one? Clearly to smart for your own good! Still, that does not explain how you are still awake, I put more than enough poison in that tea to knock out a whampa" The elder of the village announced, dropping the sweat little lady act, the murderous killing intent now fully unmasked.

"Natural healing rate, losing a limb is an inconvenience and it's going to take a lot more poison than that to keep me down for any length of time, your little plan didn't seem to take into account that in a world like this not everyone is going to be so easy to deal with. A rookie mistake if I am honest and not one that you may get the chance to make again unfortunetly" The village elder chuckled in response to the emperors' bravado.

"So let me guess, its at this point that the entire army descend upon us?"

"Nope, the army is defending the city right now, just us two here right now. "

"Oh? So you think that you could take on an entire village and survive?"

"For one, I know that I could take on this entire village, that would hardly even be considered a warm-up for me. Human leather won't do much to protect you people from these blades. But no, I shall tell you exactly what is going to happen here on this day. I am not going to do anything unless told to by this boy here. I will not even resist your attempts to restrain us. You will feel the need to get rid of us quickly so will start to meal prep us soon, as either the nearby villages or our comrades in the dwemer city both know our rough locations so you will need to make sure we are not around. Then, there is this little surprise that I am going to leave for you to figure out, and by the end of the night, your people will be in chains and this boy here, will have killed you!" Victor said in his mater of factly tone as the matriarch of the clan and the locksmith burst into tears of laughter.

"So you seem to have this all thought out, but what is stopping us from just slitting that boys throat and being done with it?" The locksmith answered.

"Well you see, I like to consider myself both a teacher and an artist, and I am not going to allow you to harm either my student nor my art piece. Besides, I know that look in your mother's eye boy. It's the intrigue of wanting to know just how my violent little Mastercraft will play out, most of her is so confident that she will win that she wants to test out my little theory just to prove me wrong, and that small part that isn't sure is begging her to try it and see how I do it. So we could go the boring path where I carve everyone in this village into fillets, or you can indulge me, and at the very least, have an interesting story for the afterlife." Victor grinned, an evil glare daring the leader of the village to dare and take him up on his offer.

"Well fine then Mr Wolfe. I accept your offer, the boy should wake up in about three hours, but we will be eating you in four. And did you say that losing limbs was only an inconvenience?" The elderly women picked up a meat cleaver as she matched the assassins evil glare.

"Well its a bit more than an ear, but an artist has to do what an artist has to do!"
 

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A heavy thud brought the Earthbender back to precarious consciousness. He blinked a few times and attempted to bring a hand up to his eye to scratch an itch, only to find himself unable. That didn’t worry him, though. He was too groggy to question it. A shiver ran down his spine, eliciting a grunt in response. Cold, but without the necessary energy to actually do anything about it. In fact, the only sense of anything Cho had was that he felt heavy. Like there was a weight strapped to each limb. He wasn’t able to move, let alone open his eyes fully and take a look around. Must’ve been a good night, he thought to himself. Had he been able to, he would’ve rolled over and pulled his duvet up around his shoulders. But it was never quite so simple.

“Time to wake up, Cho.” The Emperor called out, loud enough to get the boy’s attention, not so loud to alert anyone else around, “C’mon. We’ve got around 30 minutes before they start chopping you up as well.”

Cho grunted a few times before finally returning to the real world, “Chop me up?”

“Just open your eyes and have a look around.”

The Earthbender did as he was told. He opened his eyes, naught but a blur to begin with. All he could make out was the distinct lack of gold. He was not in his bed as he had previously believed. His body jerked as the realisation hit him square in the face. As suddenly as he had realised he wasn’t where he believed he was, panic set in. He couldn’t move his arms, his legs barely so. He was hanging, facing the dingy, not quite rotten floor of the building the Locksmith had brought them to. He settled relatively quickly, considering, as the Emperor’s voice tuned back in. Apparently he had been talking for some time.

“..going to need you to put a rock through my temple.”

“I- What?” Cho turned his head as best he could to face the Emperor, who was also hanging from a spit, a couple of feet from the ground. Victor sighed, heavily.

“Listen. Carefully. I have a way to get us out of here. But you’re going to need to trust me and do what I say. I’ll get us out of these binds, then it’s down to you. You get to decide how we progress.” Wolfe started. Cho’s gut churned. He knew where this was going, “You need to put a rock through my temple. I won’t die, but you need to do enough damage to almost kill me. Almost, alright?”

Cho opened his mouth to protest but Victor interjected, perhaps he had some gift of foresight, “No, no. Listen. I need you to do this. They’ve already taken my arms, I can regenerate, but it’s a slow process. We need to act quickly I’ll explain everything later. Just put that rock through my temple, now.”

The Earthbender fell deathly silent and still, his eyes wide and jaw agape as he stared blankly at the assassin. He was trying, desperately, to process the situation. Reality dawned on him as he started to piece things together slowly. The people from this village were the ones abducting the others. The Locksmith was facilitating it. They’d trusted him to fit locks and secure their village, he’d abused that trust to feed them to his own villagers. The odd leather they were wearing; it was the missing villagers’ skins. Visitors were also killed and eaten, drugged by something in the tea. Twice he’d been offered tea by people of this village. He believed it to be hospitality, in actual fact, it was a ruse to knock him out and chop him up. Cho reeled as the colour from his cheeks and lips drained in an instant. He was next. They’d already taken the Emperor’s arms. They were keeping him alive to make use of his regenerative abilities. Distant footsteps dragged the boy back to the present.

“Cho. Now. Come on.” Wolfe hissed under his breath. The boy turned to the Emperor once again and nodded a few times. He clenched a fist and moved it as far as he could. The ground beneath the spit his was tied to began to rumble. A thin spike of rock pierced through the rotting, damp wood of the floor and cut it’s way through the ropes that kept the Earthbender suspended. The door handle in front of him rattled a few times, the decrepit door stuck in it’s frame, only to be flung open as Cho thudded to the ground. In the doorway stood a pudgy, greasy, barrel of a man. Shorter than Cho, definitely, but twice the size. Dumbstruck, for the briefest of moments, Cho could make out the cogs in his teeny little brain kick into overdrive. He couldn’t decide whether to scream for help or simply end the Earthbender where he lay. Cho scrambled back, pulling his feet beneath him and standing up slowly. The villager’s expression turned, a vicious grin. He pulled a knife from his belt and took a step forward. The Emperor remained silent for the time being.

“Ma wanted me to check on you, make sure you were still asleep.” His tone oozed venom, setting the hairs on the back of Cho’s neck on end, “It’s been.. Too long since I had the opportunity to watch the life drain from someone’s eyes. Too long since I had fresh meat. I’ll just say you resisted..” Cho’s knees buckled beneath him and he hit the ground again. His soon-to-be killer took a few presumptuous steps forward, choosing to ignore the spike of rock that stuck out of the ground. The rock began to lose it’s form, vague bubbles formed on the surface as the interior heated up. It hissed and whined as its state was shifted, immense heat melting it from within. Still, the villager encroached on his would-be meal.

“You don’t have to-” Cho began, quickly realising that trying to reason with a murderous cannibal set on feasting on him would be futile. Another step forward and the greasy villager loomed over him, poised to drive the knife into his belly. His hand twitched and Cho lashed out in response. The rapidly melting spike of rock shifted fully and erupted. A thick stream of lava launched into the air, like some miniature volcano. The villager, caught up in attempting to drive his knife into his meal, failed to recognise the threat. It started as a hiss. The lava that now coated his back and head began to burn through his human leather shirt and then his flesh. A mixture of sulfur and burning flesh and hair wafted through the room. His eyes widened and he open his mouth the scream. Cho, however, saw this coming. He reached up and pulled his hand away. The lava reacted and bubbled ominously. The villager crumpled into a heap before the Earthbender, sizzling away.

Cho stood and slowly made his way to the door. He closed it and turned to the Emperor. He was taken aback — the Emperor was grinning. As per bloody usual.

“Was that your first kill?”

Cho simply nodded and slammed his foot into the ground. Another rocky spike erupted from the wooden flooring and lodged itself in the Emperor’s temple. A sickening crunch followed by a squelch echoed through the room and then a few drops hitting the floor. The Emperor’s body spasmed and jerked around in his bindings for a while. Cho slumped to the ground, eyes fixed on the corpse in front of him, a solitary tear rolled down his cheek. Wolfe’s body slowly began to fade into nothingness.

1301 for this post and 1019 for the last post brings me to 4720
 

Victor Wolfe

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The rocky spike pierced the emperor's brain, the world fading the black in an instant, all he could feel was weightlessness, and the remnants of the pain from his last few moments alive. His body faded into nothingness as it had so many times before, but this time felt different. There was no pull to a far away fountain this time and no feeling of restlessness demanding that he wait an arbitrary amount of time before he could continue his life.


The tears from the earth benders eyes reflected a rainbow of light, as a shapeless entity started to form into a more recognisable figure, the bright blob of light collapsing into a featureless human body, the first feature to take shape as always was the toothy grin of the assassin, his pearly whites turning solid as the rest of his face formed, the light fading away out from that point until his hands, feet and even his old assassins robes had reformed around his body. Lastly, as the light finally faded, Victor opened his eyes, the red glow scanning the room as he locked eyes with Cho.


"Well, I am glad that this worked as well as I had hoped that it would have. Would have been really bad if it took three days... Or half a year like last time!" Cho stood dumbfounded at how casual Victor had just blurted out that his entire plan had revolved around a hunch that his ability to revive had also been improved. Wiping a tear he replied a little shook up.


"You mean for all you knew, I could have been left here with these people?!?" Victor turned his head, like a crow that was looking at a shiny thing it had never seen before.


"Why would that bother you?" The assassin asked the stunned earth bender, but before Cho could respond Victor stalked forward, putting a hand on Cho's shoulder as he strutted around the room.


"Face it Cho, if you stopped holding back, and used your power to its fullest potential, you could easily beat everyone in this village, but you fear what people would think of you, murderer, monster, fiend. I get it, words and labels hurt but at the end of the day, you need to think about it in terms of pragmatism. We need to be the ones willing to make the tough choices because if we let even one of these people escape, then it might be one of our people, one of their kids that get taken in the night and eaten by these monsters." Victor turned to a boiling pot at the end of the room, larger than you would expect but a sick, meaty smell wafted from the sides.


"If it helps, go have a look in that pot, and you will see what kind of demon it is we are really here to slay, these are not people, and we can only take so many back with us across that ice without risking our own safety, one of them escaping when we lose focus for a moment, or any number of other disasters. I say we take those that come quietly, and if they resist well. I am going to get started, after all, they made my cute second in command cry and that is unforgivable. Have a think about if you can be the man that our people need you to be. I see greatness in you, but only if you can stop holding back." Victor gave Cho a pat on the back as he drew his blades and approached the door to the hut, quiet whispers as the cannibals planned their trap.


With a loud crash, Victor sliced the door in half, causing a small group of five villagers that had clearly been sent to see what was taking their companion so long. All of them were armed with rudimentary weapons, a rusty cleaver, one with a long metal pole sharpened into a spear, two with hammers, and another with a scythe. Victor’s eyes glowed brightly in anticipation as he flashed a smile at the five. "So are you just going to stand there and wait for me to kill you? Or are you actually going to... Why do you have a scythe? Is there grass to be farmed here?"


Before Victor could get an answer one of the men wielding a hammer rushed forward, Victor simply ducked, grabbing the hand with a hammer to keep it raised, as he smashed a knee into his gut and threw him backwards. " no no no! Answer me on the scythe and then I will kill you all. I need to know why on an ice planet you have that? I get hammers and butchers knives, you are cannibals, but a scythe?"


The scythe wielder seemed to be about to answer, taking a step forward his mouth opened as if to answer the question that so puzzled the emperor. Victor felt moisture hit his face as the scythe wielder unleashed a spray of spit onto the emperor. A chuckle burst out through the group as Victor wiped off his face, the usual playful smile now gone. The chuckle across the group seemed to slow and turn nervous, their hearts felt off rhythm for a moment and their minds screamed at them to run, this feeling retreated to an undertone as Victor cracked his neck. "You know what, I don't even care anymore, for that you die last."


The shorter of the two hammer wielders once again rushed at the assassin, the hammer swinging widely, this time Victor simply dodged to the side, grabbing onto the face and before he could bring his hammer down the assassin placed a foot behind the rushing villagers leg. Pushing forward the cannibal found himself flat on his back the impact softened by the snow on the ground, his head being outlined by its depth. Victor quickly snatched up the now fallen hammer. With a wicked smile, he placed his foot onto the now helpless villager's chest, held down by a surprising amount of force from the supposed bean pole that was Victor. "You know, you all probably expect me to say something like its hammer time but." Victor held the hammer over the head of his new victim who started to beg for his life. With a relaxed motion, the assassin dropped the heavy hammer, a sickening crunch filling the air as the snow at his feet turned red, the mush of snow mixed with blood and grey matter.


"Always been more of a hammer smashed face kind of person!" Victor winked as the second of the two hammer bros rushed forward. This time Victor spun to the side, his reflexes allowing him to grab the hammer out of the unsuspecting villager's hand, as the unarmed man turned to face the assassin another sick smashing of bone filled the air as Victor crashed the hammer into his chest, the sound of ribs breaking filling the air. "Oh, I think I may have broken his sternum, looks like we need to perform surgery, otherwise those loose ribs might get to the heart!" With that Victor grabbed the hand of his "patient" stopping him from falling backwards. In a fluid motion, he pulled him forward, dropping the hammer he grabbed one of his daggers, jamming it into the chest and with one swish of the wrist, cutting away the ribs. Pushing the body back Victor pointed at the now exposed organs laying on the ground.


"Look! the heart is ok, another successful operation! You can come at me more than one at a time you know? I am a big boy, I can take it!" Victor cackled, the cannibals looked at each other a small nod between them as the butcher knife-wielder and the one with the spear circled the assassin. Waiting for their moment Victor grew bored with their constant circling and chose to take a seat in the red snow. The pair took this as their opportunity to strike, both rushing in from opposite sides. Victor rolled back, grabbing the spear with his foot and kicking the end of it up, butcher knife didn't see it coming as the end of the spear pierced his throat. Victor used the roll to get to his feet. drawing his daggers in the same movement he smashed the hilts into the side of the head of the spear wielder, the force causing an explosion of head and brain matter coating the emperor. "Popped like a pumpkin, pretty fitting now that I think about it."


Last but not least was the scythe wielder. " I am going to call you... Grimmy! Don't worry if you don't like it, you won't hear it for long." Grimmy after just having seen his friends decimated so easily dropped his weapon. Victor could feel the eyes of the villagers watching the pair from their locked doors, most likely the women and children. Grimmy rushed to one of the doors as Victor strolled forward, Grimmy banged on the door with urgency, the sound of locks being opened as Victor got closer. The emperor announced. "If you open that door, you are next!"


The struggling with the locks ceased as the emperor ducked low, his dagger in one fell swipe removing a leg from his new pet. Grimmy looked up with fear in his eyes as he crawled, trying to get away from the deranged monster hunting him. Victor once again continued at his slow walking pace. Eventually catching up to the struggling man.


"To slow Grimmy, got to go faster than that!" He said as his blade removed the other leg. Trails of blood outlining his path Grimmy tried to reach his own home, one he knew was still open, in some part of his heart he felt that if he could reach it, he could somehow get in and find a place to hide. Before he could finish this thought Victor once again appeared beside him and this time just shook his head in disappointment. With another casual swing, Grimmys arm was left to freeze in the snow. Almost at the steps of his house, only one arm to keep him going he realised just how much he had slowed, his vision fading as Victor for the final time caught up. With a loud slash, Grimy was left a limbless abdomen to bleed out in the snow.


Or so he thought as he felt a sharp metal curve around his throat and a foot on his back. Victor had picked up his scythe and had placed the blade at his neck. "Done crawling? Come on, keep playing! By the way, you never did answer my question about why you have a scythe"


Grimmy coughed, turning his head to Victor's boot, and in once last act of defiance spat bloody spittle over the emperor's boot. With a sigh Victor lifted with his arm and stomped down with his shoe, the head of his new "friend" coming clean off. "You bored me, and now you are dead." Victor looked around, with all the red and the snow you could almost be fooled into thinking this was some sort of holiday scene, the white of the snow creating a great blank canvas for some of the best art the assassin had created in his time as a master of the craft.


A satisfied sigh was all Victor could give in response to his actions as he scraped his blades against each other, cleaning them of gore and sharpening them. But before the Emperor could look for more people to turn into murals he heard a loud command. "Stop and drop your weapons!"


It was the matriarch of the cannibals. With a chuckle, Victor turned "you are really giving me orders in this situatio..." Before Victor could finish his thought he noticed that the matriarch had brought out a hostage, one with a light frame and a bag over their head, a blade placed close to their neck, a wicked grin covered the face of the matriarch and the locksmith who was standing next to her.


"Do you really think that a hostage is going to stop me? It would be sad but at this point, if it means that we never need to deal with you people again well, I guess its what we could call acceptable collateral damage!" Victor started to walk forward As the chieftess loudly announced.


"Ah ah ahh. I wouldn't do that if I was you Sir Wolfe. For you see my little lock picker here mentioned that you seemed curious about someone with, red eyes and blonde hair. Someone that we had taken to become food at a later date! Well, this is that person, and if you don't want me to slice open their pretty little throat, well you had best just drop those weapons and perhaps we can talk this out?" She said with a sly grin as Victor's jaw tensed. The person under the hood frame-wise didn't look like Gilgamesh, but perhaps it was this universes version, a younger, softer version that Victor could raise into the Gilgamesh he knew. A smaller, cuter Gil.


Victor let out an annoyed sigh as he dropped his blades. " Let us talk"
 

Cho

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“Face it Cho, if you stopped holding back, and used your power to its fullest potential, you could easily beat everyone in this village, but you fear what people would think of you, murderer, monster, fiend. I get it, words and labels hurt but at the end of the day, you need to think about it in terms of pragmatism. We need to be the ones willing to make the tough choices because if we let even one of these people escape, then it might be one of our people, one of their kids that get taken in the night and eaten by these monsters." the Earthbender gave an indignant huff. He couldn’t help but feel a little off kilter. Perhaps the Emperor was right, perhaps not. Regardless, Victor continued. Somehow he’d essentially predicted what was going on here, he should probably pay attention, rather than sulking. "If it helps, go have a look in that pot, and you will see what kind of demon it is we are really here to slay, these are not people, and we can only take so many back with us across that ice without risking our own safety, one of them escaping when we lose focus for a moment, or any number of other disasters. I say we take those that come quietly, and if they resist well. I am going to get started, after all, they made my cute second in command cry and that is unforgivable. Have a think about if you can be the man that our people need you to be. I see greatness in you, but only if you can stop holding back."

Cho let off another sigh as the Assassin-turned-Emperor burst through the door, leaving a trail of blood and viscera in his wake. He didn’t watch. He didn’t need to. The sound of the Emperor taunting his prey, coupled with the sickening sloshing of blood and gore layering the walls and floor of the shack was enough. A few dull thuds echoed out as the cannibal’s corpses hit the ground, followed quickly by the assassin’s footsteps proceeding deeper into the building until they finally fell mute. He’d left the building. An uneasiness washed over the teen. He grimaced, his ears rang in protest, offended by the assault on his senses. The sickly sweet smell emanating from the boiling pot brought him back to coherence. He didn’t want to look. Almost every fibre of his being screamed to stay away. He knew, somewhere deep down, that he’d regret it. Still, he found himself with his hand clamped around the handle of the lid. He trembled slightly as he pulled the metallic lid free of the pot, steam erupting from the liquid within. Cho peered inside, quickly, before slamming the lid back down.

“Shit..” he gasped, struggling to catch his breath as he scrambled away from the boiling pot. He only needed a glimpse of what was in the pot. Cho clasped a hand across his mouth suppressing a heave. He inhaled deeply as he steadied himself on the wall at the back of the room. He slammed a fist into the wood and set himself in motion. The Emperor’s words rumbled about in his mind for a moment as he straightened himself up and moved for the half bust door. One of the cannibals had presumably heard the ruckus and waited in hiding for whoever was in the room with the assassin to finally leave. As soon as he’d left the room and turned his back on the doorway, he lurched forwards the cannibal struck him on the back with a wooden club. He hit the ground with a thud and scrambled to his feet once more. The cannibal chortled wildly and threw herself into a sprint, eager to bash the Earthbender’s head in with the club. Cho panicked and took a few steps backwards. As the cannibal closed in, the Earthbender turned on heel. He slid his right foot across the wooden floor, a small mound of earth broke through the planks and sped toward the encroaching cannibal. As the cannibal’s foot came into contact with the mound of earth, Cho threw a fist out to his left and the mound responded in kind. The cannibal found themselves in a knot, her right foot being dragged off to the left, in front of her other leg. Her head connected with the ground, the momentum of her sprint rendering her unconscious all but instantly.

**​
" Let us talk" Victor spoke, his hands outstretched to the side, displaying that he had, in fact, dropped his weapons. The matriarch opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by a grunt of exertion. Cho dragged the limp body of the cannibal, the one who had attempted to ambush him, by her hair clenched in his fist. Victor turned to face his companion, a haughty laugh rumbled around in his throat. The Earthbender tossed the cannibal, as best he could, into the snow.

“I’d let that one go, if I were you.” Cho sneered, barely keeping his voice in check. He trembled, but otherwise, his demeanour was one of grim determination.

“I don’t think I will, dear.” the matriarch mocked him “Why would-”

Cho didn’t wait for her to finish. He slammed his heel into the ground, a small pebble reacted and was flung into the air before him. It floated ominously in front of him for a brief moment until Cho threw a punch. The pebble careened toward the matriarch. She didn’t have time to react, even Victor was caught by surprise when the matriarch’s forehead erupted in a spray of blood and bone. The pebble punched a hole in between her eyes and burst from the back of her skull.

Just a little post to get to the word count! Also because it’s been 2 weeks and I’m slow af but we’re over the word count now ^^
 

Victor Wolfe

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A raw tingly warmth spread through the body of the assassin as he stared into the eyes of the matriarch. As she drew her final breath, the hope that her little hostage gambit would work was extinguished along with the light in her eyes as she fell backwards A crimson pool of slush began to form under her overweight and quickly cooling corpse. Just as Victor had predicted earlier, it had been Cho to strike the killing blow, and what a merciless kill it was.


Cho was visibly shaking, he had done well but the emperor knew that he could only push his student so far without breaking him, now he had to let the mould that had been formed today settle before the work could continue. With the anticipation of who may be under the hood being his new focus, Victor knew that it was about time to wrap up this little excursion, besides he had people to govern and a model to flirt with. His schedule for the day was starting to look cramped.


Victor’s predatory gaze scanned the battlefield as he took in the situation. The cannibals seemed more placid now, after watching their more bold fighters be utterly dismembered and the brains of their operation be smashed out over the snow. It seemed like the rest of the villagers where having second thoughts about attacking the strange men in the fancy clothes. The locksmith seemed to be the only one trying to think of a solution to the sticky situation they had ended up in, his eyes darting from Victor to the hostage again and again.


"Oh, you want to try that one again? Go ahead, I insist, not done it for a long time but I bet that if I focus enough on it, I could throw this blade and pin you to that shack before you even take a step towards that hostage. Please try it though, it will be fun!" Victor taunted as the locksmith's eyes turned downwards, staring into the snow. Victor smirked as he took a step forward, his presence demanding attention as all eyes turned to him.


"Now you may think that we have been harsh, brutal, and maybe even a little sadistic with how we dispatched those that attempted to get in our way. " Victor's hands waved towards the corpses around them with their skulls crushed, throats cut, and limbs missing.


"But let me get one thing totally clear: if anyone here decides to keep fighting after what you have just witnessed, then just for the sheer idiocy of fighting a battle that you cannot win then I will personally make sure that you, and all of your friends, family and loved ones, every single member of the village that is, suffers a death that will make what I have orchestrated here today seem peaceful and gentle. Now you can all come quietly, and face a trial, or you can fight on and I will be judge, jury and executioner. And just to add another level to your decision here, as you did with your fellow villages, I would start with your women and children first. The choice is yours, So what will it be?" Victor’s tone was calm and measured, his eyes met with each member of the village as he acknowledged his audience. Despite the calm tone to his voice, there was a fiery intensity in his stare, a zealous gaze that promised he meant everything that he proclaimed.


The sound of snow compressing as makeshift weapons were dropped filled the air as the rest of the villagers surrendered themselves to their fate, the mention of a trial giving them enough hope that they might not all be killed for their actions. Over what they perceived as a fate of watching their loved ones be tortured and killed in front of them made surrender the more palatable option in this case.


Victor leaned down and with a focused thought one at a time summoned enough handcuffs for the entire village. Looking around, the assassin made sure that the cuffs would be able to fit even the smallest malnourished child as well as the heaviest adult. Turning towards his protege he motioned towards the pile of cuffs, his hand then swaying towards the now unarmed villagers. "Well Sir Cho, you did well, now all that is left to do is to secure our prisoners and lead them back to Neo-Nippur for judgment. If you would be so kind as to do that for me whilst I check on the hostage, that would be fantastic. I advise that you not even look them in the eyes, they deserve neither your pity nor your hatred, save that energy for those that are worth it."


Cho took a deep breath to steady himself before walking over to the pile of handcuffs, a pained look on his face sprinkled with relief as the ordeal finally seemed to be over. The metallic scraping filled the air as the handcuffs locked into place around the wrists of the cannibals whilst Victor, now fully in control of the situation, let out a sigh, his shoulders slouching a little as he appeared to lose height, the stern stare being replaced with a warm smile as he skipped towards the hostage, a bag still covering their face and their hands still tied behind their back. His heart started to pound in his chest and he felt his eyes well up a little. It felt like it had been a lifetime but finally, he was going to be reunited with the most prized piece in his collection of allies, the one who had reignited the fire in his heart that drove him on in this barren, cold world.


He reached out towards the hood tentatively, his hand hovering over it.he wondered about all the possibilities that could occur; what if they didn't remember him? Would it be better or worse? if he was forgotten then his worst failures at least would be finally dead and buried, but also the years of service gone. Would everything really go back to the natural order? Or would the balance that he had worked so hard to achieve be thrown away due to a version of this person that didn't match up to the ideal ruler that Victor had aspired to for so long.


Swallowing back his hesitation Victor grabbed a hold of the hood and pulled if off the head of the prisoner. His warm smile quickly turned to shock and despair. Although the description of this stranger had been accurate, it was not the person that the Emperor so dearly longed to see. The hood came away to reveal bright, glowing red eyes, locks of shoulder-length blonde hair, and young impish feminine features. Unless this universe had a strange sense of humour this was not the great leader and hero that Victor expected, instead, a small teenage girl looked up to the assassin with shock and amazement. Although not who he was looking for Victor could not help but find something oddly familiar about the girl in front of him, it was the hostage that broke the silence first, her first word breaking the mental block on why she was so familiar.


"Vincenzo? Is that really you?" The emperor was shocked, his heart skipped a beat as he felt a burning pain in his chest. He turned his face, a single tear rolling down his cheek, wiping it away he straightened up, a stern look crossing his face once again.


"Where did you learn that name girl? And why do you speak it so freely? You should know better than anyone else what happens when you use dead names on imperial citizens!" Victor snarled, a look of contempt crossing his face. The girl gasped as she quickly bowed her head down tears filling her eyes as she noticed her mistake.


"I am so sorry Sir Victor! I forgot my place! I just, after all, that had happened to see another Aqualian face made me so relieved, please forgive me good sir." The Emperor had not heard the name of his race in so long that the word almost sounded foreign to him, her story did seem to fit with the familiar vibe that he was picking up from her, the blonde hair, the lithe builds and the most recognisable feature: the Eyes of the Reaper adorning her face gave away her ethnic identity.


"It's fine, just do not make the same mistake twice, I do not suffer the same ignorance twice after all. And just call me Victor, in our world I was never actually given a proper title, although if you want my one in this world, Emperor would be more accurate than Sir. Now, take your head out of the snow and tell me your name, calling you girl or woman has tones that I don't like too much" Victor leaned forward and cut the rope tying the girl's hands together, stretching out her wrists to get the circulation back into them she stood up stretching her arms above her head. She looked to be around fifteen years of age and stood at around five foot two, short for one of Victors race but not impossibly so. With a warm smile, she looked up into her saviour's eyes.


"I am Flavia, Flavia Ricci. I actually grew up in the same village that you did Vin...Victor." Victor looked down at the snow, he didn't have many pleasant memories of his homeland, especially not from his adult life.


"Well that explains a lot, I am surprised you are still smiling though, most of our people tend to either try to kill me, run away in fear or call me every name under the sun: imperial bootlicker, the hound of the emperor, traitorous monster. Why I cannot remember the last time I had a conversation with one of our people that didn't end in calls for my head. So why are you so, perky miss Flavia?" he asked, a confused look crossing his face.


"Not every one of our people hated you. A lot did but some of us saw it how it was, not like we were getting our country back anytime soon so may as well make the best out of it right? My daddy knew that and worked his ass off to get me into a good imperial school so that we could succeed in life, just like you did. The only people who really hated you were those fools living in a past that I was too young to even properly remember. To us young Aqualians who had to actually make our way in the empire, you where a goal to aspire to. Your missions, when reported on, were the talk of the town!” Flavia seemed to gain new energy as her eyes glowed even brighter.


“I remember when the news broke that you had wiped out the elven kings twelve elite archers! Everyone was proud that one of our own had stuck it so hard to the knife ears for the first time in centuries” Victor was taken aback, he had always wondered what would have happened if he had met one of his own people in one of these worlds, but this possibility had never crossed his mind. With a smug look on his face, his tone changed, an aura of confidence filling his voice as he straightened up his back, a proud smile crossing his face.


“Twenty four elite archers actually, I also killed their apprentices, probably did more damage to the art of archery than any other person in history, perhaps I will tell you the full story one day over some drink- actually given your age hot chocolate is probably the more likely drink of choice. It was a fun time though, most people I killed as part of my employment, that particular one was more like leisure time. Call themselves elite assassins yet needing to hide behind magic and archery, what cowards!” Victor chuckled as he reminisced on the good old days.


“So how did you find your way into this world? After all, I am pretty sure that this is about as far from our homeworld as we could get. The only man-eaters I remember in our homeland where the older ladies at court after all!” The emperor said with a grin causing the young girl to giggle as she started to answer.


“Well it all started when I got a letter from the imperial academy, I had applied for one of the harder to get into programs and despite doing well grade-wise I was pretty sure that I would be rejected for the role. But no, I got in with flying colours apparently, my test scores both mentally and physically was more than enough and they seemed to really want Aqualians involved for this year. I mostly put it down to how good of an example to the rest of the empire you were setting for us. I was about to step through the gates of the academy to attend my first day of classes to master my craft, but ended up in this icey hellhole. Not really want I intended.” Flavia said with a disappointed glance to the snow, it was clear that she had a passion for whatever it was she had been trying to learn, and probably would have made a great student had she been given the chance.


“Well Flavia, we do happen to have people with all sorts of talents in our little growing empire, so perhaps if you let me know just what it was that you were so keen to learn I could find you a suitable teacher. That way you can work towards your dream here. So what was it that you wanted to learn?” Victor leaned forward, looking into the girl’s eyes, her presence had been a breath of fresh air after the crushing disappointment of not finding his true master, and like all those around him who pleased him, she deserved a reward.


Looking up into Victor’s eyes her cheeks turned a little red as she stuttered over her words. “Uh, well, if it wouldn’t be a bother. I would really love to learn the art of assassination!”


The emperor was stunned once again, not only was one of his own people standing in front of him, but one who wanted to follow in his footsteps. A low hearty chuckle filled the throat of the assassin as his eyes gleamed. An arm went over Flavia’s shoulder as Victor walked with her. “Well miss Flavia I think that you are certainly in luck, because whilst I am sure that the imperial teachers would be able to turn you into a somewhat competent, or even maybe just a pretty good assassin. There is one man I know who can turn you into one of the best, a truly elite assassin.”


Victor turned the girl, his hands now resting on her shoulder and with a toothy grin he announced. “Me!”


Flavia’s eyes went wide with surprise as she started to hyperventilate. “You mean it? You are going to teach me all you know?”


With a laugh, Victor shook his head. “No my dear, I am going to teach you all you know, it will be up to your own ability to watch and learn, to see if you can learn everything I know. After all, it is about time that I take on a student to pass on my knowledge, and unfortunately.” Victor opened his phone and looked at the young girl on his home screen “my first choice of young red-eyed girl is not currently available. I do warn you though, I am not a gentle teacher, and if you fail too badly there is a chance that you will die, are you able to handle that?”


An outstretched hand was offered to the blonde who, without hesitation, snatched it and shook it vigorously. A sense of intrigue filled the assassin’s mind, the raw ambition and passion showed by this girl was something that drew his attention, he wondered just how far she would go with her training, and the thought of two people as crafty as he was running around for the same cause tickled the assassin.


“Well Flavia, it is probably for the best that we head back to Neo-Nippur and celebrate! I already had a feast organised to welcome some old friends back home but with the solving of this little mystery and the gaining of a new student, why I have a lot of reasons to enjoy myself tonight” He said with a grin.


“Sorry if it sounds stupid but, what is a Neo-Nippur?” Flavia asked an eyebrow raised as the name didn’t ring any bells.

“Why it's the capital of my little empire, Neo New Babylon. Some of my comrades and I took over a knife-ear settlement and are currently showing them how a real society functions, it's also under a volcano so easy to defend and pretty warm compared to the rest of this world.” Victor said with a smile.


“Ok, if it’s your empire, why is it not named in an Imperial or Aqualian style? Why does it sound like a foreign empire from the sands rather than the fertile plains of our homeland?” The more she learned about this strange city the more questions seemed to be raised.


“Well, after I was transported from our homeworld, I met an individual who changed my life. I was goalless, I had done it all, and everything had fallen to pieces. But this man had a pyre of ambition in his soul, the sparks of which reignited the fire inside me. I knew I had to do everything to progress this ambition and despite some setbacks, we always rose again from the ashes from the fire of his ambition.”


“Things where finally back on track when I stepped out of a gate and boom, here I was, once again without that warm glow to keep me going, alone and ready to give in to the despair that I would never belong. But that ember refused to go out, so I stoked the flames and decided that if I cannot be around that flame anymore, then I would be the one to carry it. I then made it my ambition to carry on that legacy and in his honour adapted the names of his Kingdom and city to be the names of my empire and capital. Of course, I didn’t just want to do what he did. I wanted to take the idea to its limits and go even further! So that is why the names sound strange, you will get used to them.” Victor had a small content half-smile as he walked the pair towards Cho.


“After all, at this point, I feel more Nippurian than I do Aqualian. I remember more of my time under that one great man than I do anything from my days as an imperial.” Whilst Victor was getting sentimental he heard a small snigger from the girl next to him. He raised an eyebrow to ask what was so funny.


“Sorry, its just that after all of that, you talked about your time under him and, it almost sounded like a relationship! I just had to laug.h” Victor’s eyes narrowed as he walked towards Cho, whispering just loud enough to be heard under his breath.


“I bloody wish!”


Cho meanwhile had managed to handcuff all of the villagers, getting them lined up and ready to march through the snow back to the capital. Cho seemed to have somewhat calmed down from his murderous rampage, enough so that he seemed intrigued at the girl that was following the assassin.


“Cho, this is Flavia, she will also be one of my students in the diplomatic branch so you two will get to know each other really close. Flavia this is Cho, he is a good guy so be nice to him and as he is your elder listen to him when he asks you to do things.” The two gave each other a nod as Victor turned to a pair of new arrivals. It was the two villagers from the previous village that had accompanied the pair through the snow to make sure that they arrived safely. The pair were taken aback by the level of gore on display, more red than white on the snow of the village, and surprised to see their former neighbours all lined up and in chains, grim looks on their faces. The sweet old lady they had known as the leader of the village laying dead in the snow.


“What the hell happened here? Where are you taking those people?” One of the villagers got rather defensive.


“Well, you can check the rest of the village if you like for the evidence, but they are cannibals, have been using the installation of locks as a way to case your villages and kidnap the vulnerable to make a meal out of them. We are taking them back to the capital for punishment. You are very welcome!” Victor gave a polite bow as the villagers started to ask more questions, confusion filling their voices.


“What do you mean cannibals? Why should we believe you? For all, we know you are just like those Dwemer you rule over and plan to put our friends into the mine to work!” The two warriors nodded to each other in agreement, from out of the line of prisoners the locksmith spoke up, falling to his knees he crawled towards the warriors.


“Yes! My brothers! They are slaver imperialists, they demanded that we give up our men to work in their mines and then when we refused they killed our sweet mother, and decided to take all of us, will someone think of the women and children! They said that if we didn’t cooperate they would kill them all, you have to help us!” He begged. Before his incessant rant could continue a knee smashed into the back of the crawling man’s head. Flavia had rushed forward, her knee clashing with the back of the locksmith’s skull knocking him cleanout. Reaching down she checked each of his pockets until she found his ring of keys, looking through them she broke a single key off and threw it into the snow in front of the pair.


“Check the second biggest hut here, second on the left and you might be surprised to see what you find!” She said with a cheeky grin before skipping back over to her new teacher. Victor cocked his head to the side like a crow looking at something new for the first time. One of the villagers decided to follow Flavias advice and check the house, the remaining one keeping a vigilant eye on the strangers.


“Oy! Get over here!” proclaimed the villager that checked the house, causing his companion to rush in after them within a few minutes of hushed, concerned arguing they returned, dragging a badly cut, bruised and beaten man with them. Their faces showed that compared to the other horrors they had witnessed in that room the heavy damage done to the person they had dragged out was light. A scarred and angry expression was all that remained, no longer suspicious about the story the emperor had given them.


“I am guessing that this is the fellow that we came here to rescue then? Looks like it was a successful mission. Now we can discuss payment!” Victor said with glee as he reached into his shirt and pulled out a letter.


“Never mind payment! We must discuss revenge, we are taking these monsters with us to be properly killed and burned so that their spirits are put to rest for good!” The mere mention of spirits made the assassin role his eyes.


“Now I know that maybe the way that your tribe deal with things like this, however, Neo New Babylon has its own rules, laws and appropriate punishment for those crimes, so I think you will find that with the nature of this crime we are going to be taking them back to the capital for proper punishment. If it makes you feel any more at peace I will promise to have the bodies cremated.” The two warriors seemed even more annoyed by this offer.


“What do you mean Neo New Babylonian laws? This is an issue between villages, why would we have to follow your laws. You were brought in as a guest to help solve this mystery and now you have done it, so come back to the village with us, let us kill these monsters and give you your payment!”


Victor’s gaze once again turned predatory as he stalked towards the villagers. “Well, it will all make sense soon enough why you have to follow our laws from now on. Deliver this letter to your chief, describe in detail just what you have seen here today!”


Victor handed over the letter and then swung his hand towards the dismembered bodies laying around.


“Then when you have done that tell him that His imperial highness Victor Wolfe demands the agreed payment in full, and it is his move on how we claim that payment. Tell him that there is a march of civilisation in progress and he better think long and hard about if he wants to just be another name crushed under the march of progress or to strap up his boots and march proudly forwards. It is all up to him, but I will get what I want one way or another, I always do!” Victor then proceeded to kick the locksmith over towards the warriors.


“Take this as a gift, he would only slow us down at this point anyway and it makes you two look more important than you actually where. Now go my little messengers, bring the good news back home and enjoy a heroes welcome! I have things to do” They didn’t like it, but knowing that what they where getting was better than nothing, and not wanting to risk the ire of the party that had caused such destruction the two warriors each carried a man over their shoulder and set off with the letter for their chief. Turning to his comrades Victor gave a cheesy smile


“Sorry about all of that, I get serious when it comes to business, shall we head home?”
 

Cho

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Cho shook his head and sighed. He vaguely understood why the Emperor was treating the villagers in the way he was, but he couldn’t understand why he’d be as obtuse about it all. It made sense that the villagers wanted to enact their judgement on the cannibals. He didn’t question it, though. If he’d learned anything since being a part of Wolfe’s entourage, it was that he never did anything on a whim. There was always something up his sleeve. He never made it obvious or stated why he was choosing to follow the path he was, that was up to interpretation. If anything, the Earthbender was happy to be in the Emperor’s good books. His condescension of the villagers grated him a little. Cho gritted his teeth, that damned grin put him on edge. He clenched his fist, squeezing his thumb until he was sure it was about to pop out of its joint. The teen muttered irritably to himself before closing his eyes and taking a long, deep inhale. It was due to the Emperor’s kindness that he hadn’t gotten lost in the snow and frozen to death. Wolfe took him in when he was at his most vulnerable. He might not agree with him at every turn, but he had a lot to be thankful for.

“Not sure about you two, but I don’t fancy staying in this snow any longer than necessary.” Cho spoke, loud enough for the entire group to hear. He dropped into his typical Earthbending stance his arms resting at his sides for a moment before he reached upwards. His arms shook and his face contorted under the effort he was putting into his movements. The ground around him rumbled ominously until a slab of rock, just long enough to carry the bunch of prisoners, surfaced and settled into the snow. He rested a foot on the edge and gestured widely to the gaggle on handcuffed cannibals. They murmured lowly between themselves, hesitant to get on the rock Cho had just conjured up.

“Get on.” Cho practically spat. ”it's not going to bite, just get on. I don’t want to deal with you lot dragging your feet. Get on or you’ll end up like her.” He hated confrontation, but he had to keep face in front of this lot. at least for the time being. Victor approached and gave him a heavy handed pat on the shoulder.

“Do as my associate says. Unless, of course, you would like your brains spilled into the snow. I’ve had my fill of bloodshed for this night, but I can’t say the same for these two.” Wolfe gestured toward Cho and Flavia in turn. Cho resisted, with all his might, the urge to roll his eyes. The cannibals shuffled onto the rock one by one. The teen shoved the rock and set it in motion. He followed along occasionally stepping up onto the rock to give it another shove. The rock would drift for a while before he had to catch up and give it another shove. Each time, the cannibals wobbled; threatening to tumble off into the snow.

Flavia approached the Earthbender and with a coy smile, tapped him on the shoulder.

“Victor said your name is Cho?” She beamed a smile. Cho merely squinted.

“That’s right. You knew Victor before you came here, right?”

“Mhmm. Well, I knew of him. He was quite famous in my village.” Cho rolled his shoulder.

“Fair enough.”

“What about you? Where are you from? Did you know Victor before arriving here as well?” Flavia enquired, doing her best to keep the Earthbender from retreating into his shell. He stepped up onto the rock and gave it another push.

“No, no, I didn’t.” Cho began, “I’m from Republic City. I have no idea where Victor’s from.”

“Republic City? It sounds amazing! What did you do there?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you have a job?” she asked, canting her head slightly.

“Uh, not quite. I’m an Earthbender. I control the element of Earth.” he gestured towards the rock that slid ahead, carving a miniature valley within the snow. He quirked a brow, nonetheless, perhaps it was a trait within Victor’s people, but the conversation with Flavia followed almost exactly the same pattern as his initial conversation with the Emperor.

“You control Earth?! That’s incredible. Were you the only one?”

“The only one what? To control Earth? No, no. There were hundreds, if not thousands that have the ability to control earth. There’re people who can control Air, Water and Fire as well.” Cho quirked a brow. Aside from little kids growing up around Republic City who’d get excited at the very mention of elemental bending, nobody was this inquisitive about the art. He’d hardly considered that outside of the city, there were people who’d not even heard of bending.

“Can you control more than one of them?”

“Well, no. Only the Avatar has control of all four elements.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Cho!” Victor called out from behind, “Our esteemed colleague here can control Lava as well, Flavia! Out of.. Curiosity, mind, how would one track down the Avatar, Cho?”

“Track one down? Uh, not sure. The Avatar kinda just shows up when they’re needed.” Cho shrugged lightly, “If you mean a new Avatar, there’s tests to check they can bend every element.”

“Tests, huh?” Cho simply nodded in reply. Flavia listened on in awe, smiling all the while.

“So, what does the Avatar do?” she asked.

“It’s kind of a vague thing, really. It’s their job to uphold balance and they’re kinda like a bridge between the Human and Spirit worlds.” The blonde pair fell silent. The cannibals broke the silence; a few of them took their chance to complain about being cold. Wolfe chortled heartily as Cho gave the rock another shove.

“We’re basically there. Stop whining.” Cho snapped. He clamped his eyes shut for a moment as he felt his heart flutter in his chest. The sight of the Matriarch’s face as the pebble he had flung at her burst through her skull; that desperate, pleading stare that seemed to penetrate the boy to his very core. It felt, to him, like it was etched onto the backs of his eyelids; he saw it every time he closed his eyes. He shook his head vigorously, as if that would clear the sight from his mind. Cho brought a hand up and pinched the bridge of his nose — the rumblings of a headache had begun to sear behind his eyes. He opened one eye and squinted out into the bleak expanse of snow, he could feel himself welling up again. The rock carrying the prisoners ground to a halt a short way ahead of the trio. With a sigh, the Earthbender shifted his stance slightly. He reached down to the ground and held his position for a moment as he called out to the prisoners.

“Hang on to someone!” The cannibals scrambled somewhat, attempting to grip on to the person in front of them, others stooped low and grabbed at the edge of the rock, trying to find some stability as Cho thrust his arms into the air. A small mound of earth erupted from the snow and pushed the prisoner carrying rock. The prisoners, surprisingly, managed to keep themselves atop the rock, albeit shakily, as it careened down the slight slope before them. Satisfied that the rock would continue on it’s path for quite a way, Cho turned away from the blonde pair and set off towards a small rocky outcrop.

“I’ll catch up. I gotta take a piss.” Cho called out, meekly. Victor watched after him for a moment, his brow furrowed. He could tell something was off with the teen, but didn’t press the matter. Time would tell if he needed to intervene. The pair turned back to follow the rock sliding into the distance ahead, talking quietly between themselves. Cho assumed they were talking about home, not that he cared. He climbed over a relatively large rock and slumped down behind in. He drew his knees into his chest with shaky hands as tears began to stream down his face. The events of the night repeated on him; waking up tied to a spit, splitting the Emperor’s skull practically in two and then his first kill. But the image that repeated over and over made his stomach churn and he began to hyperventilate. He’d only caught a brief glimpse but that was more than enough. The baby like features of a toddler, floating face up, it’s features frozen in the agony of it’s last moments of life, swamped by a boiling broth. The smell lingered in his mind and seemed to fill his nostrils.

“Shit..” he cried and slammed a fist into the rock beside him, “Shit!” another blow landed on the rock, but this time, his Earthbending reared it’s head and shattered the rock into innumerable tiny pieces of rubble. Pain radiated through his hand as he recoiled away from the rubble shower and pushed himself to his feet. He cradled his hand into his chest before reaching up with his free hand and wiping the tears away from his cheek. He took a deep breath and shook himself off, running his good hand through his hair to get rid of any dust that settled in it after destroying the rock. He exhaled slowly and composed himself before setting off in a jog to catch up with the Aquilian duo and their cohort of prisoners.
 
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