forum Help me get used to Criticism
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So this is a collection of Prompts, Starters, or posts I've written for Rp's, that I kinda think are pretty ok. I've titled them here; please feel free to give feedback on which ones look kinda cool, or are well written, or what needs critiquing. If you'd like to see more of a concept, lemme know!

Please do note that these are fragments.

I've always been too nervous to put my longer stories I'm writing out there for the public to critique, so maybe this will help me work up the courage, and get used to criticism.

(Later edit) AND now, there will be non-rp story fragments and one-shots in here as well. If you're interested :)

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Silver Bullets and Iron Crosses

December, 1944. Battle of the Bulge, deep in the Ardennes of France, in the snowy cold of winter.

The Germans were losing the war. Normandy had been successful, and the Allied forces were seeing victories across the continent. The Soviet switch had turned much of the tide, and the Allies were pressing their advantage.

In France, however, the Nazis made one more massive push, trying to drive towards Paris and retake France, to make a point, to land one more devastating blow.
They blitzed through the Ardennes, the dense forest on the Western front, and expected to find light resistance, as they had before.

This time, though, they were repulsed. The Americans in particular had a part in that.

And most especially, a set of special forces from the hills and valleys of the Appalachians.

Corporal Arthur Timmons was just one of a special forces group. Their existence wasn't known to most of the Allied forces, and their identities weren't known to the Germans, but their destruction was clear.

During the day, the Allies would exchange shots with the Nazis. Artillery, rifle fire, the occasional sniper round, all sent through the dense woods. Tanks made an attempt to come crashing through the trees, to crush infantry under their tracks.

At night though, all was generally quiet. Maybe a sniper shot every so often, and in hotly contested areas, arc lights, rockets fired that lit up the sky like lightning.

However, the Germans had gotten in the habit of preparing for hand-to-hand combat at night. They slept lightly, not really resting, their rifles in their arms and their knives next to their heads. They listened for any rustle, any shuffle that seemed out of place. Any noise to herald the arrival of their enemies.

For at night, out of the darkness of the deep forests of the Ardennes, would come the American special forces. Loping along on legs too long, padding silently with hands and feet too furry, seeing clearly with eyes too big… and inspiring fear with fangs too long.

Werewolves.

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Apocalypse 2214

WWIII didn't come out of the blue. It had been a long time in the making, with threats of nuclear war and fiery annihilation going back over a century. Nobody had ever pulled the trigger on a threat, however, and the world, while in conflict, had not given in to Mutually Assured Destruction. There were skirmishes, wars between one or two countries, but no global conflicts with deathcounts in the hundreds of millions.
In the long peacetime, technology had taken off at a high rate. The development of AI came to completion in 2078, with the first fully awake and living Intelligence being named Adam-1. Adam-1 was capable of learning and changing his 'programming', his code, on his own, and that made for a dynamic and living individual with motivations and feelings. He lived in a computer.
His children slowly pioneered living in chasis. A computer with a body built around it, the chasis Intelligences, or CI's, revolutionized the idea of what it was to be human.
Humanity worked hard at genetic tampering, genetic editing, and the uplifting of animal minds. In 2086, the first ape was uplifted, a chimpanzee name Echo. She could speak, she could do basic math, and she was in every way a thinking, living soul. Echo was just the first of many Uplifted who would follow. The genetic advances made in this era were the most monstrous, as humanity slowly sought to make itself immortal.
The tech allowing miniaturization of nuclear power in 2090 meant that fossil fuels were no longer necessary. Machines that ran on gas and coal were slowly being phased out for nuclear powered mechanisms. With the power of nuclear fission right at their fingertips, many people forgot the devastation of what nuclear warheads could do.
However, the CIs and Uplifted were thinkers, and humanity confused them in many ways. War began to be more and more a topic amongst them, and humanity's seeming reliance on war to keep them moving forward was viewed as a terrible weakness.
This idea seeped through into human thinking, and as predicted by every sci-fi horror story ever, the solution turned out to be extermination. No person had the guts to do it. The nuclear arsenals had been nothing but a huge threat for the last century and a half. And as WWIII finally descended on Earth, conflicting ideologies clashing in the halls of government as well as on the battlefield, it would seem nobody was willing to herald humanity's death.

Until 2104, when a CI appropriately named Anubis-13, fired off his country's nukes.

Other nations frantically slapped their big red buttons in a fit of 'If I go down, you're coming with me!', and the world descended into chaos.

The nuclear warheads were bad enough, but they triggered unforeseen consequences. The infrastructure of the world had been slowly moving towards exclusively nuclear energy, and thus the world was full of what amounted to extra bombs. Nuclear power plants, miniaturized reactors in businesses, in people's homes, and all over the place… suddenly overloaded and blew, killing the people around outright, or bathing them in nuclear radiation and fallout.

The CIs had thought they would be safe, since they weren't biological, but they were wrong, so, so wrong. The nuclear blasts across the world caused widespread power outages, as well as a massive EMP blast that outright killed many of the CIs. The chasis for many of them were nuclear powered, as well, and that ended the same as the other miniature nuclear reactors. A few CIs, older ones, or those at the farthest reaches, managed to convert to electrical power based on fossil fuels, and thus survived the nuclear apocalypse.

The Uplifted did not escape, their bodies already predisposed to genetic instability. They died horrible deaths, with growths and mutations caused by the intense radiation occuring within minutes of the bombs landing.

Over the course of the next 10 years, as the radiation and fallout did its terrible work, 97% of humanity died. And something worse rose in its place.

…………

100 years passed. 2214.

The remaining CIs, Uplifted, and regular humanity had survived, slowly attempting to build back. However, the collective memory had been wiped, and the knowledge of what once was, or could be, had been lost. Tech that survived the War was repaired as best it could be, but new things could not be built. A confusing mix of the advanced and the stone-age ruled, and you'd be as likely to see a horse drawn carriage as a nuclear-powered car on the street.

The CIs ate coal and drank gasoline, in a desperate attempt to keep their internal computers running. They were immune to physical ailments, other than breaking down, but their minds could be, and had been affected by the radiation. Those who went crazy were called the Malware.

The Uplifted had been able to survive, a few finding they could withstand the radiation. Mostly a people group made up of Sapient Apes, Canines, and Felines, they too had their fair share of mutated individuals, known as Mutts.

And finally, the 3% of humanity that had survived. They'd come out ok, with the highest percentage of non-radiation poisoned individuals amongst the peoples of Earth. Still, they had mutated, damaged people among them, and these were called the Irradiated.

Each of the peoples of Earth had split into groups they called clans, tribes, families, or any other word to denote 'group.' They tended to stick to their own kind, and warring factions regularly clashed over land or resources. The Irradiated, the Malware, and the Mutts often joined forces, creating groups of marauding, radiation-maddened raiders, who would swoop in from the nuclear-blasted badlands and destroy civilizations and groups.

However, like cockroaches, humanity in one form or another managed to survive. And survival means friends, and alliances, and love, at its most basic form.

It was in this world that two people would meet, and change the course of destiny.

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Valdosia

Valdosia was a massive city, a metropolis of culture and business. It was the home of the Monarchy, the location of the Floors of Governance, and the most fortified stronghold in the East.
And now it was dying.
The winter had come, and had brought with it refugees. Amongst those refugees were spies and assassins from the Western Kingdom, who had brought a weapon with them, a weapon so insidious, it had been outlawed for millennia.
They had poisoned the magic.
Valdosia had the modern comforts of technology and innovation, but some of those were powered by the magic users within its walls. The Elves, the Fay, and many of the other races had used their magic to make Valdosia what it was.
And now, using magic could be what killed it.
Magic users were dropping like flies. Even those, like the Humans, who had very limited magic, were in danger of being infected. It was a slow death, with no known cure, and already it was turning Valdosia into a deathscape.
At first, when the disease had become known, people had tried to flee the city. But the Monarchy had closed and locked the massive gates on the massive walls of the city, letting none in or out. They were trying to protect the rest of the kingdom, but in so doing, they trapped the living in an apocalyptic mess.
A massive city, on the order of thousands of square miles, slowly becoming an urban wasteland. Magic wasn't outlawed, but you used it at your own risk.
It was here that two souls would meet, and find some slight meaning in the chaos.

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Confession

Romulus sat up slowly, though he kept his eyes on the glassy waters of the sea. The rest of the alcohol he'd put in his system had finally taken effect. Which, for Romulus… just meant he felt ok.
The world stopped hurting for a bit.

"I have romantic feelings for you too, Elora. I think some people would call that love." When he finally spoke, his voice was low, that calm, deep rumble that seemed like it could shake the ground if it got louder.

"I am open to exploring it, and believe me, you wouldn't be forcing anything on me. Perhaps some self-control, but… it's probably about time I grew up and learned that anyway." Couldn't just keep brawling, boozing, and bedding forever. At some point, unfortunately, he was going to have to grow up. May as well be for this woman.

"I think I could be happy with you… would be, if our relationship winds up being anything like these last few days." She made him smile, made him feel things he'd thought were buried and dead in his life. Things like genuine care, a want for closeness rather than sex.

"And I don't know what you could possibly mean by that last bit. You're not ruined. I've never thought of you as that." He looked at her, finally, his icy blue eyes almost glowing as they reflected the moonlight. "You were a whore, but you're not now, and you're not ruined, because you came out of that a person. You were stronger than that past, stronger than what was done to you, and I would be a fool to 'not want to be with someone like you'. I'm a big person, with big moods and big feelings, along with some big responsibilities… and the kind of strength you've displayed is the kind of strength I would need, Elora."

He looked back out at the water. "As for normal… a lot of people would say that bedding a different woman or 2 every day for years is abnormal. So we can just be abnormal together. Learning some self-control, like I said, probably isn't a bad thing. And you're worth it to me. I wouldn't try to change that, unless there's a way of healing the hurt on your heart that causes it. But it's certainly not the kind of thing that would make me say I don't want you in my life. Better someone I actually care about with some serious quirks, than someone perfectly normal who hates my guts, whom I also don't really like."

The Prince swallowed and looked down at the sand. "I'll admit to having a hard time believing you, though… I'm a big guy in armor, I know I'm intimidating… and I wouldn't want you to say what you think I want to hear. I'm not going to be angry, or hurt you, or fire you, or anything like that. There will be no consequences to admitting anything. You've been protecting yourself for so many years with honeyed words and heated looks, it's a carefully calculated act to ensure your survival. I get that, I really do. And I wouldn't blame you for continuing it with the usurper Prince who breaks men like children break matchsticks. With the son of your vicious enemy. But Elora… I need to know… do you really feel what you just said?" His voice sank towards the end, the vulnerability echoing in every word. Elora looked like she was afraid of where this conversation was going, but so was Romulus.

Rejection meant that she would join the litany of people interested in him for being the Prince. Interested in a job, maybe in his money, or in a better life. But not in him.

Rejection meant that she didn't really feel safe with him, or trust him, that she felt like she had to stroke his ego and assuage his emotions in order to keep his favor. But not his heart.

Rejection would mean he would need to stuff these feelings way back down deep, because they were too raw and too close to the surface. If she could accidentally tug at his heart strings like that, then he needed to armor up. Vulnerability would once again be rewarded with pain, and Romulus didn't know if he could take that again.

But her acceptance meant a whole host of equally problematic and trying things. It would mean working to either raise her station, or abdicate his own, or change all the rules around monarchy and marriage, or something equally difficult.

Acceptance would mean getting hateful stares from many of the Haradrim as well as the Venians, both sides believing that a mixed marriage was unprofitable and maybe forced and not real.

Acceptance would mean Elora being labeled a political move, and nobody but them ever knowing it was real.

Acceptance would mean being labeled a traitor to his people by his father, which might mean more injury and pain, and if he wasn't careful, something lasting.

Acceptance would mean opening himself up to all the throes of a relationship, and to the possibility of her rejection later, when his heart was even further gone. When she finally realized what garbage he was. What she'd signed up for. A life married to an anvil to break the enemy upon. Stuck next to a bulwark against evil. A relationship with a wall between the people and destruction.

Who would want that…

But yet, here he sat, on this beautiful beach, next to this beautiful woman, his chest cut open, his heart on display there on the sands… waiting for her to either close him back up, or stab it.

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Varakun

The city of Varakun was the jewel of eastern Rhun. It was a huge city of hundreds of thousands of people. The capitol was bigger, but Varakun was still one of the most massive and wealthy cities in the country.
Part of this wealth was due to its status as a destination for magic users. Varakun had one of the largest mage academies in the country, and it housed within its weapons vaults artifacts of great value and power.
One such artifact was the Staff of Arazor. 8 feet long, thick as a man's wrist, and made of some unidentified wood that could shatter rock, the Staff had recently been brought to Varakun as a peace offering from a neighboring country. It was currently in display in the courtyard of the Mage Academy, which was open to the public.
Varakun was home to a host of different people. The magic users were only one group. There were the regular people, who made up the majority. There were the Karcaon, crab folk who inhabited the waters off Varakun's coast.
And then there were the demigods. Those who were the sons and daughters of deities, or had been blessed with power by the gods. One such man was Romulus Vespasian. And it was he had chosen to guard Varakun and the surrounding area of Rhun from all harm.

So when he heard that an attack was under way at the Mage Academy, with someone trying to steal the Staff, he took it personally.

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Kavo's Opportunity

There was a pub on the waterfront, a dimly lit, smoky little place called the Sea Witch's Cauldron. It was a hodgepodge of building materials, haphazardly slapped together every time it was destroyed in a storm. The owners had never bothered to move locations, despite having to rebuild almost yearly.
They had gained a loyal clientele who would come and spend their time and money at the Cauldron, regardless of its condition.
The folks who came to drink the grog and ale were as much of a hodgepodge as the building itself. Secretive smugglers, pirate wanna-bes, unsavory merchants, steely-eyed bounty hunters, pretty girls with too much makeup and time on their hands- all kinds gathered here, away from the prying eyes of the law. If you wanted a job done well and on the sly, this was the place to find your man.
And if you wanted to crew a ship, this wold be a good spot.
As one, the pub cheered when they heard Axel Silver-tongue's distinctive shout over the tinkling of the bells.
Personally, Kavo Vathis sat back in his seat in the corner, waiting.

Maybe this would be the chance he was looking for.

The Karcaon had smiled to himself as the big man swaggered in. The captain reminded him of his brother, loud and obnoxious and fun-loving but with a brain behind all that bravado. Silver-tongues drink-buying was no idle display of wealth, but a calculated move. You could see it in the way his eyes glinted as he looked around.
Kavo was a bit surprised when the man turned and saw him, and then proceeded to walk over. He smiled up at the man, trying to set the situation at ease.
Karcaon had a long history of being used as mercenaries or assassins, so people tended to be wary, suspicious, or just downright hostile when first meeting Kavo. He wasn't sure what to make of the captain's greeting and simply nodded in his direction, still smiling.
"The same thing you're doing in a place like this, Captain Silver-tongue." He very intentionally and slowly lifted his pincers from where they'd been below the table, and set them on the table top with and audible thunk. Both of them were easily the size of the captain's legs, and razor sharp along the claws as well. Kavo didn't break eye contact as he did it.

"Looking for opportunities."

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Karcaon Are Scary

Kavo couldn't tell if Silver-tongue was rolling with the punches and lying through his too-wide smile, or if he'd just passed some kind of test from the captain. Either way, the man was crafty, and clearly much smarter than Kavo.
Traits he could admire in a captain.
He smiled and nodded as the man wrapped up the negotiations. "I do indeed know where to find you." The captain departed, and Kavo was left with the girl.
He glanced at her as he gathered the gold, dust and all, into the pouch, before stowing in one of the deep pockets on his vest. She was young and seemed very eager in her role as a pirate. Clearly she wasn't used to these things, but she was trying, and Kavo liked her immediately. Despite the fact she'd started out by drawing a sword.
"Aria. Lovely name. How long have you been with the Deceit, friend?" He asked, keeping the same smile.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw somebody moving towards Captain Silver-tongue at the bar. The same blasted bounty hunter from before, knife drawn.
"Excuse me a moment." he said politely, before surging out of the corner.

Karcaon are 6 legged creatures, which means no matter how they moved, it always looked vaguely arachnid. Either the legs rippled, or they scuttled. In this case, Kavo rippled out from under the table, before making a leap over the next table full of customers. He got to the bounty hunter before the man got to the captain.
Of course, 6 chitin covered legs that come to sharp points make a lot of clatter on a wood floor, and the bounty hunter heard him coming. The man turned and jabbed his long knife at Kavo's eyes.

Kavo responded by catching the blade in a pincer, and snapping it off clean from the hilt.

There was a still moment in the pub, before Kavo backhanded the man with the other pincer, and sent him ragdolling out the front door. There was a faint splash, and the room settled into awkward throat clearing and murmuring.

Kavo turned to Captain Silver-tongue and smiled. "I'll be down by the dock helping your men load provisions, Captain. We can shake on our deal once I've had a chance to look over the Deceit. I've heard good things." He turned and scuttled out the door, not swaggering, but not hurrying either.

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Delivery Boy

Chet checked his scope again. The Door had been busy today, but it seemed clear at the moment. He adjusted his face covering.
Why he even bothered with these deliveries sometimes, he would never know.
He stood up, but stayed hunched over, scurrying across the open sand up to the Door to the Refuge, before unshouldering the big pack he had with him and setting it down. He banged on the door, then turned and sprinted away, climbing a dune and diving into the sand. His sand colored clothing, and the fact he was covered in the dusty dirt, immediately hid him.
He watched until someone opened the Door and looked around, before taking the pack inside.
There was enough meat there to last the kids in the Refuge 2 weeks, if they were careful.
He wasn't sure they needed the help, but he'd been dropping off packs every few weeks for years now.

Once the coast was clear, Chet got up and started towards the Forest. A fifty mile square grove of trees, the Forest was one of the only places that hadn't completely turned to desert. It was a massive oasis, full of animals and plant life and most importantly, water.
There were a few villages there. Chet largely avoided them because the Guv's were there often, trying to snap up kids.
But there was also a small dirt hovel that Chet had built, where he would hide out sometimes.
And that was where he was headed now.
He skittered over the sands, heading towards the Forest. He enjoyed travelling like this, quickly and not particularly carefully. There was nothing around the Refuge, so he could afford to move without camouflaging every few yards.
He stopped near the top of a dune and looked back towards the Refuge. It was mostly under a big sand dune, but you could see the Door if you knew exactly where to look. From this angle, the desert sands were actually kinda beautiful, the tan and orange of the sands mixing in a nice marble pattern over the dark brown of the dusty earth.
As he looked towards the door, he saw a figure step out. Chet immediately dropped into the sand, not really wanting to be seen, and managed to scramble over the top of the dune. He glanced back again, only to see the figure start heading towards the Forest as well.
"Hm." He grunted to himself as he lifted his bow to look through the scope.

Young looking kid. Black hair. Kinda short, average build.

And carrying a pack.

That part was weird. Chet had never seen Mark send someone out with a full pack like that, rather than an empty one for scouting.
Years ago, Chet had come across the Refuge in its early time, when Mark was still securing it and pulling in kids. He'd stayed for a while. but had left when the list of Rules started getting too long. Mark had not liked that he decided to leave, which is why Chet dropped off his packages anonymously. He also wondered if it was the reason Mark had made a rule to never leave. He'd learned about that Rule from a scout a few years later.

A Rule this kid was clearly breaking.

"Someone to keep an eye on…" He muttered to himself. He stood back up and turned back on his way to the Forest. He needed to make sure he had dinner ready.

The hovel might have a guest tonight.
…..
Chet reached the Forest as twilight was approaching. It was roughly 3 hours from the Refuge to the Forest, and he'd been moving slower than normal so he could keep an eye on the kid behind him.
He approached the dense shapes of the Forest. The oasis always smelled strange after he'd been away awhile.

The Forest was just strange, in general.

The same war that had wiped out so much of the population and turned the world into an irradiated Desert had spawned mutant plants and animals of all kinds. Chet remembered normal plants; they were beautiful and delicate and green.
He'd been little when the war had ended, and the last normal plant had died. Sure, greenhouses were a thing, but the plant life had absorbed so much nuclear radiation in the fighting that what survived was… monstrous. Trees growing abnormally huge and dense, plants glowing blue in the tree shade instead of a healthy green, and all of them sporting ugly growths and tumors.
And the animals were no better. Strange mutant hybrids of the normal forest animals. Rats as big as rottweilers. Foxes the size of horses. Lynxes standing 8 feet at the shoulder.
Everything bigger had been hunted to extinction, to protect the people. The critters had developed razor sharp claws, long fangs, weird venoms and strange powers. And the whole Forest seemed angry.

Chet didn't stay here very long at a time for good reason.

He couldn't imagine being one of the people in the Forest villages. Living here all the time. It would have driven him insane.
However, there was a lot of good meat in the Forest, if you knew how to cook it so it wouldn't give you radiation sickness. And the water, after 25 years, was clean. Finally.
So he headed in and hunted down a rabbit. A single rabbit would feed him for a week, if he was careful. Or he could share with his guest for a couple of days.
He kept an eye towards the direction of the Refuge. Unless the kid circled around, he'd come in at the same place Chet always did. Through the clearing to the west. Chet had built an open fire that would be visible from there.
He hated to admit it, but he was looking forward to asking some questions.
"Been too long since you talked to anybody…" He rasped to himself, his voice crunchy with disuse. He sat, staring into the fire, watching the meat cook, just waiting.
…..
As he sat there, Chet fidgeted with a small object. It was a bullet, just one, well worn from being handled so much, but still functional. For Chet, it held a special significance.

This bullet had somebody's numbers on it.

Chet hadn't always been alone. He'd had a brother, once. A little brother, named Danny. Danny had come to him by accident, fleeing the city after the Guv's had taken over. He'd taken Danny under his wing, and for 15 years they'd been a team. From age 8 to 23, Chet had taken care of his little brother. Danny had only been a year younger, but he'd looked up to Chet in so many ways. Chet had taught him how to shoot, how to build weapons, how to hide in plain sight, and so many other things. Danny had reminded Chet how to laugh, how to smile easily and gently.
And then some Guv sniper had shot him.
They'd been salvaging from an old tank, crashed in the desert, and Chet was so excited, he hadn't paid attention to their surroundings as closely as he should have. Danny had been pointing out some loose MRE's, when the bullet had exited his chest in a puff of red.
Chet still had nightmares about the confused look on Danny's face as he toppled and died.
Chet had screamed and pulled his revolver, firing 5 of the 6 shots in the direction the shot had come from. He had sprinted that way, watching as a young teen, just a kid, sprinted away from him, creating puffs of dust in the sand.
He'd tracked the kid back to the city, and at one point had gotten close enough to make out the numbers, those cursed numbers, on his arm.

He'd never forget them: 3110.

He couldn't hunt the guy down once they were in the city, but for the last 6 years, Chet had watched and waited for the sniper to reappear. He'd never fired that 6th revolver bullet, and he only would when he found Danny's killer. It was just a matter of waiting.
Just like he was doing now. Staring into the flames. Waiting.

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Lucky's Introduction

Lucky tossed another log on the fire, before sitting down on the rock by his sleeping bag. He'd been sleeping just fine till that wolf had howled. It had spooked Sinjoro, and the horse had squealed till Lucky had rolled out of bed to go calm him down. 15 minutes later, he was still wide awake, even though it had been quiet out here since. The fire was dying, so he'd built it back up, trying to keep warm in the mountain winter. Convincing Tante Sophia to let him camp out up here for the weekend had been difficult, but with Uncle Tim on his side, he'd made it out without her scolding him too much. He knew she cared a lot, and only fussed because she didn't want him to be alone but… sometimes the silence of the mountains was nice.

And sometimes some peace and quiet from his 4 cousins was a necessity.

Lucky loved them, he really did, and they'd been very kind while he'd been staying with them since-… since Dad died… but honestly, sometimes they were SO LOUD. And with 4 of them, no place was quiet. He couldn't hide in his room, because he shared a room with a cousin. If he hid in the stable with the horses, someone would find him while they did their chores. If he went out in the pastures with the cows, he could sometimes still hear their laughter and playful shouting echoing across the flat ranchlands from the house. No, the only really quiet place out here was up in the mountains, with just the falling snow and his horse.

And the wolves, apparently.

Which reminded him. He dug his poncho out of his pack and unwrapped his tools. If there were predators around, being armed wasn't a bad idea. He pulled his hatchet and knife out of their pouches before he remembered his uncle's recent gift. Oh. Right. He stood up and went back over to where Sinjoro was tethered to a small pine. He had put the 9mm Glock 22 in his saddle bags, thinking he wouldn't need it, but it would definitely be better than trying to defend himself with a knife. He stuck the gun in his belt, and paused to nuzzle his horse's forehead.

"It's a beautiful night, Sinjoro." He looked up at the sky. "Think Dad can see the stars from heaven? Or maybe… maybe he IS a star now." That'd be cool. He walked back and flopped down on his sleeping bag, staring up at the stars. Dad, if you're a star, burn bright.

He lay there till morning, dozing a little, but mostly watching the stars and listening to the mountain sounds.
….
Lucky thought about a lot of things that night under the stars. The snow was crisp, the air was clear, the moon was bright, and the flickering of the fire made him just a little emotional.
He thought about his sister back in Germany. Sweet little Marie. She wasn't so little anymore, and neither was he, but his baby sister would always be his baby sister. When they had been little kids, she used to pretend that she was a princess, and he was her brave knight swooping in to rescue her. Sometimes it was from dragons, sometimes it was from an evil kingdom, sometimes it was from an ugly prince who wanted to marry her….

And sometimes it was from very angry parents.

Those had been the nights they would snuggle in the same bed. Lucky could remember his sister trembling as she clung on to him, while his mother yelled and threw things downstairs. His dad was always quiet, but his anger would come out in smaller, more subtle ways.

He remembered the day the courts had said they would go with his mom, and how scared he'd been. How he'd pleaded with the judge to let him go with his dad, that his sister didn't want to go with his mom, that they didn't want to go to Germany. The judge didn't listen.

Lucky failed to save his sister that day.

They moved to Germany and Marie made new friends. She fit in at school and seemed happy. She got used to the hustle and bustle of the city, the noise of cars lulling her to sleep at night, the bright lights and loud music of downtown.

Lucky never did.

He was so frustrated with it all, his health started to suffer. He was 7 and depressed. His mother saw the change and did everything to help him, but nothing changes. Finally, she listened to what he'd been telling her for years, and sent him back to his father in France.

Sent him home.

That was a happy memory that put a smile on Lucky's face, there in the snow. He remembered how glad he'd been that she had let him go.

How lucky he had felt.
And how he'd decided to keep that feeling alive forever with a nickname.

He also remembered the day his mom had remarried. He'd tried to save his sister from the ogre, be the knight in shining armor again, but…. the princess no longer wanted saving.
He was glad that Marie and his stepdad got along so well, but Lucky had never liked the man, and the feeling was mutual. His mom had tried to have them bond, tried to help them be close, but Lucky could never shake the feeling that something was off about the man.

Lucky didn't like the way he looked at Marie.

But his mom didn't notice, and Marie enjoyed the attention. Lucky got into more fights with them all, and finally into a fistfight with his stepdad. He'd beaten the man bloody, breaking his nose and splitting his lips, before somebody had pulled him off.

That's when his mom had sent him back to France for good.
He'd lived with his dad since, making regular trips to meet up with Marie, who still wanted him around, the sweet girl. She had come on a couple trips with them, and it made Lucky so happy to see her running barefoot through the grass, her hair blowing in the wind, giggling. Just like they were kids again. Like old times.

That had been before his dad had died.

Lucky wished he'd been to Wyoming before, as he lay there staring at the stars. The fact he would forever associate this place with grief was unfortunate. It was so pretty here, but he'd come here to be sad.
Dad's funeral had been difficult. Mostly because his mom had made it hard. She had wept and wailed like a woman who still cared, and the hypocrisy had angered Lucky more than he'd been angry in a long time.
Marie had cried quietly, genuinely, but couldn't understand his frustration with their mother. And of course, his stepdad had been no help at all, sitting sullenly in the back like it was a chore for him to even be there.
Lucky had been ready for it to be over from the beginning.
He'd held his own service for Dad on their small farm, with the animals and the ancient farm equipment his father loved so much. Sinjoro had nuzzled him for hours that day, trying to cheer him, but it was as if something in his chest had burst open, and taken his ability to smile with it.
His mother had made it worse at the graveside. After all that, she had stepped up to Lucky and put her arm around him.
"Lukas… you still have me." He glanced at her, not really wanting that reassurance. She sniffed and tried a joke. "I guess this makes me your favorite parent, huh?"
He didn't have the heart to tell her the truth.
He dearly loved his mom, but she made things sooo… complicated. If Marie didn't still live with her, he wasn't sure he'd visit very much.
The one saving grace about the funeral had been Tante Sophia and Uncle Tim. They had come all the way to France to the funeral. Tante Sophia was Dad's only sibling, and they'd kept up a close phone relationship across the ocean over the years. Uncle Tim always chipped in horse tips for Sinjoro, and had told Lucky repeatedly "Any time you wanna visit, Nephew, come one out. Plenty of room for ya here!"
He'd said it once more that night, with a little more gentleness.
"Lucky… come visit us. You and Marie both if she wants to."
"Uncle Tim, you don't have to offer tha-"
"No, I insist. Please." He had leaned in, smiling a little. "We got mountains and wide open plains like you've never seen over here. Sinjoro could run for days and we could still see you." He had put a hand on Lucky's shoulder. "Come on over, buddy. We'll help pay your way, you and the horse and Marie."
Lucky had just nodded, trying to smile, but just feeling numb.
He'd felt worse when Marie said no.
She wanted to stay where things were familiar. Where she knew people and had support. He could understand that. He'd promised he would see her as soon as he got back.
And that's how he'd wound up in Wyoming, under the stars on this crisp snowy night, waiting for the sunrise and wondering if Dad could still see it too.
….
The sun was bright, the sky was blue, and Lucky was high on life. He was riding Sinjoro hard towards the stump, trying to make sure he stayed light in the saddle, giving the horse his head as he sprinted. They passed the stump and Lucky whooped, slowing Sinjoro and turning around. He trotted back over to the figure standing by the stump.

"Time? Did we beat 1 minute?"

The figure laughed, squinting at his phone. "I'm not sure, I can't see my stopwatch."

"Daaaad!" Lucky reached down and snatched the phone, laughing as his father tried to keep it away from him. "Lemme see!" He wound up squinting at the phone himself, and saw the time: 58.67 seconds.

"That's better than a minute! You did it, Sinjoro!" He hugged his horse's neck as his father smiled up at him. "I think we're ready for that race, Dad."

His father patted his leg. "That's good, Lukas. Just one more thing." He patted his leg again. "You need to wake up."

Lucky frowned, confused. "What?"

His father patted his leg again, harder. "Lukas, I need you to wake up."

"Dad, I don't unde-"

His father swatted his leg harder this time. "Wake up, son!"

Lucky's eyes popped open. It was dark, he was on his back on the ground, and a dark shape was standing over him. He flinched for a second before the shape snorted, and he recognized the sound.

"Sinjoro…. what're you doing?" Lucky sat up, noting that the small branch he had tethered the horse to earlier in the evening was still tied to the reins, but had broken off. Obviously, Sinjoro had pulled hard enough to rip the branch off and walk over to him. The fire was out, and it was still night. Lucky glanced at the moon and decided it must be around 5 am.

The horse tapped his leg with a hoof, and Lucky recognized what had woken him. He must have dozed off and been dreaming-… about Dad. A pit formed in his stomach for a moment, until he pushed it back down.

"Hey, what's got you spooked again?" The horse snorted again, expressing alarm, and by the soreness in his leg, Lucky could tell the horse had been pawing at him for a minute. He reached for the reins to untangle the branch, but paused as something made the hair on his neck stand up.

There was a very slight rumbling going on, accompanied by the whoosh of sudden strong winds. It was an odd combination that immediately made Lucky uneasy. He scrambled to his feet, quickly gathering his stuff as his mind raced.

Is this an earthquake? What was that? I gotta get off the mountain if it's a quake, we're in trouble up here.

He grabbed his phone, which he had turned on silent, and checked it. No messages, no missed calls, and… no service. Tante Sophia had insisted he leave it on so they could check on him, but there was nothing. He held it up over his head, trying to get a bar, but he couldn't get anything out here.

Weird. I had service earlier.

He ran through his mental checklist as he climbed into the saddle. Poncho, sleeping bag, tools, fire is out, night is clear, I'm awake, and this is weird.

He leaned close to Sinjoro's neck, his adrenaline kicking up from the stress and the excitement of the run he was about to make as he turned the horse towards the ranch. "Let's go, Big Boi!"

The rumbling was replaced by the drumming of Sinjoro's hooves.

….

When he cantered up to the porch 45 minutes later, Lucky was unnerved by how still the ranch was. At 6 am on any day, his uncle and cousins ought to have been out and about, doing chores and prepping for the day. But there was an eerie silence over the ranch house. The lights were on inside, so he tethered Sinjoro to a post and walked in.

"Uncle Tim! Tante Sophia? I'm back." He walked towards the kitchen, where he could hear the sounds of someone speaking. "Did you feel the earthquake? I was trying to sleep and-"

He froze as he came around the corner into the kitchen.

All of his cousins were sitting at the dinner table, along with Tante Sophia. Uncle Tim had his hands on her shoulders, rubbing gently, absentmindedly. Ally, his youngest cousin, was crying softly, while the 3 boys looked angry. Frankie, the eldest, had his fists clenched and was staring at the ground, his jaw clenching and unclenching rhythmically. There was nothing on the table, except for the small radio Uncle Tim usually kept in the barn. That was where the voice Lucky heard was coming from.

"-reports that the President will speak with the us soon. Folks, we are begging you, please, if you can, get underground. God forbid, if this isn't the only attack, we may need to shelter in place for quite a while. The Emergency Broadcast System will keep you alerted if our transmitters go down. Please, please be safe. We'll keep you updated, stay on this channel. That's WCBC 87.9…"

His uncle reached to turn it down as they registered Lucky was there. Tante Sophia immediately stood up and rushed him, hugging him tight, and began crying into his shoulder. Lucky hugged her back and looked at his uncle, his brow furrowing.

"What on Earth happened, Uncle Tim?"

His uncle stepped across the room to him, and reached out to rub Tante Sophia's back. "Lukas… we've been nuked."
….
Lucky was numb. The ten mile drive into town seemed to be taking so much longer than usual… or maybe it's just my brain slowing everything down so I can cope…

When his uncle had told him the news, Lucky had immediately freaked out. Who and where and why and how and when exactly and did they hit anyone else and did Uncle Tim think his sister was safe in Germany and could they run and were they going to mutate into terrible monsters or maybe just die of cancer and were they all already dying and were they going to get hit again and what if the next one is closer and what about the animals and-

His aunt had just hugged him tighter and shushed him in French. His brain had slowed its racing as Uncle Tim explained they had heard the same rumbling he did and turned on the radio while doing chores to hear the news. The only channel broadcasting consistently was the big Cheyenne station, and they were only talking about this. Uncle Tim had pulled everyone in when he realized what they were talking about, and that was the scene Lucky had walked into.

He still couldn't believe it.

Ally was terrified and hadn't stopped crying, but she was doing her best to be a help. Frankie and the boys seemed ready to enlist right now and go kill something, or at least punch the bulls in the herd between the eyes. They were still back at the ranch, frantically trying to move all the cattle indoors. Lucky didn't think it mattered, but Tante Sophia had explained it to him gently.

"Lukas, Tim needs to try to save what he's built here. Maybe they're all irradiated and going to die soon anyway. Or maybe they'll survive this whole thing. But Tim needs to know he did his best to save the herd and save our ranch."

They had decided to stay put. Lucky had argued with his aunt, telling her how crazy it was to stay here, but she had responded that they had cellars that would shield them from the fallout. If they stocked up, they could last long enough for the radiation to die down to manageable levels. Lucky had vehemently pointed out that they couldn't be sure the cellar would work, but Tante Sophia had responded that the ranch house foundations were built to withstand massive tornados and would be concrete reinforced, which should shield them. Lucky had started to argue more, but then he'd glanced at his uncle. Uncle Tim was standing there, watching the argument in French, and Lucky knew he didn't understand the words, but there was something in his uncle's eyes that told Lucky there was no point in arguing.

So now here he was, driving to town with Uncle Tim to stock up.

The weight in his lap didn't help him think clearly. Uncle Tim had decided they needed to be careful going into town.

"There will be all kinds of chaos happening, Lucky," he'd said as he unlocked the gun safe, "so we need to be ready. You still got your Glock?" Lucky had nodded, and his uncle had paused to think for a second. "Maybe…. Yeah, we'll take something more intimidating." He had pulled down a shotgun for himself, before handing Lucky the AR-15. "Think you can handle that?"

Lucky had swallowed hard as he looked over the weapon. The reality of the situation settled on his shoulders just then, and his uncle had hugged him gently.

"It's a lot, I know, but we'll make it. C'mon."

Now as they drove, the rifle sitting in Lucky's lap, he sincerely hoped they wouldn't have to use it. But as they pulled into Hawk Springs, Lucky could hear sirens and see flames across different parts of the little town. The early morning sun illuminated figures running, many carrying big bags full of stuff, and Lucky understood why his uncle had brought weapons.

This is going to get ugly.

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Ronnie's Introduction

When the first bomb fell, the nation went wild. People stayed calm out East, though anybody in major cities like NYC or Washington D.C. immediately evacuated out to more rural areas. But there was generally order, no looting, no mob mentality.

Yet.

But out West, closer to where the bomb fell, there was pandemonium. California was panicking, and with good reason. Nuclear blasts in the megaton range could trigger the fault lines and cause earthquakes. Washington State was a mess, as people fled south or north, hoping to get into Canada.
Looting was rampant. Folks were grabbing whatever they could get their hands on and fleeing out into the rural areas. Farms were being overrun as city folk fled the highly populated areas.
Wyoming was a little better, but only because there were no massive cities. Cheyenne was the biggest population center, and even it was pretty small.
However, the military was still mobilizing across the West. The word from on high was that martial law was going into effect; the National Guard and any Army reserves available would be called out to help settle the chaos and guide evacuation efforts.

For Ronnie Vale, the timing couldn't have been worse. He was on active duty, and should have been shipping out to fight whenever they found out where the bombs had come from. Russia was the prime suspect, but there was nothing certain yet. Instead, he'd been on leave in Hawk Springs, Wyoming, where his sister, his only family, was from. He was on leave, with no easy way to get back to the base unless Lisa drove him.
So when Hawk Springs descended into quiet pandemonium, the orders were to reinforce local law enforcement. The police were doing their best to keep a lid on the looting, but it was bad. Lisa lived in town; she worked as a bank teller at the small Hawk Springs bank. Ronnie had been staying with her.
The rumbling of the explosion states away woke him, and he was lacing up his boots and strapping into his Kevlar by the time Lisa woke up.
"You gotta go help?" she asked quietly. Ronnie just nodded slowly at her.
"What should I do, Ronnie?" Lisa was standing in the kitchen in her pajamas, watching him prep to go out. The reality had clearly set in for her.
"Get in the truck and head Northeast." Ronnie glanced up from where he was grabbing his weapons from under his bed. "Pack a suitcase of clothes that will cover you from fallout, grab anything that works as currency, make sure you've got some non-perishable food, and grab your ID's. If you can get to the Canadian border, that might be your best bet." He looked at her for a long moment. "Take your phone. It likely won't work, but maybe eventually, I can get ahold of you and find you."
Lisa nodded quickly. Ronnie always had a plan. Their parents had died in a car crash when she was in college, and Ronnie was younger. He'd dealt with his grief by jumping right into the military out of highschool.It had made him a quiet leader, and a strong man she looked up to, despite being 2 years older than him.
"When should I leave?"
"Now. I can make sure you make it out of town, and then you're on your own. Flash your Tricare card at checkpoints, and it'll help." The insurance card would mark her as a family member of someone enlisted, and Ronnie knew it would help her stay in the good graces of other military men.
Lisa scurried off to prep, and Ronnie took a moment to settle himself. He was about to step out into a heavily charged area. He was armed, but a lot of the locals would be too, so that wasn't necessarily as big an advantage as it might usually be.
Just try not to shoot anyone you know.
He stepped out onto the porch, and began visually checking where he might be needed. Downtown was a mess, with flashing police lights and sirens going off. Obviously, that would be the worst spot. The residential area Lisa lived in wasn't a target, as most of the looters were coming from there anyway.
In the couple of minutes he stood there, gauging the situation, Lisa was ready. She didn't have a ton of stuff, and not much she was attached to, so that made it easy. The truck was packed, Lisa was bundled and ready to go.

They hopped in the truck and headed for the main interstate that cut through Hawk Springs. Cars and vehicles were everywhere, some ignoring the roads altogether and opting to drive through people's yards. Ronnie drove, and tried to take it easy on the truck.
This thing has to last her as long as possible, I can't wreck it now.
They made it towards the outskirts of town, and Ronnie could see a checkpoint up ahead. He got out as the truck came to a stop, stuck behind other cars, and hustled up the line of cars towards the police. They immediately tensed, seeing this heavily armed individual jogging up, but he made sure they could see his patches, name and rank.
"Corporal Ronnie Vale, here to back you up. Can I ask why we've got a checkpoint going on?"
Over the next little bit, the cops explained that it wasn't really to stop people or even catch criminals. They were just trying to control the flow of traffic so that the interstate didn't turn into a massive traffic jam. Ronnie could appreciate that. He watched as they let the cars through slowly, and when Lisa came up to the gate, she rolled down the window. He kissed her cheek, she hugged around his neck, and after a brief moment, she was gone, headed towards Canada, and hopefully, safety.

Everything was good for about another hour, until people started to get more restless. The police hadn't really made any stops, though Ronnie had definitely seen guys much to young to be properly licensed driving out of the city. They weren't here to stop people from trying to live, just stopping them from trying to hurt others.
There was a sedan in the front of the line, ready to go, and Ronnie was about to wave them through, when gunfire erupted about three cars back. The cops on either side of him dropped to the ground, one bleeding from a neck wound, the other grabbing at his leg and scrambling for cover. Ronnie immediately slapped the hood of the sedan, and they gunned it, driving off towards safety. He scooted up next to the truck that was next in line. There were two teens in it, and Ronnie could see their wide eyed expressions as he laid his SCAR over the hood and started returning fire.
The hicks who were trying to cut the line were shooting small arms fire from their truck. They were angry and afraid and trying to use force to get their way, in a panic. They sprayed lead across the cars in front of them, hitting a few cops and breaking a lot of windows.
In contrast, Ronnie's iron control of his emotions combined with his near-perfect aim made his military grade rifle a death-dealer. He fired 6 shots, killed 6 idiots, and immediately brought order to the situation.
He only realized after the fact that the window of the truck he was behind had shattered, and the girl sitting near it was grabbing at her arm. Ronnie wasn't sure if she was hurt or just scared, so he moved to check on her.
"You two good?"

@EldritchHorror-Davadio health_and_safety emoji_events

Franklyn and Valiel

Franklyn woke up with a groan. His body ached and his head was pounding. Someone was leaning over him, shaking him gently.
"Franky? Wake up, the general is asking for you." Valiel's voice was gentle, but insistent. Franklyn opened his eyes to see his sister smiling down at him. "How are you feeling?"

"Cruddy." He sat up, only for his head to spin viciously and send him flopping back onto his cot. "What happened?"

Valiel explained, as gently as she could, what had happened. The enemy had come in, trying to use fire to win the fight, and Franklyn had joined the fight, using his powers to quell the flames. It was working, except he'd been sick recently and didn't have the strength to keep it up. He'd collapsed and Romulus had dragged him off the field before he got himself killed.
"You've been unconscious since."

Franklyn groaned again, this time in guilt and shame. "So I failed, huh… Vulcan blast it all, I've let them down…" He sat up again, closing his eyes against the spinning room. "How bad is the damage? Can I repair anything? Did we lose many? And is everyone ok?" By 'everyone', of course, he meant their family, who were always on his mind. "What can I do? Is it all over n-"

"You can relax for a moment, and report to the general like you've been ordered." Valiel said firmly. He'd spin himself into a tizzy, and he was already clearly having trouble. Exerting himself when he was already weak was what got him in this mess in the first place. "Our siblings are ok. Romulus got in a grappling match with some kind of half giant or something, but all he got was a black eye and some strained muscles. There's nothing for you to repair right away, though I suspect there may be soon. We're in the moving process now. I'll have the boys pack up your stuff while you're in this meeting. Now. Can you stand?"

Franklyn gave the slightest nod of his head, afraid of jostling it too much. "I'll have to, whether I can or not. Why does the general want me?"

Valiel helped him shakily get to his feet. "I don't know exactly. I just know he called a bunch of the higher-ups and brains in. I was in the medical tent when Kendra got called in, and your name was mentioned, so I came to get you." She looked around for something. "Where's your brace?"

Franklyn groaned again, and determined it would be the last one for a while. "It's over in the corner." His sister retrieved the contraption, and locked the clamp around his waist. The brace ran up his back, and a leather loop fitted over his head. He knew he looked ridiculous, and it was uncomfortable, but it would keep him from jostling his head. The brace would allow him to relax, and still stay upright, as well as cushioning his head and neck should he pass out again. "Coming with me?"

Valiel shook her head. "I have to get back. You know where you're going, and I'll have the boys pack up your stuff, like I said. Get going." She squeezed his shoulder, before hurrying off back towards the medical tent.

Franklyn stepped out of his tent and headed towards the general's quarters. He had to focus on his feet, his steps unsteady, but he couldn't focus hard enough to block out the sights and sounds of a recently attacked camp.
Men yelling orders as they tore down.
The sound of clanking armor, weapons and gear as they were packed.
The yelps of men over in the medical tent getting treatment.
The sounds of nervous horses, nickering and stamping.

And worse than that, was the smell. The typical stink of people living in close quarters was overpowered by the stink of-… ash.

Ash and blood.

And that turned Franklyn's stomach for more reasons than one. He felt responsible in some way. I could have done more, if I wasn't so blasted sick all the time! There was nothing he hated more than feeling powerless.

He eventually made it to the general's tent, and was nodded inside by the guards. "General Levisay." He acknowledged the big man with a small salute, before sitting down. Half-collapsing, really.

@FalteringThrough pets

(I don’t really have any criticism cause I’m not really good at that but all I wanted to say was that I absolutely love your writing style. It’s really enjoyable to read)

@EldritchHorror-Davadio health_and_safety emoji_events

Rixtus Snaps

And now Rixtus was very confused. Confused and irritated and frustrated and a tad fed up with heartbreak, which was very new for him, as well as suddenly being an important-but-useless diplomat in some massive scheme to bring peace to people who had nothing but mockery and threats for him, on top of the fact that he was still likely being hunted by his family since his brother knew he was alive, and the man who had shunted his heart like a freight car was some sort of sovereign prince/overpowered elemental.
All he'd ever wanted to do was help and not be hated, and everything he'd done since Belialu had refused to stick a knife in him had done neither of those things. So of course, his patience finally ended.

"I'm not mute, I just prefer not to run my mouth and display my imbecilic tendencies to the world. Some people should take notes. I don't play dumb, I am dumb, and I'm tired of people pretending I'm supposed to know what's going on and who they are and why their opinions should matter to me. As far as speaking clearly, I've spoken as clearly to anyone as I've been allowed to speak, so if they didn't understand, then they're as stupid as I am. And as for being oblivious, selfish choices and oblivion are very different concepts." He kept his voice low, but didn't stop the words from flowing like he usually would have. "Why are you talking to me? I have nothing to offer you and really, nothing to say to you at all. I'm just here to help his Royal Highness play whatever diplomatic game it is he's trying to play. So maybe keep talking to him instead."

It was likely to get him killed, mouthing off to clearly very important people with unknown powers and no visible limits, but he'd already looked death in the eyes so many times, it had kind of ceased to faze him.

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The Thenuviel Line

Arcturus chuckled. "Well. Here's a list. You can put faces to them when you meet them later." He paused, as if gathering himself.
"My father was Alanthibrindle Thenuviel. He married Linelliana, and they dwelt in Eryn Lasgalen, where he was named Warden after the passing of his predecessor. They bore first Galuvius, a son who would become Warden of Eryn Lasgalen. A warrior, he learned gentleness as he ruled his people with his heart, rather than his fist. Linelliana next bore Elandriim, a son who would become a sentinel in Imladris with Lord Peredhel. A keeper of peace in the Blessed House, he is loathe to use his mastery of magic for more than kindness. Alanthibrindle and Linelliana waited for a time, and bore next Enthariel, who is a noblewoman in Amon Lanc married to Methedion, a Lorekeeper. She herself is a historian and scribe, keeping the records of our people. Alanthibrindle was blessed then with twins, a rarity amongst our people. Caranthes and Freormir, both formidable warriors who served my father in Eryn Lasgalen. It was these who would follow him to Harad, seeking to free some of our people who had been enslaved there, and it is these who died with him there." He was quiet for a moment, before going on.
"But in the time before his passing, Alanthibrindle would sire next Lanathed, a son who even now is dwelling in Imladris, where he is a singer and poet. His lays and ballads bear the myths and legends of our people, and remind us of the Valar who have blessed us. Next did Linelliana bear Arnipher, a son who would become a courtier and advisor in Amon Lanc to King Oropher. A man given to peace and serenity, he has stemmed the tide of heated hearts many times. Mirithas would be born next, at the turning of the age, and would become a courtier to Queen Alatariel in Lothlorien. She has often been a liaison between the two kingdoms in times of tension. Our next sister, Calomniel, would follow her, and would marry Haldir, Marchwarden in Lothlorien. She is a healer, working wonders against the poisons of the Dark Wood." He paused again, swallowing hard.
"And then it was, that a shadow passed over Alanthibrindle Thenuviel, and the remainder of his children would be given to war. His next son, Alanthius, would become the High Sentinel to King Oropher in Amon Lanc, where he is a warrior of great renown. He is not known for mercy, though his justice is unrivaled. Another son would follow soon after: Valanthior, who would become Warden of Doriath, whose powerful magic protects the North of Mirkwood to this day. The sweet heart of Linnelliana would temper the darkness of Alanthibrindle, and she would bear him yet two daughters. Halassiel, who became handmaid to Celebrian in Imladris, and Beruvias, who would marry Farngalad, Marshall of Doriath. Both sisters were masters of the blade, terrible in their beauty and in their destruction." He glanced at Lyanna. "And then, 'ere he died in the deserts of Harad, Alanthibrindle received of Linelliana yet one more son. Arcturus, who would be Marshall of Eryn Lasgalen, despite being the least of these. And there the line ends."

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Crown Prince

The Haradrim were always an impressive group to behold in motion. Whether riding the massive Oliphaunt warbeasts, the conquered Wulves, or even the fiery horses from the desert sands, they always managed to cut a handsome figure. Some Harad leaned into this impressive reputation, using it to enhance their otherwise plain appearances. And some Harad did not need help looking impressive.
Prince Romulus Vespasian was one such man. 6'6" in his socks, 300lbs of solid muscle, scarred and still somehow handsome despite the fights and the years. 25, in the prime of his youth, virile and vital and full of life. Loud, boisterous, with a casual confidence that came from never having completely lost a fight in his life. Covered in black armor that did nothing to hide the rippling muscle underneath, riding a huge Wulf with fur dyed red, and surrounded by 30 of the very impressive Haradrim who served him…
Romulus was every inch the Crown Prince as he came into town.

A fact he absolutely hated.

Maybe Lakeside could help him forget for a bit. The town was one of the bigger ones in this side of the country, and Romulus had been told to stay for a couple of days and make friends of the people. Father's advisors seemed to think if he was popular with the people, he would have an easier time eventually taking the throne. Romulus had sneered at them, wondering how they could think a recently conquered people would ever warm up to the boisterous brat of their conquering enemy, but they had sent him out just the same. So here he was.
Ah, well. Time to make the most of it.
"Lear, you know what I'm looking for." He called to his lieutenant, an equally young and impressive man on a horse near him. "Find me the bars, the brothels, and the bare-knuckle fights."
Lear nodded, and took off into town, a grin smeared across his face. Working for Romulus had been a long job for him, and the Prince always knew how to party.

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Uriah Snaps

Uriah did not take the hint.
Instead, he did something he'd been wanting to do for months. Since their friendship was already being scrapped…

He slapped the glass out of her grip, sending it spinning out the open window and tossed the bottle out as well. The satisfying tinkle of glass shattering was the only sound in the room.
The guard stared at her for a moment, coming to realize in that instant why the Prince had left that night a month ago.
Uriah turned and walked back to the door. He was sure she had another bottle somewhere. She'd be a raging drunk again in the morning, as usual. She'd be worthless in the saddle, and he'd spend half the day picking her up off the ground. She'd be a diplomatic mess at the Palace, and he'd have his hands full keeping her safe from others.

But literally none of that mattered if she wasn't willing to save herself from herself.

"As you wish, Countess." He stepped out with a stiff bow, and closed the locked door behind him.