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Renata didn't believe for a second that this man, making a living on an unliveable rock populated by walking aberrations, was a bishop. That is, it took merely a second for her to realise how much sense it made. This was the last place anyone would look for an important member of the old Order of the Saint, and clearly the higher-ups knew something about the Dragon's Gate that the common clergy did not. Something important enough to make it worth either destroying or preserving. And even if the man was lying, perhaps she could get on his good side with a proper display of respect...

"We beg Your Excellency's mercy!" Renata shouted the words, standing rigid and clasping her hands in a salute as all her etiquette came flooding back into her memory. "We are unfit to behold your..." She trailed off as the man invited them to breakfast. Something told her that the man, though he seemed no older than middle-aged if even that, was too old to have any affinity for the combination of groveling and militarism etched into Renata's head by the Church of the Preservation. The carefree way he carried himself hinted at some sort of enlightenment, enough that he could rise above the oppressive atmosphere of the Dread Isle. If he was telling the truth about his identity, it was a true hermit-sage that stood before the ragged quartet. Or a hermit-bishop.
Lennox looked upon the man towering over him and Tiras. That wasn't an easy feat, to be sure. Something wasn't right about this. This 'bishop' didn't seem like a normal man to him. Not a holy one, anyway. He reminded him alot of his great-grandfather, Ludwig. Sure, he certainly towers of Ludwig, but they had the same eyes. The same presence. It was unnerving how much of Ludwig he saw in Renault. This man must be older than he seems. When Ludwig disappeared, he was in his eighties, but looked thirty years younger. Perhaps this Renault ages just as gracefully.

He seems to be at peace in this chaos. It was actually making Lennox a bit jealous. In fact, something about this life seems really appealing to Lennox. Living off the land, not having to deal with the politics of the mainland, no family to follow after you. No. That seems good now, but Lennox is a nomad by heart. He can't live this kind of life for long before he had to uproot it and relocate. But nothing said he can't be a wandering hermit. It was an idea, certainly.

Lennox' stomach growled at the promise of breakfast. "I can't speak for everyone, but that sounds nice," Lennox looked over at Renata. "Someone got me really hungry."
The group left their weapons near Renault's door as he went about finishing hanging up his laundry and preparing breakfast. Bacon, formed from a brace of rabbits, hotcakes from acorn-flour, topped with painstakingly gathered wild honey, and scrambled bird's eggs. Tiras's mouth watered at the smells, almost like home. He ate ravenously, stopping only when he noticed Renault had paused before eating to pray. The squire felt a flush of shame color his face, realizing his disrespect. He clasped his hands, and prayed thanks over the food, and blessing as well. He thought he felt a pulse of gentle warmth from his side, but disregarded it.

Once done, he continued to eat, though more slowly, savoring the meal. It could be his last, after all. And he would hate for his last meal to have gone down without enjoying it. Instead, while savoring the food, he was eyeing this hermit bishop. He'd never heard of such, and he'd certainly never seen a bishop so fit. He was positively rippling with muscle. The man was still shirtless, and Tiras was perplexed on seeing the distinct scars of battle across his arms and torso.

"So," Renault asked, "What are a knight, a prince, a rogue, and a manakete doing here? You said something about less-than-reputable people, but that could apply to anyone. What is going on on the continent?"
Idiots. You forgot the lingonberries. Renata mentally chastised what she was certain was the Dread Isle's final trick, one that would lull all of them into certain doom. But it wasn't a bad way to go out, all things considered. In exchange for such a blissful moment, she was fully willing to go quietly into the night, and she was several bites deep into the feast by the time she was starting to think this wasn't a fever dream after all.

A rogue? Renata looked around before realising that the rogue in question was her. Now that was something she never expected to be called... but it made sense. A rogue was someone who went their own way, and in light of everything that had happened, Renata would gladly accept such a moniker.

"The Church..." Renata began an explanation only to cut herself off. It was evident that Renault had been living here for a long time, and if he was a bishop he was likely one of the last of the old church who had not been purged. She owed it to him to start from the beginning. "The Order of the Saint is no more, Your Excellency. In its place is the Church of the Preservation, a creation of the Lycian emperor. To destroy anything that defies imperial doctrine is its only purpose. Even..." She looked down at her food, suddenly guilt-stricken. "Even the Dragon's Gate." Telling Renault everything would mean revealing their original purpose in coming to the Dread Isle, something Renata wasn't sure her comrades would approve of, but she also felt he deserved the full truth. It could very well mean his survival against any further expeditions by the Empire... or even the survival of the old order itself, much of whose scripture was likely committed to this man's memory.

The man took in the news with a look of somber acceptance, and it was long before he spoke again. Tiras had finished his plate and proceeded to get one more hotcake and one more bacon strip.

"I had left this island once before, and heard of Lycia's transformation into a monarchy, but news of its change into an Empire is new, indeed. What of Aquelia? Surely they disapprove of this new church, do they not?" His expression was muted, but it begged confusion all the same. He did not look lost, as a younger man might have, but he did have a look of discontent.

"They did," Tiras answered. "The Schism was a terrible conflict, but the Empire invaded Etruria, sacked Aquelia, and looted and razed the Tower of the Saint. To my shame, I was a part of that conflict, but both my master and I deserted." The 'knight' continued explaining, "From that point, outside of battling the remnants of the lords of Etruria, the army of Lycia set about hunting down the 'enemies and heretics of the holy Saint Elimine,' acting like they were saviors instead of heretics themselves.

"Which, I guess, brings us to why we're here. We were hired to destroy the Dragon's Gate. Our ship had a load of explosives on it, but the crew ran aground, and as the ship was sinking, the cargo detonated. We were lucky to have gotten to a dinghy and away from the ship before it went up in flames. And then, last night, while we were sitting by the fire, we were attacked by morphs."

At this, Renault sat up a bit straighter. Now he looked openly troubled. "There were some left?"
"I'm no prince. You probably have a better claim to the Etrurian throne than I," Lennox quipped, looking over the breakfast before him. He looked at it a bit disappointed. The pancakes were too fluffy. Crepes would've been better. He began devouring the eggs and bacon while Renata and Tiras spoke up.

"It was a blitzkrieg. But that wasn't all. My cousin, Maria, and her uncle...," Lennox paused as he turned towards the group, "Wolfram, fled to Bern for safety. My cousin Shad, our allies, and other Etrurian lords north of Aquleia that hadn't mobilized yet never even saw action. A man close to the king betrayed Etruria for the new Lycian regime and now he reigns over the ashes of Aquleia as it's marquess. But...that's not all. They tore down the Tower of the Saint, just like Tiras said. But do you know what was in the Tower of the Saint? I don't have proof, but I believe they took the Legendary weapon of the Saint herself and used it to destroy Tania. The Emperor has agents looking all over for ancient relics. I'm sure that it's related."

"And, you two are forgetting the Church branding all wielders of Dark and Anima magics as heathens to be converted or struck down,"
Lennox paused to take a breath and turned towards Renault after that comment about there being some left. "Uh...yeah. I didn't have this scar and had a shirt when we landed here," Lennox commented pointing at his shirtlessness and the scar from the bolting spell. "I'm afraid there might be more down the road but first things first. They were talking about Nergal and him waiting at the Dragon's gate. Except for the one who said we weren't part of Eliwood's cadre. That was a weird one." He yawned after that comment, realizing that he was still tired and that's why he was rambling. "Wait. You left the island and came back and didn't run into any morphs? Did Wolfram disturb whatever ones were left before he left us here?"
"You are a prince, Lennox. Not the royal prince, I'll give you that," Tiras said, rolling his eyes. "The children of the nobility are always princes or princesses. Doesn't mean you have authority, but it is a title that demands respect, if only because of your blood. And to correct you, we had not forgotten, thank you for insulting our intelligence. We hadn't mentioned it yet. There is a lot that has changed in the last twenty years, some of which I wasn't even around for, so I never knew different." The squire gobbled up the last of his breakfast, pushing his plate forward and leaning back in his chair. "Hoog, that was delicious. Thank you, Father Renault."

The bishop nodded to him before turning to Lennox. "I don't think he did. I believe I recall his presence here for a while, and no reports of morphs reached me, nor did I discover any still existed. No, whatever happened, it happened because of your arrival here." Renault closed his eyes, looking like he was concentrating. "Yes, I can feel it. There are tendrils of dark power at work here."

"Great," Tiras said, suddenly mildly annoyed.

"Worry not, child. There are not many left, I can assure you," Renault opened his eyes and smiled fatherly at Tiras's petulance.
"Stop your bickering, will you," Renata felt enlivened enough by the food to mutter the words under her breath as the men quipped at one another.

"It was most invigorating," she added to Tiras's thanks. Her brow furrowed at how casually Renault deduced there were "not many" morphs remaining. "They're aberrations," she interjected. How could anyone live in such peace here as long as they existed? She sighed. It wasn't her place to understand everything. "What would you have us do?"
Raye quieted up as the man stepped out of the house they were moving to investigate. It was growing a bit more obvious to the dragon girl that she wasn't the best at interacting with people so letting the others do the talking seemed like the best course of action. She was also quite hungry herself. Exerting herself in dragon form took a fair amount of energy.

As they ate, the others all talked. Raye kept to the plate of food in front of her, listening in on the conversation. There was quite a lot coming from all directions. Information about what was happening in the world she had yet to pick up as well as this priest being much more keen than anyone had expected. Perhaps she needed to start avoiding boarding random boats without knowing where they were going.

”Thank you, everyone. I hadn't really brought it up but I was perhaps more unaware of what was happening than he was. It appears that I chose quite a poor time to see the world... Oh, Bishop Renault, how were you able to determine that I am a dragon? It seems that it something I need to keep secret so I hope I was not letting anything slip so quickly.”
Lennox just glared at Tiras. He was no prince, regardless of what he said. And he wasn't insulting their intelligence. As the sole Etrurian of the group, it only made sense he'd bring up stuff relative to him. He turned his gaze towards Raye by the time Renata tried to play peacekeeper. He noticed how hungry she seemed. These fluffy pancakes were inedible to him. Too thick. But Raye probably didn't mind them. After Lennox finished his eggs and bacon, he passed the plate over to Raye, so she could indulge. That's when it hit him. Renault said Wolfram didn't alert the morphs either.

'You seem to have riled the morphs up.'

Wolfram was looking right at Raye before he said it. Before Lennox obscured his view. In fact, he spent most of his brief encounter talking to Raye rather than himself. He said about asking for directions. What did that mean? Does Lennox need to protect Raye from the church and from Wolfram? Before Lennox could tell her to eat his pancakes, she spoke up. "That...is a very good question. How would one be able to deduce someone's a dragon from first glance?" This question was more for Wolfram, but as Renault had performed the same trick, this would have to suffice.
"Call it a knack that magic-users pick up after a while," Renault said, smiling paternally to the group. "It helps that I've seen a few of your kind, so I knew what to look for." The bishop looked pensive for a moment, before ceding that, "Perhaps it is time that I left Valor again. In any case, I intend to help you find your ways off this island. Allow me a few minutes, if you would." The bishop proceeded to clear the table of the remains of the food (not that there was much) and tossed it down the hill outside, then took the plates that had already been emptied and set them in a washbasin, before heading into the second room of the small cabin. He emerged a few minutes later wearing his full cassock and robe, cloak, and carrying a staff and some tomes. The staff glowed for a second, and Tiras felt refreshed. His wounds were gone.

"Let us go, then, to the Dragon's Gate," the bishop said, solemnly.


The group regathered their weapons and headed in the direction of the enormous structure. Despite the size, they weren't within sight of an entrance for at least two hours of walking. At least they had been fed and healed beforehand. Tiras found much of his former grouchiness relieved for those two things. He was even feeling a bit hopeful. The end of this ridiculous journey was at last in sight. It nearly put a spring in his step. All he and the rest of them had to do was kill a few things that should not be, and look around. Easy peasy.

Renault, Tiras noticed, was looking grim. His face appeared much more gaunt than earlier, and his eyes... He knew those eyes. A veteran, lost in the battles he'd fought however many years ago. Seeing the faces of the dead.

Tiras shook himself, looking away. The group approached the massive stone structure, opened by a hundred-foot archway.

The complex was eerily deserted, like an abandoned mausoleum. Tiras turned, his mail aventail skittering across his gorget and pauldrons. Where is everyone? Those morphs promised us a fight. But each and every hall turned out empty. There were signs of life, in stages it looked. Tables and chairs, the occasional empty and broken chest and bookshelf. Everything covered in a layer of dust.

At last, beyond a throne and a bunch of broken weapons, an entrance that was not lit by day. There was dimness within, and braziers burning a magic, blue flame.

"Brace yourselves," Tiras warned, lowering his visor. He readied his halberd and entered the ruins.

Ahead of them were twelve morphs in a grand hall. Six doorless rooms to either side.

"So you've come to die," a thirteenth morph, the one from before, warped in, its face a scowl. "We collected some of our one-note brethren. They missed you last night, so we brought them here, so they wouldn't miss their chance."

"This is every remaining morph on the isle, then?" Renault piped up.

"... Yes."

"Excellent," Renault.

"Then we can kill you all right here," Tiras grinned under his helm, "And not have to worry that we missed any of you."

"Good luck," the speaking morph retorted, before warping back to his brethren.
"Why—" Not even that word managed to escape Renata's mouth by the time the morph disappeared. She'd already had the feeling none of them were interested in answering questions, not even the one capable of speech, but she still had to try. There was nothing in the way of useful cover in the main room, but the rooms on either side showed promise. Renata took a few steps to the left as she assumed a combat stance and braced herself...

... and the morphs did nothing. They already knew exactly what Renata was thinking. They knew this place too well. The aberrations, superior in number, were waiting for their adversaries to come to them. She stared down the figures, but it was difficult to make out any details, silhouetted as they were against the ethereal torchlight. The angular shape of armour and the swaying of robes were all that revealed themselves. Not only was this group larger; they were well rounded. Another second passed, and the shaft of a weapon swayed. She counted the sets of angled pauldrons... One, two, three...

A pair of golden eyes stared back.

Renata's own fear was what saved her: if not for her unnerved stumble back, the arrow now clattering upon stone tile would have struck her square in the neck instead of glancing her shoulder. Only a flesh wound, but the battle hadn't even started. The group of morphs quivered as their forms began to shuffle around like a black sea. Renata's hand abandoned the hilt of her sword and opened her tome. This wasn't a battle she would win up close with a sword... wasn't even a winnable battle, in all likelihood.

One thing at a time. If she could see her enemies, that would be a good start.

Once again stepping forth, Renata shouted the incantation, aiming at the morphs front and centre. The damage would be negligible, but it would illuminate the greatest number of them.
Lennox looked over the gathered morphs and his eyes caught an oddity amongst the group. Like the talking morph had said, there were one-note morphs in their group. Golden eyed and no really distinguishing features. There was one, however, that had traits not unlike his own. His hair color, purple garb, and blue eyes. Or rather, one blue eye. The other was blood red, and the morph also had a streak of dried blood across his nose. There was no doubt in his mind. This morph was made of his own flesh and blood. That was Dain Hyperion. As Lennox stared him down, the morph had done the same. Lennox drew Dyrnwyn and noticed that Dain's eyes had narrowed. Something remained in this morph that it recognized the sword that struck him down.

Lennox turned to the others and pointed at the morph with his sword. "That one matches the description of a long dead ancestor of mine. He's mine to deal with." Before he can charge, one of the other morphs tried engaging Renata. An archer. As he looked to make sure she was safe, Dain had charged at Lennox, unsheathing the same sword that Lennox saw in his vision, the twisted sword Dainsleif. Lennox swung his sword over head, forcing Dain to jump back to avoid it. Lennox looked him over some more and seen his outfit was covered in blood. "Lets see...from Grandfather back, Arron, Ludwig, Deiter, Roderick, Fergal, Kristoffe, Ernst, Mason, Marshall, Burke, Vere, Cal, Finlay, Rastus, Mathis, Greir, Lenox...and then you. Your son is my namesake, it would seem. He spent his life dedicated to undoing your wrongs. I hope my children don't need to do the same to me."

Dain held his sword like a rapier and lunged at Lennox who raised Dyrnwyn to block. Dain twisted his sword and the two forks of the sword went around Dyrnwyn. Lennox saw that coming and swung his sword to the side, ramming his elbow into Dain's face, breaking his nose and forcing the him to pull back. Dain retreated into one of the side rooms, pulling Lennox' attention away from the rest of the morphs. The flames of Dyrnwyn had started to build up and Lennox primed himself to swing, to unleash the blaze upon Dain when he came out of the room.
”Oh, ok.” Raye replied to the Bishop. His answer made sense she supposed, not being the most in the know on the inner workings of magic. With that answered she returned to her food and more of it came to her by the way of Lennox. If he really wasn't going to eat those pancakes she would. They had been doing more work than she had but to help out she needed to be a bit bigger than the rest of them so it worked out. At least that's what she was thinking to not feel bad about it.

After that it wasn't too much longer before they were on the move again, heading back to the Gate. It was a long walk which gave Raye plenty of time to think. It would probably have been better for her to focus on how they were going to get through this than to think about what she would do afterwards but... having lived for so long the idea of her life potentially ending soon wasn't as close to the front of her mind as it would have been for her short-lived companions.

Was she going to keep on her journey? Even though the world was fraught with danger and she had gotten in two precarious situations already? If so... should she learn to defend herself...? Using her Dragonstone was powerful but risky and could put her in more danger so she might need to actually learn how to wield a weapon... If only there was time to do so before they reached the Gate.

More of these Morphs were there and the fighting began before the dragon girl could really brace herself for it to begin. She gripped her Dragonstone to make sure she didn't drop it. ”I, uhh. Tell me who I should fight, please. There are a lot of them...” Hopefully her request for some direction wouldn't fall on deaf ears.
Tiras saw Renata illuminate the enemy, and Lennox engage with one of the creatures, but didn't continue watching long enough to care. He heard a voice in his head, the voice that had called him yesterday, asking him to say her name. He felt an odd sensation, like something he couldn't see, was swirling around him. However, whatever it was, it felt friendly. As he closed with a morph wielding a club that might once have been an ax, and raised his own halberd in response, he whispered it.


As he brought the polearm down, he saw the head of the axe-end was wreathed in darkness, writhing around the metal like a flame. It smashed the club into rotten bits of splinters and crushed the head of the abomination that wielded it. As he raised it back, he saw a morph mage conjure fire magic, rising into a ball and launching it straight for him.

Parry it.

He listened, though he was confused. He slapped the fireball with the head of the halberd, and instead of exploding like Tiras expected, it flew away like it was a game-ball back in Ostia castle town. Tiras charged the morph mage and heard, "This is a message from Lord Nergal:--" He cut through its neck as it fumbled to defend itself.

Suddenly, two things happened. The first was that another mage among the morphs raised and activated its staff, pointing the head, a gnarled, twisted, knotted piece of wood, at Lennox, shrouding him in a red haze. The second, was that the fireball hit the wall and exploded, causing the ruins to shake, and sending a tumble of stone down on the side of the room that Lennox had been looking at, utterly burying the side rooms in it and flattening anything that might have been in there. Two broken shards of metal, that might's been a blade at one point, clattered to the ground outside of the rubble.

Tiras used the distraction to check his comrades, see if they were all okay. Lennox was standing, seemingly stock-still, as a red haze faded from around his body. Raye was not too far away from him, nor were Renata and Renault.

Beware, Persephone warned, something is amiss.
Among the illuminated morphs, Renata spied a few magical tomes. They weren't as much a danger to her as they would be to her comrades. One let loose a fireball at Tiras; another began to conjure a cloud of darkness so ferocious it resembled a storm. Just think of the Saint... Recalling her training in resisting the occult, Renata murmured a prayer as she took a step towards the cloud and prepared to cast another spell...

The ruins shook, the first mage crumbled rather readily before Tiras's halberd, and Renata noticed a distinct scarlet glow in the corner of her sight.

"That one!" She shouted at Raye in unconcealed fear, pointing at the staff user.
Lennox just stood there, as if he was a statue. Then he felt the adrenaline pumping. He began breathing very heavily, very noticably. His eyes dilated, darting back and forth as he watching the wall crumble and two shards of the sword approach him. Had his senses not left him, he'd recognize that the sword he was fighting against was not the real Dainsleif. It was as much a copy of the real blade like the morph who possessed it. However, Lennox still had Dyrnwyn filled with flame above his head. He turned and swiftly fired the blast of flames at the blue-haired girl. He had enough sense to ignore the dragon, and turned his attention to the halberdier. He had a score to settle with that one.

He charged at the halberdier and swung at him with wild abandon. The halberdier won't hurt him this time. However, he kept missing. His blind rage made him impatient and his 'wild swings' were actually pretty predictable. This wasn't Lennox Hyperion attacking Tiras. This was a rabid wolf that lost his mind, raging at a vaguely familiar foe. All the while, something at the back of his mind was still telling him to protect the dragon. It was tempered by the rage, but not deafened. He was still in there, but it was hard to fight it.
Raye snapped to attention as Renata pointed out a Morph for her to focus on, some strange one with a staff that seemed to be doing... something to Lennox. She didn't know quite what was up with what it was doing but she assumed the experience of someone who had seen much more fighting than she had would point her in the right direction.

Gripping the stone in her hands tighter a pair of feathery dragon wings sprang forth from her back before surrounding her. An instant later they opened and she was back in her full dragon form. Taking to the air she moved towards the staff-wielding Morph and sent a blast of dragon fire at him. While she was doing this, the enchantment of the staff on Lennox was taking effect, turning him against them.

He sent a wave of flame towards Renata. ”No!” shouted the dragon as she dove back down, intercepting the attack head on.

Raye let out a scream as she was struck with the fire. For the first time in her long, relatively sheltered life the girl had felt pain. Real pain.
For a moment, nothing happened, and Lennox stood stock still, his sword burning fiercely against the unnatural blue light. Then, Renata directed Raye to strike at the morph with the gnarled staff, which the dragon did immediately. But when the squire returned his gaze to Lennox, he swung the blade through the empty air, the flames leaping from the sword to strike at Renata. He reached out, as if he could save her from as far away as he was, and cried out.

"Renata! No!"

It was then that Tiras saw Lennox turn around to face him, and an icy chill ran down his spine. His pupils were dilated, his sclerae each either magically red or so bloodshot it appeared so. Each breath chuffed out of heavily, and the huge man charged at Tiras.

Well..., shit.

Lennox, though his wild swings were predictable, were also very fast, thanks to his musculature, and his body fell back on its training. Tiras was retreating to try and make use of his halberd's powerful head, but Lennox never let him get to the proper range, and each nick from the blade burned after. Tiras' halberd shortly broke, at which point, a fireball struck both him and Lennox.

While the berserk Lennox went after the morph mage, Tiras threw his broken weapon at the nearest morph and drew out the sword of Sir Adrian.

"Persephone!" Dark tendrils enwreathed the blade in shadow.

"Come and get it, Lennox!"
The fireball was already dancing before Renata's eyes by the time she heard Tiras shout. Just as suddenly, Raye was there to shield her. "Keep away from him, Tiras!" she shouted back. The fool! Doesn't he know... well, no, I suppose he wouldn't.

The morph that had been conjuring up darkness, meanwhile, seemingly decided on Raye as a target. Renata ran forth to interrupt its spell, knowing full well that her own magic would barely affect a foe disciplined enough to cast... whatever that was. She drew the silver dagger that she'd looted from one of the other morphs on the island previously, and plunged it into the sorcerer's chest.

A second arrow flew forth from the darkness, and Renata was not so lucky this time. Feeling unable to lean forward to push the dagger farther into the reeling morph in front of her, Renata drew her own sword and attempted a slash. It was barely enough to take the dark mage down. Finally, she noticed the arrow now protruding from her stomach. Her head spun with the pain. Her sword clattered to the floor.

"Your Excellency," she whimpered, begging the intervention of the bishop and his staff. Had she simply lost track of Renault in the chaos? Or was he an illusion after all?

Well, she still had her tome.
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