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felistopaz » Lair » Ashen
Ashen
#32405992
Info
Level 1
Imperial Female
Hatchday
Apr 19, 2017 (2 years)
Stats Growth
Length
20.97M
Wingspan
15.53M
Weight
9101.68KG
Genes
PrimaryOrca Giraffe
SecondaryOrca Hex
TertiaryOrca Smoke
Eye TypeShadow Common
Energy: 48 / 50
Apparel & Skins
Lineage
Parents
Offspring
none
Familiar
Information

Deneira
Familiar

























Guardian of the Dead
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Ashen is a soul guardian, responsible for funeral rites and memorial services. Her birth clan, the dragons of the Veilwalker Enclave, are devoted to the guidance of restless spirits and the memory of the dead, and its continuous presence in her life has thus never felt ominous or frightful to her.

Through ritual magic, she is able to speak with the dead. She can sense the presence of souls that have not moved on yet and communicate with them, if they allow it; through her magic, she can also make these presences visible to others. She is even able to call the soul of a dragon back from the beyond for a brief span of time, but this is a far more delicate process and not always successful; and she will not consent easily to attempt it. Even if she does, it is against her moral codex to force any souls to come back or stay against their will, though she may attempt some gentle persuasion if she deems the situation dire enough.

Even though her presence tends to unnerve people due to her vocation, she is a kind and gentle soul. She has a serene air and is very hard to anger - though if brought to that point, she is a force of nature indeed. Still a child of the shadow at heart, although she does not rue her move to the Sunbeam Ruins, she prefers the night and the twilight hours, and during the day will often be found dozing in some cool and shady place.
Quote:
Thoughts on LW's damnation of Imperials: "Those poor, tormented souls..." *Cannot get over an emperor's presence, what does all else matter*

Cursed Dice Dungeon Crawl

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The dead of the Hewn City crowded close now. At last, here was a dragon who could hear them. Ashen’s ears twitched as she caught them. Restless voices, whispered names...

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She had noticed them upon hatching: pale, wispy faces hovering like morning mist. The lair bustled around them, and dragons came and went, but those wisps were always visible, and even in the darkest night, they were startlingly clear. When she asked her mother what they were, the Nocturne lady answered, “They are the dead, my child.” Those tattered souls peered down at the Imperial hatchling, and she stared back, unafraid.

When you light a fire, it burns relentlessly, turning wood to white-gray and leaving dark fractures in between. Her hide resembled this bold pattern of ash, and so she was named Ashen. She grew up among the ghosts and spirits, and she looked like a ghost herself, with her pallid skin, her wispy markings. Even her face was like a death mask, so somber and pale it was. It might have been her sepulchral surroundings, but even as a hatchling, Ashen’s face bore a gravity most preachers could only envy. She was a dragoness who did not often laugh.

Veilwalker Enclave’s most prominent dragons were Soul Guardians, drakes with the power to communicate with spirits. It was not necromancy—not that foul art that makes slaves of those it raises. The Soul Guardians could speak with the dead; in rare cases the dead could be compelled to stay, but only in direst need, and they were never bound to the earth.

Ashen had been born a Soul Guardian, and soon she began acquainting herself with the rituals of her vocation. She was tranquil, unafraid of the afterlife, and her progress was swift. Soon, she would be skilled enough to make her own way in the world.

~ ~ ~

It had been raining steadily since morning. The candles had burned low, and they flickered as Deneira fluttered past them. The Ichor Imp pressed her palms to the window, peering out into the cold.

“Someone’s out there. Two someones, actually...They are messengers.”

“Yes, Den. I know,” Ashen answered. There was nothing arrogant or condescending in that statement. The years of communing with the dead had endowed Ashen with the same serenity, and she tilted an ear now, listening to them. They whispered to her.... “We must be ready,” she told her Imp. She closed her book and stood up to make herself presentable. Deneira was already used to such things, and she followed without protest.

The messengers awaited them in the hall. There were two of them, still dripping rain: a Spiral and a Fae. “We have been hired by a pair of allied clans,” the Fae droned, “and we have requested the aid of the Enclave’s ablest Soul Guardian.”

“Would that be you, Miss?” the Spiral inquired. He bent his head towards Ashen, his eyes boring into her own.

She was. If the messengers doubted it, they didn’t show it; that was not what they were here for. Instead, they began to tell her a story....

~ ~ ~

The Clawrift Clan of the Sunbeam Ruins was an ally of the Umbral Grove Clan, which had pledged itself to the Shadowbinder. The two clans had enjoyed a good relationship, and members had frequently traveled between the two domains, finding accommodation in their allies’ clan.

One of them had been Thunderfall, a dancer from Clawrift. Some moons before, he had bidden his clan goodbye. He would be staying at the Umbral Grove; he would meet an old mentor, see the Circus, and then head back home.

He had vanished shortly after arriving. The Umbral Grove had not been unduly concerned at first—plenty of dragons came and went during festivals. But on the first day of the Circus, the clan had gathered to give thanks to their deity, and they’d discovered that the idol they used in their worship had disappeared.

Suspicion immediately fastened on Thunderfall. All other members and visitors of the clan had been accounted for, but Thunderfall...He’d arrived a few days before and then vanished without a trace.

“There’s treachery afoot!” the Shadow dragons hissed accusingly. Word quickly went back to the Clawrift Clan. The missing artifact was unique, priceless; priests claimed it had been blessed by the Shadowbinder herself. It had been the heart of the Umbral Grove, and now it was gone. The ties between the two clans frayed until they were hovering on the edge of all-out war.

Carmin, the Clawrift leader, was adamant: Thunderfall would not have stolen such an artifact. He had been a Shadow drake himself, and he would not have endangered the alliance so foolishly. He earned a good living with a job he enjoyed; what reason did he have to steal such an artifact?

Ashen heard these views from the Clan Leader herself. She had accompanied the messengers to the boundary between Light and Shadow, where small delegations from Clawrift and the Umbral Grove had set up a camp. The tension between the two clans was such that if she first went to one land or the other, it could easily be misconstrued as an attempt to subvert her.

Most dragons were intimidated by Carmin upon meeting her, but Ashen spoke calmly, and she never lost her serene expression. She was neither uncomfortable nor suspicious. Carmin had had too much of suspicion in the past few months, so she heartily approved of this young one. When Ashen queried, “Are there others I may speak to?” she was directed to Malice and Alicia, Thunderfall’s daughter and mate, respectively.

Former mate,” Malice corrected. Unlike most Coatls, she had a rough voice and moved angrily, like a striking snake. She had not offered Ashen a seat, so the Imperial lingered by the entrance, watching as the potionmaker fussed over her bottles and jars.

Malice eventually said, “That Thunderfall...He was...sweet, really. Not a mean bone in his body. That poor, flamboyant fool would give you the clothes off his back even if you said you were freezing to death in the Great Furnace.” Her smile was bitter, but there was a deep pain—and tenderness—in her eyes. Ashen, seer of things others could not often see, noticed it right away.

She queried, “What are your thoughts on the recent issue?”

“You mean the mislaid artifact?” Malice emphasized the word, and now the tenderness was gone. Her mouth curved in a cruel frown. “They had no right to accuse Thunderfall—and us—of thievery. Carmin’s spelled it out for you already, I believe. What did Thunderfall have to gain by stealing that relic? He was never interested in religion—or money.” Malice rolled her eyes. “He always said he was doing things for the art of it.

“I suppose this is what happens when you’re surrounded by tricksters. They don’t even trust fellow Shadowlings now. For them to brand us as thieves...Hah! The Crimson Claw Mercenaries do not take baseless accusations lightly!”

Alicia, Thunderfall’s and Malice’s daughter, was markedly different from her mother. The seamstress swept away the garments she was sewing, leaving colorful poufs for Ashen to lounge on. In response to Ashen’s questions, she explained, “My parents separated some years ago, but there were no hard feelings between them. It was just that Da preferred traveling over staying here. They got along. That is, we all did....”

There was something Ashen had been wondering for some time now. With Alicia, she felt safe enough to query, “Why do you all speak of him as though he was dead?”

A shadow moved over Alicia’s face. Still, her voice was light as she explained, “My Da would never stoop to stealing a divine relic—and even if he did, what would be the use? He couldn’t abide religion, but he understood the importance of the clan alliance. He’d never have jeopardized it for a handful of coin or whatever depraved reason you could think of."

“Word gets around.” Alicia’s voice was cynical now, and somehow more withering than her mother’s. “If Da had heard of this ruckus, he’d have come back to defend us, and no mistake. But he hasn’t been seen...or heard from....My Da’s dead, Miss. He never would’ve let it get this bad otherwise.” Her head drooped in defeat.

Ashen also spoke with the dragons of the Umbral Grove. Some of them firmly believed Thunderfall had absconded with the relic. Others were not so sure: “The Clawrift drakes have got a shifty reputation elsewhere, but they’ve been good to us, y’know? Well...until now.” The indecision that moved over their faces was painful to see.

The most surprising opinion came from the Grove leader himself: Tiberius, an old Mirror with pale blue eyes. Ashen couldn’t help staring at him.

The old dragon laughed creakily. “You’re wondering ’bout the eyes, right? I’m a drake of the Shadowed Lands, young lady, no matter what my eyes say. My parents vacationed with allies in the Southern Icefield, and an autumn storm delayed their return. So there I hatched. Mind you,” and his smile hardened slightly, “there’s them that’d say otherwise. But I believe nothing should be decided by the color of one’s eyes.”

The old dragon lacked the indignation that had been present in the Clawrift Drakes. He was easy to like.... “Be impartial, detached,” Ashen reminded herself. “You are here as a facilitator, not a judge.”

She said, “I’ve been apprised of the situation by the messengers, Elder, but have you anything you want to add?”

“No,” he said with a shrug.

Surprise flickered across Ashen’s face. It took a split-second, but Tiberius still caught it. “Surprised?” he asked. And then he sighed. “Truth be told, young lady, I don’t know what to think anymore. But I’ve seen enough things in my youth so that now I don’t jump to conclusions even when everyone else is rarin’ to go.”

“What was your impression of Thunderfall?” Ashen asked tentatively.

“I haven’t got an impression. It was his first time visiting, as I’m sure you’ve heard. I welcomed him, and that was all. Not enough time to form an opinion. Do I think that he stole our totem, or do I doubt it? I can’t rightly say. If I could,” and Tiberius fixed her with a stern glare, “I never would’ve agreed that we hire you.”

Ashen nodded slowly.

“So when do the rituals begin, young Miss? Do there have to be certain conditions?”

“I arrived just this morning, and I will need some time to rest and prepare what I need. The rituals will be enacted tomorrow night.”

~ ~ ~

Ashen returned to the tent that’d been set up for her. After some minutes, Deneira joined her. She fluttered into Ashen’s waiting paws, and the Imperial bent close. “What have you learned?” she asked.

Deneira had not been visible while the Soul Guardian had been conducting her interviews. But she had been present: flitting about, silent and unseen, observing and listening to other dragons.

She now reported, “The Clawrift Clan firmly believes Thunderfall never would’ve stolen the relic. He might’ve been a bit silly, but he was never foolish or spiteful.”

That lined up with what Ashen had heard. “What of the Umbral Grove?”

“The overall feeling is...negative,” Deneira admitted after a moment. “Many of them didn’t trust Thunderfall, since he was a stranger. A few wish to give him and Clawrift the benefit of the doubt, but they are beginning to bow to the influence of the majority. Tiberius, the leader, remains staunchly neutral. He has worked hard for this alliance and does not want it to crumble under the weight of suspicion. Carmin of Clawrift feels much the same way.”

“Whose idea was it to hire me?” Ashen inquired.

“Alicia of Clawrift pushed for it.” Ashen recalled how she’d firmly believed that if her father was still alive, he could’ve defused the situation. Deneira continued, “Most of the Umbral Grove thought it was a ploy to buy more time, but Tiberius backed her up.”

Ashen felt her skin prickle. The tension was worse than she’d feared. “We’ll have to act fast, Den. One wrong word could send everything into the air.”

And then a thought came to her, like a breath of wind: “I wonder if it was supposed to happen that way....”

~ ~ ~

At dusk the next day, Ashen and Deneira began preparing. A large, dark tent had been set up; Ashen would conduct the rituals inside, with chosen members of Clawrift and the Umbral Grove looking on. She didn’t like the setup: She would feel too much like a stage magician performing before a critical audience.

Thunderfall had left behind his travel supplies—yet another reason some dragons were hesitant to implicate him. The Clawrift Clan added some more possessions of his, mostly family mementos. These objects would help summon Thunderfall’s unquiet spirit—if indeed he was dead.

While Alicia firmly believed that her father had died, others were not so sure. Neither was Ashen: If Thunderfall was still alive, maybe imprisoned somewhere, the ritual would fail, and they’d jump back to square one. She wasn’t sure if that would be a bad thing or not.

The delegates were seated, rather pointedly, across from each other. A space had been cleared in the middle for Ashen. She thanked everyone for coming and then began describing the basic process of the ritual. She made sure to explain, “I cannot compel the dead to speak nor put words into their mouths. The nature of the dead is such that they will be unable to falsify.” She let this fact settle before concluding, “You shall have to accept what they reveal as the truth.”

A murmur rose from the assembled dragons. In the near-darkness, it was hard to tell which side it was from.

“I shall now begin the ritual. I must ask for silence during this time.”

Though the audience listened carefully, they could not catch any of Ashen’s chants—with good reason. The formulae were for the dead alone. They were not audible; rather, they tugged on the soul, a phantom wind pushing at those restless ghosts.

One of them was plucked from the ether. The darkness deepened, and the light of the lanterns shrank to mere pinpricks, leaving only the glowing runes and paraphernalia. The watchers saw him then: the faint shape of a Wildclaw, as clear-cut against the darkness as a cameo. Rosy ribbons still wound around his wings. He glided across the ground with the grace and poise of...yes, a dancer.

Alicia stifled a cry. Malice gripped her forearm, silencing her. Her own face was frigid, but a terrible pain burned deep inside her eyes.

“State your name and clan,” Ashen pronounced clearly. The Wildclaw’s jaws parted; his voice was a whisper, yet it managed to shake the room: “Thunderfall of the Clawrift Clan.

“We thank you for coming, Thunderfall. We would request your help in locating an important relic that has gone missing. It belongs to the Umbral Grove Clan.”

The spirit’s outline seemed to sharpen. Suddenly he looked solid, and his voice was stronger as he responded, “Yes...I will aid you.” At these words, Deneira swept away the cloth that covered a huge scry-plate. It was burnished silver, but now colors bled across it, forming images as Ashen began posing questions and Thunderfall began to speak.

~ ~ ~

Thunderfall had arrived at the Umbral Grove two days ago. After the brief welcome by the leader, he had been allowed to settle in. Trickmurk Circus would convene a few days later, so most of the clan was preoccupied and he was largely left alone. He had taken to wandering at the edges of the clan’s territory, away from the bustle, where he could practice his dance steps, embraced by the shadows and by nature.

The whispers reached his ears: “A totem blessed by the Shadowbinder...in the hands of those turncoats!” — “We’ll take it back to the true shadows, where it belongs.” — “And if that clan alliance breaks, so much the better! Those who consort with Light are traitors to our faith....”

Because he hadn’t been expecting them, he hadn’t been careful. They had quickly surrounded him. They questioned him: “What’s your name...
friend? What is your profession?”

“I am Thunderfall, a dancer by trade. I am preparing for the Trickmurk Circus....”

“Indeed?” They crowded closer. Their faces were obscured, but bore curious make-up—only the eyes were visible. Shadow eyes, every single one of them.

A female Wildclaw dug her claws into Thunderfall’s shoulder. “We’re strangers here, dearie,” she murmured, “and we’ve heard this clan has a lovely totem. As servants of the Shadowbinder, we’d like to give thanks, with the Circus so near and all.”

“The totem is the private property of the Umbral Grove Clan,” Thunderfall protested. He’d never even heard of it, but those words kept roaring in his head:
“If the clan alliance breaks...

“We’ll only just take a look at it. It’s late, and we’d rather not waken anyone. We’ll just nip in real quick-like.”

He couldn’t see their faces, but he could see their eyes. Nobody recognizes a lie better than a Shadow dragon does.

Thunderfall ran. He was fleet and silent of foot, and he oriented on the dim lanterns of the Umbral lair. The thoughts roared in his mind:
“They’re here to steal the relic! It’s an attack against the alliance with Clawrift. I’ll go to Tiberius. He’ll—”

The world exploded in red. Deep, deep red...They’d gotten him with some sort of spell. He couldn’t move; he heard them snicker as they stepped lightly over him, heading towards the lair. He could only watch, helpless and unblinking, as they finally flitted back with a gleaming idol in their claws. It vanished into a sorcerous bag, one designed to damp down any tracking or scrying spells.

Two of them grabbed Thunderfall. His feet scrabbled weakly, and they growled, “It’s starting to wear off.”

The female Wildclaw drew a truncheon and smashed it upon Thunderfall’s head. Pain exploded through the world again, and everything blurred, even the sounds, as if he were suddenly underwater. But most of the words were still chillingly understandable—

“What d’we do with ’im?”

“What a shame....His eyes say he was born to the true faith. Normally I’d suggest converting him to the ways of the Nightshade Alliance,” the Wildclaw sighed, “but we can’t trust this one....” She thought for a moment, tapping her baton against her thigh.

At last, she said, “We’ll have to dispose of him. There’s a lovely junction where the rivers meet, and it sucks everything right down. Nothing floats back up again. It’s not too far away. We can be there before dawn...away from the accursed light...”

The world went dark again
. At a signal from Ashen, Deneira covered the scry-plate once more, and the ritual came to a halt. Another word from Ashen caused the lanterns to flare up again. Suddenly the world was clear—as clear as light, as truth. There was no question about it now: Thunderfall and Clawrift had been exonerated.

But a question remained: “What’s the ‘Nightshade Alliance’?

~ ~ ~
It was Alicia who answered that question, some days later: “They’re extremists of the foulest sort. Plenty of Shadow and Light clans have alliances, but they believe it’s sacrilege. They’ve been trying to stir up trouble between allied clans—and it looks like we were the latest targets.”

She sighed heavily. “I wonder if they ever found out Da had joined a Light clan....I s’pose it wouldn’t have made things worse than it’d already been. They would’ve...removed him, anyway. They’re nothing but monsters.”

The Umbral Grove had said much the same thing; Tiberius in particular had been extremely incensed. Ashen remembered his words: “Nothing should be decided by the color of one’s eyes.”

The Umbral Grove and Clawrift leaders had decided to maintain the lie that the alliance was on the edge of fraying. They wanted it to appear that way, they said, the better to draw out and exact vengeance on the Nightshades. “They thought to fool us? We, too, are drakes of the night. We will not be fooled,” Tiberius had rumbled. Ice had flickered briefly over his hide, echoing his fury.

Carmin had been all for extracting vengeance, too, but that could wait. She had queried, “What of the Soul Guardian?”

There was the possibility that the Nightshades would seek to take their ire out on Ashen for exposing their ruse. The clan leaders had decided to offer her protection. She couldn’t stay in Umbral Grove; it was too close to the Nightshade Alliance’s haunts. So instead, she was offered board and lodging in the Clawrift Clan.

Alicia showed her to her room. Before she left, she declared, “It’s been said before, Ashen, but you’ve done us a great service. Exonerating my father and us...and saving our alliance...They ain’t mean feats. Thank you for giving us the chance to return the favor. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

Ashen’s face softened into a warm smile, the first one in many days. Alice took her leave then. Deneira chirruped, “How long are we staying here?”

“It could take months. It’s not so bad.” It wasn’t unusual for Soul Guardians to travel frequently, called to aid various clans. It looked as though Ashen’s journey had begun....

Or had it? The dead of the Hewn City crowded close now. At last, here was a dragon who could hear them. Ashen’s ears twitched as she caught them. Restless voices, whispered names...

Deneira fluttered into her view. “What’s up?”

“Oh. I’m just...listening, Den.”

“Are there...many of them?”

Ashen nodded slowly.

Deneira sighed. She fluttered to the packs, began sorting out the ritual devices Ashen frequently used. They’d been together for years; the Ichor Imp knew how it went. It looked as though the Soul Guardian would, indeed, be very busy from now on. The war against the Nightshade Alliance would continue—but for now, Ashen’s place and work were here.

~written by Disillusionist (254672)
all edits by other users





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Art by InHeritent

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