Solo A Murder at the Hanging Oak (Job)

Anja stops a ghost and makes a small, feathery friend

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A lawless town of anarchists, built on the ruins of an ancient mining city. [Lore]

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A Murder at the Hanging Oak (Job)

Postby Anja Nightwatcher on February 14th, 2019, 8:37 pm

Image
Winter 55, 518
Execution Square
19th Bell


“He was lynched around a week ago, near as we could tell. Been making our life a livin’ torment ever since. No one can even come round here to enjoy the place. It's crazy, I tell you!”

On a good day, when Syna still shown her bright face on the world, the Execution Square was full of people. Berthers picnicked, cooked, camped, played and relaxed all in the shadow of a massive oak tree which dominated the center of the square. It's ancient, thick branches tangled through the air and all manner of creeping, chattering and feathery creatures made their homes in the branches. It was a warm and festive place, where the horrors of Sunberth seemed far away and long forgotten.

But on this day, the square was quiet. There was still the sound of chatter echoing from the old tree's branches, but the square itself was anxiously silent. No man, woman or child stirred in the area except to skirt around the square as if the grass of the square were poison.

Anja, of course, shared no such reservations. After some gentle coaxing, he had convinced his guide to enter the square and Anja now stood blinking in the shade of the great tree as Syna's light slowly faded and dusk approached. The tree carried an eerie light to it. Anja could not help but respect something that had endured for so long in a place as inhospitable as this city, but it was almost as if there was more to this oak then met the eye. Anja gently rested his hand against the bark of the trunk, and felt something old thrumming through his finger tips. The distant song of the dead, long forgotten in this place of happiness and life, hummed a dirge in the palm of Anja's hand.

Anja sighed softly and turned towards his companion. A spidery young man, lean, thin, and with veins popping through his pale, clammy skin twitched nervously in the shadow of a great tree. Bren, his name was. He reminded Anja of a skinny, anxious mouse.

“How did he die?” Anja asked. Anja could feel a dozen spirits calling out to him through the bark of the tree, begging to sing their story to him. But Anja was here for one soul in particular, and he needed more information.

“Ah, um well, y'see…” Bren mumbled nervously and glanced around him. “It was uh...sort of this thing…”

Anja waited patiently. A lower ranking member of the Sun's Berth, he had been called on to inform Anja of his latest job. The Eiyon was growing suspicious that he was not the slightest bit happy to be here.

“The ghost ah...he um, was an enemy to us so um...we had him taken care of, y'know?”

“So the Sun's Berth murdered him then?” Anja enquired patiently.

“No! Twasn't murder! Nothing like that!” The skinny man raised his hands up anxious, and glanced around frantically as if those words would bring baying hounds falling down on their heads. “He just fought back and we killed him! That was all!”

At Anja's shoulder, Maisa snorted skeptically. Anja signed an agreement at her before turning back to the man.

“He was hung from the tree, yes?”

A beat of silence met Anja's words. Following that beat, a single crow cawed above them, echoed by another until the air was filled with their mournful cries. Anja glanced upwards into the tree's depths. On one of the lower branches, an undersized, perhaps young, crow peered at him. The top of the creature's head was covered in pale white; a small bird skull covered it's features so that Anja could only make out its clever yellow eyes hiding behind it's mask. The beak of the crow parted, and it's voice joined into the cacophony of cries. After several chimes had passed, the birds fell silent. But the young crow's eyes remained on Anja.

Beside him, Bren shivered. “Godsdamned skull crows,” the berther muttered.

“What are they?” Anja asked.

“They're omens of death, that's what they are!” Anja's guide spat on the ground and growled. “You see them around you know someone is gonna die! Listen up, I can't stay here. This whole place is cursed so long as that ghost is here. Just get rid of it! We need this tree. The Sun's Berth will pay you well!” With that the man turned and vanished outside of the park, leaving Anja and Maisa in the quiet.

Anja glanced up at the tree once Bren had vanished into the light of the setting sun. The young crow was still peering at him. “Well then,” Anja said. “Would anyone here like to tell me how the ghost died? I think Dira would thank you.” Unthinking, Anja extended his hand towards the tree. To his shock, the small crow fluttered down and landed in the palm of his hand. Then everything went dark and Anja was elsewhere.

(Words 828, Total 828)
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Anja Nightwatcher
Ghost Hunter
 
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A Murder at the Hanging Oak (Job)

Postby Anja Nightwatcher on February 14th, 2019, 9:58 pm

Image
The sound of crows echoed through the square. It was dark, well past midnight, and the shouts and cries of a mob echoed through the Execution Square. Torches tore holes through the darkness and the mob's voices raised in pitch as a figure, beaten and bloody, was dragged across the ground and towards the great tree. At one time he had some vigor still in him, but that fight had been beaten and dragged out of him. What was left was a shadow of a man. Still, as he neared the tree, his bloody face gazed upwards and he renewed his struggles. A solid kick to the back of his neck ended his struggles.

“Hang the mage!” the mob screamed.

The proffered mage was flung at the foot of the tree and collided painfully against the roots. Beside him, a single heavily man raised an object high above his head. In the glow of torchlight, a bird skull adorned with strange blue symbols shone brightly in the man's hand.

“The mage was found with this!” Screams of rage echoed his proclamation. “There is only one use for mages in Sunberth!” More roars followed and the skull was flung overhead to be smashed on the ground below. The mob surged forward, pulling rope from pockets and bags and flinging it around the mage's neck. Cries of deniel flew from his lips, but the crowd paid him no mind. A rope was tied around the man's neck and he was yanked up into the tree, struggling and screaming all the while.

It took Anja a moment to realize he had been viewing the scene not from the ground, but from within the tree. As the body was hauled into the branches, dozens of curious yellow eyes watched the process. And the last thing the mage saw as he the life was choked from him was dozens of yellow eyes staring at him from behind white skulls.

“I'm not a mage, you know.”

Anja snapped back into his body. When his eyes cleared, the man found himself staring at a ghost. He sat at the bottom branches of the tree, feet dangling in midair and arms twined between the hanging wood. He looked almost human, aside from an ethereal air and a red mark shining dark against his neck. Anja felt something shudder against his neck, and turned his head to see the small crow huddled in the crook of his neck.

“Just merchant of some renown. Came from Zeltiva you know. These Berthers...they think anyone from not around here is a threat. That skull? They planted it. I haven't the faintest idea where it came from. Those Sun's Birth thought I was a threat, you see… Asked too many questions. Now they want me gone.” The ghost's amiable ramble didn't match the cruel smile lingering on his face. Every so often he would reach up and touch the red scar on his neck, and the smile never faded.

“I'm sorry this happened to you,” Anja said. Why was the little crow continuing to tremble against Anja's neck? And why had all the rest of the crows fled to the highest branches of the trees? An uneasy feeling was stirring in Anja's gut.

“Oh don't be sorry,” the ghost said in an almost sing-song voice. “Why, this situation is an opportunity! Imagine, being able to wreck all the havok you want and not have to worry about dying! It's glorious!”

Anja resisted the temptation to reach for his vials of soulmist. But Maisa was already stiffening, ready to charge to action at a moment's notice. The white mare was entirely tense and her dark eyes serious.

“And you mister...um…”

“It's Anja,” Anja told the ghost.

“Anja. You were hired by the Sun's Birth?”

“I suppose,” Anja said. “But I don't work for them. I work for the city.”

“To rid it of ghosts?”

“To end ghost's torment,” said Anja firmly.

“I'm not in torment though! I'm so happy for the opportunity!” The ghost certainly seemed jubilant. But underneath that cheeriness a nastiness lingered, like a lingering poison.

“If you don't want to pass on, then I must ask that you come with me to the Dust Bed,” Anja said.

“Oh Anja,” the ghost said sadly. “I don't suppose we can be friends then, can we?” All around them the air was growing chilly. “Too bad,” said the ghost, and suddenly a rock was flying towards Anja's face.

(Words 746, Total 1527)
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Anja Nightwatcher
Ghost Hunter
 
Posts: 199
Words: 228571
Joined roleplay: February 15th, 2018, 3:26 pm
Race: Human, Drykas
Character sheet
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Medals: 1
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A Murder at the Hanging Oak (Job)

Postby Anja Nightwatcher on April 6th, 2019, 8:43 pm

Image
Maisa whinnied a warning, but Anja was already in motion. The rock whizzed over the man's shoulder and struck the ground some distance away with a resounding crack. All around them the crows were crying, creating a cacophony of caws that textured the air and drowned out the sound. As one, the crows rose from the tree, painting the red evening sky in a cloud of black dots. Anja felt the small crow on his shoulder extend its wings in preparation to ascend with his brothers, but before he could take flight another rock came sailing up from the ground and straight towards them both. The rock collided with the little crow, and Anja heard a resounding crack.

Anja heard a brief squawk of dismay, and for a moment he was positive that was it for the little one. But then he felt the creature shudder and shake itself, and Anja watched as the pieces of the little one's white skull mask fall away, revealing a bare black face. The crow stumbled and fluttered its wings, and Anja knew in an instant it couldn't fly. “Sorry,” Anja whispered, and stuffed the small creature in his pocket. To his surprise and dismay, the bird made no argument and was still.

Anja whirled on his heels so that his back was to Maisa. His white companion, ever vigilant, blew breath that swirled mist in the freezing air. Anja yanked his sword from his sash, holding it defensively in front of him. A hateful battle song shuddered the air around them, and the Drykas slowly turned his head, trying to triangulate the location. Anja heard Maisa whinny a warning. He brought his blade forward, ready to defend, but the rock moved far too fast for his eye and sword to coordinate. It struck Anja's chest, hard, and the man gasped, reaching out his free hand to clutch the spot. The blow had hurt, but a quick touch confirmed that it hadn't broken the skin. With a soft growl, Anja reached into his sash and yanked out a vial of soulmist and uncorked it with his teeth. The offwhite substance coated his blade, then vanished.

Anja swirled his sword twice in the air, and took a step forward. “You know you don't have to do this right?” Anja said. “We can still be friends.”

There. Anja heard the song snarl, and the cool air converged and thickened as the ghost gathered power. To the naked eye, the ghost was invisible. However, Anja was guided by the Goddess of Death, and the song echoed clear and true from beneath the tree. Before the ghost could strike once more Anja surged forward, blade in hand a tongue against his teeth. He lunged forward, his sword cutting a clean arc through the shivering air. A garbled, shocked cry filled the air and in an instant the cold in the air vanished.

Anja straightened and spun, searching for any inconsistencies in the air. “It doesn't have to be this way!” Anja called out. “Just come with me to the Dust Bed. You can be happy there!”

A scream of rage echoed from above Anja.

“NEVER! SUNBERTH WILL SUFFER!”

The sound of the scream was echoed by the cries of crows.

“I HATE THESE PETCHING BIRDS!” the ghost screamed again, and the hanging tree began to shudder, and Anja heard a loud snap. His eyes rose towards the sky and the shadow of a large branch fell straight towards him.

(Words 582, Total 2109)
User avatar
Anja Nightwatcher
Ghost Hunter
 
Posts: 199
Words: 228571
Joined roleplay: February 15th, 2018, 3:26 pm
Race: Human, Drykas
Character sheet
Storyteller secrets
Plotnotes
Medals: 1
Mizahar Grader (1)


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