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]

A Murder at the Hanging Oak (Job)

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

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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
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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
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A Murder at the Hanging Oak (Job)

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

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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)
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Anja Nightwatcher
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A Murder at the Hanging Oak (Job)

Postby Anja Nightwatcher on June 22nd, 2019, 10:00 pm

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Anja sprinted away from the tree as the branch came toppling towards him, shouting a warning to Maisa. The pale mare took off in a gallop, just narrowly clearing the danger, but the Spiritist was not quite so lucky. The branch struck Anja in the leg, and he slammed into the ground with a cry. The man rolled to his side just before hitting the ground so the small crow in his pocket wasn't crushed underneath him.

The Drykas rolled onto his back, hissing as the branch grinded against his leg. Above him the flock of crows swarmed black against the red of Syna's dying light. A song of mindless, incoherent rage swelled around him, the tree branches shook, and the ghost screamed. The focus was not on him, but Anja didn't have time to contemplate the meaning behind it. He sat up, grabbed his leg, and yanked it backwards. Despite a small amount for resistance the pull was sufficient and a moment later the Drykas had his leg back. He sprung to his feet and gritted his teeth against the pain, but there was no time to check the condition of his foot. A quick check of his pocket confirmed that the crow was still dazed, but uninjured and Anja allowed himself an upwards glance. The scream of crows and the rage of the ghost still echoed high above him. With a breath, Anja steadied his resolve. This had to end now.

The Eiyon bit his lip and gathered his thoughts. An idea came to him in a flash. It was dangerous, but if the ghost was as unstable as Anja thought it was, then his plan should work. If it didn't, well. He was running out of options. He could worry about failure if it became a problem.

Anja took several steps back from the tree and looked upwards. A sudden shock jolted through his system as several bloodied crows thudded against the ground beside him. Anja spun his sword so he held it upright and out, then he searched the trees above him. The war song thudded in his temples, and his eyes sought out the source.

"You sure do hate these little ones," Anja said. He felt the crow shudder in his pocket. "Do you somehow think they're responsible for what happened to you? They're just a force of nature. Like death itself. They can't help what they are." Anja could feel the raging typhoon above him shift, it's attention turning from the tree to the ground below. Anja kept talking, but as he did so he subtly shifted the tip of his sword, the blade tracking the ghost's movement in the trees. "It wasn't their fault you died. They're just animals."

Anja heard of scream of rage from above him. "YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING!" The ghost screamed. Anja felt the movement above him, as the ghost turned its full attention upon him. A burst of cold hit Anja as the temperature dropped and the ghost rushed him. Anja watched the ghost's lunge, and adjusted his blade. Just before the ghost collided, Anja extended the sword. He heard a howl of shock and pain. He gritted his teeth and thrust the weapon further and felt the resistance as sword split spectral flesh.

(Words 546, Total 2655)
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Anja Nightwatcher
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Posts: 264
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A Murder at the Hanging Oak (Job)

Postby Anja Nightwatcher on June 22nd, 2019, 10:01 pm

Image
Frost cold soulmist spilled from the ghost's wound and fell around the sword's blade and to the ground below. The battle song faded almost to a whisper in a flash of an instantly. Before the ghost could vanish completely Anja untwirled a string of ghostbeads from his waist and swirled it around the ghost, perfectly encircling it.

"W-what are you doing?" The ghost's voice was almost inaudible. Anja was surprised he could speak at all. "Trapping you here," Anja said. "More experienced ghost hunters than I can move ghosts from place to place. You'll stay here while I wait for a hunter to come and get you." Anja flicked the soulmist off his sword then carefully resheathed it into his sash and looked for Maisa. The mare was already on her way towards him, and the moment she reached him she thrust her head against his chest. Anja stroked her head gently as she breathed in his scent and the two reassured themselves that they were both okay.

After a moment of calm, Anja finally spoke. "Can you get Jeb?" he asked his Strider, his hand gesturing the necessity in Pavi. Maisa snorted and scraped her hooves, eyeing the nearly dissipated ghost warily and for a moment Anja thought she might refuse. Finally, the mare sighed and gently butted Anja's chest, then turned to trot off towards the dust bed.

"This isn't over," the ghost whispered, but there was a weariness in his voice that made it difficult for Anja to take him seriously. Instead, the Eiyon ignored the ghost and walked over towards the massive tree. It still swarmed with crows, all talking in coarse and loud caws but the franticness of their voices seemed to have eased. Anja wondered indly for a moment what they might be saying. Gently, the Drykas reached into his pocket and retrieved the tiny creature within and cupped it in his hand. It was so small it easily fit in just one hand.

"Are you feeling better?" Anja asked him. The crow tilted its head and blinked at him, yellow eyes bright and alert. Anja didn't know much about birds, but as far as he could tell it wasn't bleeding, nor were its eyes dilated. He guessed it hasn't been badly hurt, just stunned.

"Let's get you back to your friends," Anja said. He took another step towards the tree and nearly dropped the bird as he tripped over something on the ground.

"Easy, easy!" Anja told the small creature as it squawked and flapped its wings. Well, at least the bird was responding to things again. Anja delicately moved the crow to his shoulder and bent over to retrieve the object he had tripped over. He faltered for a moment, then slowly reached down and picked it up.

It was a bird skull, covered with runes. When Anja lifted it up, the symbols covering it shone a faint blue.They were strange symbols, completely unrecognizable to Anja. The Drykas had never seen the like. Were they magic? Anja glanced around nervously, but the only ones around were him, the ghost, and the crows.

"To murder over this," Anja said, turning the skull this way and that, catching the bone's shine in the dying light. He hadn't the faintest idea what the object was or what it did.

A small squawk came from Anja's shoulder. He turned his head to look at the crow, and saw it staring at the skull intently. "Do you like it?" Anja asked. He brought the skull closer to the bird. It's eyes dilated. Was it excitement? It certainly wasn't fear.

"Take it," Anja said, offering the object to the bird. "I have no use for it." He still felt bad the creature's old mask had shattered thanks to his own inadequacy. Perhaps this could make up for it. The bird moved forward, oddly hesitant. Encouragingly, Anja held the opening of the skull towards the bird. It suddenly thrust its neck forward, and gold eyes blinked at Anja from behind the bone mask.

"Very handsome," Anja told the crow. Was it his imagination, or did the symbols on the skull flicker? Was it some trick of the light? Anja wasn't sure.

Anja felt the weight on his shoulder suddenly lift into the air. Anja watched the bird, faint blue in the strange light, disappear into the swarm of black above. The caws rose to a pitch as the crows greeted their friend returning home. Anja watched the swarm for a long time, listening to the caws of happiness in the darkness. It was unusual for the man to feel content after a job. He enjoyed the lack of melancholy and quietly listened as sun faded and the birds cries echoed in the darkness.

(Words 795, Total 3450)
User avatar
Anja Nightwatcher
Ghost Hunter
 
Posts: 264
Words: 299406
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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