Chapter OneEdit

by Kennia

Kennia was very nervious. Not really scared well maybe so. Kennia did not want Kya hurt and here she was put out as bait. She hated the thought of her out there but Kennia was sure as hell goin got be there to protect her. The armor was already on its way but she just could not bring herself to hand over the swords for transport. SHe would wear the baldes with her. Kennia looked over at Tai and in his eyes there was worry but also deep down anger. He was pissed that this druid attacked us and hurt the family. Sitting next to Tai she puts her hands on his Knee, "This will end soon I swear it." She gives Tai one of her smiles and a wink.

Chapter TwoEdit

by Taijiang

Tai sat heavily on the side of the bed. The day had been another long, hard one. He was tired and his mind kept going back over the various conversations he’d had – the hunt for Nightshade, the job in Silvermoon, making sure that Lokin paid his monthly ‘protection’ money, Kennia headed out tomorrow to meet the caravan – and maybe Nightshade … Tai took off one boot and then the other, letting them fall to the floor, each with a thud.

Kennia, wrapped in her dark blue silk robe, came out of the kitchen, and handed Tai a hot mug of steaming tea. She leaned against the doorframe and frowned, before taking a sip of her own tea. Whether she believed it or not, she said confidently, “This will work Tai.” He looked up at her, and nodded slowly, “It has to, doesn’t it?”

He grimaced, muttering, “So far, I’ve let this woman pick us apart, one by one. Nerrok, Sunya, Talula …” Kennia padded across the room and sat on the edge of the bed, putting her mug down, and wrapping her arms around her husband trying to quiet him, “Tai, that’s not your fault …”

Tai snorted in disgust, shaking his head but not saying anything. Kennia just held him, knowing her words would be wasted. She’d let herself show her anger. Tai, on the other hand, and bottled it up. This whole thing with Nightshade had cost him dearly. She kissed him, taking his untouched tea from his hands.

Later that night, Kennia nestled against him, Tai dreamed he was fishing in the Loch, off that old pier he and Macc had spent more than one afternoon sharing each other’s company.

Chapter ThreeEdit

by Vonnacht

Von pushed the small rowboat into the water and slipped into the harbour. He glided along, past the island with its goblin statue, beyond the reach of the City's lights.

In this total darkness, a match flares as he lights a cigarette, dimly illuminating his lips. All is silent.

A few beats pass, and the cigarette disappears over the side, hissing as it hits the water and goes out, plunging the area into total darkness again.

As the darkness closes around Von, his eyes shut and he drifts into deep thought.

Memories come back to him. Victims plead to him, begging him for mercy. Tai lies before him, wounded on a dock.

He's in the jungle. Talula, Nerrok and Sunya's corpses are spread around him, their bodies torn, their blood mixing. From the treeline come a baby's crying. Von turns, watching as the young woman steps towards him, the child's wails becoming louder as she approaches.

Nightshade! Von reaches for his weapons, but they are not there. He tries to turn, but his legs won't move. She gets closer, the small child's cries becoming unbearable. The baby locks eyes with him and snarls. Nightshade begins to cackle as the child leaps out of her arms.

Midflight, the child shifts, becoming a panther, it approaches, claws out, teeth bared and...

Von snaps awake. He looks around him, shuddering.

A few moments pass, and another match is struck, and the boat slips back towards Booty Bay.

Chapter FourEdit

by Kyanali

Kya sat quietly at her small table staring out into the dull night. The sky was for once without sparkle, without moonlit iced clouds. There was a fine mist out, softening the blunt edges of objects with a milky wash. It felt oppressive, like the mist was sucking out all the good air, leaving manufactured city musk unfiltered in its place.

If Kya had been aware of her emotions, she would have admitted a longing for the fresh mountain air in Lakeshire. Instead, she sat with a collecting lump in her throat, trying hard to push away her thoughts. Of course, the harder she tried to push them away, the nearer they loomed, incredulously casting shadows in a night without light.

She could still conjure up the memory of her eager soul, years ago, after Momma had died. She had needed something to fill her, make her forget the absence left by her unexpected and unfair death. What her Sensei had helped her discover was something that had marked the beginning of her own identity. She had worked hard and trained and discovered skills and talents that came naturally to her. Somehow in the recovery of her lost self came the dawning of understanding that the more she looked outside herself, the better she understood what was deepest within.

Sitting deep inside herself now, she tried to summon hope for the way that lesson had once made her feel. She tried to take pride in what she had accomplished, how far she had evolved since then. But the city mist seeped into her nostrils, her lungs and finally her mind, causing a brain fog that shrouded her with anything but hope.

How she had forgotten her lessons was a mystery to her - she couldn’t remember. It reminded her of the head injury she’d suffered last year, taking months to fully become aware of who she was and what her life had meant. Yet this time, it was not a severe concussion that caused her disassociation from living life. It was heartache.

Courage was a dichotomy to Kya, having two faces: one the kind that work demanded, and the other, the kind her soul demanded. It took soulful courage to face the unbearable, and this was where Kya faltered. She could conduct any mission asked of her and ruthlessly carry out orders for the Tong. She could negotiate nearly any outcome with her honed persuasiveness.

Courage in her line of work was simple. You followed orders and did it to the best of your ability. Yet, facing her innermost fears… her personal ones? It simply wasn’t the same. She couldn’t think of it, of him. The ache in missing what they’d been was too harsh.

Kya’d been going about business as usual, though. And she did it with a forced smile, her covert skills coming in handy in a personal way for once. Someone had once told her if she let her mind lead, the rest would follow eventually. Well, she’d tried that, and it hadn’t helped prevent the distance from widening between what she most wanted and what really was. So she pulled inside herself and hid, like a coward. She was aware of that on some level, but to drag it out and look at it was too hard.

Von, too, had become entirely detached and suffering in his own misery in a place Kya could not reach him, so she’d had to set him free. His guilt over what was happening was too heavy a burden for him to bear with Kya so near, and so he’d cut her off, entirely, thinking he was sparing her.

Not only that, but he was far too stubborn to let her witness him suffer or see him as weak. She understood this all too well, but it did not make it any more bearable. She’d loved him, and so what could she do but let him go. It was the only thing she could do, because he needed her to. So she’d pushed him away, on purpose. And then she hid.

Hiding in her work was easy, especially lately. Chaos erupted around the disappearances of Nerrok, Sunya and Lu. While she deftly hid her emotions over that along with her personal ones, Kya was at least able to busy herself with tasks that kept her mind too occupied to look in the back shadows.

But now work itself was dictating that she shine the light inward, and Kya was stuck unable to refuse. Her pride demanded she do her job with courage, and suddenly she was having a hard time drudging it up. She’d thought she’d tracked Nightshade by sheer luck not long ago.

This rage at Von’s ex lover and how the entire situation had wrecked havoc so deeply in everyone she cared about had led Kya to act without a clear mind. Kya wasn’t used to being wrong, so when she’d tracked two innocent druids and nearly killed them both, she had to come back to the office.

She’d admitted it to Tai and the others upon her return, that she’d tracked the wrong druids. Doing so had given her confidence a huge blow. And she was ashamed, so ashamed she couldn't bear it, let alone share it. Thankfully everyone was in such chaos over the rest of Nightshade’s fallout that no one saw her inner turmoil over it. Further into herself she drew, letting the numbness overtake the pain. Denial over the shadows multiplied and Kya became more and more numb, ‘til she was right back where she promised herself she’d never return: the place where there was no pain and no self-awareness.

Now, Kya might have gone on this way indefinitely, without a soul being wiser. And then Ollie had tried to look inside her, and she’d pushed her away too. It had put a chink in her outermost layer, though, and something of Kya’s true essence began to leak out.

The latest office meeting had made that chink begin to crack. The shock of seeing Von saunter in alive should have been a relief, but it reminded her of the box lying dormant in the shadows. Kya was confused and knew she could not keep avoiding the terrors that Nightshade posed, but she was at a loss on how to find the courage to face it. She clenched her mind against the thoughts and tried not to let them out.

The Tiger’s voices swarmed around her like some circular arena above, while Kya sat in an isolation cell, trapped and alone. They threw ideas around and sought solutions and on the edge of Kya’s consciousness was the idea that she could hide and not be involved. Then Kya thought of her Sensei’s advice - that the quickest way around fear was to step right into the middle of it.

And suddenly she found herself saying softly in a rather dead and choked voice, “Honestly, I might be the best bait.” Once the words were out, horror gripped her. Had she really said that? The horror subsided when she felt the numbness seep around her again. Sure, why not put herself smack in the middle of it? Nothing could hurt her worse than she’d already been through.

Von looked at her just once, and only to ask in that achingly distant tone, “And you volunteered for this?” Kya could not meet his eyes without him seeing right through her. “Whatever it takes, Von. You know that,” she’d replied looking anywhere but at him.

So this was how emotional courage was found: one tiny step at a time.

How much safer could she get, after all, with the majority of her Tong family, all trained professionals, surrounding her? If Kya failed to face her own fears, the rest would pick up her slack. Kya was actually even warming up to the idea and believing she could face it when the worst blow of all was dealt. There’s nothing quite like the sensation of being kicked just when you were finding your way back onto wobbly legs. Who was the idiot who ever indicated that the powers that be will never give you more than you can take?

“Let the druid suspect Kya is pregnant!” Krelle believed she was brilliant. Truth be told, she actually was. It was a perfectly fine and wonderfully creative idea. As Kya sat there stunned that she might be asked to do this, she tried to backtrack, shaking her head as her insides seized up. She’d gone and volunteered and now she could not very well back out. Everyone agreed this was a fantastic development while Kya sat still, eyes huge with putting herself in this intolerable spot.

She could not bag out of this mission like she had on the last search. Tai was onto her. This was certainly not how Tong officers acted. Tai would fire her in a heartbeat and they’d all know she was a coward. There. The word was flashing like a neon sign in her mind, no longer avoidable. The word continued to flash all the way home, making sane thought impossible. Kya tried to run from it, but like her beloved moonlight, it followed her no matter where she ran.

It was there in her small apartment sitting at her dingy old table, retreating further and further away from whatever lay behind that dam of emotion, that a voice appeared over Kya’s shoulder.

That was the precise moment when Kya admitted to herself she’d gone over the edge of sanity, because it was her best friend - who was still missing - speaking to her.

“You’re no coward, Kya, and you know it.”

Oh Lu! But I am! It did no good to lie to Talula. She knew the acting required of Kya was far harder than anyone else would ever know.

“No, you can do this. You’re the best actress I know.”

His child, Lu!

“He’ll come to his senses when this craziness is over.”

NO Lu, he WON’T! You don’t know! I was the one who pushed him away!

“If he allowed that, he’s a fool.” Even Lu’s impeccable logic did little to ease Kya.

Kya swam in her sea of self-degradation until a thought occurred to her. Lu, you’re not dead.

“Of course I am, Kya. Three times over.”

No, you’re not, because you’re here talking to me.

“And you’re insane.”

Well yeah, that. But, Lu, my dead Momma watches over me, yet - she does not TALK to me sitting on my shoulder!

“Kya, you can and you will do this tomorrow. You need to. Whatever happens, you need to know you can land on your feet. If you avoid your fears, you never learn to be courageous. There’s no way past this but through it.”

I just, I can’t imagine it… life without him.

“Well, that’s half your problem right there. Where the mind goes, the rest will follow.”

Damnit, is my Sensei dead too!? You two in cohorts??! Kya clasped her hands into her hair and pulled fistfuls in angst. Her thoughts were far too insane to grasp; hair was much easier.

“I’d make you some tea if I were alive.”

Kya laughed then, a sobbing sound preceding the release. Will you be there tomorrow with me, Lu?

“Maybe not sitting on your shoulder but I’ll be there. You’ll survive.”

It’s not dying I am afraid of, it’s surviving. How insane is that?

“Very.” After a pause, Lu continued, “You’ll be fine once you stop avoiding the hard stuff. You have to really look at it and then make a plan. Do something, anything, to just keep going. Then one day becomes a week. Weeks become years and soon you’ll have other things to go insane over.”

Kya wiped her eyes, aware for the first time that her numbness had given way to tears. So it was possible to feel again even after your insides had died. She laughed and then snorted the infamous Nali snort. You and your plans, Lu.

“Don’t knock them, Kya. Plans get you somewhere other than stagnant.” Lu smiled as she mentally toyed with the words in a sing-song kind of way… stagnant… pregnant… stagnant…

Kya picked up Lu’s train of thought and part of her normally odd sense of humor bubbled out. Even the best laid plans and I ended up pregnant!

Lu smacked Kya on the back with much approval. “That’s the Kya I know! Go out there and be morning sick all over Tellas, the Pretty Boy. See if he can take it. A little test.”

Well, I do suffer from motion sickness on an empty tummy… Kya smiled and pouted at the same time, reluctant to move forward into proceeding with her eyes wide open again. Lack of denial meant feeling all the pain square on, but it also gave the chance to move past it. But Lu, uh, about Tellas. He’s not so pretty, really. I mean, what I mean is, he’s surprisingly thoughtful behind all that smooth blonde hair!

“Whatever you say, Kya. You’re the one who started us calling him that anyway.”

Kya nodded, vowing to help the poor guy overcome his chiseled appearance. Maybe she’d cut his glorious lockes off for him while he slept and make a wig for Litto to play dress up with.

Lu, when are you -

And as suddenly as she appeared, Lu was gone. After a while longer, Kya finally rose from the table and went through the motions to begin to prepare for bed. Kya did not quite feel prepared to face her lack of courage, particularly in light of the unknowns tomorrow.

What if Nightshade bit the bait? What if one of the other Tigers got hurt? What if Von couldn’t kill his old love? What if Kya truly let go of him, and survived?

And finally, would Kya crack beyond repair if she stared Nightshade in the face?

Chapter FiveEdit

by Phealea

Phealea sat alone in a dark corner of the Blue Recluse. Her drink sat before her, untouched, as she just stared at the flame that danced atop the candle on her table. Her thoughts of regret and failure haunted and consumed the girl. Her eyes drooped for a moment but she quickly bit her lip hard to fight back the dreary feeling. No rest for the wicked. She thought to be her own personal punishment.

"Damn it all into the Nether. The blasted druid slipped through my fingers and now..." She trailed off as she thought of the twisted druid.

Images of a suffering Talula played in her mind's own theater with that cackle of Nightshade providing the accompanying orchestra. Visions of the various ways Nightshade would use to torture Talula before she finished her. Visions of how she would have done it, which only made Phea ball her fist. A warm sensation of anger built quickly and swirled at the edge of Phealea's mind.

She was on the verge of losing everything and she had no one to blame but herself. Everything she did, she did with her own hand. It was not the broken laws that nipped at her conscious nor was it the lives she took merely for her own purposes. It was the fact she did the one thing she thought would be impossible, she raised a hand against some close to her. Talula was her friend and her roommate. She was someone who could Phea could joke with and someone she could speak to on a intellectual level. She was like the sister she had lost all those years ago.

"Phealea, you are a piece of work. Who next? Kya, another person who is like a sister to you? Maybe you will just freeze Tai into an enternal block of ice? Then work your way down the entire company? You are a monster and no one wants anything to do with you?" She muttered briefly to herself as she looked at her own hands.

In her own bid to become strong, she only weakened herself and everyone around her. She bit her lip again as she reminded herself of how much she really loathed herself.

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