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Danger Lurks in the Shadow
"Always look over your shoulder, Mardonius. You've come into a dangerous place. Keep all that you know close, but safely distant.. Many are far too devoted to the Virtue of 'Power' and will grasp at any influence they can scrounge up. Danger always lurks in the Shadow."

The frail-looking Forsaken remembered these words as he sat at a desk, ghostlights focused on the parchment before him. A needless breath left him as he reread what the parchment said. When he first heard these words spoken to him, he thought little of them for he was too excited and eager to finally be able to serve the Cult on a 'real' level. To spread the word and educate and aid others of his kind on a 'higher' level. This feeling lasted a month or two.

The man who spoke these words was the one who approached Atius and invited him into the ranks of the Cult. Into the loose hierarchy of differing sects with varying beliefs and ideals. Dark-Father Hartfeld was his 'mentor' of sorts, introducing Atius to his duties as a representative of the Cult of the Forgotten Shadow. The man always seemed to be paranoid in one way or another; from watching those he didn't know closely to checking any and all doors when he entered his chambers. A closet? A cabinet? He checked everything.. Atius shrugged this off to eccentricity. But now, as he read over this parchment for the fourth time now, he questioned this 'eccentricity'. He had heard rumors and whispers from his colleagues, always something different. Atius was a man who preferred logic and evidence over rumors and assumptions.

"...Dark-Father Hartfeld's remains..."
"...Forgotten Shadow insignia..."
"...entire escort was massacred..."

The fifth time reading it now, Atius grew more uncomfortable every time he read this letter. He was beginning to understand the Dark-Father's paranoia. The priest had come to know the Dark-Father fairly well and knew his preferences in how he traveled.. He did not travel with escorts, nor did he wear any signs of his station on his person. He trusted very few with the how and where he traveled, only allowing others to know where he was going once he was there and safe.

Taking a deep, needless breath, Atius finally folded the parchment and pushed it aside. He was in no position of power.. but that didn't mean someone wouldn't want that position. And that night, when he resigned to lay down and let his mind rest.. he locked and bolted the door and windows.
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"The smiles are always false, Mardonius. The greetings, introductions, respect and status, the promise and premise. It is all false and lies. In the beginning? I think even the beginning was all lies. These 'men' and 'women', corpses like the rest of us, conjure up lies and deceit behind smiles. Remember.. A smile face-to-face is a dagger to your back."

The hobbling corpse made his way through the halls of his Sect's meeting labyrinth. Wearing a robe of black and purple with an intricate trim of gold that shimmered softly in the dull candlelight. Adjusting his glasses, he peered at the new faces that seemed to be filling the familiar maze of halls. Walking up to them, he bore a smile, bowing his head politely as he always did. Introducing himself, he inquired why there were so many outsiders and he learned that other Sects came to give their condolences for the loss. Words of comfort and reassurance, soft smiles and kind gestures.. All lies.

Atius' smile remained as he humored the guests, chatting of their differing ideals between Sects and memories of the past-Dark Father. The man's expression and tone was pleasant, even jovial as he entertained these newcomers, but his grip on his scythe was strong, tense. As if ready to strike at a moment's notice. In his mind, he felt soft pokings and proddings. Something trying to worm its way into his brain, like a parasite, and once he was able to put the focus in this feeling was quickly abolished. But it would be a long while before any of the strangers left, and his guard would not be let down again.

There was a small ceremony for the fallen Father, his successor sharing a few words in passing, as did the Heads and Envoys from other Sects. Atius spoke nothing during this ceremony, only bowing his head respectfully whenever someone spoke their piece. During the speeches, his dimly glowing eyes looked around, scanning the gathering. . . The smiles, frowns, bows of respect and pity. Who knew who was ready to plant a knife in his back or slit his throat? Who knew which faces were willing to draw-and-quarter every single one of his flock, bathe them in torturous Holy Flame and spit on their smoldering remains? He just kept silent. Silent and observant.

Once all was said and done, he paid his respects to the guests and visitors, to his own brothers and sisters, then went on his own. He was hesitant to even turn his back on them, feeling as if it left him open to attack and assault. As if it was showing weakness..

His eyes slowly opened, everything a daze, his memories scattered and incomplete. He was laying on his back in the middle of a wooded area, he knew not which. His robes were tattered and torn, glasses broken, and his body littered with wounds. . .Cuts and scrapes, nothing too serious, but also a strong pain coming from his chest. In the center of his torso a handmark was scorched into his rotted flesh. It burned and seethed still.

He heard the groan of someone nearby, then another.. He glanced about and managed to find his scythe.. and find it he did. Cracked in halves, the blade broken and coated with a dark ichor. He felt a deep sadness.. but pushed himself up and moved towards the other groans.. He would find several brothers and sisters of his Sect also beaten and branded in the same way he had been. A message had been left for them.. They were no longer as safe as they thought.

After everyone was tended to and all was finished, he returned to Brill, to a familiar room he had reserved for him and his love. Taking a deep, needless breath, he began to write.. Two letters would be sent.. one to his love, and the other to a trusted friend.. And that day, his door and the windows would be locked and barricaded.
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"Remember Cain, the enemies of the Kingdom lurk all around. They chip away at the base of power like termites in an Arathi summer. They lay like crocodiles on the lakebed, always ready to leap out and seize hold of any opportunity. We are the only shield against them....and we are without mercy."

Varius sat idly at his desk within the partially burnt house of a Gilnean farm and happened to find himself with a rare bit of free time. Those words played over and over in his head, thinking back to the last conversation he'd had with his former captain and the man who had inducted him into one of the many orders that now made up various inquisitorial groups. Lately he'd been starting to doubt if those words still held any meaning.

The days and nights in Gilneas had become so long since returning to the front. It wouldn't be proper to say that the Forsaken war machine had ground to a hault...simply that there was nothing really much left to do. All that remained in the once great kingdom (and to overlook the fact that it -was- great would be an astounding show of arrogance) were the partisans that had either stayed behind or later returned to fight against the occupying forces. Those long days had devolved into a cycle of ambushing rebels in the holes, beginning a long line of interrogation that usually led to yet another hole.

There is an old saying that a man is truly insane if he attempts a task twice in the same manner and expects a different result. It seemed to Varius that the occupation had become something like that so the Inquisitor could not have been more delighted when a personal missive arrived, even if it broke the monotony for but a few moments.

"Dear Inquisitor,
I must ask a favor of you..."

"One of these again. No doubt someone's uncle under investigation..."

"I am writing this with haste, I was attacked. I have sent for Lendri, but I wish to speak with you, as well."

"Well that escalated quickly."

With a clunky movement of gauntleted hands, Varius crumpled up the letter and tossed it into the dying fire before going about tidying up his desk. When he was satisfied that everything was in its place he opened the back door and called out to a fellow tending what remained of the stables. "Squire, fetch a coat and ready my steed. There is urgent business back home that requires my attention."

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"...even the most paranoid man must keep his records somewhere."

It had been quite some time since the attack. After a week of being shut-in, going through waves of intense paranoia and calm, almost obsessive thinking the frail corpse had finally regained control of himself and his emotions. First, he told his beloved and she refused to have her fiance be branded like cattle and so she used her power over Holy magic to scorch the already-burned flesh, 'wiping' away the hand print. And soon after, Atius met with Varius Cain, a trusted friend and Inquisitor and they discussed how to handle the situation.. both short-term and long-term.

The Inquisitor's words continued to ring out in Atius' mind.. There had to be something left behind by the deceased Dark Father. He had his goals in order now.. The first thing on the list was to find any records or details his friend had kept hidden. Surely they would have the answers he searched for. At least to give him a lead. But he could not trust his fellow Cultists, nor could he seek out the aid of strangers.. This was a delicate situation that required the utmost caution.

Taking a deep and needless breath, the robed Forsaken turned the door knob and left the safety of his room once again.. A determined smile curling on his broken lips.
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