[*Note: This section was written by the writer who contributed these characters; thanks, Josh!]
It was a smoke-filled room, in a dusty tavern. Two cloaked figures sat hunched over their table, speaking not with words but with the motions of lips so the things of secret would not be heard.
"These balls... these wyrts. They exercise complete control once attached apparently," spoke the figure on the left. "They connect the populace entirely, the people become one body, one cause. Individuality is lost."
"Are you sure of this, brother?" queried the man opposite.
"Quite. Look at the people. They interact, they mingle, but they do not speak. They approach, and immediately two men know the deal they must strike. They walk down the roads of this land, pass a house, then suddenly stop to go back to it, and the door is opened at the exact time they reach the doorstep," pressed the man. "And their eyes. They have a glazed look over them, they are as dead men walking..."
"If this is true, then there must be a central system," mused the man on the right. The bartender walked over and handed each of them a mug, then held out his hand. Without saying a word, he began to look irritated. The figure on the right spoke:
"Speak man, what's the price?"
In a nasal, absent voice, the keeper replied, "I have told you five times at least by now, three marks apiece!"
The figure on the left handed him six marks, and the keeper stalked off.
"See? He expected us to be linked, that we would know the timing. They have all individuality wiped so this populace does their bidding like a clock runs its course."
The man to the right reclined. He took a sip from his mug, then paused. He set the mug down, waited a bit, then picked it back up only to secretly spit out what he had almost swallowed.
"Althraxine," he spoke, his eyes showing disgust.
"The neural sedative?"
"Yes. If what you say is true, they probably have the whole rations supply of this land spiked with it."
"Althraxine sedates by sending the neural networks into a temporary overload, correct?"
"The wyrts, they have not attached onto us. We thought it inconsequential, but perhaps they only attach when the neural activity of a victim reaches a certain point..."
"This is possible. Find a way to study these wyrts, run some tests. I shall deliver your findings to the Syndicate."
The two rose, and moved towards the door. As they did, the wyrts absent-mindedly scurried across the floor around them, attaching to the other occupants of the tavern. They reached the tavern door, exited, and then departed in opposite directions. Slowly, the cloaked men faded into the dusk...
Within the mansion of the late Sister Miligred, two female agents amused themselves in silence. One, a human girl in her mid-twenties with bright red hair and sparkling blue eyes, alternately rearranged the overstuffed, ornate furniture in the room, and performed target practice with her small throwing knives--using as her targets the unsettlingly pervasive furry wyrts.
The creatures didn't seem to notice them, but there had to be hundreds scattered throughout the house, which at first unnerved them both, but gradually, their presence (lessened by the target practice) digressed to mere annoyance than any sort of threat.
The redhead tossed a knife at a wyrt in the process of climbing the drapes. The wyrt's body exploded, leaving the pelt pinned to the wall by the knife blade, and staining a wide area of curtain with its blood. She poised to cast another knife at one scuttling across the floor--
"RENATA!" the Elf whipped around and snapped, a longer, sharper dagger than hers sliced through the air along with the voice and skewered the wyrt.
Renata stepped back, sheathing her knife and glancing at her friend.
"Laurel?" she questioned, "what's wrong?"
Laurel stood before the window, letting the cold artificial light of the lamppost outside spill over her fair skin. She wore a short-sleeved jerkin, revealing a rough, purple scar on her right arm, a souvenir from some past battle. She scowled, directing her anger at the wyrt traversing the windowsill next to her. Reflexively, she slipped another knife out of her belt and stabbed the creature without looking, not even caring that the blood flowed to the edge of the desk and dripped onto the carpet.
"I hate them," she seethed, "I hate them all."
Renata captured a wyrt and watched it wave its footpads as if trying to right itself. She enjoyed the feel of the soft fur on her hands. The wyrt ignored her, and most likely could not ascertain why it was not moving. "They're stupid, really," she tried to reassure her friend, "just little things that grow here."
"That everyone has for a pet, and wears like a fashion accessory?" Laurel snapped back. The presence of these creatures awakened bad memories, caused her to relive painful nightmares from her past. "Renata, I brought you here because I thought you were smarter than that. Did your father ever tell you--"
Renata looked up as Laurel's voice abruptly ceased. Her Elvish friend was staring intently out the window at something.
"What is it?" Renata asked.
Laurel stared out the window, her sharp eyes cutting through the thick smog, "Someone's coming," she noticed.
"Who?" Renata stood, fear gripping her for a moment, "Will they pass by, you think?"
Laurel watched the movements of the cloaked figure weaving between the milling bodies of townsfolk. His very deliberate actions would carry him right to the gate of the mansion. Why the flame was he coming here?
"Renata," Laurel turned to her friend, "When you went into town to get provisions, did anybody see you?"
Renata blinked, "You said the wyrts made it so that no one would remember us! You told me I didn't have to worry about that!" She planted her hands on her hips accusingly, just like her mother would.
Laurel shook her head, "There is someone who noticed you," she turned back to the window, "and now he's here."
Renata clapped her hands over her mouth, "What do we do?" she whispered.
"Go get my bow," Laurel instructed firmly.
Down on the street, the hooded man examined the air-locked, seamless door in front of him. Where had that little redheaded sylph gone? He had seen her in the marketplace—he would have dismissed her for another one of the townspeople in a dazed state if he had not realized that she bore no wyrt on her person! The vacant look in her eyes was just an act! Intrigued, he had followed her out of the square and had hid in the shadows as he watched her enter a grand building with a hover-carriage parked out front. He waited in the spot, watching the doorway for any sign of anyone else coming or going, but by sundown (or since it had been several decades since the sun could be visible from Eillumaeia, the time was known as “lights-up”, since the precision-timed electric lights still flickered on in the evening hours) there had been no other sign of life, not even a second sighting of the girl.
Crouching low, he snaked his way across the road. Once he was close enough to the gate, he found the door—but there was no apparent way inside! The man fished around for an alternate route.
The sound of a hydraulic piston! The man turned quickly back to the door. He could see a diminutive form and red curls protruding. He ran back to where the girl stood with the door open only a small crack.
“Who are you?” she asked quickly, quietly.
“One who knows your secret, maid,” he warned her.
The girl backed into the corridor sharply. “Go away!” she snapped.
“Not until you tell me what you know!”
“I don’t know anything! Go away!”
“You have found the secret of the wyrts, have you not?” the man pressed further, working his boot into the crack of the door and forcing it wider, “You know the mystery of these foul creat—“
“That will do, stranger,” a calm voice echoed from the back of the tunnel, where the man had by now worked his shoulder and almost his head through the door. The redhead backed against the wall of the tunnel.
The man did not move his body, only his eyes, to see the tip of an arrow pointed straight at him. Holding the arrow was a tall, lithe Elvish maid who had the hard light of a seasoned fighter in her eye. She held her position and continued grimly, “If you are an operative sent by the enemy agents enslaving these people I will kill you right now. If you are not, you have three seconds before—“
“I am not!” the man declared quickly, “and if indeed, as you infer, you too are against the Elitinati, you may count me as one of your allies!”
The Elf-maid lowered her bow. The grim hardness left her features and her mother-of-pearl eyes widened in fear as she whispered, “Who are the Elitinati?”
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