Episode 1.

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A lone chest visible by a single campfire awaits a raid, as five – The Sanguine – engage in terrorizing its current residents. Secluded, in a wooded glade miles from any town or village, flawless and lawless, the Outlier gang are a fright to watch, intent on leaving no coin unturned. Issané tunes in to the sounds of the fight; steel on steel, and thrum of bowstring, a shot hitting its mark, and bodies that flew through the air while temperature rose and fell with magic. Hidden inside the timber confines, mud, blood, and mulch became a gradual strangle. Long, shallow, breath. She calms, although every guttural grunt, whine and plead for mercy carried with it the merest inkling of guilt.

Despite the fray and committed to putting her plan into action, she braced herself. Certain they will at least rough her up in the coming hours, she is ready for them. Clear as a bell, it'd been politely requested that the camping bandits re-sheathe their blades, and true to form, the force about to eat their dinner had declined, and were now meeting their sticky, scorched, and rather blood-spattered ends. Any pain dished out to her would remain short lived. A mere scuffle she'd overcome easy enough, her assurance bolsters her optimism – the boys would, at least, not kill her outright. Even though it sounds like a total massacre out there.

Stripped to the waist, viscera everywhere, one of The Sanguine overshadows the strong-box, dangerous, still in his element, his eyes and hands remained aglow. A Frenetic rage summoned during his camp-clearing, bandit-smushing spree – and not yet diminished – he knows something good is within. Grim at fiddling with the catch, he flips the heavy lid open, and it gives, revealing the girl inside.

Surveying her, his surprise is masked, well out of sight. Suspicious yet satisfied when she shrinks away, he will please the others with this discovery. Reaching in, teeth bared and eyes wide, he lifts her by force, yelling something unintelligible – an insistent call to look his way – and the others understand him, yet hardly bother to contemplate his instruction. Unbothered by their crimes, busy wolfing down the chickens still cooking instead, they guzzle at the cider left behind. A smirk from him at their indifference, he parades her around, ending his taunt by shoving her onto the growing cache at the cart.

The gang do mutter in an appreciative manner. However, their quarry now limp, bound or stunned, while they involve themselves in the distribution of weapons, armour, and supplies, they squabble over their plans to move out. Seeing the aftermath for herself, Issané half-wished she didn't deem it so bad they'd been drawn on. The camp that was here should have kept their mouths shut. They might have kept their shit after all. Disgruntled over disturbed by the scene, however, it is The Sanguine's ignorance which grated most. At an attempt to right herself – the unceremonious dumping onto the loot pile mildly irritating her – she rearranged her posture. Smoothing her clothes in their direction, she pointedly perches her arse on a barrel. A more dignified pose.

Silent, eyeing the shirtless guy while he makes his way to his share of the food and drink, she is cautious, admitting a deep twist of shock. Miscalculating him on the road while she'd seen him clothed or in his leathers, she kicked herself for it. She'd never seen him carrying any type of weapon, and she understands his reasoning with a cold certainty. Shit. she squirmed. He is the weapon. Pure vehemence within a human-ish skin, he is able, and indicated his willingness to, kill with bare hands. Hungry, shovelling down the meal awaiting him, he toasts those who left it in a grotesque display of faux gratitude, and her nerves flutter a beat. This one will have studied how to throw a punch. Or seven.

A shiver. Odd to see multiple summoners in one place together, another two Frenetics join him in swilling their spoils. Much bigger than the first, much more muscular, they showed they were well-used to fighting together – judging by the glittering frost in the trees and the smell of burning hair, they all were. These two, they might be brothers, though. Close to a pair. Long dark hair and darker expressions, one belted out a laugh which rang through the woods and threatened their position a hundred times, yet the others hardly gave the impression they cared at all. Supposing as she watches, if anyone came between them and their meal, these Sanguine boys would be more than safe from attack. She'd not even been checked for weapons, much less tied up while she waited. The other of the two, the one who never laughed – and it struck her that it might have been years since he last had – drew her attention. She wished she'd learned his name. You will, Issané. You will. Not long now. As good as there already.

A snort bubbles to her surface, and she stifles it. Continuing to assess her circumstances, inwardly totting up swords and arrows, her thoughts rest on the archer of the group. Not the ice mage among them, this one still chilled her whenever her mind settled on him to read, and the humour went out of her. Something about him rang an alarm bell. Uncomfortable, still not delving any deeper, she skips over him as she often did, and refocussed on what she'd managed to verify by eye instead. It wasn't his coldness alone she didn't like, and a deduction that she'd met him on the road but couldn't place when swept through her. Unable to recognise him – not reaching it in her mind – he came with a warning. It unnerved her.

Ignoring this new doubt creeping up her spine, determined to stay on track, she continued counting on. One of the five remained. Similar in build to the one who'd discovered her, yet more refined than the others by a marked amount, this was their leader. Lean rather than hench, and shirtless too, although nowhere near covered by the same amount of blood as the others, he praised his boys for finding such a good spot. Issané hides her scorn. She doubted they'd have any such luck finding their own arse in the bath. To prove her point, the petty bickering continued, not a one of them agreeing on the next direction to take. Waiting, patience wasting away, she alters her weight on the keg, and shifts her concentration to her boots, maintaining a steady swing of her toe, while their quarrel progressed into drunken gob-shite territory. Releasing her agitation, swinging harder, she screws up her face the rowdier they become. Under no illusion as to what is coming, one of them will have to mark her. As though I'm a claimed weapon, or a wheel of cheese.

She sighed, and blew an errant strand off her face, rubbing the back of her hand across her nose where it had itched her. She'd chosen the simplest way to catch their attention – yet she still held a strong sideways glance at the entire practice. Certain at least one of them would resolve to defend her, they'll need blood for her plan to work. In specific terms, a grimace, my blood. Fucking Magic rules... Annoyed, a sly smile still crossed her face at her predicament. They'd never pay her any attention otherwise, unless she were a jug of mead or a chicken leg, and it wasn't as though she could sing them a song, or paint a pretty picture instead. Dogs. The lot of them.

But her Plan A would cause sleepless nights. Imagining herself, she'd take their sweetest dreams and create a terribly twisted nightmare from them instead. She pictured their horror at her bona fide best gory thrall impression, claret everywhere, dragging them into her vision with not so much as a, 'Hello, my name is...' Better for them a Plan B existed to begin with. No. This will be the way. And what a damn shame it is that there's not any other... Verging on impatience now, all continue to ignore her. Save one. That one. Drawn deeper, an instinct she'd worked hard to lean on, she feels the pair of eyes pretending they weren't on her. Quelling another smile, she discerns to whom they belong. So, it'll be him to swear. He'll keep me guarded after all. Subtle as a brick. Correct all along, she'd determined his type well – and his thoughts plain in the insistence that she should, she reads him willing her to look back. Not yet my guy. You'll get your turn. She squinted. Oh yes you will.

Feeling him so plainly stare gave her hope. Since the mysterious inn explosion, and the Baron's Son's fight, and the mage she'd escaped from, her faith in humanity had become that teensy little bit more broken. It wasn't that she hated people – at least she didn't want to yet. It was just that they'd managed to disappoint her at every turn so far. Every effort on her part to repair that had tarnished it over and over. Albion camp followers and fans on the road had become too high in number for her liking in recent months, and those types never withdrew the claws they had out for her. Exhaustion was setting in. And while it was true she could have chosen to sing or draw for coin, it was better all around that she'd brought an Orc to a Paladin fight instead. She eyed the lawful good in all their glory now, and her guilt waned. One had regained wakefulness and was loudly protesting his capture.

“Away, Night Wolves and Vamps! You black souls will poison us all! We will never surrender our weapons in your presence, lest we fall, one by one, by your evil, degenerate hand!”

Wrong thing to say. An arrow parted his hair and wedged itself into the tree behind him, and he glared back in a truthful and forthright way. Issané thought it made him appear as though he wanted to cry. She understood how the bandits had used her own sympathy against her by their pitiful begging. They used guilt as a weapon too. But we don't get to cry, White Knight, do we? We are not to mourn your 'good deeds'. We cannot openly lift our voices in song. We are Outliers, after all. We're the rats, as you call us. The insects, the locusts destroying your crops.

Commonly referred to in plague terms, Outliers in general preceded every front of authoritarian dictatorship pushing it's boundary ever forwards. Hessonia had seen countless wars, and Outlier numbers grew across it's countries by the year. Every outside influence wanted to control or destroy them, and this new Albion Alliance were no different. All but a scattering of groups had lost their respective languages after the Alliance's Dictative Lingo Act. A cute name for the statute that allowed guards to rip out your tongue if they felt like it. An act which had forced them to stop communicating with each other, unless they'd first agreed to include everyone in the vicinity in their conversations as well. It was only 'fair' to everyone that way. Anyone who struggled to meet the standard Albion set was branded as unreliable and best avoided, and Outlier kids were routinely driven out of their homes and families early by those who chose to follow the Alliance instead. From babes in baskets to the bravest fighters, it was known throughout the land. It was their stories and songs that told of who and what an Outliers role in society was, and their children followed suit. Moons help you if you met a guard.

We were the ones who brought warning to the people before the true disease took hold. We had knowledge of the destruction to come. There was a time where we told you what was on the way, Paladin. You didn't want to hear. You silenced us. Hid the ugly truth from us, and hid from the evil truth yourselves. And see how we've met you again now.

Despite escaping their own internal conflicts and the ensuing wars between the rest who came after, the Outliers would never rest. If they did, they were crushed by whichever faction found them first, and untold numbers – across class, race, or alignment – had shown their willingness to adhere to the rhetoric to 'save themselves from the sin of rock bottom', to ally with tyranny these days. Saying yes to the total control by rule from the commanders above. To join and leave those below them behind. The more power the Alliances cozened, the more time passed between conflicts, rendering them as no more than 'history'. The more conflicts the Alliances engineered so they remained on top, the further the truth from the Outliers mouths had been driven away from their ears. Across Hessonia's land masses, it was the same fucking fight.

Same as it ever was. Fuck. This time would be different.

Rash, lost in her reflection, the pitch of the shirtless guy's voice interrupts her reverie, dragging her attention by force to him alone. Agitated by his leader's words, she'd missed them and their intent. The warning shot hadn't humoured or appeased him, or shut the Paladin up, who had taken up singing a desperate, threatening hymn depicting the removal of a harlot's head for his highest award in praise and glory. Shirtless wanted to know if a couple of snapped ribs would work for him instead, and set to kicking him to discover the answer.

A curse to her mind – it'd wandered off without her again. Done with his enquiry, there was no pretending to look shocked by his approach this time. In fact, all three Frenetics spark and glow from the camp's hijack, and flare at once in anticipation now. Fingers bit into her arm. Shoving her towards them, her knees want to weaken at the sight of The Sanguine so close. She will not allow it, and a wrist flicks instead, a reflex, as though testing the weight of a long knife, a short sword, or anything she could get to in a hurry. The idea, Maybe some light armour... began to make itself known for the first time that evening.

Yelling, grabbing, irate, he propels her towards the drunken men. Flinging her hard at them and stalking off into the shadows, he ignored all calls for his return. She'd stop them. They'd be curbed quick as that if she had to move fast enough. If the boys didn't take her for the Outlier that she was, she was still an innocent as far as they knew. And that meant they'd at least hesitate before removing anything too important from her body. Either way, their plan must go ahead and they must take her with them. Here we go. Hope you're ready, girl. A deep breath. Now, or never.

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