The world slowly spins into darkness. The pain of your back paralyzes you on the floor as the Rogue walks on with your crew. The dark cloak you wear hides the growing sea of blood. You struggle to maintain thought, to try to rise again or make a sound.
"Woops!" A deep voice says behind you. You are hoisted to your feet, an arm around each of yours. You force your eyes open to see two knights in shining silver armor from a village not far from your own! "You could use some armor if you're going to be falling flat on your face." One says with a smile. The other quickly removes his petite chest plate and offers it to you. "Stop the bleeding, there are more important things to do" you think as they help you into the tight metal. Your smithy looks back and blinks in surprise, running back to your side.
"What happened?" She asks the knights, able to see you are in no position to explain.
"Just took a fall I guess. We saw 'em on the ground as we came around the side." The smaller one says, gesturing to the bend they had come around. You look at the smithy with a weak, intentional gaze, hoping she will understand. In the distance, far to the west the sun begins to sink into the earth and so too does your pain into her mind. She quickly puts an arm around to help you up.
"Well thank you very much!" She says quickly, hastening back towards the group. Before she can get far, the knights hoist you up and carry you to a flat are of the mountain where many of your fellow adventurers had struck camp. They escort you to the tent you scholar has established. The Rouge is nowhere to be seen. After the knights leave, the smithy quickly removes the armor, now glued to your side. You make weak attempts to sound your pain to her, but nothing is of use--the world is cold.
The sun finally shines again. The smithy stands in the corner, cooking a glorious smelling meal that fills the camp with a sweet scent. The scholar is hunched over your bag of broken potions, carefully recreating what she can. You make a pathetic attempt to make your consciousness known. The scholar whirls around and smiles, stands, and goes to report to the smithy. Quickly, meal and drink is brought to your bedside and given to you. The refreshing water brings a life back to your damaged body and the sweet foods awakens your sleeping senses. With time, you finally find yourself able to sit up again, your lower abdomen bound by strips of cloth. Slowly your smithy explains the Rouge has already traveled far ahead to "prepare" for her challenge.
"You should stay and rest. The mage has the final challenge all prepared. We should have no trouble here! However....we did...discover a catch. The...device...the rules were all skewed....I...don't think we'll be at the top," your scholar informs you, her heart sinking before your eyes. "Anyway..." she stammers, trying to shake the sadness away, "what happened?! The knights said you fell." What had happened? Your mind is blank, the story of before shrouded in uncertainty. What had you seen? The mage...surely she had not done this! She had been a companion for many years, a loyal one...although.... Memories flood your mind of times when the mage showed her true, dark colors hidden behind her silent demeanor--times a piercing glare shattered your helm, times when you messed up a spell or potion only to be apprehended with such venom you wouldn't expect of a viper.
You slowly spin a tale of the treachery you faced what seemed like moments before, but had truthfully been hours ago. The faces of your comrades grim and turn sickly pale. They try to assure you you saw wrong, that perhaps it was an illusion, but you know what you saw was true.
"Wait...but if she attacked you...why would she go forward with the competition?" The smithy says, meekly. You share a worried glance and quickly try to rise to your feet. A scream of agony escapes your lips and the scholar is to her feet. She brings a potion for the pain and you slowly rise and look at them. The two stare at you with little to say. You dress in a simple shirt and a fresh cloak and walk out, using the nearest stick for support. "Wait!! Where are you going!?" The smithy shouts, following at your heels.
"To do what I must." You answer, resolutely. She stares then grabs your arm.
"Not alone you aren't!" The two of you stride forth to the final challenge. You look around the field and it's evident the Rouge is nowhere in sight. You share a glance. Quickly, you forge a plan and enter the field. Alongside your smithy, you show a great feet of knowledge and skill, even damaged. You finish your demonstration and slowly go to relax. Now, you wait....
♦♦♦"There's no way" You finally decide. Your companions have counted the numbers a thousand times, you have asked the rules, you have begged the questions. Every calculation shows the inevitable end of your quest. You gather your things and hold your wounded side. Suddenly, the village leader comes over with a bright smile. She had provided you your way here and other groups as well in a sort of brotherhood, all oblivious of the treachery in your fellowship.
"Good news!" You stare, hopeful of something to lighten the dark mood. "We found your mage! She says she's horribly sorry she's late." The Rouge, shrouded behind a dark cloak steps out from behind her and smiles sweetly. The very air slumps as a choice must be made--do you report the treachery or ignore it--all is lost either way. She rejoins your ranks, staying closest to the scholar, her "friend." You watch with suspicion and eagle like eyes. No more blatant shows of deceit seem evident so you decide to play along, acting as if nothing has happened. In the downtime before the results, you discover a sweet creature just up the mountain--an arctic wolf by the name of Flurry with a valiant handler! Further you meet a messenger of news with her beloved owl on her arm. What's more, you meet a slithering serpent who happily slithers upon your hands and even tries to slip into your cloak (much kinder than the serpent in your company). You finally return the fork-tongued friend to his handler with a sweet pet to his smooth head and trek to the final ceremony just below the top of The Messa. The Rouge has been silent and slacking behind your trio, however with an eye on her at all times. Finally, you sit alongside your brethren, your fellow scholars who have traveled up the mountain beside you.
A chill runs through your spine. As the orator rattles off places and names, your sigh, defeated, knowing your place shall be at the base of the mountain far behind the other hundred fifty some-odd. Number by number, you find a small group of junior scholars from your village racking up the awards and cheer for the little adventurers who may one day be in your +5 strength +7 speed +2 magic resistance boots. As the final countdown of the top 10 groups begins, you hear the calling of a group from your village and cheer a loud hurrah. However, it's then you know it is all over. And so...
W-what's this? What's this!? Your...your name? In the 4th slot?! You rush to the peak of the mountain, standing just a few notches below the highest peak. A large prize awaits your crew. You have reached higher than ever before and named a noble of The Messa. It is no crown, but you know many more crowns and riches await you in the future, so nobility is no small feat and nothing to be scoffed at. You emanate with uncontrollable excitement, the fire of victory kindled inside you--you are unable to remember the pure hatred that sparks at the thought that the Rogue is crowned a noble as well. You feel a soreness in your back, a scar obviously forming, one that will not be healed but you allow the paintings to be done, commemorating the victory.
Once the excitement has tamed you suddenly feel a flood filling your soul and turn to the Rouge once all eyes are turned away. A wave of anger and disappointment flows from your eloquent lips like the sweet honey spoken by the players on a stage that engulfs the Rogue in her own web of lies and sins. All emotion is switched to pure logic and reason, explaining in careful and precise cutting words, the frustration and pain caused by the Rouge. Just as you expect a simple "I am sorry," she is gone. Nothing. No remorse in her face and none in her words. Each stab into your back, deliberate and meant to wound you. She leaves nothing behind, no gold for your trouble or your healing, no words for your crushed heart, and nothing but a blank and careless stare.
Now, each time you hear another or the very Rogue herself explaining "her" victory to others you feel your wound begin to burn with a fire unparalleled by that of hell. Your heart feels a scar over it as well. What is the moral? What do you learn? You can't just not trust anyone, because your smithy and scholar were by your side through thick and thin, but perhaps it is...to endure whatever pain to achieve a goal. 4th out of over 150 or perhaps even 160 groups is no small victory and only through work and effort, you achieved where others failed.