August 07, 2017

Destiny and Desire: Anecdotes Of Adventure VII

    Entering the ruin, it was evident that this building consisted of a single room- though the original function of this place long-forgotten, it didn't matter. They sought the doorway in the far side- shimmering with violet light, marked with crackles of blue lightning. Misty shadows rolled along the ground, lending itself to the eerie atmosphere within.

    "Oh good, this one's permanent. If it wasn't, we'd have difficulties... Pretty sure none of us know how to open portals." Jairus tripped on some rocks- and felt himself set upright by Shaiyla. 

    "That would be correct, Lord Jairus. I'm sure between the two of us, we could manage. However, this is much more convenient."

    Lord Taco, Jairus, Shaiyla, and Vendetta stepped through- one at a time. The trip appeared hazy, a violet-washed blur... Just as they adjusted, their vision cleared; a rather pleasant room greeted them now. Polished wood shone bright against various torches and candles set about for light. In the center of the room, a round table with five seats awaited. Each chair had a place set out- and a wide array of food decorated the middle. Clearly, they had been expected.

    "Seems we're expected. Wonder where our hostess is? And what we should do in the meantime?"

    "I'm afraid I know not, Lady Shaiyla. We'd have to consult the resident expert here."

    "Not much can be done until they arrive. Keep an eye out."

    "Fortunately, you need not wait long." A new voice filtered into the room, causing everyone's heads to turn. Standing in the doorway were two people, a man and a woman. The man was quite tall, wiry in body with extremely vivid red hair. He stood rigid, looking down at the group. Beside him, a woman a good half-foot shorter stood there. The man strode in, paying the newcomers little mind.

    Quietly she walked in, a picture of elegance and beauty. Crimson satin draped her body in the form of a long skirt and corset; black spiderweb silk lent accent, draped over the skirt and as a veil. Obsidian hair tumbled, wavy waterfalls framing her lovely face. Glittering sapphire eyes regarded everyone- and she gave off a soft smile. "Please, have a seat- help yourselves. I know travels can be long, and perilous." The man, still rigid and silent, drew a chair for her.

   Everyone took a seat, going from her left to right- Jairus, Shaiyla, Vendetta and Lord Taco. Once she began helping herself, everyone else followed suit. 

    "You are most kind to us, Lady Silversorrow. We appreciate the hospitality shown here."

    "Please, Lady Selina is sufficient." At his nod, she smiled a bit deeper. "I'm afraid I did not catch anyone's names."

    "Forgive my lack of manners, Lady Selina. My name is Jayce, though this group has taken to calling me Lord Taco. It's a story for another time."

   "Hello. They call me Jairus." Lady Selina shook her head gently, in amusement. She always held a secret affection for people who were blunt.

    "Evening, Lady Selina. I'm Shaiyla- hopefully the board isn't going to prove to be much of an issue..." It took her a minute to write; Lasy Selina looked gently perplexed.

    "She doesn't have a tongue. Kind of hard to talk without one, I find."

    "Very well... and what about yourself?"


    "...I am known as Vendetta." Her voice barely could be heard.

    "You already know me; I am Lady Selina Silversorrow. The gentleman here is Zakir, my Vrylokan butler. Please forgive him- he's a man laconic... and of short temperament." Lady Selina smiled in amusement as Zakir exhaled sharply. It seemed easy to needle him- though Vendetta and Shaiyla felt doing as such would be unwise. All five dined, four of them silently inquisitive of the Lady's motive. Conversation light in temperament dominated the dining table, mostly idle chit-chat. Servants came in and out, seeing to everyone's needs. After some time, table contents cleared, Zakir led the five to an adjoining room. 

    This room was much nicer- the polished wood aesthetic carried over, but velvet and spiderweb silk lent an elegant softness. Soft chaises and chairs decorated the room, alongside a fireplace dominating the far wall. A familiar-yet-strange floral scent wove its way through the air, mingling with a very familiar sweet scent. Blood-red wine, apple cider and a cold, watery-ink colored drink were offered. To compliment this, small tarts were set out on a table within reach. Lady Selina took very good care of her guests.

    "For those curious, it's blackberry juice." Nods all around, as people were satisfied with the explanation. Lady Selina sighed; business was never something she enjoyed discussing.

    "Right, to business. As it may be known, Prince Rolan and the Deathless Watch preside over the city. Greed and corruption plague their ranks... In truth, the'll be trouble for us- especially early on. Damnable Deathless, extracting bribes... Beating, and killing innocents. Running the Tempered District and Fettered Ward... even have control over the Shattered Isles." Here, Lady Selina relaxed herself once more, and re-gained composure.

    "So, you're what? Trying to restore some order to the chaos?"

    "Something to that effect, yes."


    Everyone took that in, with varying reactions. Jairus simply accepted it; Shaiyla wound up perplexed. Lord Taco wasn't sure to react- but visible discomfort could be seen on his face. Vendetta's expression turned ice-cold.

    Lady Selina took the chance to explain further. "The Shadowfell descends into chaos and anarchy. Crime runs overly rampant. People corrupted, devious, sadistic. Evil is taking over; hope, civility and good are dying fast. I reached out to many, seeking anyone who would help restore these things to a scattered people... 

    You are the ones who heeded my call. For this, I thank you- very few would traverse to such a place. What I ask is a great deal- spread a message of hope, civility and good in these lands. In this, we also..." Here she trailed off, and Vendetta spoke up.

    "Seek to overthrow the Deathless Watch And all who side with them."

    Lady Selina looked up, staring at her. The expression on her face, as the shadows dancing, told Vendetta all she needed to know. She pressed this advantage.

    "Asking us to both be a force of light and shadow is a lot, my Lady." Here, she addressed the other three. "The best tactic- divide and conquer. Lord Taco can spread his message of civilization, peace and community. Jairus and Shaiyla, you'd liaise as needed. Lady Selina and I will destroy the Deathless Watch."

    Jairus nodded. Healing and alchemy were talents always in demand; no matter who you were. No matter the side you were on. "Sounds good to me."

    Shaiyla scribbled furiously. "What talents do I have to help in all this? I'm not good with people, and only somewhat capable in combat."

    "Survival is always important- you can refine skills for living off the land. It'll take time to adjust to the Fell, but it can be done."

    Shaiyla nodded, though she reserved her doubts. But she was willing to try, at least until she gained better understanding of proceedings.

    "I see a concern, Lady Vendetta- and Lady Selina. This is not something I can condone. Many things I'm willing to see beyond- but murder, and high treason? These are things I cannot accept."

    "Is it truly murder, if their blood is shed in war- after being given a chance to join us in peace? Can it be called high treason, when their Prince wields no control? We of the Dust Quarter hold the real influence. Most all within feel it is time for a better way- and we're willing to do what it takes."

    "It's the deception and darkness that disturb me. That is no way to handle anything, and it never was! I cannot stand for this, and-"

    "Darkness IS our light; this is what we do." His eyes flicked to hers, as she cut him off. She got to her feet, staring with her intense amethyst gaze. "And yes, it seems wrong- it's equally wrong to let corruption reach a point where outside intervention is required. At this point, reason is gone; a few decent souls may remain, but the rest need to be destroyed- like burning a decayed forest, for new growth."

    "...I know not how to answer that, Lady Vendetta. I-"

    "-Have only been taught a certain way. Light is good, dark is evil. Straightforward conflict, this is your way. Honorable, sure. Not all are honorable; the Deathless Watch are definitely not. We fight darkness with darkness- the difference being, theirs is murky with malevolence. Ours is pure, full of fire and hope.

    If you still stand against us, after all this... make sure I'm in the Raven's embrace. Same with Lady Selina. This woman, of her own accord, reached out to us. When a people's rulers fail them, you get rulers who will do the best they can instead. I believe she- with our help- can redeem the Shadowfell. And I'll stand by her until my death."

    By the end of her words, all eyes were on her. Shock registered upon every single face in that room; it seemed the ice-cold, sullen woman they'd traveled with had quite a bit of fire buried deep within. Intense her stare was, flickering over every face in that room- especially locked onto Lord Taco's astonished glance. Nobody knew what to say; the silence stretched, eternities filling that void. All the while, the revelations laid out still resonated deep within. Eventually, with a soft voice, Lord Taco spoke once more.

    "...I'd never suspected that much fire laid deep within."

    "Don't think anyone ever did, really." Even in moments of high drama, Jairus had to interject.

    "Ladies, please- forgive me. I was... misguided in my earlier judgement. Lady Vendetta is rather accurate in her claims; my worldviews could be perceived as... limited. Justice, honor, clarity- these are carried in light. I have forgotten... one person's darkness is another's light. And not all deal in honour."

    All eyes shifted to Lady Selina. Shaiyla was the one who broke the next silence. "How do we go about doing these things?"

    "Phase One is easy. In groups, you will travel into Temple District, the Drowned Quarter, the Shattered Isles, and the lands beyond. We're looking for supplies. Rebuilding the worst parts. Guide those who lost in faith once more- though I'm sure embracing the ways of the Raven may be difficult for you three. If we are careful..."

    "The Raven Queen, Moradin and Pelor would coexist, Lady Selina."

    "Exactly. We could use some good influence here." Everyone began to relax once more. "As required, healing would be administered. Rare is the instance we revive the dead, however. Raven's influence is extremely strong.

    Phase Two... requires intel. Who's leading the Deathless Watch? Their true leader, not the one they say is in charge. What happened to the Prince? Feria- her role in all this is unknown. Then comes the... well, I'm sure Vendetta knows."


    Vendetta nodded, having calmed down. "The will of Lady Selina be done, then."

    "The will of the Midnight Council be done. That is who we are now." Lady Selina looked to them. "I suppose we should discuss what's in this for you."

    "That would be an idea; it took a lot for us to come. We're leaving a lot behind. There's no telling just what will happen- how long we'll be here... Not to mention, if we're here long enough- who knows what a place this bleak would do to the three of us not from here?"

    "I can help with that last one. Zakir, if you please." Zakir had slipped out at her words. "As to everything else... I've written letters, which allows you near everywhere within Gloomwrought, and everywhere in the Silversorrow lands. Keep them on you. In addition, you'll be given a fair amount weekly. And of course, anything taken from the enemies is yours to keep. Is this fair?"

    Everyone looked to one another, and nodded. Sounded good to them. Zakir slipped back in, and bowed gently to Lady Selina once more. One of his hands was clenched tightly shut, as he approached her once more. He gave her the items from his hand- four clusters of glowing crystals, on silver-and-black leather cords. 

    "What are those? They look strange. I wanna study it."

    "Fell Crystals- they drive back the Shadow Sickness, by absorbing the aethereal influence in the environment. In my case, they'll absorb some energy; delaying the Inverse Sickness, when I am away from my home."

    "I want to get one to take apart for study." Zakir procured a fourth- and Jairus' eyes lit up. "Sweet, thanks!"

    "You're welcome. Should you desire it, all of you may reside here. I always like company. If not, rooms will be arranged for you at the Sapphire Moonlight Inn. 


    Either way, you'll be able to find allies everywhere; look for the silver-and-black. Either as a necklace cord, or a bracelet. If further verification is required... simply say 'Valar dohaeris'. If they do not answer with 'Valar morghulis', or in kind- then you know them false."


    "The fuck do those mean?"

    "All men must serve, and..."

    "...All men must die." The two shared a glance- the phrases were Shadar-Kai in origin. How did he know what Valar dohaeris meant? 

    Moving to gather their things, everyone decided to remain in Lady Silversorrow's home. A great deal had been done this day- mental exhaustion took its toll. Zakir led the way, slowing them to rooms in the West wing- near Lady Selina's chambers. Lord Taco and Jairus had the rooms facing north. Vendetta and Shaiyla, facing south. Everyone settled in, grateful for the chance to settle down for a night. The morrow saw the first attempts at the real work.

On the Threshold Of Adventure- Chapter 4: Ruth Ann

    Morning came, clouds obscuring the sky. Sunlight peeked through, silvery streaks lighting the day. Everyone parted ways after a hot breakfast- provided by Illyana and Violet. It struck the others as odd- someone so cold, uncaring even... going out of her way to help make breakfast? Maybe it was a Hin thing. but nobody was complaining- it was quite good.

    Soon after, the six bade farewell to Illyana and her sons. The boys were blushing gently- Violet kissed their cheeks before leaving. Unspoken, the six decided to follow the beaten path they were already upon- and not double back to Albridge. After a couple of hours, pleasant grassy land turned into sparse trees, then a forest. Older growth dominated here- clearly, it was well cared for.

    Everyone stopped just inside its edge- there weren't any defined paths leading anywhere. As people moved to discuss plans, Sera began investigating the area. It took her some time, but she waved a hand for attention.

    "I managed to find some tracks. I'll lead us through."

    Everyone nodded, and off they went. Sera did lead, with Asriel and Violet right behind her. Behind them, Jordan- then Silver and Thorin. Travels inside were pleasant enough- there were spots where Sera had to stop, reexamine, then moved on again. As the trek inside continued, the growth deepened- briar and wildflowers mixed in, sounds of the forest dominating, sunlight weakened. 

    "This is really nice. Ethereal, almost... I wonder what the center looks like." Violet was lost in the beauty of the forest- as were most others. Thorin and Jordan, however, noticed something she didn't: the red-headed Hin silently walking beside her. They grinned at one another, in amusement.

    "You'll have to see it to find out." Violet's shriek made everyone laugh. They laughed harder when she flushed dark, glaring at them. 

    "Who in the Nine are you? And where did you come from?"

    "I am called Laurelai. Been with ye for a while- should pay more attention, you know." This got the others laughing again- Violet merely glared, and folded her arms over her chest. Laurelai smiled. "Come now, it's all in jest; besides, we've been watching since you arrived. Ruth Ann sent me to accompany you, though your friend there is doing good."

    "Sounds good. Anything we need to know going in?"

    "Yes, actually. Do not touch the boulder in the clearing. For any reason."

   "Alright, miss. We won't- that especially means you, little miss Ice Queen."

    "Why would you think I would do something like that?"

    "Penchant for mischief; all of you have an undeniable love of it, really."

    "Right, the other thing. Don't offend the Hin- we care for all our own. And when provoked, can be quite the force to be reckoned with." Thorin wisely shut up after that- he caught the warning, and the glint in Laurelai's eyes.

    "This place seems much more vibrant and lively- I want to say it connects to the Earth elemental plane."

    "I believe so; Ruth Ann will know more than I about such things."

    The rest of the trek went in silence. Along the way, the group spotted pixies, fey- perhaps a dryad's presence or two. Laurelai explained the God of nature found this place to be sacred- hence its name. Quite the fascinating lesson, actually. Just as Laurelai wrapped up her explanation, the clearing came into view. 

    Here, the biggest trees were hollowed out, for homes set within. Others lived in the tops- creating treehouse villages. In the very center stood a gigantic boulder, a pristine white not normally found in nature. Arcanic energy shimmered off of it- glittering white in the sun. Laurelai strode over to one of the houses- just as the door opened. 

    Out came an elderly woman, one who seemed to have lived a very long, yet happy life. Silver hair hung freely in gentle waves, all the way down to her knees. Despite the leathery and wrinkled skin hinting at her age, her emerald eyes glittered with a youthful attitude. Gathering her leather skirt in hand, the woman- with Laurelai's help- made her way down the stairs, and to where the six stood.

    "I was wondering if you would make it here, but it seems I had no reason to worry. You're quite the capable young woman, Sera."

    Sera blinked in confusion. "You know who I am?"

    "Of course. I know a great many things, dearie. 'Tis still a shame, what they've done to you. At least you have Jordan to keep you company. Speaking of... Come here, let me get a better look."

    Jordan did as he was asked, crouching down to her level; Ruth Ann took his face in her hands, studying it every which way. "Such a handsome young man you are! I'm sure you and Sera will have a long, happy relationship- or has that not been discussed yet?"

    "Sera and I are long-standing friends. Nothing more."

    "For now, at least." Ruth Ann smiled, with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. She turned from them, looking up at Asriel next. "You must be Asriel- word of your talents for telling tales has reached far and wide. I hope to hear some of them one day!"

    Asriel nodded, surprised she recognized him. "Of course... I'll have even more, when... I return." She patted one of his hands, and turned next to Silver.

    "It's been too long, Magnus. Really, you need to come this way more often."

    "Magnus?!" The entire group looked at him, perplexed. Silver looked a touch uncomfortable, shifting a bit on his feet.

    "...Yeah, it's the name I was initially given. I prefer Silver these days."

    "My apologies, dear. Had I known that was secret, I'd have kept my silence." Here she turned to Violet. "And of course, you're Laurelai's new friend. I trust they're all treating you well?"

    Violet merely nodded, not having any words. Ruth Ann smiled at her, then moved away. Her glance landed upon Thorin.

    "About time you got out of there, Thorin. Life in a tavern never did suit you." At his sheepish nod, she went on. 

    "I know why all of you came- sadly, I've not the help you seek. Head to Tor's Hold- they've been having trouble; help them, and they'll assist you. Two, perhaps three score of able-bodied fighters will be lent to our cause. You'll know where to go, yes?"

    "Aye, that I do. Meh parents wanted to settle here at one point. Didn't work out well for them, of course- ah well. What's a dwarf to do, eh?"

    "Indeed, young'un. We're going to be doing our part in this war- but your talents better serve elsewhere. Once you're done, speak to Dar. He'll be of more assistance to you than we."

    Thorin nodded, and the group began to move to leave. Ruth Ann gripped Violet's arm, causing her to look back in surprise.

    "You've not told them yet, child. Do you ever?"

    "I see not why I would, Ruth Ann. Secrets keep people safe; what they do not know will not get them even more hurt."

    "Sealing yourself off from those you entrust your life with is foolish, little one. They followed you all this way, purely on your word. A letter they haven't even seen. Even though you isolate yourself, they care enough to let you lead them into your personal Abyss, K'iaela."

    Violet's eyes went wide. She began to tremble, tears welling in her eyes. Ruth Ann drew her in closer. "None call you that anymore- not since the fateful day marked with a black stone. Even your family calls you 'Violet' now. Truly, I hope you find the strength to cast off the disguise, and embrace who you are."

    "...I was that girl once; but I'm Violet, now and forevermore. Yet, I..." She trailed off, Ruth Ann brushing a tear away. No words were spoken, but the sentiment was well-understood. Violet smiled weakly, and she turned, running to catch up to the others. As Laurelai led the group back out, Ruth Ann could only smile. There'd be hope for her yet- if she could only find the strength within to trust.

August 03, 2017

Destiny and Desire: Anecdotes Of Adventure VI

    Vendetta and Jairus' glances met- but he quickly began stoking the fire, tidying up; she scanned the darkness once more. All the normal wind-down duties. They passed in brief, enough for her to whisper to him.

    "Wait until I figure it out, then get Shaiyla first." Vendetta moved, not giving Jairus a chance to reply. To her, it made sense- all she had to do was draw attention for a minute or two. As Jairus moved away, Vendetta took a look- she couldn't actually see anything, but she heard rustling. Something was moving in the bushes. And it was close. Very close.

    She slowly crept forward, dagger in hand. Rustling became more pronounced... Vendetta moved the bushes away, prepared to strike...

    And all that greeted her was a family of red foxes. 

    Vendetta blinked, and the foxes skittered away into the night. She stepped back, and jumped- Jairus' hand was on her shoulder. "Nothing to worry about, then?"

    "No, just a family of red foxes. Come on, let's switch- I'll get Shaiyla." In silence, the pairs switched shifts- and as Vendetta settled into her bedroll, she still felt out of sorts. Something felt amiss- hopefully it was just the turning weather.

~

    Morning brought heavy rain- enough to make uncomfortable travel. They had a cold breakfast, as a fire couldn't be made. Travel was still decent, but made difficult by the reduction in visibility. Vendetta ended up leading; she had natural ability to see in low light. After a few days, tensions and tempers ran high. Everyone was snapping at one another, people were irritable, cold, constantly soaking wet. Supplies were starting to run low, mostly from water damage.

    On their sixth days' travel in this hellish rain, they happened upon a small tavern- and all of them tumbled into it. Inside was silent- though warm, dry and well-lit. Comfortable. An older man stood behind the bar, idly cleaning. When he looked up, surprise registered on his face. Then he broke into a smile.

    "I'm surprised anyone would be out in this! Terrible weather for travelling in."

    "We don't have a choice, friend. Heading northeast- have been since we left 
Daggerford three weeks previous."

    "You've spent the entire week in that?! Come in, come in- all of you should stay here until the rains pass. It could be a bit yet."

    "I'm good with this. Warmth, comfort, hot meals- what's not to like?"

    "Besides, we're all gonna kill each other if we keep traveling. This might be good for the spirit- as important as caring for the body."

    "My companions are right- how many rooms do you have?"

    "I have four available, though you should only need- oh! I see a fourth person with you. Very quiet, aren't they? Right- you'll want them all. We can settle payment when the rains pass. Dinner is about to be served, if you'd like something hot. I suspect you'll want to change first, yes?"

    Four keys were slid out, each numbered. All of them took one- and muttering thanks, they went off. Salvation was definitely at hand here. Vendetta and Shaiyla ended up in the rooms on the right; Lord Taco and Jairus on the left. Each of them changed into their driest attire, set their items out for drying, and came back.

    That night was the best they'd had in some time. Good food, spicy and sweet cider, a raging fire. Excellent company in the form of the innkeep. Many stories shared, much joy to be had- even Vendetta's icy temperament warmed some that night. As the group all broke off, Lord Taco pulled Vendetta aside.

    "Vendetta, I... know we shared a moment that- I did wrong by you. The way my anger got the better of me..." He looked to the fire, in appeal of sorts. "That's all I've been thinking about- I should never have acted that way."

    "Think nothing of it, my Lord. I stopped some days ago."

    "... You do understand I'm not actually a Lord, yes?"

    Vendetta looked quite shocked. "I- did not, actually. So why do-"

    "A title given in jest. It was some time ago, but I found I quite enjoyed it. Besides, manners go a long way in this day and age."

    "...I see. So, what is your real name?"

    "It's been a long time since anyone last used it, but I am known by the name of Jayce Stevin. I answer to Jayce, as I'm not fond of my full name."

    "With all due respect... I've been addressing you as a Lord this entire time. Maybe it's best I continue. Mayhap one day, we'll make it a real title for you."

    "It's an idea. That aside, the initial matter still requires addressing." It was here he  dropped to a knee before her, bowing his head. She had no idea how to take this. "Lady Vendetta, it has so transpired that I find myself overcome with deep shame, for my anger took control of my actions. I apologize for this, and swear to you it will not happen again. I pray you'll find it within yourself to forgive this humble supplicant, though I shall understand if you do not."

    "I... Kindness like this, is rather... unusual. At least, given to me; from me, is another matter entirely. That said..." Vendetta bit her lip, glancing down at him. She wouldn't admit it out loud, but a part of her was loving this. "Emotional wounds do not heal easily, but I forgave the transgression some time ago."

    "Thy will be done. I will remain at a distance, until such time as you are ready to let me close to you once more."

    "I appreciate that. Though it does not settle the true matter between us."

    "Indeed not, Lady Vendetta. In all truth, it disturbs me that you think so terribly of yourself. If I could, I would discover who poisoned your mind so, and bring them to justice. None should ever feel themselves belonging to another."

    "Not without proper consent, at least." She smiled, amused at the confusion on his face. "In the Fell, some beings live in collars, and... well, you'll see. We are open to all sorts of things. It is a strength, for we accept all with good intent. It's when people turn evil, or corrupt, that lines are drawn."

    "It sounds... unlike anything I've heard of."

    "We prefer 'delightfully wicked', my Lord. Don't denigrate it before you've experienced it."

    "Very well." Here he rose once more, and she watched him. The two glances collided- and to his confusion, she smiled. A soft, sweet smile. Immediately he decided he liked it verily, and wanted to see it more. Everyone spectating- Jairus, Shaiyla, and the innkeep- all retreated at this point. The lovers in bloom deserved a little privacy, at least.

~

    Four days passed before the rains stopped. Morning of the fifth day, the innkeep surprised the group with fresh rations- more than enough to make it to their destination. All of them were grateful. They went to make payment, but the man refused.

    "You know, in thirty years of running this place, I'd never seen a group more interesting. Or so full of potential. And I've never seen a... I'm sorry, what did you call yourself again, dear?"

    "A Shadar-Kai. I'm from the Shadowfell."

    "Right, that's what I meant! A Shadar-Kai. Beautiful, too. Look exactly like my wife if she had purple hair." Everyone laughed gently at her dark blush. Still, as the man watched them leave, he called out once more. "If you folks get time, come back and see me! I'll always have space for you here."

    The group waved, and they set off. Today the skies were streaked with clouds- pleasant temperature. Everything was still damp, but easy to travel on. All of them carried on, sad to leave this little place behind. But they had a mission to undertake. It was half an hour before Jairus spoke, curiosity getting the better of him.

    "I wonder where he got the spices for the cider. Also, did anyone get his name? Or the name of this place?"

    "Sadly, I did not. Lady Shaiyla? Lady Vendetta?"

    The girls shook their heads. And everyone burst into laughter- the best four days they'd had in a long time- and they didn't even know who to thank! One of those mysteries, they supposed. Like the mystery of why Shaiyla sometimes gave off a faint, spicy scent...

    Still, they managed to make good time- evidently they were only a day and a night away. Odd, everyone could have sworn they had a week yet... As the ruins came into the view one afternoon, everyone was relieved. Soon they'd be in the Shadowfell, and could finally meet Lady Silversorrow. Once and for all, they could see what was so important, that the fates pulled them together.

July 20, 2017

Destiny and Desire: Anecdotes Of Adventure V

    Lord Taco's gaze remained affixed to the accessory around her neck. Emotions swirled in his mind, a storm of chaos. Surprise that she owned one, let alone wore it. Confusion- did she think herself a slave? Or was it one of those alternative choices she'd spoken about? Sadness- was this why she kept her distance from him... Most surprisingly of all, a flare of anger- to realize her way of thinking, infuriated him. How could she- how could anyone- think so little of themselves to be reduced to this?

    In one moment, he went from his soft smile to a steely stare. Gripping the ring in his hand, he yanked her close. "What is this, Vendetta?" Where he once was warm and kind, now he spoke cold and bitter.

    Vendetta felt herself pulled to him by her throat, eyes widening in shock. She had to stand on tiptoe, to maintain her balance. Where did this come from? What was he thinking?.. She bit her tongue, keeping her silence.

    "I asked you a question, Vendetta- what is this?"

    "...I think we both know what it is. A point of contention."

    "Why are you wearing it?" 

    The sudden shift in demeanor disturbed her. She bit her lip, trying to compose herself. ...I should have known better. When she finally spoke, though she tried- her voice trembled, reflecting her anxiety. "I felt it... an appropriate symbol."

    "Appropriate. In what context?"

    "...At least until this is complete, you do own me. Why hold any illusions over what's going on here? I was turned over to you, a criminal set to death. If I'm not yours, what am I?"

    Lord Taco released the ring, turning away from her. Vendetta, caught off guard, dropped to her hands and knees. He sat back in his spot, surveying once more. She regarded him, stiff in anger. What was the problem? She spoke the truth... and she'd been owned before. It wasn't anything unusual to her. Yet, the fact he seemed so angry and upset... it left an emotional impression. 


~

    The remainder of their shift ended in apprehensive silence. Vendetta woke Shaiyla and Jairus shortly after sunrise, immediately going to disable her traps. Jairus decided to re-kindle the fire for breakfast, seemingly unaware of any tension. Strange, how much a water genasi liked being around fire... Lord Taco, grateful for the distraction, decided to help. Shaiyla noticed the strain- and decided to keep out of their affairs for now. Breakfast was quite hostile- unlike the animation of last night. 

   Sunshine in the seven days following this did little to dispel the dark moods. Lord Taco led the way. Jairus and Shaiyla walked side by side, while Vendetta stuck to the back- and shadows. Come sundown, she kept well away- busying herself with trap-setting, scouring for vantage points. Lord Taco was busy cooking, staring moodily into the fire. Jairus was busy gathering herbs in the sunset, so Shaiyla remained behind. She tapped his shoulder; when he looked up, he read her board.

    "What happened between you two?"

    "What do you mean, Lady Shaiyla?" Lord Taco looked up at her; he tried to remain stoic, but his eyes betrayed him.

    Erasing, and furious scribbling. "I'm not a Lady either; not the point. I know tension when I feel it, and it's thick. Look, I'm offering to help. Normally, I don't care, but-" A pause- she'd run out of space. "...for some reason, I can regard her as friend. And I can trust you. Talk to me. I'm the best listener you'll ever meet." Shaiyla's eyes glittered in the light. Seemed she had a sense of humor.

    Lord Taco merely sighed. "It seems Vendetta has taken a... rather disquieting stance." 

    Shaiyla merely moved her hand in a circular motion, indicating for him to go on. Then she sat down.

    "I asked to take a look at her, since- well, I've never seen a Shadar-Kai before. She consented, and I removed her hood. I got my answer; definitely dark and... exotic is not the word I want to use, but it's the best I can think of." She nodded, allowing him to continue. 

    "She was wearing a collar. I demanded to know what she meant by wearing it- and she told me." Here, Lord Taco's voice held venom. "She deemed it 'an appropriate symbol' and proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms I owned her."

    "...Well, don't you in a way? I'm afraid I don't understand the problem."

    "Slavery is something we stride to exterminate in my Order. I would never own another, for such a concept is revolting. All people should be free to make their own choices. I would call it a working relationship-  a test of rehabilitation, perhaps."

    "That makes sense. Vendetta is trusted to you, just until this is done. Because criminal stuff, got it. That doesn't explain why it's bothering you so much." Lord Taco went to protest, but Shaiyla held a hand for silence. "My guess is that you like her, and such a revolting concept hurt you."

    "You misread the situation, then, Lady Shaiyla. It's purely offensive because the concept is one none should ever entertain." His gaze was hard, as he looked over the silver-haired woman.

    She shrugged, and wrote once more. "There's more than meets the eye. Why would she think that an appropriate response? Unless she's been a slave before... do you know?"

    "I'm afraid I do not. I didn't ask, either."

    "How did she react?"

    "Vendetta? She- hmm. Let me think... anxious. Very off-balance. Wide-eyed, for sure. And..." Lord Taco sighed. "I scared her; no wonder she's avoiding us... " Another sigh at Shaiyla's nod, and pointed  glare. "I need to make this right. You have any ideas?"

    She blinked twice, in surprise. Damn, she had no idea she was that accurate... "A sincere apology is definitely in need; maybe do something nice for her- though I've no idea what. And no, I won't ask you for her."

    Lord Taco nodded. "I didn't expect you to. Thank you for your counsel, Lady Shaiyla."

    Shaiyla exhaled sharply through her nose. She wasn't going to waste time correcting him.


-

    Supper yet again was a strange affair, only three of them present. It had been the precedent for the last week. Vendetta declined to join, sitting in her vantage point- hiding in a tree ten feet up, surveying in silence. She'd been avoiding everyone; after the second day, everyone let her have the space she so clearly needed. Jairus cleaned up; Shaiyla and Lord Taco went to sleep. He poked Vendetta with his ten-foot pole. "Hey, I saved you some."

    "Not hungry, but thank you." Vendetta sounded tired, a good mask for sadness.

    "Last week was the last time I remember you eating anything. You look like you're a dead woman walking. If something happens, and you're out of commission... Eat. We need you to ensure we don't die."

    "I have eaten, just- not very much. Haven't had an appetite. Tact is not your strong suit, by the way." Acquiescing to his demand, Vendetta jumped down. "Time to start yet another boring shift, yeah?"

    "Yeah. So, what happened a week ago?"

    "Fucking hell... That obvious, huh?..."

    "Yep. Fill me in; I'll keep watch so you can actually eat something."

    Vendetta exhaled sharply. Sitting by the fire, a plate awaited her- venison, cut into steak and grilled. Fire-roasted vegetables, gathered earlier in the day, sat beside it. To round it out, soft buttered bread. Hesitant, she began eating- and was surprised. Rosemary, sage... what else was there? It tasted amazing, but confusing...

    "Sweet Marjoram. Adds a flavor element you won't find anywhere else." Jairus grinned, amused at her reaction. "What happened between you and Taco?"

    "...I did something he disapproved of."

    "What'd you do? Seems like you really fucked up."

    Vendetta sighed, lowering her hood. She pointed to the offending article- the leather collar sitting snug around her neck. "I'm wearing something I see as appropriate."

    "...Looks good on you. Really lends to that 'scary Shadar-Kai' vibe you got. What's the deal?"

    "It's a symbol of slavery, Jairus. I mean, in some Shadowfell circles, it holds... a different meaning. But he seemed to really hate it."

    "Have you ever been a slave before?" To his surprise, she nodded. "Really? What was that like?"

    "Kinda like being married. But I can't say 'no' ever- or I'd be punished. It sucked."

    "What kind of punishments we talking about?" Jairus completely missed the darkness swirling, and Vendetta's subtle trembling.

    "Frequently , I was whipped. Sometimes I was cut, burned with acid and fire, humiliated, left to the elements... My tattoos cover the marks well. My Master, he did these for fun. I also... well, he thought I was attractive, in an exotic way, so-"

    "Rape was common, huh?" She nodded again. "And you think that's what he'd do?"

    "No. Not all Owners... are cruel like mine was... But I hold no illusions about my status."

    A silence descended; only the fire's crackle could be heard. Jairus had some stuff to think about. Vendetta finally finished eating- she slowly nibbled as they talked. Her dishes were set aside, and the pair settled in. The moon shone down- but clouds rolled in. Rain was on the way, for sure. Hopefully it wouldn't be too severe. Vendetta was grateful Jairus finally made her eat something decent- the clarity alone made it worthwhile. 

    The rest of their watch passed in silence... Something was amiss. But neither of them could quite put their finger on it. Eventually, the two began to prepare the shift switch...

    And that's when the shadows moved, revealing they were not alone.

Destiny and Desire: Anecdotes Of Adventure IV

    The two made their way back, once more in relative silence. Vendetta took the time to tie her hair back again, and slipped a hooded cloak on. Her face was hidden, as she followed Shaiyla to the fire. Jairus and Lord Taco were just finishing dinner, and the ladies sat down. Jairus handed out dishes; they nodded thanks.

    "What'd you guys end up making? Smells damn good."

    "A nearly divine rabbit stew. Our new friend here's got quite the talent."

    "As I always like to say, food is the foundation of civilization. It's true- you'd be surprised at how a good meal settles a lot of things. And gets people talking." Settling in, his glance eyed the three around the fire- and focused on the one he couldn't see. 

    "I suppose the time has come for shadows to reveal secrets... What would you want to know of me?"

    "What led you to being here- recent, or otherwise? You've heard all of our stories. I'd like to hear yours. Like I mentioned earlier."

    Vendetta looked at the fire, though none could see it. Her voice was soft when she finally spoke, laced with emotion. "...I was tasked to recover some ancient artifacts. A friend of mine and I went. Damn near killed us a few times. Yet we completed our mission... Only to end up accosted by the guards at Daggerford. Turned out we'd stolen from the current Lord's ancestral home."

    "What happened to your friend?"

    "Ilasco... They were fucking butchered, simply for being a Drow. I was arrested; the trial swift, without relent. Death by hanging was my fate... My time in the jail was short, but full of suffering. I came very close; had the rope around my neck and everything. I was pardoned, somehow. And ended up... here."

    "What'd you do before this?" Jairus seemed to be fascinated, listening to every word intently. Shaiyla watched her. Lord Taco's expression was unreadable.

    "Lived in the Shadowfell and Sword Coast as a trapsmith. Decent enough pay. Sometimes I sold my skills to defend people. But that was then. This is now."

    "So, you were spared simply for being a Fell native?" Jairus looked perplexed. Tact really wasn't his strong suit.

    Vendetta merely nodded, grateful none of them could see the hurt on her face, nor the tears in her eyes. 

    "Is she being monitored by you? For how long?" Shaiyla showed her board to Lord Taco.

    He nodded gently. "Yes. The terms are not set in stone, but at the very least until we return from the Shadowfell. It's quite the place, from my research."

    "I heard the place is full of malevolence, yet extremely rare and beautiful plants and herbs grow there though- blooms of darkest colours, amazing poison and potion components. Any of it true?"

    Vendetta nodded again; Jairus grinned. "Excellent! I can't wait to get there!"

    "Before that happens, we should set watches. Jairus, Shaiyla- will you two take one together? Or shall the ladies share one, the gents the other?"

    "Jairus and I will be fine. Besides, one defensive, one offensive a shift makes much more sense. Do you want the night watch, or the morning one?"

    "I'd much prefer greeting the brilliance of morning. Will this work for you two?"

    "Works for me. Jairus? Vendetta?" Her board was swung side to side, so all could see its writing.

    "You know me, I don't care."

    Vendetta merely shrugged, then rose to sleep. She left her meal untouched. In seconds, she'd vanished into her tent. Shaiyla shook her head, and moved to begin surveying from a higher vantage point. Jairus did the same, leaving Lord Taco to bank the fire and get some sleep himself. 


~

    The first half of the watch went without event. Relatively easy- the first day or two would be, maybe the entire trip- if they were fortunate. Shaiyla woke up Vendetta, while Jairus saw to Lord Taco. The pairs switched when the moon was two-thirds high in the sky, but lowering. Vendetta made herself a spot in the shadows, while Lord Taco sat nearby.

    "...I'm sorry. I should have asked you if you were alright with this." Silence met his words, save for the chirp of crickets. He didn't know what to say to her, since she seemed so intent on keeping him away. The silence drug on, before she broke it.

    "...One becomes accustomed to things like this, my Lord."

    "Being forgotten about is not something you should ever have to become accustomed to."

    "Nor enduring cruelty for my ashen skin and exotic colours. But here I am."

    "Those people, back in the market. Was that... normal for you?"

    "Yes. Shadar-Kai, Vryloka, Revenant, Shade, Drow. We're all feared and reviled. We represent that which people try to deny. We embrace that which many fear: death, decay, darkness. And the gods saw us fit to be damned."

    "I'd never seen such things, since-"

    "You know nothing, then. We of the sunless skies are different. We're daring. Harder of temperament, rigid in our strength. My kind, and those we co-exist with, value independence. We embrace alternative lifestyles. The ability to endure is a necessity. And they will distrust all of you. It's why I'm here. It's why that man you were with saw fit to delay my demise."

   "...You think your death merely delayed?"

    "The Raven Queen will take us all- even the gods will fall to her, eventually. We've a saying in the Shadowfell- All men must die."

    A silence fell between them. Only the crackling of fire resonated, before at length Vendetta spoke once more. "You wished to know what I was thinking earlier, as amends for my... shall we say, fire-and-ice temperament. Do you still?"

    "I do, my La- Vendetta."

    "Why do you insist upon calling me that? I'm not a Lady; I've not noble blood."

    "It is simply good manners. I've rarely met a person who didn't appreciate it."

    Vendetta said nothing to this. Lord Taco smiled- he knew that she agreed with the sentiment, even if she refused to admit it out loud. Looking out once more, all was clear. His voice pierced the silence once more. "Is there anything you wish to ask of me?"

    "What's your real name? I've yet to hear it."

    "I am known by the name of Jayce. I just prefer my title."

    "...Where did it come from? Why such a strange title?"

    "I'd mentioned it earlier- one of the first, and most memorable, conflicts I was in had taken place in a market square. The details are lost to memory, but we were defending a small town. Most had gone for the weapons, the armory. I happened to be near this strange cart selling something I'd never seen before- tacos. They're quite the dish; one day I'll make them, for mere words are not sufficient. The title was given in jest, but I liked it- so kept it ever since."

    "I see... It's- rather unusual, but nowhere near the strangest thing I've ever heard."

    "What else was on your mind earlier?"

    "Part of it was answered- how long I'd be in your... servitude. What I don't know is what happens when I've completed escorting you there and back again. Will I be free to do as I desire? Or will obligations unseen keep us destined to be together?"

    "That I do not know, Vendetta. I'd like to think you would remain even after, but I do not think anything can hold you, save for yourself."

    "It appears we agree upon something for once, Jayce."

    "Was there anything else?"

    "No." Vendetta's answer came too fast; a deception, if he'd ever heard one.

    "The truth, if you please."

    Another long silence descended over the night. He took a chance to survey in detail- still nothing, just small animals moving along. Finally, he heard her sigh.

    "I will admit, I am... surprised by parts of the last day."

    "And what parts surprised you?"

    "...Why were you so kind to me? How could you trust I'd make the right choice? What are you seeing that others miss in me?"

    "I saw someone who had been hurt by this world a great many times, Vendetta. Someone who had not experienced kindness- a shame, really. I see a woman who I can trust, though I will admit, I'm not sure why. I also see someone very unlike any of her kind- strange, but I appreciate it nonetheless."

    Vendetta had no answer to that once more.

    "Vendetta?"

    "Yes, Jayce?"

    "I know you might find this strange, but... May I take a proper look at you?"

    "To what end?"

    "I want to see you, that's all."

    "You want to study that which you've never seen."

    "In part. I do really want to see you, though- I've not had the honour yet."

    "...Very well." Lord Taco got up, gently stretching the stiffness away. He walked over to where she stood beside a tree. Dagger in one hand, crossbow in the other. Shadows cast deep by her hooded cowl. Looking down, he realized their height difference was fairly small- he only had three, maybe four inches on her, at best. Flickering firelight made the shadows dance around them...

    Lord Taco seemed... hesitant, almost, to remove her hood. Would she really let him? Or could he expect a knife in the side? With her, it was difficult to say. Still, one hand gently reached out, feeling the thick yet soft fabric. Gently, still hesitant, he drew her hood back- letting the light wash over her. 

    Violet hair, once bound up tight, fell free over her shoulders. Shimmering in the light, it looked soft as her pale skin... contrasted by its strange, ashen tones. She looked up at him, eyes glittering in the firelight. They looked almost black, but hints of violet glinted- a pair of amethysts staring into his soul. To his surprise, her face was softly flushed.

    At the same time, Vendetta regarded him; surprised at her willingness to let him get so close... Raven hair gleamed in the firelight, but nowhere near as much as those gold-flecked eyes. They radiated a light of their own, for the fire illuminated them so. His smile was soft, gentle even... In his own way, he was perfection- his star-like shine to her shadow self. Vendetta felt her heart racing. How could he elicit such strange feelings? Especially ones so... intense? Not like he'd ever reciprocate them, of course...

    Lord Taco pulled his eyes away from hers, somehow. The sudden urge to wrap her in his arms, and make all her pain fade away, was getting way too strong. If he could, he would- he was a healer, after all. That did include wounded hearts. But she'd never let him get close to her- not like that. Vendetta had made it quite clear she wanted her space. Lord Taco went to step back, to break the tension...

    Until his gaze slid down, and landed upon the leather collar around her throat.