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.

    "Fortunately for us, this is a permanently open portal. If it was not, we might have difficulty... I'm fairly certain neither of us knows how to create such things." Lord Taco and Vendetta stepped through together. The trip appeared hazy, a violet-washed blur... Just as they adjusted, their vision cleared; a rather pleasant room greeted them. Polished wood shone bright against various torches and candles set about for light. In the center of the room, a round table with three seats awaited. Each chair had a place set out- and a wide array of food decorated the middle. Clearly, they had been expected.


    "It appears as if we were expected by this Lady. I wonder where she is..." 


    "I'm afraid I know not more than you, Lady Vendetta."


    "All we can do is keep to ourselves, until they arrive."


    "Very fortunate for you, you need not wait too long." A new voice filtered into the room, causing 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. Once everyone was seated, food was given out.


    "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."


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


    "...Vendetta." Her voice barely could be heard. She was eyeing the woman, as if the two had met sometime before...


    "As you already know, I am Lady Selina Silversorrow. This gentleman here is Zakir, my butler. Please forgive him- he is a man laconic... and of short temper." Lady Selina smiled in amusement as Zakir exhaled sharply. It seemed easy to needle him- though Vendetta felt doing such would be unwise. All three dined, two 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 trio 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.


    "You're trying to reign in the chaos, so to speak, I presume?"


    "Something to that effect, yes."


    Both of them took that in. 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 end the Deathless watch. And all who side with them."


    Lady Selina looked over, in amusement and surprise. Flickering darkness told Vendetta she was right on the mark. Taking her opportunity, she pressed her advantage.


    "Asking us to both be a force of light and shadow is a lot, my Lady." Here, she addressed the other. "The best tactic- divide and conquer. My Lord, you can spread your message of civilization, peace and community. Lady Selina and I will destroy the Deathless."


    "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 the way you embrace. Honorable, to be sure. Not all in these worlds are honorable, however; the Deathless Watch most certainly is not. They deceit, cheat, steal, cause great suffering and more. 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 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 do what is right for the people. I believe she- with our help- can redeem the Shadowfell. And I'll stand by her until my death."


    By the end, all eyes were on her. Shock registered upon every single face in that room; it seemed the ice-cold, sullen woman he'd traveled with had quite a bit of fire buried deep within. Intense her stare was, 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... 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 honor."


    All eyes shifted to Lady Selina. Vendetta was the one who broke the next silence. "How shall we go about doing all that needs to be done?"     "We will travel into the Temple District, Drowned Quarter, Shattered Isles, and the lands beyond. Much needs to be done- supplies are being brought in from the Inky Seas, and from my own lands. We shall rebuild the worst parts. Guide those lost in faith once more- though I'm sure embracing the ways of the Raven may be difficult. 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, but if it is needed... the Raven Queen will make her will known. We will also require intel. Who's the true leader of the Deathless Watch? What happened to the Prince, so that he lay near death? Feria- her role in everything is as yet unknown. Once we know what we're up against, and their end game... Vendetta knows."


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


    "The will of the Midnight Citadel be done." Lady Selina looked to them. "I suppose we should touch upon what you two seek out of this."


    "I will admit, it took a lot for us to get here. I've no idea how long we'll remain... Moreover, I'm unfamiliar with the Fell- but of what little I know? Shadow Sickness will drive me insane before long. To say nothing of the suspicion, and distrust..." 


    "I can help with that. Zakir, if you please." Zakir had slipped out at her words. "As to everything else... These letters will allow 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 you find is yours to keep. Is this fair?"


    In silence, the pair 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- two clusters of glowing crystals, on silver-and-black leather cords. 


    May I ask what those are? They look beautiful... but strange..."

    "Fell Crystals, my Lord. They drive away Shadow Sickness in your case, by absorbing the energies of the plane. In my case, they will store energy, for when I am away from these lands. Either way, they are incredibly useful."

    "If you wish, both of you may reside here. Elsewise, rooms at the Sapphire Moonlight Inn will be there. I do prefer company, however. You'll have plenty of allies- simply seek those wearing similar-colored cords. If further verification is required, simply say 'Valar dohaeris.' If they do not answer in kind, or with 'Valar morghulis,' you will know them false." 


    "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, both 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. Everyone settled in, grateful for the chance to settle down. The morrow saw 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

    That morning brought heavy rain, thunder and lightning- 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.

    On their second 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."

    "You've spent two days in that?! Come in, come in- 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?"

    "I have two available, though you should only need- oh! I see her now. Very quiet, isn't she? Right- you'll want both. 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?"

    Two keys were slid over. Both of them took one- muttering thanks, they went off. Salvation was definitely at hand here. Vendetta ended up in the room on the right; Lord Taco 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 innkeeper. Many stories shared, much joy to be had- even Vendetta's icy temperament warmed some that night. As the night settled, Lord Taco pulled Vendetta aside- just before they bade one another good night.

    "Vendetta, I... 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 more of the matter, my Lord. I'm not surprised, and as I had said- you are remarkably kind to me."

    "... I'm afraid I cannot. If you'll allow me..." It was here he dropped to a knee before her, bowing his head. She gasped softly, in shock. "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. For me, at least. 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 with ease." 

    "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."

    "My Lord, I- I appreciate this, truly... It leaves the initial issue between us, however..."

    "Indeed not, Lady Vendetta. In truth, it disturbs me that you think yourself submissive to me. 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 withouit proper consent, at least." She smiled, amused at the confusion on his face. "In the Fell, we have a great many lifestyles. I have explained this before."

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

    "The term 'delightfully wicked' applies. Try not to denigrate it before experiencing it for yourself."
    "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. The innkeeper- silently spectating- 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 innkeeper surprised the pair with fresh rations- more than enough to make it to their destination. Both 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 pair 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. From the Shadowfell."

    "Right, that's what I meant! A Shadar-Kai. Deadly, and incredibly beautiful, too. Look exactly like my wife did, if she had purple hair." He and Lord Taco 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 pair waved, and they set off. Today the skies were streaked with clouds- pleasant temperature. Everything was still damp, but easy to travel on. Both were sad to leave this little place behind. But they had a mission to undertake. They managed to make good time- evidently they were only a day away. As the ruins came into view late that afternoon, they were 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 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?"


    "...We both know what this 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 appropriate, given the circumstances..."


    "Appropriate. In what context?"


    "...It befits one who is owned by another. I make no illusions to this situation. I was given to you, like anyone gives a thing to another. If I'm not yours... then what am I?" 


    Lord Taco released the ring, turning away from her. "We had best get going." Vendetta, caught off guard, dropped to her hands and knees. He strode off, to begin take-down of their camp. She regarded him, stiff in anger. What was the problem? She spoke the truth... and it wasn't anything unusual to her. Yet, the fact he seemed so angry and upset... it left an emotional impression. 



~

    Sunshine in the three days following this did little to dispel the dark moods. Lord Taco led the way. Vendetta stuck far behind- and to the 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. As per their new usual, they ate in silence. Vendetta went to her chosen vantage point, to begin her watch. Tonight really bothered him- not only did the collar persist, it seemed... tighter. Cutting into skin. And he could smell blood on her- despite the fact they'd encountered nothing at all.


    Lord Taco's voice held venom, as he strode over to her. "Vendetta. You're going to cause yourself harm if you keep that up."


    "...Then I am doing what I intended."  

    "And what would compel you to do such a thing?"

    "...I have displeased you, through my choices." Here, her head tipped downward. She was wounded, inside and out. "I had to come up with a punishment. However, I could not think of one appropriate, so I decided..."

    "To displease me further." She looked up, in horror at his venomous words. 

    Tears welled up in her eyes. "I never intended- forgive me, I don't know what would be suitable..." Here she looked away, shrinking back. "I just want to be good, tell me how... I'll do whatever you want, I don't know how to please you..."

     Her soft tone, and the sudden sadness/fear... it caught him off guard. He never expected her to admit it. Nor for this to run that deep. Softening, Lord Taco crouched down to where she knelt before him. "Vendetta, please... try to hear this. Slavery is something we stride to exterminate in my Order. I would never own another; such a concept is revolting. All people should be free to make their own choices. That said, I... have acted out of line."

    "You are free to act in whatever manner you see fit, my Lord. I'm the one who needs to behave, and follow orders. Besides... You are the kindest person I've ever met." 


    For the second time in as many minutes, Vendetta said something that threw Lord Taco off guard. "Tell me. What have your... Masters... done to you, when you... displeased them?"

    "...I've been whipped fairly often. Forcibly stripped down, and... taken against my will. Cut open, bound and left to the elements. Poisoned more times than I can count... Once I was thrown onto a bed of hot coals, though I recall not why. I could go on... But I really, really don't want to remember these horrors anymore..." 

    "Vendetta, I..." He took her hands in his. And felt her trembling, forcing herself to hold still. To endure his touch. Her eyes were closed, but he could see tears sliding down her face. She really believed that he would... No words could be said, that would make this right. Or even better. It would take time, and considerable effort. He hated them, for reducing her to this. And one day, he would bring them all to justice.

    His hands moved to the collar around her neck. She tensed, but kept mostly still. He undid it... then re-fastened it, so it was as loose as it could be. Then his hand slid down her arms; she winced again when he touched her wrists. Drawing the sleeves, the red rivulets of recently-dried blood... deep cuts and scars... Immediately he healed her wounds, his heart broken. He wanted to make this right...

    Rising, he sighed. All he could do was leave her alone now. They were near their destination anyways. Turning away was the hardest thing he ever did.

    Vendetta watched him walk away, and the tears slid down her face. I don't know what all that was... what am I thinking, letting myself be so vulnerable? I can't. That will get me hurt again... Or worse. She got up, drying her tears. And resolved to keep her real self locked up as best she could. Their moods were as stormy as the skies above...

Destiny and Desire: Anecdotes Of Adventure IV

    Upon her return,  Lord Taco was just finishing dinner, and she sat down. He handed her some; she nodded a silent thanks.

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


    "A nearly divine rabbit stew. As I like to say, food is the foundation of civilization. You'd be surprised at how a good meal settles a lot of things. And gets people talking." Settling in, his glance fell onto her- and focused on the sadness in her eyes. 


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


    "What led you here- recent, or otherwise? I'd like to hear your stories." 


    Vendetta looked at the fire, pensive. 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... He was fucking butchered. Just for being Drow. I was arrested; the trail swift, without mercy or relent. Death by hanging, for all to see... My time there was short, but filled with suffering. I had the rope around my neck, and everything. You know what happened after."


    "What of your life before this?" Lord Taco seemed to be fascinated, listening to every word intently.


    Vendetta knew there was no way she could tell the truth... So she told only half. "I lived in the Fell, for a long time. I was as I am- a trap-smith. But I drew the eyes of certain people... Ended up in a stint of slavery for a time. Once I got away, I escaped to the Sword Coast. Sometimes I defended people, sometimes I just worked on traps... But none of that matters. How long are we to be together?"


    "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."


    "It's full of malevolence, yet extremely rare and beautiful. You'll see."


    "Before that happens, we should set watches. Which one would you prefer?"


    "If you mind not, I'd like first watch. Nightfall is my friend."


    "I'd prefer greeting the brilliance of morning. This works perfectly"


    Vendetta merely nodded, then banked the fire. She nodded good night to Lord Taco, as he went to get some much-needed sleep.



~

    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. The pair switched when the moon was two-thirds high in the sky, but lowering. Vendetta melted into the darkness- Lord Taco could barely make out her crawling off to sleep. Silence met him, save for the chirp of crickets. He didn't know what to say to her; she seemed intent on keeping him away. Can't say I blame her... Were it me in her position, I'd have no idea how to react. Wonder how I can help- or even if I can...  

    It kept him thinking until the morning. when he awoke her, there was breakfast- but she refused. He insisted- strange, the wordless interactions one could have. Still, as they sat down, he had much on his mind. "Those people, in the market. Was that... normal?"

    "Yes. Shadar-Kai, Vryloka, Drow, Revenants, Shades... We're all feared and reviled. We represent a side of life many deny. We embrace that which is feared- death, decay, darkness. And the gods saw us fit to be damned."

    "I'd never seen such things-"

    "Then you know nothing. We of sunless skies are daring. Harder in temperament. Rigid, yet flexible. We embrace alternatives many would never consider. Independence and resilience are what matter above all else. Endurance is a necessity. You thrive, or die. And they will not take kindly to you. It's the only reason I'm here. It's why my death is delayed."

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

    "The Raven Queen will take us all. Even gods fall to her eventually."

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

    "I do, my La- Vendetta."

    "Why do you insist upon that? I'm not a Lady." 

    "It is simply good manners. I've never met one 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?"

    "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. And before you ask, no I'm not a real Lord. "

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

    "What else was on your mind earlier?"

    "Just what happens when we return. Will I be free to go my own way? Or can I consider my servitude permanent?"

    "That I do not know, Vendetta. Though I call it not servitude. 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 for once upon something, Jayce." 

    "Was there anything else?"

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

    "The truth."

    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 am... surprised by parts of recent events."

    "And what parts surprised you?"

    "..How could you trust I'd remain? What do you see that others don't?"  
    "I saw someone who had been hurt by this world 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 wish to study that which is new to you. The... exotic, shall we say."

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

    "...Very well." Lord Taco got up, gently stretching the stiffness away. He walked over to where she stood beside a tree. She'd moved there after breakfast, while they spoke. Dagger in one hand, crossbow in the other. Shadows cast deep by her hooded cowl. Looking down, he realized their height difference was small- he only had two, maybe three inches on her at best. Winds and rustling leaves 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, it looked soft as her pale skin... contrasted by its strange, ashen-yet-rosy tones. She looked up at him, eyes glittering in the sunshine. A pair of amethysts stared 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 sunlight, but nowhere near as much as those gold-flecked eyes. They radiated a light of their own, for the natural world 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.