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.