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.

July 19, 2017

Destiny and Desire: Anecdotes Of Adventure III

    The four began their trek northeast, in strained silence. The day's temperament was pleasant, sunshine and a moderate breeze gracing their journey. Even more fortunate, the path there was well-worn the majority of the way. Lord Taco led the way; he was the only one who knew the group's destination. 

    "Where are we going? Why were we sent to join you? How long will the trip take? There's a lot of questions, and no answers. You're the leader, so you've got the answers- right?"

    "You sure ask a lot of questions, Jairus."

    "I want to know things. It's why I ask." He couldn't repress his grin. Lord Taco merely sighed, and looked him over.

    "We're being sent to the Shadowfell. Lady Selina Silversorrow has recruited my Order to assist in controlling the chaos of her lands. There's a portal near the city of Gloomwrought four to five days' travel in the northeast. It's easier with companions, as the Fell is quite dangerous."

    "You've never met us. How can we be trusted so easily?" Shaiyla had moved closer, and held up a chalkboard with what she wished to say upon it. 

    "Fair enough. Time will tell, then. For now, I see no reason not to trust either of you."


    "So is that why you're here? You're one of the Fell people, yeah?" Jairus' question was directed at Vendetta this time.

    "I am what they call Shadar-Kai, yes." A cool stare met his curious one.

    "Is it true, you don't feel much of anything? The darkness dances in your presence? Your ink and piercings mark every kill you've made? Do you kill weak children, and-"

    Shaiyla slapped him upside the head with her board, which made him shout in pain. She scribbled furiously after erasing, and showed it to him. "You're making her uncomfortable, knock it off."

    Vendetta wrapped her arms around herself, just under her chest. She pointedly looked to the southern skies. "We are dulled by sunless skies and time. Body modifications are a way of feeling, and marks of pride. Shadar-Kai don't kill weak children, just sickly ones. As to whether we make the darkness dance..." She trailed off, not wishing to answer.

    Jairus' grin deepened. "I'd love to study you some, and- ow! Gods damn it Shaiyla!" She'd smacked him, and pointed to her board again. "Damn, woman- good thing you're useful to me." If looks could kill, Jairus would be well past dead. He laughed- then recoiled, from the explosion of pain in his arm where Shaiyla punched him. Lord Taco stepped between them, ignoring her glare. He pulled the pair apart, sighing softly.

    Vendetta watched, sticking to the shadows- staying shortly behind. These two are gonna be interesting, if their immaturity doesn't drive me insane. The questions made a bit of distraction from her distress. She twirled a knife in her hand, in thought. What gods had seen her fit for this second chance? What were the expectations of her, to the man she was surrendered to? How long would this last- was it permanent, or merely until some sort of obligation had been completed?

    "What troubles you, Lady Vendetta?" Lord Taco had fallen behind, and now stood before her. In the sunlight, to her eyes, he stood a beacon of brilliance. 

    The Fell might prove a challenge for you... Or you might be a strange salvation yet. On the surface, she merely regarded him with her cool stare. "Merely lost in thought... my Lord."

     "And what do you think of that troubles you?"

     "I think of many things."

    "Would it be too much trouble to share with myself?"

     "I could, yet I'm going to hold my tongue. Lest I lose it as I've lost other things." She strode on, and he fell in time beside her.

    "So that's what this is about. Coping with the pain, hence why you're lashing out at me. If that's what you need to do, then I'll merely ask this: how can I help?"

    Vendetta stopped mid-stride, and looked at him. "Why would you care?"

    "I see a woman in need walking with me, and I would like to offer my assistance."

    "Vendetta merely sighed. "I owe you an apology, my Lord. I've been rather... abrasive this morning. There's much on my mind is all. It doesn't excuse my behavior, but I wish to make amends nonetheless."

    "If you wish to make amends, that's fine. Tell me what bothers you."


    "I will tonight, my Lord. Allow me some time to sort it out." At his nod, she let him walk on. I've no idea why you care about something- someone like me. If I'm not careful, I might begin to believe it's sincere.


~

    Evening had come late enough, as they settled in a small grove of trees, by a stream not far from the road at twilight. Daytime's travels had been pleasant- quiet, easy and rather animated. Jairus wove strange tales of laboratory incidents gone wrong. Shaiyla shared stories of her best hunts. Lord Taco weaved elaborate narratives of worlds he'd walked, sharing the messages of his god. Vendetta remained silent, the perfect listener for all three. 

    As Lord Taco began cooking [Shaiyla had gone hunting, as Jairus gathered plants], Vendetta set up traps, and then moved downstream. Stripping down, she laid in the still-warm stream, trying to relax. It was a ritual of hers, using the elements to center herself. Water washed away her pain, some of the sadness she carried. Vendetta closed her eyes, listening to the wind and water. It was relaxing, meditative even...

    Then she felt a tap on her shoulder.

    Opening her eyes, Shaiyla stood there, holding her board out. "Mind if I join you?"

    "No, go ahead." Shaiyla took little time to settle in. Surprisingly deep, the water rose to just below her shoulders. Vendetta watched her, and spoke after a pause. "If you don't mind my asking, Lady Shaiyla, what happened to you?"

    Shaiyla shot her a hard stare. Then she began scribbling. "I'm no more a Lady than you, Vendetta. And if you must know... I should be dead. Speaking out always was dangerous. My tongue was cut out. I was supposed to be a warning." A pause, so she could erase and write some more. "They wanted to desecrate me before death. Jairus saved me from that fate. Even healing has it's limits, however; I can't talk anymore. No real loss, it can be annoying to write though."

    "Fair enough. Maybe after this, we'll go seek out the curse-maker, if you like. Reverse that which has been inflicted. And the one who sent them to you."

    "Maybe... So, what's your story? Don't seem like the type to hang out with Lord Taco. By the way, is he serious about that?"

    "Evidently, yes. I've no idea what his real name is. It doesn't matter." Vendetta sighed gently, and sat up. Her long, soaking wet hair covered her body- floating on the water, swaying in the stream. She sighed gently. "I'll tell everyone what they want to know at dinner. Sound good?" At Shaiyla's nod, the two washed up in silence. Sand and soap scrubbed their skin; the sweet, warm stream rinsed them off. The girls dried off in the wind, and dressed once more. Soon enough, everyone would hopefully have some much-needed answers.

July 14, 2017

Destiny and Desire: Anecdotes Of Adventure II

    Morning's brilliant light shone into the Lord's room, as way of waking him up. Sitting up, the events that transpired mere hours previous had come back to his mind. A day could see very little, or quite a bit in its few short hours. This time yesterday, he'd been in recovery- thanks to the healers. Not long before that, he'd been out overseeing a harvest that ended up being invaded by orcs. 

    The attack was successfully staved, yet left Lord Taco- and a couple others- in rough condition. As such, they were limited to light work for a few days. This annoyed him- he heeded their wise words, but wished to be out and about again. Nothing compared to bringing the divine to the darkness, driving back the despair which plagued the denizens of many planes.

    He'd filled his days poring over books, learning of planes to visit. The Shadowfell held itself as a place of special interest, given the potential to dispel literal and figurative darkness. Sunless, smoky, laden with criminals, twisted beings and undeath. Many others had tried, but none had succeeded thus far. Perhaps the Fell was just a way of balancing things. Maybe divine light could cut through the obscurity. It was hard to say.

    Still, as Lord Taco buried himself the books, biding his time, somehow he missed the slight change in the air. The silence that descended... save for the footfalls of his mentor. 

    Looking up, the first sign something was coming was his mentor's expression. Where he'd expect surliness and hard lines, he received one of contemplation. Still, as the older man sat down, Lord Taco tried his best to keep himself composed.

    "How's the reading, Jayce? Any good?" The older man looked in their direction, though barely paying them any heed.

    "Well enough, I'm finishing Sunless Skies: a History Of the Fell as we speak. Then I might break for supper." He smiled. To his surprise, his mentor laughed softly.

    "I figured you'd say that. Has anyone been to see you?"

    "Yes, Sir. Reverend Alexander came by earlier. He said I was clear to return to the field at your command." 

    "Do you still wish to travel to the Shadowfell?"

    "More than ever. It seems such a fascinating place. Especially with the new readings I've been doing."

    "I wouldn't wish for that, were I you. But you'll receive anyways." Here, the older man drew out a scroll. Handing it over, Lord Taco examined its seal. It belonged to Lady Selina Silversorrow. Inside contained a summons to Gloomwrought, to speak to her. She wished to recruit this Order, for assistance in restoration to her lands and its people.

    Lord Taco looked up. "This is-"

    "It's easy enough- travel there, speak to her, send a report back. I'm entrusting you, since I cannot think of anyone better to send. Your passion for the place, combined with years of training, have not gone unnoticed."

    Lord Taco nodded, rather excited for the chance. "My sincerest thanks, Sir. I won't let you down!"

    "I know you won't. You'll leave tomorrow- gather up whatever you need. A call has been sent to some of our trusted allies, who will meet you at the gates in the morrow. There's a portal four weeks northeast." The older man's expression rendered itself unreadable. "Jayce... This is unlike anything you've undertaken before. I trust you can handle yourself, but be warned- the darkness has corrupted others of our order before."

    "I'll do my best, Sir... but I do have a concern."

    "And what is that?"

    "Residents of the Fell, they... They're distrusting of non-natives, even when they make first contact."

    "That could be a problem, yes... a chance you might have to take."

    Their conversation was interrupted, by a young acolyte knocking at the door. "Sir Peyton, Sir Jayce. I was tasked to come find you, Sir Peyton. You're needed to oversee the executions. Sir Eliah is unable to, by reason of sudden illness."

    Peyton nodded, and rose. "Never did enjoy these things... Come with me, Jayce. Light exercise might help at this point in your healing. Moreover, I could use the company."

    Both of them left, traversing through the streets. It took little time to arrive near the site, but the crowds were a different beast. Anything that distracted the masses from mediocrity and tedium had them acting as animals. Still, as the two made their way over, Lord Taco managed to get a look at the condemned. One woman in particular stood out to him.

    She was strange, unlike any he'd seen. Ashen skin with rosy undertones, and a shockingly pale complexion. Violet hair, paired with tribalized tattoos on her neck, made him look closer. Her eyes, dark pools of inky blackness in the red hue of the evening, drew him in. Eyes that displayed sadness... perhaps a streak of fear. Her aura, mixed with that ink, told him all he needed to know.

    This woman, whomever she may be, was a Shadar-Kai.

    Lord Taco made his way over. "Sir... I think I have my solution." He pointed her out, and his mentor nodded. 

    "Let me speak to the executioner. I'll see what I can do."

    While that went on, Lord Taco talked to the guards. All of them recounted similar tales- her name was Vendetta Shadowsteel. A strange name, for a strange woman indeed. She was condemned for theft of artifacts belonging to the Lord of Daggerford. Vendetta had been rather co-operative, but didn't know who sought her out. She was demure, quiet- rather obedient, even. Lord Taco had no idea how to take this. It went against all he read of Shadar-Kai.

    Eventually, Sir Peyton came back. Whatever his mentor said, it seemed to have the desired effect. The executioner drug her over, and Lord Taco could see the pain her body registered. There was no need for such roughness. He held his tongue, though- and as soon as he was capable, he moved behind her. She'd been bound so tightly, her hands lost circulation. Trying not to blaspheme the gods' good name, he cut her loose, healing the damage done.

    From there, it was a simple matter of making sure she was cared for. He'd brought her to the Razor's Edge, a tavern that was decent- yet dark. Comfortable for her, a bit unsettling for him. Letting her explain herself, she said she was contacted- but no names were exchanged, so she couldn't discover whomever set her up. She'd allowed herself a moment of vulnerability, speaking of a friend who had gone with her. At that point, they parted...


~

    He trusted her to make the right choice last night. But only the gods knew why... Impulsiveness was not something he was prone to- nor was trust. She's not like the others, that's why. He had to admit, she did go against all he knew. Be honest, you like her... the thought stood out. Did he? Or was this just fortuitous timing? Making himself rise from the bed, it didn't take long to gather himself and his belongings.

    Stepping into the hall, the ambiance of downstairs filled the little hallway where he stood. Pausing, he seemed reluctant to knock on the door. Lord Taco never did enjoy disturbing a Lady. Despite her vehement insistence, he still thought of her as one. With a sigh, he touched the door, preparing to knock.

    And it shifted, moving from closed to ajar.

    That concerned him. Reflexively, his mind went to checking on her. Had some harm befallen her in the night? Did she run away? There was only one way to find out.

    The door was swung open wider...


-

    Vendetta had risen early, after a tense, terrible sleep. She packed up, then sat curled on the rather narrow windowsill. One foot in front of the other, legs crossed. Back curved, not unlike the crescent moon. Violet locks hanging neat, what little was not tied back. Her eyes downcast, gazing upon a locket in her hands.

    The locket was beautiful, one of her own design- a simple silver one, with a painted violet rose on the front. Inside, a smooth finish- and a tiny sketch of herself and another. The art was quite well done; herself, and a Drow with icy blue hair. The two in the image were intertwined, their embrace friendly love.

    A sigh escaped Vendetta's lips. They'd been painted a deep red, almost black. The dramatic contrast was quite striking. "I'm sorry, Ilasco... I failed you. They butchered you, just for being a Drow. They've been cruel to me, since I'm Shadar-Kai. They hate us... I've been given to a paladin. And if I make a mistake, I'll join you... But for now, I will do my best to right these wrongs."

    She closed the locket. "Damn them all to the Nine and the Abyss... What did we ever do to deserve this, besides have the fates decide we would be who we are?!" She put the locket back on, and stood. She stretched gently, a hand moving to a dagger. Gripping it tight. "...I think I'm going to visit the guards."

    "I would think twice about that, Lady Vendetta."

    Her head snapped up, a curious look on her face. Darkness danced, swaying softly to a beat he couldn't see. It unsettled him. "How long have you been there?"

    "I just arrived. Your door wasn't quite closed." Concern covered his features.

    "I was in and out all night. Couldn't sleep. I suppose after my last visit downstairs, I didn't quite close it." Her stare turned steely. "Still not a Lady."

    "It's a long-standing habit... Vendetta. I'll try to work on it."

    "When are we leaving? I want to get going before I change my mind."

    "After breakfast. We'll be meeting others at the city's gate in one hour." 


    Vendetta merely nodded, and strode past him. In one fluid move, she had her bag and self sliding down the stair rail. Watching her, his mind turned pensive. She irritated him, a lot. Vendetta would prove to be rather... difficult. Yet he enjoyed her company- and couldn't deny she could be considered a dark beauty. She got under his skin... what he didn't understand is why he let her.

    The morning's subsequent events were an entirely silent affair. She refused to speak, barely ate and avoided him. As the pair walked in silence, Lord Taco let her get a few steps ahead. Hurried steps, fearful glances passed her way. One or two people cursed as she walked past. Vendetta ignored it. Lord Taco received more to think about.

    At the gates, two more stood there. One, a rather unusual person- neither Vendetta nor Lord Taco could tell if they were male or female. They were Genasi, though- Wind, by the pale hair. And slightly-glowing marks on their skin. A ranger from the gear, and rather silent. 

    Beside them, a man with spiky, true red hair, and more prominent mark sat against a tree. He fiddled with bottles and the contents therein. A Water Genasi- a healer of some kind? Perhaps an alchemist, by the overall aesthetic. It was somewhat difficult to say; definitely not the type to engage combat often.

    "Good morrow to both of thee!"
Lord Taco strode over. Vendetta hid in nearby shade. Sunlight always was an evil thing.

    "Morning. You would be... Lord Taco?" The blue-haired man was the type to get right to the point. 

    "That is I, yes. Are you two the only ones we're waiting for?" 

    The blue haired man nodded to the query, then grinned. "I'm Jairus, and that's Shaiyla." At mention of her name, the ranger merely waved a hand. "Who's your friend?" He looked to the tree she hid beneath.

    "Vendetta. Can we get going?" She gave Jairus a cold stare. With his shrug, the four began their trek. It would be a long trip.