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.

July 19, 2017

Destiny and Desire: Anecdotes Of Adventure III

    The pair 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 destination. Vendetta had a rather sudden talkative moment.

    "Where are we going? Why did you save me from that, anyways? Why just us two- and what are we out to do? 


    "You ask a lot of questions, Lady Vendetta."


    "I want to know things. It's why I ask." Lord Taco merely sighed, and looked her over.


    "We're being sent to the Shadowfell. Lady Selina Silversorrow-"


     "Lady Selina Silversorrow..." Vendetta mulled it over. It did sound familiar...

    For some reason, the questions annoyed him. "Yes, that's her name. She's recruited my Order to assist in controlling the chaos of her lands. There's a portal near the city of Gloomwrought. It's easier with companions, but none could answer with such short notice. You have the talents my order and I need to complete this task."

    "As it please you and your Order, my Lord." 


    "...I've done some reading on the Fell, and wanted to know some things. If I may?" 


    "Ask away, my Lord. I'll answer to my fullest ability."

    "Is it true, you don't feel much physically? That darkness dances in your presence? Your ink and piercings mark every kill you've made? There's all sorts of alternative lifestyles? Vice, sin and more run wild?"

    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 mods are a way we physically feel- all extremes are. Ink and piercings are aesthetic choices, and marks of pride. And yes, we embrace many alternative ways of life. Little is forbidden. As to whether we make darkness dance..." She trailed off.


    "I apologize, Lady Vendetta. My words were harsh, and my questions piercing. I hope you'll forgive me for my transgressions." Lord Taco 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. On the surface, she merely regarded him with her cool stare. "Nothing to forgive, my Lord." 


     "Something besides me troubles you."


     "Indeed, much troubles me." 


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


     "I could share; yet I'll hold my tongue. Lest I lose it" She strode on, and he fell in time beside her.


    "So that's what this is about. Coping with pain, hence why you're icing me out. 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?"


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


    "Vendetta merely sighed. "I suppose I've been... abrasive, one could say. There's much on my mind. I apologize for this, and wish to make amends. Tell me what you would like- and it will be done." 


    "Then tell me what bothers you." 


    "I will, 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 for something like me. If I'm not careful, I might begin to believe it 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. Lord Taco weaved elaborate narratives of worlds he'd walked, sharing the messages of his god. Vendetta remained silent, the perfect listener. 

    As Lord Taco began cooking, 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...

    In due time, Vendetta cleaned herself up in silence. A dagger slid over her skin removed unwanted hair. Sand and soap scrubbed her skin; the sweet, warm stream rinsed her off. Winds picked up as she wrung out her hair, helping her dry off. A soft, dry cloth was rubbed over her body- Vendetta couldn't remember the last time she felt clean like this. Re-dressing in silence, she made her way back- before he worried about her too much.

July 14, 2017

Destiny and Desire: Anecdotes Of Adventure II

    Morning's brilliant light shone into Lord Taco's room, as way of awakening him. 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. 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 wisdom, but wished to be out again. Nothing compared to bringing the divine to the darkness.

    He'd filled his days poring over books, learning all he could of planes to visit. The Shadowfell held itself 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 balance. Maybe divine light could cut through the obscurity. It was hard to say.

    Still, as Lord Taco bade 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's such a fascinating place, a dark mirror to our world." 

    "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. There's a portal to the 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, 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 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 woman he'd seen. Ashen, shockingly pale skin. Violet hair, tattoos on her neck... He looked more closely. Her eyes, 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. 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. 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- 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.

    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, her story matched what the guards said- and convinced him of her innocence. 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 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. 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, 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... 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 be who we are?!" She put the locket back on, and stood. She stretched gently, a hand moving to a dagger. Gripping it tight. "...Time I 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. Let's say an 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. A pair of guard, watching the pair leave. They eyed her with suspicion, but softened to smiles as they saw him. He nodded to them, but made note of their behavior. I'll never really understand, why we do the things we do. The way people were treating Vendetta, it bothered him to see. Her crime was being born a Shadar-Kai, and people made sure she never forgot it. He swore, then and there, to help the world see darkness and good could co-exist. For her sake... and theirs.

July 13, 2017

On the Threshold Of Adventure- Chapter 3: Illyana

    The first few hours' travel to Highdell was mostly silent. Everyone was unsure of just what to say- they'd only known each other a matter of days. All these six had anything to go on was a note, one only Violet had seen. And she wasn't talking. Still, as they trudged on in silence, the six were all lost in thought...

    Passing by a divide in the road, Violet- who had been leading- came to a stop. She walked off the road, and crouched down beside the tree. Bloodstains, from the priest so violently killed, remained behind. She plucked some flowers, and laid them to rest. Alongside this, a dagger wrapped with a violet ribbon. 

    "Miss- what are ye doing? Don't cha know that's temporary?"

    "My name is Violet. And I am aware, I just... wanted to leave a mark of passing. A priest had been violently killed here. Tributes like this are comforts for the living, not for the dead." She got to her feet.

    "If I might ask, what happened?"

    "The Blood Angel Of Karameikos got to him."

    "'The Blood Angel Of Karameikos'? Who the hell is that?"

    "I'm curious, who was affected by this that you knew?"

    Violet sighed gently, and turned to face the group, eyeing her with curiosity. Gentle breezes picked up, making her hair flutter just a little bit.

    "I know not the name, just- the style of murder. He's... infamous in this area. As to your query, Jordan... a friend of mine from years ago. A sister in all but blood. Let's get going." Marching past them all, it was clear she didn't want to talk about it, so nobody would ask.

    By nightfall, everyone was drained, and in need of a place to rest. Luckily, most of them knew of a coach-house and inn coming up. Come nightfall, it was found... or at least, the embers that remained. A quick search turned up no bodies, no traces. Watches were quickly assigned. 

    Sera and Jordan took first watch, though very little of prominence happened. Sera spent her time in the rafters, while Jordan remained near the glowing fire, keeping an eye out. came to replace Jordan, who took little time in falling asleep. Sera crawled down, replaced by Violet up above. Mice scattered, and it looked to be a sleepy night... until the voices came. Crawling to the window, she could see twelve men- a thirteenth appearing from nowhere. A were-mouse hidden among the ranks. Thankfully, they left. And the remaining night went without incident, leading to an uneventful morning.

    The second day's travel gave way to rougher terrains, roads winding downwards. The party had hit the valley, and soon, Highdell was in sight. Coming up to a divided road, the scent of smoke gave pause. 

    "Think we should check that out?" Silver's voice cut the silence.

    "Yes. Fire is never... a good sign. And... we're not far away."

    "I also believe so. Never know who'll you'll run into, right?"

    "It's not too far away... Why not." With that, the group turned east, heading toward what appeared to be some smaller farms. One in particular, the first one, was the cause of the smoky scent. Four men in heavy black robes, bearing a strange symbol, were assaulting the farmhouse with fire. Accompanying the group, a pair of dogs- unlike anything ever seen. Composed of metal, glowing as the fires of the Nine Hells themselves... 

    Combats were never easy to record. They all moved so fast- magic weaving its way through the world, blades and bullets slicing the air. In Thorin's case, the hammer carving a path through pure blunt force. Seconds to minutes settled disputes- timing is of great importance in these sorts of affairs. But when the dust settled, when all was said and done... It was those strange metal dogs, and black-clad men, who had fallen. The fires were rapidly put out- and only then, did those inside come out. A woman, and two younger men.

    "You've managed to stop them." Her voice was sharp, yet laced with wariness.

    "We did, my Lady. And the fires are also put out." Violet stepped forward, regarding the woman. She was middle-aged- raven haired, eyes a light brown. Tanned skin, well-worn. Somewhat curvy, yet rather beautiful. Her sons inherited their good looks from her. The woman regarded the Hin, and smiled. She'd always liked the Good Folk. Being addressed as a Lady also helped warmed her to them.

    "I thank you all, for your kindness. Allow me to introduce myself- I am Illyana. These are my sons, Elias and Joshua." At their names, each nodded their heads. Though very similar in physical nature, Joshua acted a little more shy, where Elias' smile was more like a grin. 

    "If I may ask, my Lady- who are these men? What happened here?"

    "You don't know?" At the shakes of the head, she sighed. "These bastards have taken over Highdell. Iron Ring, they are- damn them all for it. Two months they've been here, and things worsen by the day. 'Tis a terrible thing."

    "Who controls them?"

    "That I know not, I'm afraid. But I know of two people who could help- Ruth Ann, she resides in the Sacred Grove. Not too far off. Dar lives in Albridge- bit farther off. You need to take the other road, but it's not difficult." Illyana came down the steps, assessing the damage. It would take a few days for the three of them to repair everything.

    Thankfully, Asriel thought the same. "Is there... anything we can do... my Lady? To help?" 

    Illyana looked him over, curiosity on her face. How strange- a man and a goat, all in one. She thought him the strangest thing she'd ever seen. However, something about his sincere expression... She was rather enamored with him. Even if the language skills were a bit rusty, he came across as someone truly kind, and charming. Her sharp expression softened, a warm smile gracing her.

    "Right. The charred wood will need repair to start. Poor vegetables need tending, if not removing. The equipment might require repairs."

    "We can help, if you wish." Illyana nodded, and her smile grew. 

    Soon enough, the farm was alive with the sounds of activity. Thorin, with Elias' help, began improving the equipment not in use. Joshua, Asriel and Silver began repairs. Replacing burnt wood, fixing broken boards. Illyana and Violet tended the vegetables; then, as Illyana prepared dinner for everyone, Violet supervised the repairs. Dinner was an animated affair, everyone talking around the table- rather lively. 

    As nightfall settled in, everyone was busy. Asriel told stories to entertain, while Thorin and Silver tended everyone's weapons. Violet taught Elias and Joshua a little about reading and writing. Around this time, Sera and Jordan finally arrived. Before anyone could ask, Jordan spoke up.

    "Hey everyone, sorry we fell behind. We were covering the back, and ended up tangled with some black-robed guys. What'd we miss?"

    "More of the same here- four... what were they called?"

    "Iron Ring slavers, Silver."

    "What she said. Them and their strange mechanical hell hounds. Once they were dealt with, we ended up repairing the damage done. Had dinner, and here we are." 

    "Cool! Any left over?"

    "These friends of yours?" Illyana's voice filtered in. 

    "Aye. Those are Sera and Jordan- they were watching our backs, literally. Good folk, you can trust them."

    "Alright. I'll get some leftovers." Soon, they were served- though Sera mostly opted to liquefy hers, since she couldn't eat. A quiet word to her from Violet, though, and Illyana decided not to ask out loud. All of them settled in, as tomorrow they had some serious traveling to do. Mostly to the Sacred Grove and Albridge.