Lianna, Keramis, Lakai, Lowak, Sylvia, and Kadro set out from
Freon at sunrise, resuming their trek along the Forestside
Kingdom’s trade routes. The dusty road meandered through the
same old cornfields, though the air was now tinged with the aroma
of other crops growing nearby. Every now and then a flock of crows
flew overhead, or the cornstalks rustled with the sounds of
smaller creatures bustling among them. The party tread on in bored
silence, some keeping their eyes on the horizon and others
absorbed in their own thoughts.
rode mounted on his new horse. He had chastised himself before for
mourning the loss of his old horse – his lifelong companion and
the only being in the world he could bring himself to trust –
because he had effectively convinced himself that any sense of
sincere sentimentality towards another could blind him to more
rational objectives. But now he was not so sure, and even found
himself feeling guilty for his emotional numbness.
night’s conversation with Lakai got him thinking about a lot of
things; all the rational mentality in the world could not stand in
the face of heartfelt truth. It was getting harder and harder to
deny the reality of the boy’s claims; he felt his constructs of
the world crumbling as he pondered their origins. Were they based
on genuine insight into how the world works, or were they simply
an elaborate excuse serving to shield him from issues he would not
dare confront? Did it take more courage to ignore these issues, or
to overcome them? With an impending sense of dread, Kadro
concluded that he did indeed stray far from his most cherished
principles – honor, courage, and being true to oneself.
mercenary mulled over how he let down himself and others, feeling
utterly unredeemable and unworthy of redemption. He stared
aimlessly at the ground as it passed under his horse’s hooves,
oblivious to everything around him, flaunting a despondent aura of
self-pity plainly visible to Lakai.
faery boy averted his gaze from the depressing sight. Though he
always meant well, he knew that his counsel often elicited these
painful reactions, and in part he felt responsible for them. He
was beginning to realize that others felt uncomfortable and
vulnerable at the thought of somebody being able to see inside
them so clearly, and made a mental note to reveal such delicate
information more gradually in the future.
sun was slowly setting in the west and the air was becoming
chilly. With night approaching, the group started discussing
preparations for camp.
momentarily snapped out of his reverie to offer a piece of advice.
“I don’t think you should set up camp out in the open again.
It may be the custom in Caldora, but that is not how we travel
here. There are tiny villages dappling the countryside that give
shelter to travelers that need lodging overnight. Anybody that
values his life and wishes to traverse the wilderness will go from
village to village, it’s just too dangerous otherwise.”
rest agreed with his recommendation.
is a hamlet right over there,” Kadro pointed to the southwest,
“I’d rather take my chances with the villagers than encounter
the Wild Hunt again.”
were no objections to the idea, and they steered their horses off
the road, leading them across the cornfields in the direction of
town. The stalks parted to reveal a stretch of farmland sowed with
rows of fruits and vegetables. It was twilight now and a chilly
breeze ruffled the ripening crops.
reaching the outskirts of the village, the party saw a boy and
girl playing in the brush. The children’s chatter turned to
hushed whispers as they turned to gape curiously at the strangers,
then swiftly scampered off towards the houses. Assuming the pair
went to tell others of their arrival, Kadro suggested staying
their horses and waiting to be greeted by the proper authorities.
was not long before several figures walked out of the hamlet. As
they came closer, it could be seen that these were three elderly
women, their wrinkled forms cloaked in earth-toned shrouds held
about them with frail fingers against the nippy wind.
a moment’s hesitation, Kadro stepped forward to meet them.
“Hail and well met, grandmothers,” he addressed the trio,
“We wish to speak with the leader of this village. Could you
please lead us to him, or call him to us?”
peered up at him from under their cowls, and scanned the rest of
the group, exchanging muffled words. Keramis tried to hone in on
their conversation, but even his acute elven hearing could not
decipher their whisperings. One of the women finally replied,
smiling amiably, “We are the head council, we make all the
off-guard, Kadro donned a puzzled frown. “You are?” he
hopped off his horse and boldly strode past the mercenary. “Good
evening, ladies,” the elf dipped into an elegant bow before
their hostesses, “Please excuse my companion’s manners. We are
a group of travelers on our way to Iyutel who are looking for a
place to stay the night and are wondering if you could spare
women nodded agreeably.
stifled a chuckle, then, for no apparent reason, dropped to the
ground in a fit of laughter. Lowak couldn’t help but sprout a
name is Keramis,” he quickly added to detract the council from
the Trickster Queen’s lunacy, “Over there is my aunt Lianna,
and my cousin Trellion, and beside them is my brother Lakai. To my
left is Kadro – no relation – and to the right is Lowak with
his sister Sylvia,” he glanced at the girl giggling inanely on
the floor, and audibly whispered to the grandmothers, “She’s
not right in the head.” Though initially hostile to Lynn’s
undercover ploy, Keramis was beginning to find the idea rather
ancient women smiled mysteriously, their eyes sparking with
alertness far livelier than their age suggested them capable.
know who you are, elves,” said the first.
we know your purpose in these lands,” said the second.
have seen omens of you and of your arrival,” said the third.
was taken aback by the revelation, not quite sure if this new
development was a good thing. His friends echoed his bewilderment.
name is Nairebi,” the first council member introduced herself.
is Teskana,” the second did likewise.
mine is Alneva,” said the other.
would be our pleasure and privilege to have you stay free of
charge in our village, Tsuna, for as long as you like,” Nairebi
told her guests.
one condition,” Teskana added.
jointly pointed at Sylvia.
can’t come inside,” Alneva said firmly.
rolling and giggling stopped abruptly as she sprung clear off the
ground with no aid of her limbs, like a puppet raised by invisible
strings. The Trickster Queen hovered ominously in the air aglow
with an eerie purple haze. Her eyes – swirling voids of darkness
– cast a glare so fierce on her offenders that it chilled them
to the bone.
the council members stood their ground. “Begone from our
village, vile trickster!” Alneva commanded.
exploded in a bout of maniacal cackling. Her feet touched ground
and she ran away haphazardly across the field, crops withering
wherever she stepped. Stronger, colder wind blew past the
gathered, whistling with otherworldly wails and forcing the elders
to wrap their shawls tighter around them. Kadro felt the moans
ring in his ears like buzzing mosquitoes.
omen,” Teskana muttered under her breath.
along, now,” Nairebi dismissed her concern and motioned for the
rest to follow.
shifted uneasily as he watched his guardian disappear into the
night. He was not thrilled with the idea of stopping in Tsuna in
the first place; staying in a close-knit community like that would
expose him to quite a number of people – and he did not like
being noticed. With his most reliable protection against Kadro
gone, he was left in a very precarious position.
too, was having second thoughts, but for a very different reason:
there was nobody to watch the thief while they slept. His worries
were eased when Lowak whispered anxious pleas to let him spend the
night with the Trickster Queen. Politely excusing himself from the
company, Keramis told the others that he’ll be back soon,
explaining that he needed to take the boy to Sylvia and to discuss
with her where to meet up the next day.
was certainly a tiny hamlet: merely a handful of individual family
cottages around an unremarkable village center designated by a
homely tavern. But what the town lacked in grandeur it made up for
with cozy atmosphere and hospitable residents.
bonfire blazed brightly in the village square. Being the heart of
the community, this place was used to hold town meetings and other
neighborly gatherings. Young and old alike came to the firepit
this night to hear exotic tales from far off lands. Children
scooted over to the rim of the pit and their parents sat behind,
all listening to Keramis’ stories of his many adventurous
escapades in the North Forest.
the tavern nearby food was already being prepared for the welcome
feast in the visitors’ honor. As much as the staff tried to
convince her otherwise, Lianna insisted on helping her hosts with
the arrangements. It was not that she liked cooking, only that she
was curious about how things were done in an agricultural society
– a way of life alien to her homeland, where hunting and
gathering was the norm.
roof of the tavern was thatched with straw and the walls were made
of slabs of earth, presumably supported by a wooden frame.
Garlands of beads hung from the windows and doors, with various
talismans strung into them; each cord tinkled ever so faintly
against the other from the slightest disturbance. An abundance of
fresh fruits and vegetables was spread over the table in the
middle of the room, and several barmaids were busy preparing
mouth-watering dishes from the ingredients. Even Nairebi and
Alneva were here to lend a hand.
must say you reap an extraordinary harvest!” Lianna complimented, grinding some maize into a fine powder on a
Faery Folk bless our efforts with the fullness of nature’s
bounty,” Nairebi replied with a grandmotherly smile.
smiled back and nodded in approval in her usual friendly manner,
emptying the cornmeal into a bowl and getting another ear of corn
to grate. After a pause, she finally mustered the courage to ask,
“How did you know who we are?”
are the elders of this village,” Nairebi answered.
wisewomen,” Alneva clarified.
could tell that Lianna did not quite understand what that meant.
do everything around here from predicting the weather, to
foretelling the best planting times, to ensuring the fertility of
the crops,” Nairebi elaborated.
are the healers, the advisors, the keepers of the myths,” Alneva
added to the list, “We use our knowledge of herbal magic to
create charms against nightmares, disease, bareness and the like.
We are responsible for keeping track of the signs and omens we see
are all faery-given powers, of course,” Nairebi explained, “We
live in close ties with the Sidhe and we know a Sidhe when we see
Fae are easily slighted, and we try out best to stay on good terms
with them – the village’s livelihood depends on it!” Alneva
said in a more fearful tone, “You must understand, that is why
we did not let your companion in. There is no place for her
questioning look lingered on the elders’ faces as they regarded Lianna, wanting to ask why she and the elves were associated with
such a being. But no questions were asked – one does not
question the Sidhe, only honor their presence.
acknowledged the unspoken query with a tight-lipped smile.
then!” Nairebi broke the tension by switching subjects, “Time
to go tell our friends outside that food is ready!”
barmaids each picked up one of the food-laden dishes and proceeded
to the main dining area to set the tables. Grateful for the
interruption, Lianna dumped the last of the cornmeal into the
bowl, grabbed a plate and headed out to help. Tablecloths were
draped over the tables, ale was brought out from the cellar, and
candles were lit to brighten the room.
everything was ready, Lianna and a few waitresses went out from
the tavern into the town square just in time to catch the end of
so after I locked the ogre in that same cell,” Keramis
recounted, wide-eyed children hanging on his every word, “I
rescued the faery princess from her iron prison and took her back
to her people. The Faery Queen Felitsi was so grateful that she
decided to reward me with a magical gift! Can you guess what that
youngsters shook their heads inquisitively.
gave me the ability to change shape!” the elf grinned as his
face elongated into a canine snout and the rest of his body took
on the lupine form with fluid grace. Only his eyes remained elven,
though they now shone vibrant gold instead of blue. The wolf let
out a long howl, then impishly wagged his tail and leaped through
the fire, into the onlookers’ midst. His audience resounded with
giddy laughter and jovial shrieks, scattering like a flock of
startled birds. They were not afraid of the werewolf, for he
chased after them like a big, playful dog and there was no malice
to his demeanor.
Sidhe cursed you with lycanthropy, did they?” Teskana teased,
brandishing a mortar and pestle, “We can fix you right up!”
was regarded as a disease on Lossi, where it was rumored to
manifest regardless of the victim’s will as an uncontrolled and
often savage monstrosity, but on Caldora, werewolfism was a highly
valued and sought-after shapeshifting ability. Keramis spun about
to face the wisewoman with a defiant growl, barked in protest, and
dashed away baying in dread, running in one big circle around the
looked on with an open smile while the barmaids giggled bashfully.
the commotion subsided, Nairebi and Alneva began calling people
into the tavern while Teskana went to fetch Raven and Lakai. Lianna
managed to chase down Keramis along the edge of the square.
ok, they’re gone now,” Lianna scoffed, “Why don’t you come
inside and tell me what you think of my cooking?”
made all that for me?” Keramis transformed to back to his elven
shape, “I’m flattered.”
responded with a good-natured smirk. “Where’s Kadro?” she
over there the whole time,” the elf pointed towards the humanoid
silhouette seated on a remote outcropping with his back to the
firelight, staring vacantly into the darkened fields beyond.
with him?” Lianna folded her hands irritably, “He’s been
acting like Raven the entire day.”
Keramis remarked, snickering, “Even Raven isn’t this moody.”
Lianna called to the mercenary, “Stop being so melodramatic and
come celebrate with us, it’ll be fun!”
she got no reply; not even an acknowledgement of the offer.
mutual shrugs, Keramis and Lianna proceeded to the tavern.
sat off in the shadows, sulking. ‘Moody’ was not the right
term for it. Something was amiss – he was not usually prone to
such depths of depression. His own gloom seemed to cling to him
like thick muck and no amount of merriment could disperse it. But
maybe a few drinks would.
bar was alive with cheerful mirth and casual chatting. All the
residents of the village came together to celebrate the blessing
that has befallen them. To think that the mighty Sidhe were in
their midst, what a great privilege! It was rare for the Faeries
to walk among mortals, and legend said they only did so in times
of great strife to revive hope in the people with tidings of
better days ahead. The populace proudly commemorated their company
by showing off the very best of what the town had to offer, in
heartfelt gratitude that their benefactors had not abandoned them.
villagers did not realize that these were not the godly Sidhe of
Elfame, and Keramis and Raven did not understand why everybody was
being so awfully friendly. It did not really matter.
sullenly entered the tavern, untouched by the blithe music that
filled the room. After a quick scan of the festivities, he walked
over to a lone table in a less crowded part of the bar and
slouched down in a chair.
and Lakai had been away inspecting the party’s living
arrangements, but now they sat at the counter discussing the
matter with Keramis and Lianna. They have been allotted a vacant,
multi-room cottage right on the fringes of town square that looked
as though it used to be the house of a nobleman – a very
generous gift indeed on the part of a poor farming village! Lianna
explained to them the reasoning behind their lavish treatment and
they unanimously agreed to play the part and make the best of the
passed drinks around the bar and the people partook of them
gladly. Keramis drank down a cup of wine in one mouthful and asked
lively barmaid danced over to Kadro and offered him a glass of
ale. He accepted, returning her smile with a long, empty gaze.
politely declined the liquor; he never drank, prohibiting himself
to cloud his sharp senses. Lakai tried some beer, but quickly
resolved that he did not like the taste and gave it to Keramis,
who was more than happy to finish it for him. Lianna thanked the
hosts for her drink and took moderate sips from time to time.
called on the barmaid again to bring him more ale.
the party raged on, Raven and Lakai decided they better leave for
bed so that they could get up early and gather the group’s
things in the morning. Lianna stayed a bit longer, enjoying the
gaiety from afar. Keramis noted that she was not her usual frisky
self ever since Karaci’s death, and rightly assumed that she was
in mourning. It saddened him to see his vivacious friend become
consumed by a single-minded craving for revenge – it reminded
him too much of Trellion’s state during the Kranti-Raven War.
The elf could only guess at what went through her mind at the
sight of all the blissfully dancing couples in the tavern, and did
his best to divert her attention with lighthearted small talk. It
was well into the night before she followed the drunken partygoers
out into the town square as they tottered off to their homes.
Kadro, Keramis, and the few too drunk to care were left in the
bar. The waitresses stayed overtime to serve those still
conscious. The mercenary was calling for the same barmaid by name
now. Neiruni didn’t even have to ask why, she simply ran to
fetch him more ale. He had been calling on her the whole night,
and though at first it was quite flattering, it was now beginning
to bother her. Grabbing a glass, she exited the stall and made her
way towards him.
met her with a blank stare and managed a cryptic smile of
acknowledgement. But though his eyes were overcast with a drunken
haze, there was an acute ferocity about his gaze that was more
than unsettling. She smiled back nervously as he took the glass
from her hand, curtsied, and rushed off to join the rest of the
waitresses. Kadro’s line of sight remained fixed on the empty
space where she had stood, before sluggishly tracing her path to a
table on the opposite side of the bar.
entire female staff of the tavern huddled about it, their voices
resounding off the walls in ripples of giggling and laughter. They
climbed onto the table and hoisted themselves up on stools, their
full attention fixed on Keramis, who sat in the middle, sharing
more North Forest anecdotes. The elf was leaning back in his chair
with a barmaid draped on each shoulder, one playing with his hair
and the other fiddling with the lacing on his tunic.
was no secret – Keramis liked girls, and girls liked Keramis. It
had always been this way. He deemed females the highest form of
life known to man and revered each one as a goddess. He lived for
the chance to see a bright smile light up a girl’s face. With
honeyed tongue and flowery words he could melt the coldest of
hearts, and his intoxicating gaze could arouse deep-seated
passions. No woman felt neglected in his presence. Keramis
possessed the ability to make a girl feel, if only for one night
of wild pleasure, like the most important being in the whole
world, and make that moment seem to last a blissful eternity.
course, different societies had different sexual etiquettes. Had
the elf known about the way things were done on Lossi, he would
probably think twice about engaging in casual lovemaking. On
Caldora there was absolute equality between the sexes, no sexually
transmitted diseases, and pregnancy came about by mutual emotional
consent between two sincerely committed people. To be sure,
monogamous relationships in Caldora were undeniably powerful, but
until one found a twin soul to forge a meaningful spiritual bond
with, lustful orgies of free consensual fun was the way to go. And
not just with those of one’s own species, but a complete
free-for-all! Since everybody were the descendents of the Earth
Dragon they shared a wholly compatible genetic makeup and could
successfully interbreed, giving birth to Caldora’s thriving
were very different on Lossi. The rift of power between the
genders ran painfully deep, with women holding little sway over
society. Pregnancy was an involuntary matter, often brought about
by rape – a concept unheard-of in Caldora. This was truly odd in
a culture where the matron divinity was a goddess.
not everybody had forgotten their spiritual roots. Small, isolated
villages, like Tsuna, still worshiped the Lord and Lady of the
Forest – the primal gods of fertility who birthed all others
into being. They were matriarchal communities whose survival
depended on year-round fertility rituals invoking the aid of the
otherworldly Sidhe to ensure a good harvest. Everybody knew
that those of elven descent amplified the power of fertility rites
through kinship ties with the Fae, and so the girls of Tsuna
competed for the opportunity to enrich the hamlet’s gene pool
with elven blood. Little did they know Keramis was the wrong kind
was not long before the barmaids lead him out of the tavern,
leaving Neiruni in the bar all by herself. With an indignant sigh,
she looked back over to the other side of the bar, where Kadro
stared at her intently from the shadows. Suppressing a reflexive
shudder, she calmly walked over to the counter and sat on a stool.
She rested her chin against her palm, scanning aimlessly the
silent, empty tavern. Time ticked away slowly out of sheer
boredom, but eventually the dreaded call came again.
perked up and slid off her seat, knowing full well what the man
wanted but taking no ale keg along. She cautiously approached the
mercenary, who was sitting slumped back in his chair, holding his
cup with one hand while the other hung limply at his side. He
looked up at her with eyes that could barely focus, and with great
effort slurred the words “I want more.”
bit her lip tentatively as she glanced to the empty mug, but did
blinked several times, as if trying to register her response. “I
said I want more ale, woman,” he demanded, and attempted to
emphasize the point by banging the cup on the table, only managing
to tip it over in the process.
courage from his apparent weakness, the barmaid reached for the
cup, saying, “I think you’ve had just about enough ale for the
night, you should go sleep.”
interpreting the words as some kind of controlling command,
Kadro’s hand grabbed hers before it even got near the cup. “You
do not tell me what to do,” he said slowly as he sat up in his
chair, “I will tell you what to do.”
scared now, Neiruni retraced her steps. “Alright, I’ll go get
you more ale,” the girl smiled and tried to wrench her hand free
but his grip was surprisingly stronger than she had anticipated.
froze and stared past her for a long moment, lost in thought.
“No,” he finally replied.
the man had finally come to his senses, the barmaid suggested,
“Would you like me to take you to your quarters, then?”
he said calmly, and looked her straight in the eyes with chilling
clarity, “I want something else.” Tightening his grip, he
leaned in to kiss her.
stiffened and turned away so that his lips barely brushed her
cheek; she could smell the alcohol on his breath. Her rejection
did not deter him, however, as he continued kissing down her neck
and onto her shoulder. “I really think you should go home
now,” she said in all seriousness.
Kadro mumbled absently, putting his free arm around her and
progressively backing her into a corner.
found herself pinned against the wall, with the man pressing
uncomfortably closer. In a rush of panic, she shot a glance to the
exit, and just as he was about to slide off the shoulder strap of
her tunic, she kneed him hard in the groin. Kadro doubled over in
pain, letting go of her hand, while the barmaid pushed him aside
and dashed ahead. He tried to grab at her again, but only
succeeded in grasping her shirt, the sleeve of which he ripped as
the girl pulled free. She stumbled for the door, knocking over
tables and chairs along the way to stall her assailant. Kadro
lunged at her like a ravenous wolf.
ran blindly outside, screaming her frantic cries for help to the
empty starlit sky. Her fist instinct was to find aid, but who in
the tiny, rural hamlet could stop a frenzied warrior? Kadro had
already made it through the maze of furniture, tripped over the
last chair but steadied himself upon the frame of the tavern’s
doorway. Spotting his prey, he gave chase once again. With no
other options before her, and knowing Keramis’ benevolence,
Neiruni scampered across town square for the visitor’s cottage.
could not imagine a sweeter slumber than now, cradled in his
lover’s arms with his head resting lightly between her breasts,
being rocked to sleep by the rise and fall of her chest. The warm
bed sheets protected them from frosty drafts that wafted in
through tiny cracks. So peaceful was it that he was truly
surprised to have heard distant shouts muffled by the thick wooden
that his senses did not betray him, Keramis slipped out of bed,
donned his clothing and weapons, and tiptoed towards the door. The
elf heard the outside door burst open and chaotic footsteps
stampede into the cottage, closely followed by a second set of
footsteps. The clamor got imminently louder, mixed with wall
collisions and sporadic screams. Irium, the village girl, had
already sat up, startled, pulling the covers about herself.
Keramis put a finger to his lips to quiet her, and opened his
the hallway he saw the mercenary wrestling a barmaid to the
ground, trying futilely to gag her hysterical shrieks and restrain
her as she writhed and kicked on the floor. Kadro didn’t know
what hit him, only remembered it being fast and hard, having
enough force to knock his head backwards into the floor with the
rest of his body following.
didn’t care if he snapped the man’s neck with that kick, he
didn’t even understand what was going on, his only concern was
the welfare of the girl. Her hair was disheveled, her clothes
torn, and she was notably bruised in several places both from her
own clumsiness and from Kadro’s assault. Immediately he raised
her to her feet, and while she still struggled against him in a
blind frenzy, she quickly came to her senses and gazed openly into
her rescuer’s beautiful, though profoundly concerned, face.
Keramis hugged her trembling form protectively, whispering
soothing words of comfort into her ear.
to the side he heard Kadro stir with a disgruntled groan, and the
jingle of chain-mail told him that the warrior was up. Keramis
gently swung the barmaid around behind him and put some distance
between himself and the bounty hunter. The mercenary stood on
shaky feet, still rubbing the back of his head and nursing his
injured jaw. The hit had apparently knocked the drunken haze back
away a splatter of blood with his sleeve, Kadro’s overcast eyes
met the elf’s accusatory stare. “What’s your problem?” the
do you think you’re doing?” Keramis asked as evenly and calmly
as he could under the circumstances. Normally he wouldn’t give
the man a chance to explain, but the complete strangeness of it
all left him off-guard and sincerely curious as to what was going
through the pitiful drunk’s mind.
swathed in bed sheets, opened the door a crack and cautiously
peeked out from inside the room.
beamed a smug grin at the elf, indicating the maiden, “You’ve
had your share, let me have mine.”
stood dumbfounded before the scenario clicked in this head.
Appalled, his eyes seethed with amber fire and he drew his
daggers, “The lady said ‘no’.” He felt the barmaid grip
tighter onto his shoulder.
it was Kadro’s turn to look dumbfounded. “So?” he chuckled
crudely, “That tavern wench should be happy somebody took
interest in her!”
elf lunged at him before he finished the sentence. Neiruni had
expected as much, and was quick to put her arms around him from
behind, telling him to let it be. Keramis froze in place at her
command, scowling at Kadro with bared fangs, his entire body
tensed to strike. Neiruni felt an odd sort of sympathy for the
man, and realized that if she let the elf go he would rip him to
shreds. Not knowing how long she could keep the werewolf at bay,
she closed her eyes and wrapped her arms about him tighter, his
low growling sending tremors through them both. Feeling he had
sufficiently stared Kadro down, Keramis backed off.
the mercenary didn’t know when to stop. “See?!” he
exclaimed, “She’s doing it again!”
her for saving your life,” the elf hissed through his teeth.
you see that the little witch has brainwashed you already?!”
Kadro laughed hysterically, obviously beyond coherence.
let out an exasperated sigh, giving up all hope that there was any
method to this madness. He shook his head and put away his
daggers, “What are you babbling about, fool?”
Kadro went wide-eyed and emphatically pointed first at Neiruni,
and then Irium, who shut the door with a frightened gasp.
raised an eyebrow.
and Lianna were already surveying the scene from their doorways.
Lakai’s door remained deceptively closed, he had been leaning
against it the entire time, fighting desperately to stay conscious
for his heart was racing so fast he thought it would burst. He was
awoken by pangs of fear and rage that swept through the house as
soon as Neiruni and Kadro tumbled inside, and could not help but
stay awake, experiencing every excruciating moment of the incident
firsthand. But he knew something the elf did not: Kadro was
too, noticed ghostly trickster lights dancing in his eyes.
is a struggle for power between good and evil,” the bounty
hunter said as he looked back at Keramis, “Oh and I tell you,
evil will use all at its disposal to gain the upper hand!
will mask itself in pretty illusions, disguise itself with beauty
and frailty, beguile you with sweet talk and numb your reason
until you can’t help but bend to its will,” he continued as he
paced up and down the hallway, the words flowing far freer than
one would expect from a mere drunk, “But once it is certain it
has lulled you into its clutches, it will tear out your heart and
leave you to rot!
and listen well!” he walked up to the elf and peered at him with
conviction, “For I tell you that the root of all evil in this
world is woman!”
opened his mouth to comment on how absurd that sounded in the
man’s current predicament.
women!” Kadro cut him off, throwing his hands in the air to
emphasize the point as he marched back across the hallway,
“Lying, cheating, deceitful whores, all of them!” he turned
around, “What? You don’t believe me? You need only look around
you to see that they are to blame for all misfortune in the land!
Onedia is a woman!” he pointed out triumphantly, “That
treacherous temptress! The bringer of pain and strife whom all
women take after!
weak and helpless and yet they drive men insane, making us do
things that defy logic,” Kadro stopped in mid-stride, his eyes
seeming to look inward, “Is it true that the strong rule the
weak?” he asked himself softly, “They rule me, does that make
me weak? No,” he paused thoughtfully, “No, that can’t be
looked up to glare at Neiruni, “They think they can walk all
over me? Manipulate me?? Control me???” he raved, taking a step
towards her with every question, “Well they have another thing
flashed a confident smirk as he casually twirled out his daggers
once again and took an offensive stance, fixing his bloodthirsty
gaze on the approaching mercenary.
will rule me?” Kadro clenched his fists, “NO! I will
ungrateful, pathetic bastard!” Lianna interrupted, her normally
sympathetic face clouded with wrath, “These people welcome you
with open arms, is this how you repay them? And then you have the
nerve to insult those that gave you life?! I’ll give you a
beating that’ll make you wish you’d never been born!”
control your woman,” Kadro said absently, never taking his eyes
off his target, “before she gets hurt.”
not the one I’m worried about,” Trellion smiled in amusement,
backing away with upraised hands.
who had her weapons drawn from the start, lashed her barbed whip
smirk spread into a mocking grin. He would gladly beat the living
daylights out of the man, but he appreciated the irony of Lianna’s fight.
barely had time to turn around before the whip came whistling in
to coil about his sword arm. Though the chain mail guarded against
the barbs sinking into his skin, he got yanked forward, sliding
across the floor towards the woman. Lianna raised her gleaming
short sword high overhead, and the warrior knew he had to act
fast. Acting purely on reflex, he rolled out of the way, hearing
the sword cut harmlessly into the floor behind him. The bounty
hunter quickly got to his feet, and used the leverage of the whip
to swing his opponent into a nearby wall.
wasted no time in pulling out his long sword while the woman
stumbled to the side. But Lianna recovered quickly, and with an
audible growl, gave the whip a sharp tug so that it uncurled from
his wrist, twisting the chain mail and leaving rough scratches in
mercenary flexed his right hand painfully, but knew that fighting
with his left would do him no good. Tossing the sword into his
freed hand, Kadro looked around for some protection. Luckily for
him, the walls of the hallway were lined with ornate shields.
figured his next move and took a mock step forward, a teasing grin
widening across her face when he jumped back warily. Kadro made a
run for the nearest shield and the woman gave chase after. The
mercenary got there first, ripped the shield off the wall, and
brought it up to block her incoming blade. Seeing his opportunity,
he thrust out with his own sword, but Lianna deftly danced away
from it, keeping her back to his shield, and slammed her elbow
hard into his ribs as she came around to the side.
tottered in the direction of the blow, limping slightly on his
left leg. He regained composure swiftly, hoisting his shield high
and holding his sword steady. As grateful as he was to have it at
all, he had to admit that the decorative shield was most
uncomfortable and heavy.
hiding and fight, coward!” Lianna cackled, lashing her whip
playfully against his armored legs.
squinted and blinked several times to clear up his vision, for it
seemed to him that he kept lapsing in and out of a drunken haze.
He could not let his enemy in on his weakness, however, and
charged her straight on, shield leading. He missed entirely when
she moved aside and spun about to trip him as he ran past. Kadro
lurched forward but was able to retain his balance against the
wall in time to avoid a powerful hack aimed at his back.
pressed on, following up her initial attack with a series of
fierce slashes. Though he skillfully maneuvered his sword to
intercept the hits, the warrior was progressively forced to wade
backwards. He wanted to get a counter strike in but her relentless
assault left him no option except to stay on the defensive.
Neither of them were tiring, but Kadro noticed his reflexes
getting dangerously slow. Feeling himself being backed into a
corner, he decided to risk taking the offensive and kicked out at
she had him pinned, Lianna didn’t expect the sudden change of
tactics. The kick caught her squarely in the stomach and sent her
reeling back a few steps. Unnerved, she flayed her whip out to
wrap around the bounty hunter’s long sword, and jerked it out of
his grasp, watching as it clanged to the floor on the other side
of the hallway.
rubbed his eyes with his shield hand for what he thought was a
split second, but time appeared to flow faster in the outside
world for when he looked up his sword was gone. What’s worse,
the woman was on the offensive again. He hastily shifted his
shield to full-frontal defense, blindly deflecting the flurry of
wild sword swings that came his way. Keeping the heavy shield
aloft while it was being hammered by his opponent weighed him down
to a crouch, and he looked around for a way – any way – to get
her off. Utilizing what strength he had left Kadro pushed off the
floor, using the shield to sweep the woman along in an arc and
propel her into the adjacent wall.
sensed the air leave her lungs on impact, and felt as if her
shoulder was being ground farther through the wall. Squirming
around, she managed to get her legs free enough to kick at his
knee. The mercenary’s leg buckled and he limped backwards,
releasing her from the press. Lianna rushed at the disoriented
warrior and rammed herself against his sagging shield at an angle
that drove it straight into his face.
staggered away from the woman, letting the shield slide off his
arm. He pawed at his broken nose and stared incredulously at the
blood on his hands before toppling to the floor, unconscious. Lianna
watched with detached interest as a trickster wriggled out
of the man’s body, snarled, spat, and flashed her a myriad of
terrifying faces in one breath, then flit away through the
it’s gone,” she affirmed, sheathing her weapons and marching
back towards her room.
gone?” Raven inquired as she walked by.
was possessed,” she answered matter-of-factly, “the trickster
if he was possessed, why did you–” he began to ask, his own
experiences with possession coming back to him.
is no excuse for his actions,” Lianna eyed him indignantly,
“Spirits can’t make you do anything against your will. They
only help you manifest your darkest fantasies.”
watched for a reaction, but Raven remained impassive. Smiling
knowingly, she entered her room and closed the door. Trellion
swallowed hard and lowered his gaze when she left; that remark
hurt him more than she had intended.
tended to Neiruni, who was still shaking from the encounter. Her
expression was rather blank and she didn’t say a word the whole
time; he guessed she was still in shock. In any case, she seemed
at a loss for what to do and, hoping it would make her feel safer,
he invited her to stay with him for the night. She agreed and let
the elf lead her into his room.
stayed aside while Keramis quietly explained the circumstances to
Irium, who was completely understanding about it, and with a
courteous nod at Neiruni, gathered her things and made for the
exit. The waitress backed herself into a corner, too embarrassed
to respond. Keramis and the village girl exchanged some more
whispers at the door before Irium left, tracing her hand along the
elf’s cheek in a gesture of farewell. He then turned to the
barmaid, a warm smile lighting up his face, and offered her to
sleep on his bed. Neiruni hesitated, but compelled herself to
climb up onto it. To her relief, Keramis curled up to sleep on the
floor at her feet.
gaze wandered back to Kadro’s inert form. He knew what
possession was like, and knew what horrors one was capable of
committing under its influence. It may have been true that it only
encouraged one to manifest desires which have already existed in
the deepest, darkest parts of the soul, but that did not diminish
the sincere guilt and regret felt by the perpetrator in the
aftermath. In that sense, Trellion felt that Kadro and him were on
common ground, and if he didn’t give sympathy to the man, no one
a resigned sigh, Raven walked up to the fallen warrior, lifted him
from the ground, dragged him to his room, and dumped him on the
bed. That done, he went back to his own room to sleep for what
little time he had before daybreak.
lay restless in his bed – he blamed the entire episode on
himself. If he had not prodded Kadro about his insecurities, if he
had not done things so abruptly, then maybe the mercenary would
not have gotten so hopelessly drunk and depressed, thereby opening
himself up for possession. He knew of Kadro’s animosity towards
women and should’ve known better than to give in to his own
biases and point fingers at Onedia as the source of the world’s
problems. He scolded himself for implying the bounty hunter could
displace responsibility from himself once again. Lakai was certain
it was his fault – Kadro’s referral to Onedia in his ravings
lay on the floor, awoken now and then by Neiruni crying softly in