The sun is up, birds are chirping, people are buying the fat man's wares, there's a beautiful woman sleeping on top of me... and I can't feel my arm. I guess this wouldn't be so bad if she hadn't thrown a knife at my head yesterday, Viizhiar thought, simultaneously trying to figure out a way to get up without waking Violierna.
“Will you stop moving around...?” She groaned. Seemingly oblivious as to where she was, with her hand finding its way inside Viizhiar's mouth. The sensation made him instinctively gag. “Now I've got you...”
What is she talking about!? Viizhiar raced, his eyes crossing from the discomfort as she grabbed his tongue. This is by far the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me, and that's not counting the prostitute jester and a man who thought he was a flying rodent.
“Come here, little light,” she muttered, poking Viizhiar's uvula. The motion made him vomit, stirring her awake. “That is just disgusting!”
“Your hand has been in my mouth for two minutes!” Viizhiar exclaimed, rubbing his tongue and cheeks. “Blech! That is the last time I let you have the bed.”
“And you didn't do anything about it?”
“You threw a knife at my head yesterday! You don't just wake up someone after they do something like that.”
“That doesn't explain why I was no longer on the bed.”
“Do you always talk in your sleep and stick your hand in people's mouths?” Viizhiar asked rhetorically, scrubbing his tongue with his fingers. “That would have been enjoyable if... you know, you hadn't thrown a deadly weapon at my forehead yesterday, and your hand wasn't in my mouth. Don't look at me like that, you're the one who landed on top of me! Am I that irresistible that one woman tries to drug me with a love potion, and another falls off a bed right on top of me?”
“How did you know about that?”
“Erisanwe is predictable,” Viizhiar said flatly, getting to his feet and pacing about the room. “She's desperate, really. My sister keeps telling her she needs to move shop to a big city if she's looking for someone, but she just refuses. She's pretty and all, but she's not my type.”
“Your type?” Violierna queried, cocking an eyebrow.
“I mean, I don't want someone I have feelings for looking down on me all the time.”
“That was stupid...”
“That was just really stupid. You are a child in a man's body.”
“First time I've ever heard that.”
“What, the truth?”
“That particular insult. You can't give me a better one?”
“Can you comprehend a better one?”
“I'm not sure if that's clever or not, but it probably wasn't intended to be clever, just blunt and to the point. Anyway, I need to wash up. After you clean your hand off, why don't you wonder around town for a while?” Viizhiar suggested, opening the door. “The guards can take care of Crassus.”
As he left, Violierna sat in silence for a couple minutes, trying to process what had happened before she woke up.
“Why was my hand in his mouth in the first place?” She muttered, rubbing her forhead with her clean hand. A water bucket was placed by the nightstand behind her. Dragging it over to her, she took the dripping rag out of the bucket and used it to rinse her soiled hand, now sticky from air drying. “And what dream? All I remember is waking up with vomit on my hand.”
Standing up and walking around the bed, she faced her armor and turned to the left. Swiping her right arm across her chest, the armor obeyed, straps and buckles binding, chain mail and plate armor stacking into place, and laces tying themselves autonomously. Flipping her hood up and rolling her mask up to the bottom of her chin, she proceeded out the room door and down the steps.
“Hey! Got a moment?” The barmaid from last night asked, pulling Violierna off to the side.
“I guess. What did you want to ask?”
“How did you get with that dark elf? He doesn't seem interested in a little tavern girl.”
“We're not together in the way you're thinking. We may travel together, but we're just friends. He may be too busy with his current occupation to concern himself with women in that respect.”
“I see,” the barmaid slumped.
“You're upset that I couldn't give you any advice when dealing with men?”
“Oh, no, it's nothing!” The barmaid exclaimed, waving her hand in defense.
“You can tell me.”
The woman sighed. “Last winter, a man I was interested in took another girl. We were pretty close, but I just can't stop thinking about it. I guess him not telling me he was already in a working relationship with another woman made me shallow and desperate. It seems like all I do now is push men away. All except the most shallow types. I guess I thought if I could catch his eye, I would be able to snag him before you did.”
“I've never really been in a relationship myself, but I guess I could try giving you some advice,” Violierna sighed. “Just try holding casual conversation with men. Find common ground. If there's enough there, then perhaps a relationship could work. If not, then there's always another fish. Don't take my word on it, though. Like I said, I've never been in an actual relationship, so there's little I can do to help.”
“Thank you,” the barmaid said with a relieved sigh. “It's just nice to see someone who isn't so judging when I ask for relationship advice.”
“I'm not really in any position to judge. Take care,” Violierna bid, heading for the door. As she walked out, the cook emerged from the kitchen.
“What was that all about?” He asked, folding his arms over his apron.
“Just girl talk, Lucius.”
“If you say so. I made you your favorite, if you're hungry.”
“You're kind. Do you have time to talk over some food?”
“Excuse me, sir?” Violierna asked, patting a guard's pauldron.
“What is it, civilian?”
“Would there happen to be a church in town?”
“Just head west until you see a small building with a pointed tower sticking out of it. Be careful, though. There are times the priest has a stick in his ass. Otherwise, he's a pretty decent man.”
“That sounds painful.”
“That's why it's a figure of speech. Good day.”
Following the guard's direction, Violierna quietly strolled down the worn, dusty path. Passing shops as she went, a jeweler managed to hold her attention long enough to procure a silver and sapphire necklace. While it was indeed pretty and elaborate, the stones coming off of a silver chain from the back, gradually becoming larger, and layers being added until a column of large gemstones met in the middle, with a single, large sapphire dangling on two tiny silver rings.
“How much would something like that even cost?” She queried, curious.
“Four hundred and thirteen gold, sixty seven silver. You look like the type of young lass who would be able to afford something like this necklace, and look good showing it off.”
“There was a time when I might have been able to afford this fine piece, but I have, most unfortunately, become economically embarrassed. So, it seems I will have to pass.”
“I understand. Is there any jewelry at all you would have any interest in purchasing, today?”
Pretending to skim through the selection of rings, necklaces and bracelets, she simply shook her head and bid farewell. Proceeding the way she was headed before becoming distracted, it was less than a minute before the chapel came into view. A small, but long mud and brick building, the materials used and the size of the structure served as a reminder of the tiny, isolated town it was linked to. While it was nowhere near as awe-inspiring as the ruined cathedral back home, it did have its charm. Approaching the small building, an elderly man swung the door open as she reached for the handle.
“Are you the priest here?” Violierna asked, her voice wanting confirmation.
“Yes, but service isn't for another two days. I was just finishing cleaning for today.”
“If it's not too much to ask, I would like to pray.”
“Well, I can't say no to that. The church is always open to those who simply feel the need to pray.”
“Thank you,” Violierna said with a slight bow. The old man stepped aside, allowing her entrance. Her footsteps echoed only slightly as she made her way to the prayer bench. The priest left her to herself and closed the church door behind him. Kneeling on the oak bar, Violierna dropped her hood as she hunched over and folded her hands. “Father, God. I want to ask you to forgive me of my sins, and to show me who my friends are in these confusing times. Give me direction. Tell me, what am I supposed to do? I don't know who to trust. Amen.” Putting up her hood, she turned to leave the building, only to find the mercenary from the night before blocking her path. “Please step aside. I have no further business here.”
“You shall not pass,” the mercenary growled.
“And what reason do you have for keeping me here? I have done nothing wrong!”
“Silence! Your magic aura is foreign,” he hissed, drawing a curved sword. “I will uncover what you are, even if it means killing you.”
“So, you're going to fight me? In a church, of all places?”
“Forgive me, Father,” Violierna whispered, drawing her own blade.
The mercenary lunged forward, thrusting his blade toward Violierna's face, causing her to bend backward to evade. A kick swept her feet out from underneath, and the mercenary was on top of her, holding her sword arm still while he embedded his scimitar in the floor next to her head.
“Now, then, where were we? Oh, yes. We were just about to remove this hood,” the mercenary hissed, reaching for Violierna's hood. Right before he grabbed it, he found her free hand against his chest, and the ground went away from him as he flew backward, hitting the eastern wall with a solid thud. In a daze as he slid down the wall, Violierna took the opportunity to run out the door past him. The last thing she wanted to do was spill blood in a church.
“What happened?” The priest asked, confronting her. “What was that noise?”
“There's no time,” Violierna replied, frantically making her way past him. She could feel the mercenary breathing down her back, despite the fact he was probably only just gathering his weapon. Sprinting down the road back into town, she slowed her pace so as not to alert the public. A hand appeared on her left shoulder, causing her to leap away some feet. Her hand on her sword, she quickly spun around to face the threat, to find it was only Viizhiar.
“Easy, easy. Is everything alright?” He asked, voice heavy with concern. “You seem spooked.”
“I was just attacked in a church, of all places!” Violierna exclaimed in a hushed tone, straightening her posture. “How do you expect me to react?”
“You've got a fair point. Stay in the inn. I'm going to get my gear.”
Following Viizhiar through the inn's dining area, and up the stairs to their room, he equipped his leather jack and snatched his lance from the wall.
“Any idea what this bastard looked like?” Viizhiar growled.
“I think it was the mercenary eyeing us up last night. Studded armor, wields a curved sword. Azhurian, by the looks of it. You're not going to...”
“I'll warn him first, but if he insists on attacking a woman without provocation, one who was praying, no less, then I will cut him down. I don't really like those who attack someone without provocation, especially if the victim's a woman. You can either stay here or stick with me. Your choice.”
“I think I'll stay with you. It might deter him from attacking if he sees I have a business partner.”
“That's a sound theory, but I guess there's only one way to find out if it's worth a damn in practice.”
Following the dark elf the way they had just came, Violierna quickly scanned the area for the mercenary, finding him harassing Crassus.
“Listen here, fat man. You have two options; either tell me where the girl you came here with went, or you can be gutted like a fish.”
“I don't know, she and her partner went off and did their own thing after we got here. I don't keep tabs on my guards, because they aren't children and are entirely capable of taking care of themselves. Now, leave my presence.”
“You foolish, fat lump. I gave you a chance, and you've thrown your own life away. Pity. Looks like I'll be digging a grave twice the normal size.” No sooner had the mercenary drawn his blade than he found a wooden pole across his chest. “What do we have here? Didn't your parents ever teach you to not interrupt a conversation?”
“Not that I can remember, but that's beside the point. I'm going to give you two options, mercenary. Either stop harassing my partner and employer, or you're the one who's going to be put in the ground.”
“You don't know when to quit, do you? I've been trained by Eidolon Academy, and have been in the game for four years.”
“Funny. I only underwent four years of training, and have been a member of the Söldner for ten.”
“You think being a member of some little group makes you special?”
“No. As far as I'm concerned, I'm just another man trying to make his way in this world. You, however, think that going to some little school in the mountains makes you better than everyone else, even invincible. What's worse? You attacked a woman who was praying. I cannot forgive that.”
“Here we go, more of the holier-than-thou white knight crap,” the mercenary sighed as Viizhiar withdrew his lance. “You aren't the first to get in the way of my target, and you won't be the last. Now, hand over the girl.”
“And what crime has she committed?”
“You don't sense just how foreign her materia is? It's completely different from any other I've felt, and I want to know why.”
“Why does it matter if her materia feels different? I could say the air feels different here than it does in the capitol, but it's the same air.”
“You're a damn fool. Die,” the mercenary hissed, thrusting his sword forward. Viizhiar brought the blunt end of his lance up, parrying the blade.
“A cutlass? I would have expected a better blade.”
“But this isn't even its final form,” the mercenary laughed.
“Very well, humor me. Show me everything that blade is capable of.”
“As you wish,” the mercenary sighed, bringing his hand along the blunt side of the blade. Running his hand along the back edge, the blade widened into a serated clever nearly double the length and four times the width of the original blade.
“So, you've given yourself a heavier, more clumsy blade? Am I supposed to be impressed?”
Before he could blink, the rogue mercenary was upon him, bringing the gigantic clever crashing into the ground as he instictively back-stepped.
“Fool. This blade only gains mass to you. As for me, it's light as a feather. An extension of my will. All of us who have even made it into such an academy as I have can wield their weapons this way! Considering you haven't attended any academy, I'm going to assume that's just an ordinary pole sword? Pity. I was hoping for an actual fight.”
“I'm assuming you have what's known as a 'Gift', right? Then show my everything you've got,” Viizhiar challenged.
“As you wish,” the mercenary sighed. “I was hoping it wouldn't have to come to this, but you leave me no choice. Try not to blink.”
Closing his eyes for less than a second, and opening them again, Viizhiar was shocked to find he was surrounded by more than a dozen copies of the rogue mercenary.
“Only one of these is the real me, but each of these clones will hit you with my own full force,” the clones all said in unison. Spinning around, each of the copies looked exactly the same.
“I see,” Viizhiar conceded. “Then, it is a fair fight.” The clones all erupted into maniacal laughter. “Now, allow me to show you what a Söldner is capable of, even with a basic weapon.” No sooner had a clone attacked from the side than the blade of Viizhiar's pole sword had impaled him, releasing a cloud of smoke upon its destruction. Another charged from the left, and was effortlessly destroyed by the blunt side of the pole sword. More came, a flick of the blade dispatching one, and a sweep destroying the rest. Taking in his surroundings, Viizhiar noted their numbers had not decreased. Raising the pole sword over his head, he twirled it at ever-increasing speed until it was a blur. Fire erupted from Viizhiar's body, forming a tornadic structure around himself. The clones backed off slightly amidst the heat as Viizhiar stopped twirling the pole sword and embedded the blunt end of the pole into the ground directly in front of himself, unleashing a fiery explosion in all directions. Standing straight, the clones had all disappeared, and the real mercenary was covering his face.
“Using your clones to shield yourself from that explosion? Clever. Even so, that only bought you a little time,” Viizhiar said calmly, approaching his adversary. Bringing down his pole sword, a loud, whip-like snap echoed through the town as the rogue mercenary crumpled to the ground, in obvious pain. Kneeling down, he continued, “I'm going to let you off with a warning, this time. If I find you harassing my partner or my employer again, I will put an end to your miserable life. That isn't a threat.” Pausing, he stood straight. “It's a promise.”
As Viizhiar turned, the mercenary gave a few coughs, and balanced on his fore-arms. “You... you have my word,” he spluttered, collapsing from exhaustion and pain.
“I hope this isn't going to be a theme,” Violierna muttered, turning a page on the book she had purchased the day before.
“Wuts 'at?” Viizhiar asked through a full mouth of bread, laying down next to her on the shady side of Crassus' carts.
“Back at your home, you were attacked and almost killed by an assassin who hunts members of your group. On the road, I was nearly raped while bathing, and Crassus was attacked by bandits. Here, I was attacked by a mercenary immediately after I got done saying a short prayer. It does raise cause for concern.”
“I'm sure it's all just a coincidence. Sometimes, that happens.”
“Maybe. Though, you must never forget; once is a mistake. Twice is a conincidence. Three times is a pattern.”
“Perhaps. Just don't let it get to you, alright? I've had periods where trouble would just follow me wherever I went. If nothing else, it was good for me. Made me realize I should watch my back, no matter if I'm in the wilderness or in a port somewhere.”
“I hope you're right that this isn't an omen.”
“You're not superstitious, are you?”
“Not really. Why do you ask?”
“Eh, I just don't really like working with people who rely on psychics, star signs and palm readings to tell them what they need to do or what's in store for them. It makes me sick, watching such people swindle the naïve.”
“I see. What do you think of the religious?”
“So long as they don't try to force their religion on me, I don't give them much thought. I don't really mind it when someone is handing out religious text to anyone who wants it, but it does disappoint me when someone starts chewing out some priest for handing out religious text simply because it offends them. Pah. Little sweetrolls like them make me want to... to... I don't know where I was going with that.”
“Well, at least things have quieted down a bit. Perhaps tomorrow, we can finally get some peace from all this violence that's been surrounding us.”
“Yeah. I can agree with you on that one.”