At first, she felt nothing but grief for Garndt, how he had so fruitlessly allowed himself to die, so she might have an uncertain future, then seething rage toward Romulus, who had so callously deceived her, and ordered the death of Garndt.
“You made the mistake of deceiving me and killing Garndt, Romulus,” she growled, under her breath. “One of these days, I'll return the favor.”
Rising from the bed, she noticed a bucket of water with a rag had been left beside the end table. Pulling it away from the wall, she dunked the rag in the water, wrung it out, and firmly scrubbed the stale make-up and dirt off her face. Satisfied with finally being able to remove what felt like clay, she quickly slipped into despair as her mind wondered back to Dissidium.
“I'm not strong enough... but I can't let Garndt's death go unavenged. Oh, why do I even bother thinking on it?” She asked herself, curling up on the bed and burying her face in her knees, her mind numb from one voice urging her to avenge Garndt, and the other telling her she's not strong enough, both hushed by a knock at the door.
“What is it?” Violierna asked, turning her attention to the opposite side of the room. The door opened to reveal Viizhiar's mother, with some garments draped over her arm.
“I figured I'd leave you these, in case you decided to head out,” she said, placing them at the foot of the bed, before heading back into the main room.
Violierna stared at the robes briefly, before burying her face in her knees again, letting out a disgruntled sigh.
“Garndt always said there was a time and a place for everything. Perhaps now is not the time to seek revenge, but for other things,” she muttered, peering out the window. Children could be heard playing, shop keepers vying for the attention of passers-by, and the smithy hard at work. “What a strange place, the surface is, yet so eerily calming.”
Slowly, she removed herself from the bed, and proceeded to change from the white gown into blue mage robes. Heading for the door, she hesitated as she reached for the knob, before taking a deep breath to steady herself and heading into the main room of the building, to witness a beggar receiving a loaf of bread in exchange for a large bundle of sticks, before heading out again.
“It's amazing just how much this town depends on beggars. Without them, who knows where we'd be?” Viizhiar's mother began, turning to Violierna. “I suppose you should get acquainted with village life. You know you'll have to leave here, eventually.”
Violierna nodded in response, and promptly exited through the front door.
“I think she's the most unusual thing your brother's come across. There's a ghost in her eyes.”
Taking her time to absorb the finer details of her new surroundings, she noticed honeysuckle climbing a post supporting the overhang above her, and on the other side, wisteria. Immediately to her right was a row of dahlia flowers, and to her left were tiger lilies. Regularly scattered about before her were numerous empty chairs and tables. A small tick off the tavern wall caught her attention, followed by a small object being pelted at her, which she effortlessly caught, only to find it was a pebble the size of a small marble. Looking up from the tiny stone, she noticed Viizhiar motioning to her to join him at a large tree stump near the smithy. Curious as to what he wanted to say to her, she dropped the pebble into the grass, and began walking over, trying to hide just how terrified she was of someone sniffing her out.
“Watch it!” A man in rags shouted, narrowly avoiding running her over with a cart full of lumber.
“Oh,” she began. “Sorry.”
“Just be more careful,” the possible beggar said, grunting as he started rolling the cart again, and Violierna resuming her progress toward Viizhiar, reaching him not much later.
“Have a seat,” he said. She followed his direction, almost hesitantly.
“What did you wanna talk about?” Violierna asked.
“You seem tense. You're not scared, are you? If you are, I can't say I blame you. You're far from home, and you don't really know anyone, here.”
“I'm terrified, actually. Yet, I feel safe with you around. It's so strange. I don't even know you, and I feel safe around you.”
“You're trying to be sweet on me, aren't you?”
“Ahh, I get it. The fragile damsel in distress relies on the dashing rogue for security,” Viizhiar teased, ending with a chuckle.
“Glad this is so funny to you...”
“Gotta find a way to relax, somehow. In case you weren't paying attention, this place is pretty isolated, so we make our own fun how we can, when we can. The nearest city is over a week's walk away. So, why not settle in, make a few friends?”
“I don't think it's that simple, Viizhiar. I'm dead to my own family, Romulus wants me dead, and he ordered the death of the only person who ever truly cared.”
“Just because we don't know each other that well, doesn't mean I don't care. I care for everyone in this village. They're my responsibility. Sure, many can handle themselves, but I'm pretty much the only one trained to take on monsters. You know, leviathans and such,” Viizhiar said, scraping away at a large piece of ivory, forming what appeared to be a rather large, curved sword.
“Well, I can see why he decided to keep you around!” A deep voice exclaimed, with a chuckle. Startled , Violierna whipped around to find a large orc crouching in front of her, cupping his chin. “Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to scare you.”
“I think your entrance was a little much for her right now, Auhgan. By the way, how's that armor coming?”
“Quite well, actually. Just putting on the finishing touches. And the sword?”
“It will be finished shortly, provided nothing major happens. If not, I'll just finish it up next time I'm in town.
“Going on a hunt, eh? That reminds me. If you kill your target, bring back a venom gland for Raetha, and give me a sample of that carapace, and a claw.”
“Will do,” Viizhiar replied, with Auhgan returning to his work.
“What are you hunting this time? Giant scorpions?” Violierna asked.
“Leviathans, actually. A courier came by earlier and handed me a note detailing the location and number of the beasts.”
“It's a three day walk, and the number is unconfirmed, but from what we know of them, the pack is likely going to number between three and seven.”
“How many have you eliminated?”
“Dunno. Lost track long ago. The guild hall keeps all the records.”
“Guild? Oh, I get it. You mean like a militia?”
“Kind of, but not really. We're a group dedicated to eliminating monsters whenever we think they're wandering too close to civilization. Widely, we're known as Söldner. Our identities aren't exactly secret, you know, and while I may not be the toughest of our little group, I can hold my ground fairly easily in a fight.”
“Do you travel alone often?”
“Sometimes. It's rather boring, though. Rather have someone to talk to. Even if you get into an argument with them, it's better than being alone. At least, that's what I think.”
“And why are you telling me all of this?”
“I'm just gonna give it to you straight: I don't really expect to live for too much longer. Besides, we have no secrets to keep. Any other questions?”
“No, I think I've run out of things to talk about, right now. On that note, I think I'm gonna go shopping.”
“Aren't you broke?”
“I've got jewelry I can sell,” Violierna said, removing several rings from her fingers, and bracelets from her wrists.
“You sure about that?” Viizhiar began. “What if you actually end up going back-”
“I already told you, Viizhiar. I'm dead to everyone where I'm from, and I won't rest until I see justice done. But now is not the time for such thoughts. Maybe one day... Forget it. Right now, I'll just keep my mind on the town.”
Slowly, she walked over to the smithy, where Auhgan hammered away at a rather elaborately carved, circular piece of metal.
“How can I be of service?” He asked, turning his attention away from the tempered piece of steel.
“Are you buying, right now?”
“Are you selling? If you are, then I'm buying.”
“Here,” Violierna said, placing a small pile of rings and bracelets on the workbench. “Do what you will with them. Melt them down, sell them, I don't care. However,” she picked a single ring out of the pile, and held it in plain view of Auhgan. “I want this one destroyed.”
“Very well,” he said, taking the pile and heading inside. He returned moments later with an emerald and a small mound of coins in his large hands. “One flawless emerald, seven silver, and thirty-seven copper Kret.”
Receiving the coins and gemstone from Auhgan, she went about her way as he immediately set to work on systematically destroying her engagement ring. The clatter of the forge eventually faded into the background, as the noise of the street took over the atmosphere. While not the busiest town she had ever seen, people were certainly going about their daily lives, yet nobody seemed to pay any mind to the shops. A young Azhurian man and a middle-age Nord polished shields and swords, and a female high elf had lost herself in a spell tome, across the way. Hesitant to interrupt the elf during her study, she approached the weapons vender, instead.
“Tiberius,” the Nord began. “A customer is waiting. Aren't you going to help her out?”
“Oh! Sorry,” Tiberius began. “How may I help you, today, ma'am?”
“Yes, do you sell throwing knives, here?”
“Yes, actually. How many?”
“Right away. Uhh, Siddir?”
“What is it?”
“Where do you keep the throwing knives?”
“I'll get them,” Siddir sighed, entering his shop. He appeared moments later with a bundle of leather. “Here you are, eighteen knives. Also, please forgive my assistant, he's barely been working for me a year. I don't trust him with those damned things, yet. Anything else I can help you with?”
“Do you sell traveling supplies?”
“Afraid not. However, you can check the general goods store. They might have something. Oh, and before you run off, that will be thirty-six silver Kret.”
Hesitating, Violierna rummaged through her coin purse, before sighing and retrieving the emerald Auhgan had given her. Taking the stone, Siddir entered his shop once more, and returned moments later with a ruby, amethyst, and a few silver coins.
“Thank you, come again!” Siddir exclaimed as Violierna deposited the coins in the small, leather bag.
Crossing the worn, dirt path, she stopped to browse some of the items on display at the magic shop. Spell tomes, magic staves, and enchanted jewelry all lay in display cases, while the elf tending to the shop still had her nose buried in her tome, seemingly oblivious to practically everything around her.
“Excuse me,” Violierna said, trying to garner the woman's attention.
“Huh? Oh! Forgive me, just studying magical theory. You must be the one Viizhiar brought in. Peculiar talents, he has. But where are my manners? I'm Erisanwe, please feel free to browse my wares. I can answer just about any question you may have about my goods. But do keep in mind that magic is not a cheap service.”
“A little off-topic from what I was wanting to know, but how does everyone know Viizhiar so well?”
“A bit of a gossiper, are we? Well, when it comes to women like you or I, it's not that hard to see why people find him so... fascinating.”
“You've sought a relationship with him in the past?”
“If you want to call it that. I once had Raetha prepare a love potion, which I was going to give to him.”
“It didn't go as planned, did it?”
“Alas, no. One of the beggars must have been desperately thirsty, so he snatched it. Wound up chasing a mule for a week. It was quite humorous and sad while it lasted.”
“Wish I could have been here to see that.”
“Indeed. So, anything I can help you with?”
“What kind of enchantments do you sell, exactly?”
“Elemental resistance, elemental damage, greater damage absorption for shields and armor, and I can even enchant a knapsack to make all of its contents much lighter. If you're still not sold, I can also enchant your clothes or armor so your spells can do more damage while costing less Materia, or so you can swing your sword harder and faster and not be as fatigued. As they say, magic is only limited by the imagination of the wielder.”
“Those are all well worth my money, but I will need to come back when I have more,” Violierna said, cupping her chin, as if in deep thought.
“Very well, come again.”
“By the way, can you point me to the general goods store and the apothecary?”
“Well, Raetha runs the apothecary with her assistant, an Azhurian man by the name of Larisus. He translates for her, and she makes the potions. It's three buildings to your... right? That would be my left, wouldn't it? Anyway, the general goods store is run by an Azhurian man called Dexiirian. His shop is located across the road from Raetha's.”
Moseying along the path through the hamlet, she couldn't help but overhear the idle conversations people were partaking in, but quickly shut them out. Within less than a minute, she stood beneath a sign with a mortar and pestle, hanging from a wooden beam by some chains near the doorway. Entering the apothecary, she was welcomed by a wall of strange odors.
“Welcome, please, take a look around and let me know if you see anything you like,” a young Azhurian man greeted.
“You must be Larisus?” Violierna asked, choking on the overwhelming aromas.
“Yes,” he answered. “Erisanwe sent you, didn't she? And sorry about the smell. We do our best to keep this place from being mistaken for a heretic's home.”
“Oh, you know, people who give blood sacrifices to dark beings, desecrate holy grounds, and all other activities that would incite violence towards such miscreants as themselves.”
“Right. Anyway, what all do you sell?”
“Potions, poisons, even perfumes. Or, if you're into alchemy yourself, we do have some ingredients for sale.”
Just as Violierna was about to answer, and elderly-sounding woman yelled down from the upper floor in a language she couldn't possibly understand, to which Larisus responded in the same manner of what sounded like gibberish. The conversation proceeded for another moment as she browsed the apothecary's wares.
“Sorry about that, Raetha was wanting to know where I left the millipedes. What kind of perfume requires millipedes, anyway?”
“No idea, but I'm curious. Who's Raetha?”
“Thought you looked new to the area. Raetha's a blood elf. Naturally talented in alchemy like a significant portion of her kind. She's taught me so much, and I get to work on being a merchant, as a bonus. She... doesn't speak our language. Grew up in a hamlet that still used ferns to make their clothing and stuck to traditions from thousands of years ago. Eventually, she had enough, snuck out to a town, traded trinkets for real clothes, and put her skills as an alchemist to market. But, enough about that. Did you see anything of interest to you?”
“Not really. I don't think I have the money, even.”
“Alright, be sure to drop by again sometime.”
Exiting the apothecary, Violierna was greeted with the clarity of open air, as opposed to the stuffiness of a perfume-soaked shop. Heading across the road to the general goods store, she felt a hand grab her firmly by the shoulder.
“I just want to ask you a couple questions, then I'll let you go on your way. Alright, ma'am?” A guard asked. Violierna simply gave a nod in response. “Seeing as you're new in town, I was wondering if you've seen this man out on the road?” He held up a warrant poster with the picture of a Nordic-looking man with a scarred face, and white hair. The bounty was an impressive thirty-thousand gold Kret.
“I'm sorry, but I haven't,” Violierna answered, taking great care to hide her abject terror, believing this to be a cover for him sniffing her out.
“Damn,” he muttered, kicking the dirt. “Well, keep an eye out. He's a dangerous bandit leader and expert thief. Smart, skilled, he once took out an entire platoon without even being seen. Tell ya one thing, though. Bringing back an item famous criminals are known for carrying will usually yield a substantial reward. Keep an eye out for the people on these posters, and be careful on the road. Danger can come from anywhere. Good day.”
Entering the general store, there was a labyrinth of miscellaneous items, mostly what appeared to be junk, scattered about the floor.
“Come in, come in!” A middle-aged man shouted from a back room. “Mind the objects on the floor, don't want you to get impaled by a knife, now! Just cleaning up.”
“So, what happened in here?” Violierna called out.
“A group of merchants came through a few days ago, and this is the aftermath! I can't believe I've even got room for all this. Thankfully, we've got Erisanwe. Love that bottomless chest she gave me. Just don't fall in.”
“Umm.... bottomless chest?” Violierna asked, slowly making her way through the labyrinth of of items, careful to not snag her robe.
“Something about distorting space-time to make a bubble on the imaginary plane with zero gravity, or something fancy like that. If you want to know anything about enchanted furniture, she's your girl. Me? I wouldn't know anything about that, I'm a merchant. She said that the volume of the bubble will increase as you insert more objects. At least, I think that's what she said. Anyway, how can I help you?” He asked, walking out of the back room to behind the counter. He was a tall, almost lanky man, and starting to bald on the top of his scalp.
“What kind of traveling supplies do you sell?”
“Where to begin,” Dexiirian paused, folding his arms, and cupping his chin. “Well, I've got knapsacks, rope, cloths of various sizes and materials, iron stakes, pretty much anything for a camp site, and a compass, developed only a couple centuries ago by a team of Nord and Azhurian scholars. I don't know if it was a spark of genius within the group, or just plain boredom. So, what do you say? Interested in anything? Supply is so high, I'm willing to offer a better price than usual.”
“May I ask you one question?”
“Why did you buy all this stuff? This looks like it cost a fortune!”
“Granted, the group of merchants were silver tongues, but I was better. I was able to knock them down to the point where we both made money, but I would still come out on top, even if I reduced my prices an asinine amount. They were journeymen in the field. I worked tirelessly in numerous shops around major cities to hone my marketing skills. They seemed to rely on nothing more than raw talent. Sorry to say, that will only get them so far. Enough about that. Is there anything here that piqued your interest?”
“How about that compass, four meters of rope, a large blanket, and a knapsack?”
“Let me figure this up... ah, yes. That'll be eighty-seven gold, and six silver Kret.”
“Well, here's the silver, but what should I pay off the rest of it with? The ruby, or amethyst?”
“The amethyst will do fine,” Dexiirian said, receiving the gemstone and leaving for the rear of the shop. He returned less than a minute later with a small pile of gold coins. “And thirteen gold coins.” Crouching down, he dug the items out from the counter's shelves, and placed them on the counter top, without creating a jumbled mess. “You're not from around here, are you?”
Hesitating, Violierna raced for an answer, before finally shaking her head.
“I see. Well, if you want to have a nice, long look around town, this stuff will be waiting for you when you get back.”
“And, do be careful. Bandits love to pray on small, lightly-manned towns like this. Never know when a squad of them will show up. I don't think you want to know what they do to pretty young women, like yourself. Always have your blade ready on the outskirts of town. Or a spell, if you're a mage.”
“Are they a common threat around here?”
“We have had a few incursions, here and there. Skirmishes that don't last too long. Whenever Viizhiar's in town, though, it's like they sense something's off. They turn tail as soon as they see him.”
“He doesn't seem to be that much of a threat.”
“I wouldn't cross him. I heard a whisper of a rumor some time ago that a rather large force of bandits ambushed a small merchant caravan he was escorting. From what I heard, he killed most of them in a rather short period of time, prompting the rest to flee. Well, I think I've spent enough of your time. As I said, your purchases will be waiting for you when you return.”
“Thank you, again,” Violierna said, carefully wading through the scattered mess of merchandise, heading toward the door.
Exiting the shop, she continued the way she was headed, past small houses, and eventually through a thin wall of trees, leading out to a vast expanse of farm land, on the other bank of a creek. Pigs lay in the mud, shielding themselves from the summer heat, and a Clydesdale pacing around the fence. But amidst the relative emptiness of the farmland, a powerful presence could be felt. The horse turned tail, and ran for a distant barn. The swine tried to follow the horse's lead, but were much slower. Quickly, Violierna took cover behind a nearby cluster of bushes, still trying to find the source of such power. Before long, an apparition appeared, seeming as a young woman, no older than herself. The shade looked right at Violierna, then disappeared as quickly as it came.
“That was... bizarre,” Violierna muttered, climbing out from behind the bush.
Seconds later, footsteps could be heard rushing toward her location. Turning around, Erisanwe and some guards came running, as if a portal to Hell had just opened.
“I don't know what you felt, Erisanwe, but I don't see anything,” one of the guards stated, drawing his sword. “Maybe her?”
“No, not at all. This presence was much more powerful, and much older. To come and go so quickly, the user must have had centuries of experience with Alteration-class magics, and to have such a massive aura, just as long in Destruction.”
“Yes, but, why here?”
“I wish I knew. Why don't we ask our witness what she saw?” Erisanwe asked, approaching Violierna. “You are the sole witness to what just happened here, so tell us, what did you see? Did you feel anything?”
“First, I felt a strong presence, much like the one you did, then an image of a young woman appeared just on the other bank of that creek. I don't think she looked any older than you or I, but the power of any mage I've ever met pales into insignificance of what we just felt.”
“Well, I have read that it is possible to have a shade resembling a younger version of one's self. But to transfer such power with it? What were they thinking?”
“Not a clue,” Violierna shrugged, turning from the party, and walking back toward town.
“Erisanwe,” one of the guards began. “Do you know from where that spell was cast?
“While the air is thick with the residuals from that spell, it's impossible to tell who sent it, and from where,” she answered.
Pausing for a moment at the side of the road, Violierna opened her coin purse, and took count of the coins and gems inside.
“Such a paltry amount of coin! I hope the food isn't too expensive,” she began, mumbling to herself. “If I don't find work, I won't even be able to afford enough food to keep me focused... Oh, how I thought I'd never miss being rich. Just goes to show how smart I am...”
Proceeding down the path she had just came moments earlier, she couldn't help but think of the items she had left at Dexiirian's for a later time. Not too much later, the shop's door was on her left, and upon entering the store, heard a hushed, cruel voice from the back of the shop. Curious, she went to investigate.
“How long does it take to open a damn safe!?” A man demanded.
“There's six dials, and my memory goes out more than I do, so be patient!”
“If you can't open it, old man, I'll find a way.”
“Good luck, young man. You should see the bolts holding this door on! They're very impressive!”
So, stalling for time, by pretending to be a senile old man? I don't think that burglar is buying it, Violierna thought, readying a throwing knife.
Slowly approaching the room, the sound of a cloak spell disengaging at the other end of the room tipped her off to another presence. Facing the threat, a large man in black was already charging her. Having no time to hurl the throwing knife at him, she side-stepped on instinct, and hurled her knife into his shoulder. While it caused him visible pain, it only seemed to make him angrier, as he ripped it out of his body and slowly approached her with it.
“That is the last mistake you will ever make!” He growled. Lunging forward, the thug successfully grabbed Violierna by the neck with one hand, and flipped down her hood with the other. “Ah, it'll be a pleasure, elf. First, I'll let the others take turns with you, after myself, of course. Then I'll let the chief decide what he wants done with you!”
“Over my dead body!” Violierna shouted, placing her hands on his chest, a pulse of magic shoving him across the room, into the opposite wall.
“Ow! Feisty little mage who knows her way around a spell tome! Just my type!” As he sat up, Violierna was already towering over him, seething with rage. Making an attempt to stand, she planted her foot firmly between his legs, causing him to immediately curl up into a ball.
“Congratulations! You are now female,” Violierna taunted, the memory of someone screaming bloody murder scratching at the back of her mind.
“They're in my stomach,” the thug whimpered, having a voice with a much higher pitch than before.
Turning to face the second, he had already taken Dexiirian hostage, holding his curved blade against the man's neck.
“Drop your weapons, come with me, and you won't have to watch an old man die,” the bandit ordered.
Hesitating, Violierna stared at the blade, then Dexiirian, then the thief. Pausing, she let the small throwing knife in her hand drop to the floor, before depositing the satchels of identical blades around her.
“That's a girl,” the bandit said, dropping Dexiirian, leaving a small cut in his neck, and obviously pleased with his prize.
“I hope you're not afraid of the dark,” Violierna began. “Such a stealthy person as yourself ought to consider it home.”
Before the bandit could make another move, the candles seemed to be snuffed out, and the shop filled with a dense, black fog. The only relief to be found were rays of light shining through the windows. Seconds later, the fog dispersed, and the bandit found his own blade against his throat.
“You know, I've never taken a life before. I wonder what the law would say about that? A small reward for your untimely demise, maybe?” Violierna whispered into his ear, before removing the blade from his throat and planting her elbow into the back of his skull, knocking him out cold.
“Are you alright?” She asked, turning to Dexiirian. “Let me take a look at your neck.” As Dexiirian removed his fingers, blood once again began flowing onto his shirt, prompting Violierna to place her hand on his neck, and cast a healing spell. Quickly, the wound shrank from a noticeable slit, to an insignificant surface wound.
“What's going on in here!?” A voice boomed from the front of the shop. Standing to face the source of the sound, Violierna noticed a squad of guards entering the store.
“We thought we heard someone scream,” another guard spoke up. The group glanced between the two thieves and Dexiirian for a moment. “Tell me, old man. Did you do this to these two?”
“Are you daft? Look at them! They could have easily cut him down to size!”
“Well, besides us and them, I don't see anyone else here!”
“I can't believe I didn't notice, until you said something!” Dexiirian gasped.
“What are you on about, old man?”
“There was a woman here just as you were entering my shop! She's the one who did this!”
“I hope she knows that it's a crime to leave the scene of a crime before an investigation can be completed.”
“Tell me, Dexiirian, what did this woman look like?”
“Dark skin, black hair, small build, moved silently. However, I did watch her shove that one into the wall, there. Well, thrown, would probably be the better word.”
“Something's not adding up. How could someone her size just throw someone as large as that one?”
“Isn't it obvious?” The thief grunted, still curled up. “She used a pulse of magic to send me flying. It knocked the wind out of me, sure but I almost got back up, if not for her damn foot hitting my-”
“Enough from you. Dexiirian, the description you gave us sounds just like the woman Viizhiar brought in.”
“What?” The thief asked, surprised. “Viizhiar? That dark elf? Dammit! If we had known he were going to be back so soon...”
“So, the rumors are true? Viizhiar is well known among criminals like yourselves? If that's the case, why risk attacking this town?”
“There's the obvious reasons, but outside of that, it's top secret. We were just sent here as scouts and opportunists. The boss hates it when we return empty-handed.”
“Tell me, boy, are you part of the Nightclaw or-”
“How dare you insult me like that! Those Nightclaw bastards are cowards! Always sneaking around, never letting people see them!”
“Was it brave to hold an old man hostage? Tell me your view, Splinter Twin.”
I hope I didn't cause too much alarm when I suddenly disappeared like that. Poor Dexiirian. An old man like him shouldn't have to endure that. I wonder what Viizhiar... Violierna's thoughts were interrupted when Aughan came barreling through, right in front of her, with Viizhiar not far behind.
“You'll pay for what you said about my work!” Aughan shouted, missing Viizhiar and almost hitting Violierna, instead. “I'm sorry! Are you alright?”
“First rule of combat: Never take your eyes off the enemy!” Viizhiar shouted, planting both feet into Aughan's side, knocking him to the ground. “Oh, back already? Aughan and I were just having a little fun.”
Apparently, I walk faster than I think. I need to be more aware.
“Hypocrite!” Aughan interrupted, plowing into Viizhiar, knocking him onto his back. “Kids these days! I'm getting too old for this crap! Second rule of combat: Never underestimate your opponent.”
“Gotta say, Aughan,” Viizhiar began, jumping to his feet. “That's the best blow you've landed on me in a while.”
“Before you continue, look. We've got company.”
“Judging by the carriage, I'd say they look pretty important. Why would they be stopping here, though? We're just a hamlet in the middle of nowhere.”
“Who knows? Who cares? I don't.”
“Why the long face, Violierna?” Viizhiar asked, his attitude turning from erratic and playful to concerned. “Something happen with Dexiirian?”
“Bandits attacked him, then they attacked me. One tried to kill the old man, the other spoke of wanting to pass me around between the others in his clan.”
“Violierna, I think you should know that it's the way bandits treat decent people that makes me angry, but even for a stranger to hear that for themselves makes me beyond furious.” Viizhiar growled, balling his hands into fists.
“Don't worry. I took them both out and healed Dexiirian's wounds. He's fine, now. The town guard has it all under control.”
“Glad to hear it,” Viizhiar muttered, relaxing. “I guess.”
“Typical hamlet. Filled with those too poor to live somewhere with culture. The stench displeases me. And what do we have here? A mercenary getting friendly with a local girl? Just when I thought it couldn't stink any worse. Now, then, I wonder if the food tastes as bad as the blacksmith's work looks,” a high elf in elaborate white and crimson robes, accompanied by two guards sneered. Aughan became visibly irritated at the elf's mockery, as a misplaced hard blow cracked the still-fragile form of a blade. “You, there. Mercenary. Where can I find a place to eat in this... in this town?”
“That building behind you. Just touch the brass plate next to the door, take a seat, and someone will be with you shortly.”
“If you insist,” the elf sighed, ambling toward the metal sheet, before touching it and finding a seat under the awning. He was met not much later by a woman in peasant clothes.
“I don't like the look of him,” Violierna whispered to Viizhiar.
“Now that you mention it, I think I know those robes. He must be a representative from Nechriin. For all we know, he could be here to negotiate a treaty, or trade agreement. You can't let his attitude get to you. They're all like that. Arrogant and incredibly vain. Even the poorest high elf still considers himself wealthier than a noble in Aecherion.”
“It's not that. Something just doesn't feel right...”
“I'm pretty sure you're just shaken from what happened in Dexiirian's shop, earlier. Come on, just sit down and enjoy the weather, if nothing else.”
“Very well then,” Violierna sighed, taking a seat on the stump next to Viizhiar.
“So, what's that sword you're carving out of that piece of ivory?”
“It's a thin, curved sword called a katana. Due to the material it's made from, it doesn't have much use beyond decoration. Unless you plan on running someone through with it, that is.”
“And just why are you spending so much time making this?”
“Guess I have too much time on my hands.”
“So, tell me, what is a leviathan, anyway?”
“It's kind of hard to describe, but you'll know one when you see it. Not like any other creature at all.”
“There's gotta be something more menacing than a leviathan. Come on, what is it?”
“Have you heard of the hydra?”
“No, can't say I have.”
“They're terrifying, massive beasts. While I've only seen them in books, as most have, they are a great mystery. Nobody knows how long they live, or where they come from. They just appear, practically overnight.”
“Has anybody killed one?”
“No. Only one person has encountered a hydra, in the last couple centuries, but they failed to defeat it.”
“The poor bastard. That must be a horrible way to die.”
“From what I've read, he drove it back.”
“Who could be capable of doing that?”
“I don't know his name, or much about him at all, except the fact that he was a royal assassin who claimed to have encountered one such beast. He described it in great detail, and only had a few minor injuries.”
“I imagine you probably tried to find out more about him?”
“Of course. Never found anything, though. No name, no service record, nothing. The only thing I could find was that he drove back a hydra. A pretty impressive feat, really. I'm hoping to kill a hydra one of these days so I can draw his attention, so he may consider me a worthy opponent to fight. I want to meet him, and see his strength. With how rare hydra are, though, I don't know if I'll ever get the chance...”
“You're more bloodthirsty than I thought.”
“Nah, I just get bored easy. Besides, I like to know if someone is as tough as they say they are, and... What's going on, over there?”
“You expect me to eat this slop?” The high elf from before shouted, scolding the woman who had just brought him his food.
“I'm sorry, there must be some mistake,” she began. “This is exactly what you ordered. It may not look like much, but it certainly tastes much better than it looks!”
“I ordered today's special; boar steak with lemon and parsley garnish! Look at this, the lemon is barely ripe, the meat is stringy and the parsley is wilting!”
“I can speak to the cook, if you like.”
“That won't be necessary, I'll send a stronger message.” With a snap of his fingers, two nearby guards approached the woman. One held her from behind, while the other drew his sword, and prepared to bring down a heavy strike. A bright flash, and the guard was on the ground a couple feet away, the side of his armor smoldering, a dark-skinned elf standing where he was not much earlier.
“Let her go,” the elf ordered, only for the guard to draw his own blade, and hold it against the woman's throat.
“Who are you? What's the meaning of this insolence!?” The high elf shouted, outraged.
“Wouldn't you like to know? Order your guard to let her go, and things won't get ugly.”
“Viizhiar! What are you thinking!?” Aughan shouted. “Do you realize who this man is? You can't just-”
“Silence, you idiot! The problem here is, the food wasn't cooked to his impossible standards, so he's going to take the life of the woman who gave him his food! That's not justifiable, no matter who you are!”
“Viizhiar, is it? I've heard quite a bit about you, down south, only I expected you to be taller, and have some respect. Never thought I'd find you in a tiny hamlet like this.”
“I'm not a big fan of cities, or the posh lifestyle. I prefer working, and risking getting my face eaten by things you wouldn't dare come within a thousand feet of.”
“Yes, yes, I've heard of your achievements. A regular Söldner, really. Even though you hold a lower rank, you're one of the most famous ones, aside from just about everyone else in your pathetic, little guild.”
“I really don't care how much you insult me, but you never insult my friends like that! You have thirty seconds to get out of here, or you will burn.”
“I don't think so, boy!” The elf said, drawing a dagger. “You shall learn the fate of those who have crossed the Shi Hando.”
“You asked for it!” Viizhiar shouted, unleashing a flurry of flaming punches, until the immediate area was covered in thick smoke. “Alright, I think we're done, here.”
“Behind you!” Aughan shouted, with Viizhiar rolling forward, as a blade came down, where he just was.
“Foolish, ignorant child!” The elf shouted, in a rage. “Did you really think that was going to kill me?” A gale spiraled out from around him, causing the smoke to clear, revealing that he didn't even have so much as singed clothing or hair.
“Impossible,” Viizhiar muttered, before trying another fireblast, only for it to be redirected entirely.
“You still haven't learned anything! That won't work on me!” The elf shouted, slashing at Viizhiar, until he was finally backed up against an invisible wall.
“Now I have you, you insolent rat! Prepare to die!” He shouted, rasising his knife into the air, and bringing it down, connecting to Viizhiar's shoulder.
“Ow!” Viizhiar exclaimed, feeling the dull pain of a crossguard colliding with his body.
“What, but... how!?” The elf asked, astonished to find that his dagger had been cut down to the guard.
“Oh, dear, did I break the brat's toy? I hate it when that happens,” a woman said, in a drawn-out tone, tossing a detached blade in the air repeatedly, as if it were a stick.
“You may have taken my dagger, but I still have my- where is it? Where did it go? Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Violierna, if you must know, and are you talking about this thing?” She asked, holding up a small, iron, egg-shaped piece with a short neck and long lever on the side. Slowly, she walked toward the elf, who conjured a forcefield around himself.
“Don't you get it?” He began, his voice shaking. “That won't work on me!”
“If it won't work, then why are you trembling? Is it because I took your blade, and your final means of defense? Or is it because I am an unknown, and thus, in your eyes, a monster?” Violierna asked, inching the object through the forcefield, until it sat in her hand, inches from his face.
“No, no, please, don't release that lever!”
“And if I do? I know exactly what this is. Who's to say a girl doesn't like to see some good fire, every once in a while?” Violierna asked, easing up on the lever, until it fell to the ground, and after a short delay, a thunderous blast shook the area, and the elf's face and neck were engulfed in fire and shrapnel.
“How, how am I still alive?” The elf asked, stunned, patting himself down. “And more importantly, how did you get through my forcefield?”
“You're not the only one with that sort of knowledge, you know. I figured out how to disrupt your field in a specific area without destroying it, thus making it appear as if the bomb simply passed through it. I'm impressed, though. The blast was so strong, it stunned my hand through my own forcefield. I would suggest you take the advice you were given earlier, and leave.”
“You made the mistake of letting me live. Now, you'll pay!” Whipping around, the elf was about to hit her with some spells, only to find her behind him, and blood spraying out of his abdomen and near his spine.
“Who is this girl? Some kind of monster?” One of the elf's guards gasped.
“Did anyone even see her stab him?” Another astonished guard asked.
“Don't worry, he'll live,” Violierna said, dropping the dagger blade and falling to the ground, unconscious.