Fable - Ask An Escort to Vel Anir

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Varo

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The West road - Between Alliria and Vel Anir
Colette

As it turned out, the Anirians were really serious about their laws.

A few months ago someone had told him that Vel Anir was a place of law, order, and punishment. They had told him that the city and it's Guardsmen followed and obeyed the law without question, that they were the best in all Arethil and bending their watchful eyes was all but impossible. Varo, of course, at the time had assumed that person was full of shit.

Every Guard he had ever met, every city watchmen, ever militiamen had some sort of weakness. Sometimes it was wine, sometimes it was women, but most of the time it was just a big bag of gold.

He had assumed it would be the same with the Anirians. He had simply assured himself that if he got himself caught he could bribe or talk himself out of the situation without much of a problem. As it turned out...that was entirely and completely wrong. The whole affair had been entirely overblown of course, he'd only tried to steal one small bag of gold from the transport cart. Even that he would have returned at the end of the night.

Varo had only needed it to buy into a game of cards, he would have one thrice the money over again and returned what he'd taken.

...Probably.

The Anirians however had been a tad too watchful. One of the older Guards had tracked him down after his successful heist, probably because he'd been the only one in the Tavern playing with Anirian Crowns.

Now he found himself sitting in a small cage atop a cart, two other men stuck inside with him. He had no idea what they'd done, and in truth he didn't particularly care either. Neither of them were up for much talking, as he'd discovered in the first day of the journey, and thus as he shifted on the uncomfortable hay on the bottom of the cage he turned his attention to one of the Guardsmen...woman. Guardswoman.

"Psst." Varo hissed at the girl. "Pssssst."

He tried to catch her attention.
 
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Colette

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One thing that always bothered Colette about her mandatory service was the fact she had been assigned to the northern guard. If they weren’t in some fringe land fighting off rebels or camping they were putting down crime in border towns that dotted the road up to Alliria.

It was exhausting. All of her friends growing up had been fortunate enough to join the homeguard, the guard of the east. Probably eating chicken basquaise or sipping on Anirian Cognac.

Meanwhile she was on ‘watch duty’ for the cutpurse, the smuggler, and the one her sergeant had simply called a, “goat fucker.”

Of course the sergeant, Gerald, was in front of the cart. Leading their mule by his rope and scratchy at his scraggly beard. When you got up in years the guard was a lot looser with regulations… particularly here in the north.

And then, even further ahead was Phillip. “Scouting” the path for danger.

It was a boring march back towards home. Colette wasn’t even permitted to speak with the three criminals they were hauling. Something about her being too trusting or whatever it was the sergeant had said. But when the blue-eyed cutpurse began to whisper in her direction there wasn’t much she could do.

After all, it would be rude to ignore him.

”Y-yes?”

Her voice was a whisper as she pondered if he was thirsty or just as horribly bored as she.
 
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Varo

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Oh dear fuck was that a blessing and a half. From the reputation that he'd been given about the Anirian Guard he had half expected her to bash him in the face with the hilt of her sword.

Pretty as she was, Varo had learned over the last few months never to underestimate even the most adorable of women. Wren had been quick to teach that particular lesson, throwing him into a table with about as much effort as tossing a sack of peas.

He'd ached for nearly a week. "Could I trouble you for a little bit of water?"

Varo whispered, trying to offer her his most innocent smile.

"It's a bit hot, and I haven't had anything to drink since..." He didn't want to say 'since your boss caught me and threw me into this cell'. "Yesterday."

Bright blue pleading eyes gazed up at her with all the desperation of a puppy asking for some bacon.
 
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Colette

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Eyes of innocence stared at the pathetic thief trapped within the cage. He had gone an entire day with not even a drop of water to sate his thirst? This land truly was destitute.

The guardswoman cut a look towards Gerald, ensuring his eyes were still trained on the road ahead. She couldn’t risk getting into trouble again. She absolutely hated to be scolded by the elder guardsmen like him.

”It is hot,” her hands gently unbound the canteen from its holster and quietly removed the cork.

It never made much sense, to her at least, that they crammed prisoners into such tiny cages without a morsel of food or a gourd of water to quench their throats. Seemed inhumane and inappropriate even if they were criminals.

Nervously she glanced back at her superior before locking eyes with the sad convict, ”be quick about it, I shouldn’t even be speaking with you.” An arm stretched out towards the prisoner as Colette used her chin to gesture towards the leather-bound canteen.
 
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Varo

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If he were a violent man he could have grabbed her arm and forced her against the cage. Threatened to snap her neck unless they released him.

Luckily for Colette, Varo was far form a violent man. In fact, he was just a bit of a moron. He grabbed the canteen from her swiftly, pulling it up to his lips and taking three large gulps. It was wonderfully cleansing in a way, washing away the dryness of his throat and sending a shiver down his spine.

A breath escaped him as he pulled the canteen away. "Thank you..."

What did he call her?

"Ma'am?" No that didn't seem right. "Guardswoman?...Lady...?"

Varo had never really known with humans. They were an odd lot to begin with, and though his mother had been one his father had raised him in Ivradin with strict Elven manners.

That didn't do him much good here, especially since he suspected the moment they took a closer look at his ears things would get a lot worse for him.
 
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Colette

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Immediately Colette realized she had been a good judge of character here. The poor wretch scarfed down three hearty gulps of water, just as anyone who'd gone a full day without such necessities would do. She was confident now that she was dealing with someone who could certainly be trusted.

"You're welcome." A warm smile grew across her face and raced towards her cheeks.

It felt good to be helping people instead of enforcing laws or fighting against savages.

In a meek, timid, voice she clarified for the man, "my name's Colette." She dared to look towards the front of the cart again. To her relief the sergeant still hadn't noticed that his less experienced soldier was interacting with this particular prisoner.

"What's your name?" Her inquiry was followed up by a kind suggestion, "you may want to hand my canteen back soon... lest we both find ourselves in trouble."

The warmth on her face was quickly shifting to nervousness.
 
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Varo

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Varo glanced over towards the Sergeant.

He was the man who had actually caught up to Varo and noticed him playing with the stolen money. The bastard had sneaked up on him and blackjacked him before he even had a chance to try and get out of it. His head was still throbbing from that.

A frown touched his face for a brief moment, and then he slowly corked the canteen and offered it back to Colette. "I'm Varo."

That wasn't his real name, but ti was the one that Irari had given him when he'd joined the others in Alliria. It suited him just fine though, and he'd even come to like it over the last few months.

Briefly he wondered if the others would come looking for him.

"Do you know where we're going?" He asked, confident that they couldn't possibly be going all the way back to Vel Anir.
 
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Colette

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Varo? What an odd name.

Colette fastened the canteen back upon her hip. Eyelids blinked upon noticing the man's frown and his question of where the prison cart was headed. Surely he knew that it was the Anirian Guard that had captured him.

"We're off to Vel Anir," her voice as quiet as a church mouse, "it's actually quite lovely this time of year. I know a few good spots for a filling meal and a quaint cafe with teas from all over Arethil."

Her lips tightened shut as she recalled who she was conversing with. A convict who'd likely be found guilty swiftly and serve a prison sentence. Likely at least a few months for stealing from an Anirian citizen. At least he was human though otherwise...

And that was when she noticed the ears poking through his chestnut hair. An elf?

The small guardswoman's mouth hung agape as she tried not to stare. "Are you..." her voice drew ever quieter as she leaned in closer to the cage, "...an elf?"
 
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Varo

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"Oh lovely." Varo answered as she mentioned Cafes, absolutely no hint of sarcasm to his tone.

Back in Alliria, in his gang, he was what many would call a 'face'. When it came to sweet talking, convincing, essentially just putting the best foot forward Varo was the man. This often lead him to visit higher end establishments, including Pâtisserie's.

"I do love a good pastry." He told her, again almost as though he weren't even in a cage. "There is this lovely tea fro-"

Fuck.

Colette spoke, words interrupting his own, and he felt his stomach drop. Fingers tightened instantly and he pulled back slightly from the bars. Hands quickly tussled his hair, and he shook his head. "No."

He guffawed. "No. No."

Varo shook his head.

"Obviously not." His words were still a hushed whisper, but there was a hurry to them now.
 
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Colette

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To her shock the captive seemed genuinely interested in Vel Anir. Colette’s ears had even perked up at the mention of a tea she may not have tried yet.

Now, the young woman wasn’t particularly good at reading people but even she could tell that the caged creature before her had been made uncomfortable by her question. She may not have been the sharpest mind in the guard but she wasn’t a buffoon.

”Hm,” a delicate finger touched her lower lip in contemplation.

Donric had told her many stories of elves. She’d been familiar with fables that all Anirian children were told about their duplicity and negative traits. And she had seen, with her own bright blues, the separate prisoner processing reserved for elves and other non-humans.

She knew that the officials within the city walls would discover those ears swiftly and then… well… it was reason to be fearful. Hell, Colette could probably alert Gerald right now and he’d likely string the man up here and now. Save the mule from the burden of one extra body.

Ignoring the pit forming in her gut she stared back at the poor thing.

”So, about the tea you were mentioning?” Colette would keep his secret safe. For now, at least.
 
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Varo

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Varo narrowed his eyes at the Guardswoman for a few moments, a cornered animal with a stolen steak in his mouth. He could feel his heart thumping in his chest, the sound of it thundering in his ears almost deafening.

His chest rose and fell with steady breath. He expected her to call her sergeant, to bring attention to his 'condition' and see him hanged from the nearest tree. Bright blue eyes focused on on her, watching, waiting with the utmost paranoia for her to turn him in. Yet it never came. Instead she asked about the tea, and Varo felt his face twist in confusion.

No yelling.

No throwing something at him in disgust. Just a merciful question about tea.

Varo could have cried in that moment. Not just because he wasn't going to be murdered, but because he'd just found a way that he might be able to escape. This Guardswoman...Colette, had a slight hint of humanity, ethics, morals maybe. She'd given him water, and now wasn't ready to just stamp on him in disgust for the point of his ears.

It was something, an opening. Maybe given enough time he could convince her to let him go.

Slowly he took in a deep breath, putting the smile back on his face and leaning forward so he did not have to talk as loud. "It's uhh, it's from the Wylds in the East."

He explained, getting some of his courage back.

"They make it with a flower." No one back home ever wanted to talk about tea. Irari liked the stuff, but she wasn't the best conversationalist, and everyone else didn't have the tongue for "fancy" drinks. Except Wren of course, but she would eat dirt to prove she wasn't a noble. "It tastes like fruit, though with slightly bitter aftertaste. Very good."
 
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Colette

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Panic gave way to an eerie calm. The wretch of a thing's heaving breath melting into a sigh of relief.

They Wylds in the East? Colette had never been further than Alliria. For a moment her mind raced with thoughts of a land to the east, decorated with beautiful landscapes and elaborate palaces. They probably didn't force their middle class families to send their sons and daughters into the guard. If Colette had grown up in these "wylds" she'd probably be eating a pastry and sipping some of that tea right now.

"Made with flowers?" Her face was alit with enthusiasm as Varo explained the exotic tea.

When was the last time she'd had such a civil conversation? Most of the guard, particularly here in the north, were far too rowdy for Colette's liking. Many of them seemed to think salt was the only seasoning that existed and the low-quality beer they drank seemed to only be good for testing one's gag reflex.

While Colette had grown up in a modest home, several rungs below Vel Anir's sophisticated nobles, she had fantasized about the frills of the finer things in life since she was a girl. Whether she was begging her father to go to the opera or trying a champagne her mother could rarely afford.

She had found none of those glimpses into high society while in her service to the Anirian Guard. Until now that is.

Who cared if this Varo fellow was an elf. Maybe elves weren't so bad after all. Particularly if she was able to have a real conversation for once. "That sounds lovely, I think I'd like to try that."

A hand dug into her rutsack and retrieved a piece of blueberry loaf she'd managed to whip up over the campfire a night or two prior. She'd been saving the last one for Phillip but the imprisoned half-elf before her would likely appreciate it more.

"Here, take this. If you haven't drank anything for a day I'm sure you're starving."
 
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Varo

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"It's great." Varo agreed enthusiastically. "You can find it at the Tulip Bulb Cafe."

The name, of course, fit what they served most. They had all sorts of floral teas. It was also a hot spot for many of the noble and wealthy ladies in Alliria. That was of course why Varo had gone there. Finding gossip of who was doing what and with whom was one of his roles in the gang.

The rich and powerful did love their gossip, especially over pastries and tea. "It's in the Inner-City, by Belethom Manor."

Varo detailed, of course not even thinking that Colette wouldn't know where that was.

For a few moments at least things were looking up. It seemed that he'd found one guardsmen who was not completely without a heart, and that was something he could use. He didn't know much about Vel Anir, but he knew enough that he didn't want to go there.

He had no idea how long the trip would take, but he hoped before it ended he would manage to convince Colette to let him free, or at least give him a shot at it.

"Oh, thank you." Varo said as he grabbed the small pastry, glancing over to the two other prisoners to make sure that they were still asleep and not paying attention to him. Then slowly he began to nibble on the bread.

"Thif if delifius." He contended, to her, losing sight of the manners that his father had tried to hard to instill in him.
 
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Colette

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"Oh, yes, Belethom Manor... I'm not actually that familiar with Alliria. I've only been once, as a girl. Hardly remember it."

Her face scrunched up at the sight of the man chomping away upon the baked good. He didn't need to state his opinion on it, the very manner in which he ate made his feelings obvious. And although his manners were atrocious the fact that he was enjoying something she had baked caused enough joy to overlook his faux pas.

"Thank you," she said with a nod, "the trick is to add a dash of salt. If I had some milk I could've made it taste even better."

Eyelids shut briefly as she thought through the process in her head. She'd stopped telling the other guardsmen of her dream to open a cafe and bakery once she was done with all of this. It usually was met with laughter or heckling.

"One other thing you can try with it is,"

"Maconner!"

Gerald's voice called out and forced a jump from the young guardswoman as her face jolted forwards.

"Why the hell are you fraternizin' with the prisoners? Eyes forward, trouble ahead."

"Yes sir! Sorry sir!"

He ignored her excuse and she could see why as her gaze moved just past the sergeant. Phillip had stopped in the trail, waiting for them to catch up, as a makeshift barricade of barrels and logs was strewn across the road. In front the obstacle stood too imposing figures armed with axes and adorned in raggedy cloths.

Colette dared one last look at the halfling as she whispered, "looks to be bandits or something, don't worry, the sergeant will handle this."

It didn't register to her that all three prisoners might actually prefer captivity by the bandits over the Anirians.
 
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Varo

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"You should think about opening your own pla-" Varo found himself rudely interrupted by the voice of the man that had captured him. His head snapped in a quick turn, lips thinning for a moment before he spotted the barricade that had been erected on the road.

Was it the gang?

No, that didn't make any sense. Jace and William would have insisted on coming at night, not stopping the wagon in the middle of the day. Wren would have known better too, so would Artemis for that matter. This was...something different.

His lips thinned for a moment, and then he slowly began to look around the foliage in the road.

The Anirians were just as vigilant, but it was clear their focus was more on what was in front and to the side than what was behind them. Varo frowned, glancing into the ditch that they had passed a little ways back.

His eyes narrowed as he thought he saw something moving there.
 
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Colette

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Phillip had muttered something to the Sergeant although they were too far for Colette to pick up on what was said. Perhaps this was all just a misunderstanding. Maybe all the debris was from their broken down wagon and they just needed some assistance?

"Hello there friends," Gerald began, "need you two to make way. We're on official business for the Anirian Northern Guard."

One of the ruffians in the road rubbed at his portly belly before spitting a wad of saliva into the dirt. With complete disdain he answered Colette's commander with a sneer, "you 'ear that Marv? Says they from the Aneeran Norf Guard. Wants us to move out the way?"

The slimmer man, Marv, added a laugh to the mixture. "We'll move outta the way. Don't wanna get in the way of guard bizness. But we'll need to collect the toll. That one in the front," a finger pointing to the now awake smuggler whose face was filled with terror, "he owes our boss a bit 'o coin."

Gerald's face shook in disagreement, "can't allow that. Taking these three to Vel Anir to face justice."

It was about that time when Colette noticed it. The shuffling of boots behind them. An ambush.

"Um... sir..."

That was all she could muster before the first arrow was let loose.
 
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Varo

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Oh fuck.

Varo had been watching behind them, had seen the bandits crawl out from the ditch the Anirians had passed by. It was a bold move, attacking a caravan like this, but then again he suspected that these men hardly gave a shit about being hunted down.

They looked worse than some of the sort who hung around in the Shallows. Most of their clothing was scraps, and their blades seemed made of iron rather than steel. Not that it made them any less dangerous.

"DUCK!" He shouted at Colette as one of the men drew his bow and shot it without even really aiming it. The arrow flung through the air, crashing into the iron bars of the cage.

The two other prisoners were awake now, one letting out a screech while the other roared.

"KILL THEM FILTHY FUCKERS!"​

Varo whirled at him for a moment, somewhat astounded that someone would root for these savages.
 
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Colette

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The pig-bellied bandit's eyes grew wide as Gerald brandished his long blade and shield. Phillip lifted his spear upwards as well, preparing to deal with the two threats immediately in front.

That left Colette staring down the five men behind the cart. Two were armed with bows, though neither seemed particularly skilled, while the other three carried crude iron blades. Were it not for the two marksmen the young woman would've let loose her own arrows to deal with this nuisance.

Instead she was forced to pull her shield up for protection from the wild missiles being flung at them. "Keep low!" she shouted at the three prisoners within the cage.

She drew her own blade and took in a deep breath. With odds like this she knew she'd have to let them come to her. Rushing forward would only get her killed.

Hopefully she could last long enough for her two comrades to slay the more heavily armed assailants ahead before they rejoined her. The first of the psychotic brutes charged her and his cheaply made sword was easily deflected by Colette's own.

A quick slice to his sternum sent him stumbling backwards as he howled in pain. It was times like these she was glad for the training Talus had imparted upon her.

An arrow deflected off her shield as she heard Gerald cry out in pain. She dared not pry her eyes away from the remaining four assailants though. Lest they surprise her.
 
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Varo

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It was an impressive display of skill, though most of it was completely lost on Varo. He was really more of a lover than he was a fighter, at least...most of the time.

That story sort of changed during certain cycles of the moons.

Despite that though, Varo could still hold his own, better than most ordinary men. He had inherited some of his fathers litheness, and after his...accident, he'd developed more strength than any ordinary man should have been capable of.

That was why when the roaring man inside of the cage reached out to grab Colette from behind Varo lurched forward.

His arms slipped beneath the other man's, muscles flexing as he dragged him back over the hay. The third man scrambled backward, pressing himself against the wrought iron cage to avoid the small fight.

A loud crack echoed out as Varo slammed the man's head into the bars, his body slumping into unconscious.

The cutpurse turned his head, peering back towards the other Anirians who were faring just as badly as Colette was. The Guardsmen had the training, the know-how, but they were outnumbered five to one.
 
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Colette

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Another of the despicable attackers rushed forward. A parry of his attack was followed up by a thrust of Colette's blade. To her surprise the assailant sidestepped her maneuver as another of the men neared closer. It was now a two-on-one and while Colette had come far in her training she doubted how long she could last like this.

"Oof!"

Bewilderment overcame her as she felt a hand pull on her from behind. A small tilt of her head revealed it was one of the prisoners grabbing at her and were it not for Varo's swift action it would've meant a grievous injury.

Instead, Colette was freed just in time to have her blade meet the second man's but the brief distraction allowed the initial attacker to land a swift kick towards the girl's torso.

The guardswoman collapsed into a heap as the wind was forced out of her lungs. She stared up in horrors at the rising blade. It would've been the end of her had Phillip not come rushing towards her. He deflected the blade but what happened next the guardswoman couldn't be sure.

All she was met with was a dizzying headache and the sight of stars as another kick collided with her face and caused her to slip into unconsciousness.
 
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Varo

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"Shit." Varo mumbled to himself as he watched Colette get struck in the face, turning around just in time to see the other two Anirians being run through.

Blood splattered onto the ground, followed closely by corpses. The sound of armor clattering against the ground was like a thunderclap. Varo just sat himself down in the cage, taking a breath and closing his eyes for a moment.

Well. He thought to himself. At least the last meal wasn't too bad.

It really had been a good blueberry loaf.

As Varo commiserated, he heard one of the bandits walk up towards the cage. His eyes flickered open just long enough to see who was walking towards him, the massive hulk of a man looking at the unconscious prisoners that he'd thrown against the cage.

"Looks like someone chose the wrong side."

For a second the half-elf just looked at him, then shrugged. "Never been known for making good choices."

The fuck would they do to him? Kill him? Same thing the Anirians would have done.

--
A few hours later Colette would wake, and she would find herself now stuck in the same Cage as Varo.

They were no longer on the road, but rather had been taken deep into a patchy forest. There was a large bonfire not too far from them, two large dogs sitting in front of the door of the still locked cage. Only the two of them were within the little prison, the other two prisoners having been released.

"Oh hey." Varo said as he noticed Colette stirring. "You're awake."

As she moved she would find a makeshift bandage on her head, Varo's shirt half torn. She would also find her armor and sword gone, left in just her fatigues.
 
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Colette

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Sunshine poked through the trees as she took another bite from her pear. A loud splash caught her attention, the source of it was revealed immediately. Her cousin's head protruding out of the lake water. This place was so beautiful in the summer. Her last summer before the mandatory service she'd have to endure.

There was something wrong however. Her cousin's teeth started to fall out of his smile. Colette pulled the green piece of fruit back to see her own teeth embedded into the pale fruit. Everything got wishy-washy as eyelids crept open to reveal it wasn't sunny at all.

It was dusk.

She was laying on hay dressed in tanned cloth pants and a mass produced long-sleeved white cotton shirt. Her head was pounding and she could feel the combination of dried blood and rough fabric tied against it.

"Uhh... s-sergeant?"

Eyes adjusted to the light to reveal it wasn't Gerald before her. Not even Phillip. It was Varo, the elven prisoner from before. They were surrounded by an unwelcoming criss-cross of iron bars. The very same cage of Anirian make.

She jolted up in a panic ran her now bare fingers along the cold steel. "Where are we?" Her voice was bit louder than she intended. Her other hand rushed down towards her sore ribs. They must've taken a few extra kicks towards her sides while she was out.

"Varo? Why are you in here with me? What's... going on?"
 
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Varo

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"Well." It was a fair question.

One would assume that when a bunch of bandits captured a caravan or prisoners all of them would be let free, but of course Varo had made a poor decision.

That was really all his life was built upon; poor decisions. Back home in Ivladrin there had been many circumstances where he could have avoided trouble, including the one that had ended with him turning into a monster.

"They didn't appreciate my..." He frowned. "Appreciation of your baking."

That was a good way of phrasing it. "And decided my time would be better spent in here with you, rather than out there celebrating with them."

He motioned towards the fire where there indeed seemed to be a bit of a celebration. A few of the bandits were clearly drunk, while others were singing mediocre songs and gorging themselves on some of the supplies that had been on the wagon.
 
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Colette

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Twin lips formed an 's' shape at Varo's explanation. "Right. You saved me."

"Thank you for that."
A thin smile was shared before her face went numb again.

The revelry by the campfire was unlike anything the blonde Anirian had ever seen. Members of the guard could get pretty rowdy at times but the presence of officers in the camp always ensured they remained a bit subdued. This whole spectacle was something else as Anirian ale and cured meats were consumed.

"What of Gerald and Phillip?"

She assumed they must have fled. Or perhaps they were being held in a different part of the bandit camp.

Her knees scrunched into chest as Colette laid her straw-colored hair against the hay stack in the cage. "And what will they do to us?"

Perhaps they sought a ransom. Colette knew the Anirian Guard would pay no such ransom but she didn't want to entertain the alternatives. Not yet at least.
 
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Varo

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Varo looked over at Colette for a moment, feeling a pang of sympathy. "Well...they didn't exactly...make it."

He did not enjoy having to deliver that news, but he owed it to her. He didn't want to cast some illusion that her companions were alright and fine somewhere far away. It would be for the best in the end, even if it stung in that moment.

Teeth sank into his lip for a moment, chewing on it.

There wasn't really much good news to tell her. Most likely the Bandits intentions were not good. He was a scum criminal that betrayed other criminals and she... well, she was a beautiful girl. Neither of those things boded well in a camp like this.

"That's not important." He told her, offering her a wide smile. "We're gonna escape."

There was so much confidence in his voice it was hard not to believe him.
 
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