Fable - Ask Not Much Room for Decent Hearts

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Vida

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The town of Marseyelle looked far more majestic than it had any right to be, blanketed by the hues of an autumn's setting sun.​

From the open road Vida had watched as the irrelevant little trading port slowly, ever so slowly mushroomed into view. She thought it an apt descriptor: A little mushroom, more of a glorified settlement than all the swaggering exaggerations of it being an 'essential port for any aspiring Cortosi sailor'. In all reality the place was an arbitrary affair of red tiling and clay rooftops dotted across the countryside and its stunted cliffs adjacent to the coast. Most of the timber-frame housing and occasional terrace stood no taller than the sloping, rounded hills that surrounded so much of the town. No different than any other hamlet, or no different from the ones she'd seen so far.

There was nothing about the place which evoked any degree of majesty or fanfare to her, though she could understand in a way how the people who called Marseyelle home could delude themselves otherwise. As it did have its... rustic charm in the way small towns on the sea do, she had eventually concluded.

Whether that was at all to the dispassionate woman's taste? Another question entirely.

"... Madam?"

She certainly couldn't imagine how it could make up for the nauseating homeliness of the day-to-day where the only occasion for excitement came from... what, a harvest festival? An occasional visit from an alderman? How terribly stimulating. She didn't find it to be any wonder why she was chomping at the bit to get this job done and well behind her, but how the wait was agonizing.

An hour of mediocrity was no different than a day of well... anything else really. Anything that even vaguely resembled the creature comforts of the larger cities she could remember visiting in the mainland. The little mushroom of a town was populated by simple, happy folk who liked to take their time with things; their lives moved as slowly as their accents. No thank you.

She was quite alright leaving her nose out of the dirt.

"Madam? May you be excusing me in asking how long you and your company mean to remain?”

Vida looked up from her rambling observations, chin no longer disinterestedly propped upon her knuckles as she turned her attention to the proprietor - and one of the only other inhabitants of the establishment - as it happened. As woeful and endlessly apologetic as he was about the state of his business, the truth was that she actually considered it a small blessing. The absence of anyone else other than the occasional traveler dropping in for a warm mug before hurriedly making excuses to be out the door again served her purposes well enough.

She had her doubts the genial innkeeper saw it in the same lights; lost in his despair over how many seats remained empty and overturned onto equally abandoned dining tables. She took a quiet moment to observe the nervous little thing while he looked this way and that, worried eyes never in one place for terribly long. He had a perpetual air of a harried thing, which in turn made her feel almost as anxious.

As if he spread it like some plague, infecting her through his constant agitated movements, the brisk way he spoke. The way he sweat.

What she found was a small, beak-nosed man with the unfortunate airs of a plucked vulture; featherless, wan, with thin and bony fingers that tugged endlessly on the fraying threads of the apron tied about his waist. Equally unfortunate was how the innkeeper, whose sole traits stood out all the more to her in his proximity, found the absence of any other clientele as the perfect excuse to have more than the infrequent small talk he might otherwise have with a patron.

To her he just seemed desperate to talk. With anyone.

The key phrase being 'anyone'. Since she often found herself the only guest, that 'anyone' always happened to be her. No matter how politely Vida redirected, nor how impolitely for that matter.

"... Not long, I'm afraid. Another day? I couldn't tell you in all certainty."

"I see. Moving on then," came the awkward, stilted reply only meant to fill an uncomfortable silence. He felt something atavistic rattling in his ribcage, the way the sellsword regarded him. "Marseyelle hardly has a tavern to its name in the city proper, but you'll find boarding. There's plenty o' decent families. More than decent, they've always got spare rooms to let.”

And with the conversation came all the questions she was growing more and more weary of answering. Not just about how much longer they might stay - as she had already given him her answer - but what her impression was of the fine mushroom they considered a town? Did she have family in residence? What were all the frightful swords for? To her credit she answered with a toneless neutrality which... genuinely surprised her, to be honest. All the embellished little stories and forced smiles was not exactly something she was ever known for, didn't want to be known for.

She had to force her drifting eyes away from the window again, returning the surprisingly steady gaze. She watched the sweat beading on his undisguised brow, watched as it joined the rest of the moisture on the man's ruddy face. Wondered for a moment why he was so insistent on talking up the locals. Did he suspect something, perhaps?

"Have you grown tired of our presence here?"

It wasn't quite a challenge, even if she found it difficult to conceal the creeping amusement sneaking up her throat at the way he looked just then.

From her lips it was no doubt a disorientating emotional limbo for the innkeeper, who found himself caught between her usual stoicism and the depressing ghost of a smile forming on her lips; she wasn't even sure if she knew how to make those anymore. Her cheeks ached with the unconscious effort.

The innkeeper, wringing his pockmarked towel with gnarled hands, was not entirely certain what to make of it, neither would he ever claim to be enough of a social creature to even try. He enjoyed the simplicity of things in Marseyelle; enjoyed the absence of unreadable faces. Therefore, not willing to risk endangering his only clientele, the inn's proprietor erred on the side of caution, gracing his reply with a dose of apprehensive consideration.

"A-a-ah, no, never. I don't mean to give you any impression like that, you're always welcome," He answered judiciously, complimenting the rest of his apology with a laughably over-exaggerated bow of his head. Vida arched a brow in reply, honestly not certain if she'd ever seen this kind of repentance outside of a chapel. She let him continue, her silence as implicit permission. "Always welcome, and please, you might stay as long as it serves, if there's anything..."

"I'm certain there won't be."

The jangle of tack and bridle filtered through the gaps in the window's shutter. She swore she saw the innkeeper's ears prop up, like some overexcited puppy.

"... anything, should it slip my mind..."

"I doubt it will."

Finally, Vida had won her victory. Her foe beat a hasty retreat for the door, no doubt to intercept his latest guests. She could breathe again.

***

They discovered her in the tavern; sitting, sweating, looking downright miserable. Her plight hadn't yet transformed into hissing rage and gnashing teeth.​

Not yet, but soon. Very, very soon. Probably any moment now, judging from the way her eyes all too quickly hunted them down the second they crossed the door's threshold. They could no longer flee screaming for their lives. There was no avoiding this fate.

The taller of the two interlopers graciously stepped forward, tempering a little of her ire through the sole virtue of (arguably) being the closest thing she had to a second-in-command. Someone who could even be called a comrade if she was feeling downright sentimental. Someone she didn't outright despise, at the very least.

It went a longer way than one may think.

As an example as to why she tolerated him more than most, the drow's subsequent greeting was exactly what she expected it to be: Bored, blunt, entirely lacking in inflection beyond what was necessary to convey whichever words he may have chosen. When he spoke, it was with an unconscious conviction in ensuring no word was wasted in dallying. "Vida."

Vida enjoyed that particular habit of his, the lack of pretense. In their line of work? It was surprisingly refreshing. Not to mention where he lacked, she had more than enough of to go around. It was obviously much easier for her to interact with someone who didn't share the habit of weaving complicated subterfuge around every single social interaction there was, dancing rather than speaking plainly. Getting to the point was a prized trait few possessed.

Coincidentally, she found she only enjoyed those things when it was just her doing the steering, so his plain answers were very much to her liking. Vida didn't think she'd have the wherewithal to argue with another her, or even tolerate another her, for that matter. She wouldn't at all be surprised if that irritation eventually evolved into murderous intent. Nobody ever told her that she 'grew on them'.

Exemplary unwillingness to engage in introspection aside.

Not wishing to be outdone, Vida demonstrated her own admirable lack of inflection. Her next question was rhetorical, bordered with harsh, dangerous edges:

"You came alone."

"No, not quite. You told me not to return alone," the drow replied, not bothering to factor in the smaller of the two recently arrived guests. "So I didn't."

"It's what I bloody paid you for. I should hope so, Varnehy."

Attempting to suppress an inquiring brow in regards to the... uncharacteristic invective was already a duel lost by default, his brow raised anyway. All he could do now to salvage the grave error of making a strange face at his paymaster was to remain decidedly quiet about it. Considering it unwise to put any of his thoughts to words, with the way she now looked questionably at him.

Somebody was clearly in a foul mood.

Varnehy had worked with the woman in question long enough to know how valuable she'd consider his input on the matter. Which was to say, not at all. Not that it took a great deal of familiarity to discern her mood at the present. He steered the safer course instead, continuing his report. "The nordling woman I spoke to you about should be arriving in her own time, presumably before the sun sets.”

He gave the sky an evaluating glance through the window nearest. “I would think.”

Vida leaned into the high-backed chair she was currently in questionable possession of; the leather straps of her gambeson creaking with the effort of making herself marginally more comfortable on the poor, battered stool. It tottered on unequal legs.

Her two companions stood wordlessly by the entrance, obviously waiting for her to work through what she remembered of the Norsewoman her lieutenant had spoken about. She'd given it very little attention at the time - practically no attention - were she completely honest with herself.

All Vida could think to recall pertained to the circumstances surrounding the manner they found the Norsewoman, little else otherwise. Certainly not anything pertaining to her as an individual. She hadn't been all that giddy to ask for details. Even less so upon hearing it to be some gruesome looking nordling.

Then again, how complicated could she be? They were renowned as an uncomplicated people.

The circumstances of the chance encounter were... interesting, Vida freely admitted. Only yesterday she ordered Varnehy to strike at a caravan on the outskirts of the mushroom crowned Marseyelle, knowing full well it would cause a stir. She was hoping it would in turn draw some of the local garrison to disperse through the countryside, chasing after shadows. It was a sound plan. What didn't go as expected was the fact it wasn't a caravan at all; it was a prisoner wagon.

Not quite what she originally had in mind.

Not quite what her vanishingly empty pockets expected, either. They growled menacingly back at her.

Thankfully as any reliable second-in-command would, the drow simply found a way to improvise and adapt in order to fulfill the orders he was given. After all, they were both wagons of a sort, what was the difference? Vida would get her distraction regardless the contents of the cart. And presumably he'd make a fun day of it considering his profession in question. Vida didn't have a clue what went on in that head of his; didn't think to ask.

The result? Freeing some violent, troubled Norsewoman who would no doubt go on to terrorize the countryside.

Vida honestly wasn't certain what to make of this particular gift horse.

"I'm thrilled to hear that, should I ask why she isn't with you already?"

She was desperate. As yet, nobody else had taken the bait she dangled for the upcoming job.

"The nordling did not have a horse, I informed her of where she should go and an approximate time of our meeting."

He didn't simply abandon the newest hireling for the second time in as many days, did he? He did realize the other half of his task involved finding a frightful sword for hire. Gee, perhaps a Nordwiir?

"You didn't think to wait on the woman?"

“The thought hadn't crossed my mind. She seemed to prefer solace to company.”

He did not.

“I also prefer solace to company, especially after hearing that sad fucking excuse. She can read a map, I hope? You couldn't imagine finding her a spare mount?”

Another, newer voice finally thought it was time to join the fray… even if it was more pandemonium than fray at this point - with Vida's voice raising an octave or two the longer the back-and-forth carried. The woman sidestepped around the drow to present herself fully to the sellsword sitting ramrod straight in her seat.

"Whatever for? She plods on like some dumb, placid ox. Always with that same silly expression fixed on her face. I doubt she minds."

Masile. The alchemist. A woman of about Vida’s age and weight; though where the latter of the two was tall, almost entirely composed of musculature and little excess fat - the former was incredibly short, almost cherubic in a way that made Vida vaguely uncomfortable. The pale woman's oval face was neatly framed by dark, blunted bangs while the rest of her otherwise straight hair was a questionable affair of interspaced braids, sporting little decorative blue beads, ribbons, and whatever else she might have secreted in that nest had Vida bothered to pay more attention.

She had long abandoned the attempts at aesthetic advising, shrugging her shoulders in exasperation.

Vida had nearly forgotten the other woman's existence. Which wasn't as difficult as it sounded, honestly. It was made even easier when in contrast to the drow at her side; who in turn expended very little effort in absolutely overshadowing the tiny, unassuming woman in stature and presence alone. He was almost her opposite in every way from complexion to height to... well, it was a rather long list.

As for Varnehy? She didn't know. He looked like any other drow, perhaps a little greyer around the gills than most. The only thing to surprise her were the lines weathering his face; the kind everyone said gave men, even drow men, some essential character. Vida's opinion was that it merely made him look weary, but the old (do drow even get old? She had no frame of reference) sellsword served her well enough over the years.

Vida had no doubt of her own complicity in adding a few of those lines. They took a lot of risks in their line of work.

However, if there was one thing she could say in favor of both - they dressed smartly. She supposed they finally caught on to all her hints, though to call them hints would be a bit of an understatement, if not gross exaggeration. Vida had a way of playing fast and loose with the definition of words, in this case it was with her hints.

If they hadn't caught on at some point, she'd feel a keen disappointment in the faith she placed in their mental faculties. Like worryingly disappointed.

Vida's two companions both wore embroidered blouses as undershirts. Hers a blue so pale as to appear grey, little frills garnishing the neckline; his an accentuating white to his sharper, darker features. Masile with her apron dress, or hangerok, also a blue - Vida was beginning to notice a pattern here - though much more of a vibrant, fun shade; Varnehy with his brocaded coat of subdued burgundy and silver stitching. The drow with spurred riding leathers; the alchemist with the surprising mix-up of buckled shoes with a suede finish, making her for all the world appear as some flower shop woman. They both wore plain breeches. Boring, practical.

They also happened to notice her rather… intense observations. Vida finally permitted her eyes to cast lazily aside.

Something about Masile’s earlier tone when she spoke of the newest sword-for-hire popped up in the silence that followed, reeled her in.

"What expression was that?"

Masile could only look vaguely confused by the abrupt change in topic, having already forgotten the depiction she crafted of the Norsewoman.

Varnehy interjected before anything else could be said, always quicker on his feet: "Something I liked in her."

"She must have left an impression then."

Vida blinked, mentally shrugging at the assertion. She would meticulously file it away in the back of her mind for future reference. It wasn't worth the effort of asking for clarity; she trusted the drow's instincts, he knew her well enough to know what she liked. If she couldn't entrust him with finding someone respectable enough for the task at hand, the drow would quickly find himself replaced both literally and figuratively - Vida expected quite a bit from her 'number two'.

Then, once appropriate time had passed for them to forget the uncomfortable ocular assessment, she returned her exiled gaze from her cup to her companions standing in the doorway. Her fingers drummed the tankard of a sour tea she only drank out of desperation, untrusting of any accommodation other than equally sour selection of ales.

There she waited for the next person to walk through the door, prepared for what was to come in her leather ensemble.

Her oiled riding boots strummed the floor, her scabbard got caught on every corner and angle it could.

The sky was purpling like a long forgotten bruise beyond the walls of a nameless tavern. The receding sun releasing opaque shadows entrapped by a long, lazy day - now it was their turn to play. Vida was done with this town, with these people, and with this bloody weather. It was time to act.

Unpleasantness had come to Marseyelle.​
 
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  • Gasp
Reactions: Nacht and Skad
Skad could not read a map.

Nor read at all, for that matter. There was no need when there was no written word in the Wiir language. Traversing Eyjarnar was a matter of nature; it was found in the stars, noted by landmarks and carved into the stone that littered the tundra. You did not need to ascribe to reading paper, only the world surrounding you. If you were incapable of that, then you were incapable of basic survival.

Kin-Slayer might have, therefore, found it inconvenient that she found herself in an alien landscape during the light of day.

Might have, but didn't.

It was only by the benevolence of Haraudur Himself that she stood there now, freed from the burden of iron shackles and merely weighed down by an obligation or, perhaps, opportunity.

From carnage, birthed consequence.

The decimation of her Hæfurkappi had been swift, Uratash, the God of Storms, ensuring that most had found the embrace of salt beneath the depths of the Köldgröf before they had even reached the mainland. Not to be outdone by the sea's fury, Skad had taken the rest—the wounded, the faltering, and the treacherous.

Oh, how her blade had feasted.

Each open neck a fountain set to slake the Crimson Father's eternal thirst. It was a testament of fervour; every drop of blood spilt another reason she was Haraudur's chosen, unquestioning blade.

The final skirmish that had claimed the lives of Tala, Eitur, and Hundur, rendering her the sole survivor of a calamitous raid of the southern lands, had attracted unwanted attention. Apparent authority. She recalled their trepidation in trembling spear grips, her lone eye appraising the fear of the local guard while they lapped up the sight of a woman drenched in a harvest of blood.

It must have been a relief for them when the so-called primal Nord wordlessly acquiesced, no doubt quelling frantic thoughts of final parting words to their beloved.

Her conviction was unshakable; every moment in a lifetime of fealty had led her to precisely there and then. It was Haraudur's design. Skad still stood because she was true, because she was chosen. Everything else was bound as tribute. If it could bleed, then it would serve in both life and in Endirinn, laws and irons be damned.

Eventually, her faith had been rewarded.

Chaos had engulfed the wagon that was no doubt destined for the gallows, and with it came the relief of release. She had never doubted Him, never considered the thought of abandonment in a strange land far too liberal with its usage of wood. A boon was given and gladly taken, although she acknowledged that out of chains, the rest was upon her, at least for the time being.

Her saviours, one squat and the other inexplicably grey were appraised by an empty face mottled by scar tissue and still flecked with long-since dried blood. No doubt they had expected her just as much as she had expected them.

Irrelevant.

Skad needed coin to obtain passage home and fresh throats for the blade. What they needed...well, what they needed was largely unimportant, but if it aligned with her goals, then she had no qualms.

The conversation had hardly been stimulating, with the Nordwiir mostly nodding, that same empty stare affixed upon her face that could have been taken for sheer simplicity. She understood enough of the common tongue to get the gist: a place and a time.

It wasn't entirely unwelcome when the pair rode off without her, although hardly helpful. The map was only fit for wiping her arse with, and the irony of expecting a one-eyed woman to navigate was not lost upon her. Not that Skad sulked, instead following their vague direction until coming across a wide-eyed traveller who had regarded her rust-stained furs as wounds.

It had been a cordial exchange by her standards:

"Oh kress! Are you alright?!"

"What way is Marseyelle?"


"What...? Madam, you are wounded!"

"Marseyelle."

There was a moment, a split second in the widening of eyes, where it was swiftly realised that it was not her blood that caked the patchwork of various animal hides. The fear was important, made mouths more pliable as Kin-Slayer stood and stared, expecting a prompt answer to her question.

"Ah! It's...um, keep following the road south...and uh..."

"How long?"


"...three, maybe ah...four hours?"

On the merit that the man had been useful, she had spared him the skinning knife by her side and instead wordlessly walked away. Contrary to popular belief of the mainland, she was no unhinged savage ready to stop the heart of the world on a whim.

Three or four hours had actually turned out to be five, not that she held it against the man, who had probably made a life-changing decision to live a better life after the experience, or, if his direction was any indication, coming across the ambushed remains of the wagon. The thought never crossed Skad's mind, the man ceasing to exist when he provided what was asked.

Marseyelle itself was an entirely new challenge. The town was far bigger than Skaw, the largest settlement of The Lost Isles, and it held decadence beyond her comprehension. The Nordwiir found the excess jarring, the cascade of structures needless in light of a fairer climate, doing nothing but ensuring a flaccid, safe existence. What trials were to be found here with such shelter and security? How could one hope to survive if they were never forced to?

How fortunate these souls were that her warband was sunk before they could even step foot in such a place.

Or maybe not.


She was here now, after all.

A few more thinly veiled threats by virtue of her appearance and general demeanour guided her feet, taking her to exactly where she needed to be as the sun crept below the horizon as if anticipating what was to come.

The next person to walk through that door was Skad, Kin-Slayer.

A canvas of Haraudur's will, her empty expression was adorned by those slivers of silver that either suggested that she had not yet discovered evasion or that her blade was not only reserved for the flesh of others. Mercifully, the desolate socket of her right eye, blanketed by a drooping lid, was covered by a strip of rough cloth that was wrapped tightly around her head.

The remaining eye travelled lazily around the room, rolling from Grey to Squat like a mossy boulder before settling upon the new face, assessing in stagnant silence before her abrupt tongue broke it in an uncouth manner:

"Do you having food?"
 
  • Nervous
Reactions: Vida
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) Skad had narrowly missed the window of time all three mercenaries were waiting in the common hall. The only people who remained were the drow and alchemist, leaving the locations of the innkeeper and Vida a mystery.

Flashback!
Vida remained seated for a few more precious seconds, her eyes coolly flickering from her two companions to the distant town from the vantage of her tableside window. Seemingly dedicating the tranquil, lazy image of countryside to her memory as a way of passing the time. Not once did she think to strike up a conversation with anyone else in the room, wouldn't even attempt small-talk with her allies now idling in the lobby of the common hall while they struck the mud from their shoes.

Nobody ever described her as a people person.

Her wandering eyes had a calm intensity that belied the pressure beneath the surface. At some point her patience would be swiftly eclipsed by impatience.

Not exactly an uncommon affliction for the sellsword, it was one she knew all too well. Hence why neither Masile nor Varnehy said a word in reproach to her cold shoulder. All they could think to do was continue with their laundering; cleaning hay and dirt from their shoes, doing their best to unceremoniously tidy their travelling attire with heavy-handed dusting. The innkeeper remained outside for now, still occupied with the stabling of their horses.

Checking upon their progress once Vida had enough of counting sheep, she was struck with a new and entirely unwelcome sight.

Masile was advancing towards her after she had let her guard down; no longer glued to the spot under Vida’s uncomfortable scrutinizing. The shorter woman's eyes were alight with something resembling friendly affection, how lovely. Vida felt a grimace tugging at her lips, hardly unable to conceal the poignant discomfort after having been ambushed.

Not something she wanted to deal with right now.

With little hesitation she made the executive decision to remove herself from the table with a practiced, somehow unhurried quickness that took ages to perfect in situations like these. She knew the small woman well enough to suspect what would happen next: Masile would go for something shockingly beyond her comfort zone, like an overly familiar hug or some light peck on her hand as a way of greeting.

Making a dignified exit would prematurely abort whatever deluded courtship ritual the small woman had in mind.

By the time her companion managed to cross the common area, Vida was in full retreat towards her room up the hall. Making an impressive degree of progress you could only usually find in scarcely concealed panic. She made it look smooth and controlled, with an effortlessness that only came with repetition.

“We could stand to run through our plans now, not tomorrow. There won't be time for any of it later - you know that.” Masile interrupted Vida’s flight mid-step with the sudden declaration, forcing her to make the mistake of casting an oblivious glance over her shoulder to where the stricken woman watched her like a… particularly sad-looking chipmunk.

Better than the perpetually excitable chipmunk act.

An unfair assessment, in all sincerity. Vida knew better than most how much of an act it was; behind it all was a shrewd, calculating woman who hadn't yet disappointed, aside from the clumsy attempts at whatever she kept trying to do. Something Vida found she could forgive and find inventive ways to ignore should the alchemist continue being useful.

If she felt any guilt at all after seeing the rudderless Masile, she certainly kept it remarkably camouflaged; her mask hurriedly crafted anew, impenetrable. She didn't care to second-guess herself once a decision had been made - admittedly she also wanted to be as far away as possible by the time the innkeeper was finished stabling their horses outside.

The last thing she needed in life was not just one, but two strays hounding her heels, gods forbid.

“You really don't think we should sit down and work things out before you go, what? Running off?” Masile made another plea that would only fall on deaf ears.

If Vida possessed a little more emotional intelligence, she'd hear the genuine concern in the words being spoken. Maybe realize it was said in her best interest.

Rather than an underlying warning, all it ever translated to was a furious buzz of white noise. She could only tolerate so much of it. Bullheaded drowish stupidity, the innkeeper’s obsessive hospitality, Masile’s constant mewling of woe behind every corner whenever she wasn't being a tactile obsessed little monster.

These past few days have been a uniquely meandering challenge of forbearance, Vida thought to herself.

“Not particularly, no. Tell our guest to find me in my room.” Her bland-green eyes were chilly, condemning the two of them with little more than a slow, meaningful glance. More than enough to hopefully stamp out any nascent arguments. She thought to say something, decided against it; said another thing instead. “I need to wash my face.”

Masile made a noise of casual protest, crossing her arms for emphasis. "You don't think that could wait, maybe?"

Vida wasn't entirely ignorant of the rationale, and she knew the woman was afraid. What was to come next was risky, even by her standards. But for now? She needed to be alone with her thoughts. Not worrying over others she paid to do their jobs as if they were children and she some cooing babysitter. Masile would have to put on her big girl pants instead, rather than expect any words of consolation from the sellsword.

"I don't need your pissiness right now. What I want - no, what I need from you is to sit down and have a drink. While I have a moment of... I don't know, a little privacy, perhaps?"

"We'll do as you say, then." Masile snapped.

"Excellent."

"Excellent."

Masile opened her mouth as if to argue further, then shut it. She dipped her head in her usual deference, taking solace in the simplicity of following orders.

Vida finally rounded the table, no further impediment in her escape route. Passing by Varnehy as she did.

“No such luck with the war paint, then.”

Was that a joke, from Varnehy of all people? She didn't think to laugh. Genuinely uncertain if her sanity would endure until sunset, with the sweltering humidity of the coast sapping at her relentlessly. If he was referring to the black lines running down her face then no, it wasn't very funny.

She didn't have the energy to laugh.

No, that wasn't quite right. She didn't have the patience would have probably been the more accurate descriptor. She was out of patience. Even if the irritation and fatigue she felt in her eyes from the black incense used to daub her lashes and brow nearly blinded her, she'd still prefer to fight utterly blind rather than spend another week mucking it up with nature.

Next week? Her skin might very well begin to slough off from her bones, sliding free like water off the hide of a freshly groomed horse.

She needed to go wash her ‘war paint’ off before she suffered a brain bleed.

“Be quiet.”

Another pair of hands was all they needed. All Vida hoped they needed, anyway. She had seen to everything else, drowned her doubts in the deepest pits of her stomach. She then left in slightly better spirits than before, relishing in the news of finally having this yawning black hole of a month behind her.

Unnaturally loud was the departing thumps of Vida’s oiled riding boots, puncturing the silence in the stride to her suite - and the small wooden washing basin she knew she'd find inside. The remaining two mercenaries were left to idle, aimlessly. They made for the only table with any seats that weren't tucked away either underneath or atop the surfaces.

Once they were finally alone, no longer held under the sway of receding footfall did they stir to life. Varnehy made a voice in his throat, a moue of mild… exasperation, amusement? The girl with him returned it with equal vivacity.

***

This was how Skad would find the scene upon entering, not quite the flowery introduction one might have envisioned was appropriate to greet the latest member of the quest. But nobody stirred from their perches in the aftermath to amend it, either.
Varnehy at least had the grace to recognize the newest arrival, as per one of Vida's final 'requests', and took it upon himself to formally greet the young Nordwiir. By way of a stoic, almost curt nod; though not without its own subtle measure of respect, indicating that she was a welcome guest even if he wasn't planning on exchanging lofty pleasantries beyond what was absolutely necessary.

He pushed himself back into his chair after it had been done, resuming his previously relaxed repose.

"Do you having food?"

His expression was unreadable as usual, no doubt Skad had already become accustomed to it in the short length of time they'd known one another. This time though, there was a teasing quality to the way his lip curled that perhaps betrayed more amusement than anyone would've expected from the doughty Varnehy.

He briefly attempted to parse what Skad had said, then thought for a moment for an appropriate reply.

You couldn't exactly blame him, since even the chronically unconcerned drow hadn't at all expected those to be the first words the Nordwiir spoke.

"Yes, there is food to be have--had." Varnehy had replied, then promptly rephrased upon noticing his error brought on by listening to the Nordwiir's broken tongue. A wandering finger pushed at the confectionery littering the table in absence of any food more substantial, clearly making do with the candied almonds and unshelled hazelnuts rather than simply asking the innkeeper and dealing with that specific annoyance. Also preferring as little contact as was humanly possible with the man in question.

As with Vida, he had not taken too kindly to the seemingly never ending interrogation - specifically about his dusky skin and pointed ears.

He nabbed an already unshelled hazelnut from his growing hoard of crushed and demolished shells; the contents of which were hoarded preciously close to his person and away from the book-reading Masile on the other end of the table, legs tucked underneath her skirts. She occasionally glanced over with a hungry enviousness - apparently much too lazy to do it herself.

After rolling his prize between two pinched fingers, Varnehy popped it into his mouth - chewed unhurriedly while he thought of what to say next.

"I know you must be tired from your travels," said the drow after a minute's contemplation, sorting through his collection again. "But you might be wise in waiting, the woman who desires your services first wishes to speak to you. She waits down the hall, in her rooms."

When and if the Nordwiir discovered Vida's personal chambers, she'd come upon the mercenary woman in a small, cramped dormitory furnished with little more than the bare essentials; a bed, travelling chest, and an unbacked chair more footrest than stool. She didn't concern herself with the stool whatsoever, choosing instead to stand with her back to the door while she faced the small washing basin and a personal hand-held mirror, propped at an awkward angle between the furthest wall and the table it sat upon.

Her current, ongoing project was in attempting to wash the blackened incense from her face with little more than a wet, threadbare rag. There also appeared to be black, misty wisps of what one could presume to be dye of some sort clouding the murky waters of her bowl, presumably from whatever she used as a heavy-handed eyeliner. Vida did nothing to hide her ministrations, nor did she make an effort to actually face Skad in order to issue a proper greeting. She looked super important and entirely unconcerned with her newest guest like that--or at least that was the impression she attempted.

Had she known Skad any better she probably wouldn't have bothered with this routine.

"Your name, nordling. I don't think I know of it."

Her voice was coolly neutral, toneless. Trying to achieve an unequal dynamic through the early offensive; one question after another, as if for all purposes this was an interview - and she the interviewer. Which it actually technically was, now that she considered it.

Vida thought it was wise to test the Nordwiir's limits early, so now was as good a time as any.

Keeping her outright insolence concealed by a sliver, a chilly monotone belying most of the harshness in her spoken words. "I haven't the faintest clue what you might need coin for. I don't care. All you need to know is that there is coin to be found in this job - a lot of it. More than enough for whatever a nordling could possibly think to do with, if you follow my instructions to the letter."

Vida risked a glance at her mirror to gauge the reply of the Norsewoman; to be forewarned and forearmed were she actually some rampaging lunatic.​
 
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With her priorities in order, Skad's eye travelled to the strange offerings masquerading as sustenance. Another extravagance of the mainland was the food, a far cry from the Wiir staple of grey, sinewy kaldabatur meat and tasteless mashed vatchir that could only be salvaged by salt. The flavours here were excessive as if a meal was something to take pleasure in and not simply a means of survival.

Not that it showed on the Nordwiir's face, regarding the food in the same manner as she had regarded them, a barren void of expression.

Over time, she had learned that remaining visually stoic was a powerful tool that unnerved those who sought humanity in companionship and painted a picture of stupidity in these southern lands. It suggested a vacant space between the ears, incapable of parsing emotions and too dull to react. Skad couldn't imagine that they would appreciate the practice it had taken to restrain every twitch that wished to grace her grizzled visage, nor did she want them to.

They could think her simple, and she could silently observe.

Well-worn footwraps approached the table, and Kin-Slayer plucked a glazed nut from the bowl, which she hoped was not armoured like the other. Placing it at the side of her mouth between her back teeth, she gave a cautious bite and was relieved when it broke instead of the other way around. She ate the other half, and in chewing, she revealed a litany of broken incisors.

"Too sweet," Skad commented before her grubby hand plunged into the bowl and took a handful that she unceremoniously dumped into a spartan pouch affixed to the haphazard leather and fur maelstrom that was her attire.

Not needing to be told twice, she would go to where she was summoned despite all physical discomfort. The climate here was completely unsuitable for the Nordwiir physiology, the cloying humidity a far cry from the tundra winds that could be felt through your bones. It hadn't helped that she was still clad in the garb of home, designed for warmth and not washed since the shipwreck. It was difficult to say which smell was worse, the stagnant accumulation of sweat or the sickly tang of copper that clung to it.

So it was quite precious to find this woman, too good to sit and wait with Squat and Grey washing her fucking face.

"Skad."


The monotone wind met the blunt mountain as Skad stared into a reflection of her potential coin source, sizing up, the errant thought of a slit throat flickering through her mind as she observed. Haraudur did not reject any offering; all blood was His blood.

"Nordwiir," she was sure to correct, her voice naturally low and heavy accented, more suited to hard consonants and warped vowels.

"Use less words," Kin-Slayer advised with that same stark expression, finding her torrent of an introduction to hold words unfamiliar and at risk of becoming confused. Despite her tone, Skad stood there devoid of any tension, arms slack at her side as if she had put no thought into presenting herself.

"What is the job?"
 
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Vida hadn't anticipated the unexpected correction, she could only blink back in surprise. The act of resistance was enough to finally draw her attention to the Norsewoman properly; rather than exhibiting any contrition for her misjudgment, she now didn't even bother to to hide her scrutiny.
Her shoulders slumped, an elbow finding a perch on the table now situated behind her to lean into. Now that they've gotten past the customary introductions and clarified upon the undoubtedly subtle nuances between being Nordwiir versus Nordenfiir, they could get to the heart of the matter. Which was what the job in question actually was; she'd think it would've been obvious had Varnehy even alluded to it, though clearly he did not.

Something in the Nordwiir's vacant gaze when asking about the details told her as much. Vida sighed in mild, almost unnoticeable aggravation, little more than a harsh breath in retort. This wasn't how she predicted the rest of her night playing out. Even less so upon noting the way Skad looked at her then, well aware of what she might've been thinking; or at least, being able to broach a damned good guess. She was hardly clueless as to the whole 'sizing up' side of her job in meeting new people, after all.

"Use less words," said the Nordwiir.

"I will certainly try," riposted Vida with sickeningly sweet undertones, a mockery too terse to be playful.

She turned back towards her mirror then, feeling the surface of her neck and finding it cold without the hair that used to caress it.

Vida swore she could almost feel it at times, a phantom clinging on through the absence. Almost could feel the warmth too. But when she shifted the wet cloth in another hand to tuck back her bangs, her fingers slipped through empty air, reminding her of the messy shave she recently performed. A ritual of sorts, something she made sure to do before any big job. Didn't take much philosophizing as to why it had to be done; any length of hair did her no good in the midst of conflict, it only hindered.

She took the opportunity in her pointless grooming to think of an... appropriate way to put it, how exactly would she explain things to this Skad?

More importantly, how would she interpret it? Vida was very particular about the 'to the letter' part of their arrangement, for all things to go as she intended.

"My employers--that is to say, our employers have business in this town. You may have heard of it by the name of Marseyelle, an inspiring name for... what it is."

As the sellsword launched into her exposition, she hopped onto the table with the aid of the stool she'd previously ignored, now currently utilized as a handy footrest so her legs didn't dangle listlessly. Both the pieces of furniture were at such a height as to allow her to rather comfortably settle her forearms upon her knees, permitting her to lean forward - a glint in her eyes. She absolutely relished in this part, clearly in unhealthy anticipation of what was to come.

Vida waited for the Nordwiir to digest what had already been said, lest she complain again about all those big words getting caught in her craw.

"There's a building in this Marseyelle, some trading hall or merchant's guild or whatever you'd bloody well call it. That's not what matters." She continued after a few seconds had passed. Then a few more seconds came and went as she twisted her head to the side, eyes fluttering in momentary contemplation of what exactly to refer to it as. Not that it made a lick of difference gauging by the Nordwiir's questionable grasp of the continental language. "What matters is what they intend for it, which is why someone like you is being offered this job. Not because we're such good friends."

And then she simply sat there, not so much staring down Skad as she was taking in the image presented before her. Her dull-green eyes now focused, analytical. Vida could admit how there were times when she could play out the character of a precious princess, but it was never in the disservice of her role as a blade for hire. Never when it counted towards fulfilling a task asked of her. This was one of those times; in how she assessed what exactly Skad was made of.

Not that she doubted Skad was anything less than her presentation made her out to be, but she welcomed any additional nuance to someone she was to entrust herself to in the field of fire. And what she found pleased her - or at least hoped to find - an intelligent woman who may have been curt, but never simple farmhand curt. Simply one who lacked the necessary words to properly convey herself.

Vida's next question was rather loaded, yes. But she found herself not at all concerned with how Skad was to answer it. "I need to ask. Are you afraid of killing? I know you look the part, but what's to come is another kind of killing entirely. It will not be clean, or nice. This kind of task requires someone who is up to whatever is asked of them, no matter the cost to their virtue--their honor? However you'd put it."

No cleanliness or purity of a battlefield, in other words. Where you recognize your foe because they wear different colors and fly different flags. She narrowed her eyes then, hiding her gaze through lashes still blackened and covered by a thin veneer of particulates.

Vida thought of something then, a rather grim chuckle rumbled in her chest. "And it won't make you any friends."
 
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The dawn of the interaction had already proven to be fruitful.

An acrid tongue spoke heavily of pride. Goading. Arrogant. It seemed perfectly clear that this woman thought highly of herself and that in this room, a very distinct hierarchy placed Skad somewhere wallowing in the proverbial mud. Whether or not she was important did not matter, as the Nordwiir had little intention of getting well and truly embroiled in the affairs of soft, southern bastards.

Pride had always been her favourite foe's folly. It could defy reason, even beyond concepts like love and hate. The lengths the prideful were willing to go to, all to save face, could be fucking maddening.

That was not the only trait potentially gleamed, though. Vanity. It was observed in a protesting washcloth and hands that fussed over freshly shorn hair. Not as much of a glaring weakness as pride, but the traits intertwined like sycophantic lovers to create a person that could be easily goaded into a mistake.

At least, in theory. After all, Skad was not the only person in all the realms capable of masking.

The woman prattled through her dissertation of the job, spewing forth a great litany of unfamiliar words, if not outright alien. It was evident that she was not trying to use less words at all, in fact, it seemed as if she was actively striving to use more.

It did not matter; Kin-Slayer stood stock-still throughout the entire process, the only movement coming in the occasional blink, which may have been a wink, all things considered.

Finally, the matter of killing surfaced.

Killing was the meat of the job; what was pertinent for her to know or care about, as opposed to employers or merchant's guilds, which seemed like issues for Squat, Grey and Pride to fritter over like well-groomed kaldurhrafn.

'Afraid of killing' was a mockery, with Skad sitting highly on the list of causes for Nordwiir fatalities, not that she needed crow about it. She did not kill to hear her name told in efras throughout Eyjarnar; she killed because it was the closest she could get to divinity, because she was Haraudur's chosen.

Virtues, honour and friends be damned.

"Killing is fine,"
the Nordwiir finally replied, her guttural tone almost matter-of-fact if it did not seem so primal, "but I am needing more. How many am I killing? Where am I killing? Are they having weapons and armour?"

Skad shook her head, proving that she was capable of movement when engaging in conversation.

"Not going in blind. Stupid."
 
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The concept wasn't necessarily a problem, killing was fine, but the details were more important. How this Nordwiir woman found ways to surprise Vida. If she were someone who was more open with her flattery, she might've even regarded Skad as outright civilized.
Even if Vida hadn't explicitly said or thought as much, her valuation of the dangerous looking woman standing behind her went up quite a bit.

Perhaps she had underestimated Skad? Hard to tell, considering how the Nordwiir wasn't exactly sending out many signals that suggested otherwise, but she'd like to hope so. It was already assumed that Skad was no simple farmer, but a tactician? Even in a grunting, mostly uncomplicated kind of way? Still a step up in Vida's estimation. Also coming in as a surprise was the whole sentence Skad had spoken, demonstrating she wasn't as unfamiliar with the language as Vida first assumed.

The woman in the room certainly made a good argument against her prejudices, uncertainty over the full-stop or comma of 'Stupid' aside.

Vida wasn't quite sure which it was, since her immediate reaction was that of an insult; not entirely surprising considering the shaky foundations of their relationship thus far. She suppressed a tic of annoyance, features remaining flat save for a quirk at the end of her lip that could be translated in any number of ways over the course of Skad's spiel. Maybe she just didn't like the talk-back, especially after the curt reply to the whole question of killing? Also very possible.

The only other explanation was that it was actually the declaration of a strategically minded warrior-scholar who thought big.

Did Skad think big? They would certainly find out - she would make it her mission to. "I was getting to the details in good time. My time."

Vida re-adjusted herself from the perch she maintained, scooting forward so as to have enough clearance to lay one leg across the other with the chair a throne for the heel of her boot. Her eyes never once straying from the woman at the doorway - who held her stare, it appeared, with no trouble at all. It was almost impressive how Skad remained stock-still and attentive to the topic at hand. Only once shaking her head at the end of the impromptu checklist being made, demonstrating how she wasn't a complete and utter statue.

Not entirely comfortable with the lack of reaction from a person who Vida wasn't on intimate terms with, such as Varnehy, she had to mull over her reply a little longer than she would have liked. For someone who made her living as a hired sword, Vida hadn't done all too well at just cutting right through to the quick. Other than with her clientele, but this Nordwiir wasn't precisely clientele, and she asked questions a mercenary would - rather than a pampered potentate.

How bothersome.

"You are killing however many your employer pays you to kill, wherever they tell you to do it, and however they tell you to do it. You should be aware that mercenaries are rarely given the luxury of the particulars in advance," replied the sellsword in a methodical cadence, re-framing the questions with the same gruff energy as was originally received from Skad. Her voice was thoroughly deadpan.

Entirely unsuspected, Vida called her own bluff in a moment of realization; perhaps she came on too strongly?

The sudden reversal from the initial challenge in their exchange threw her for a loop, that much was clear. She didn't at all appreciate the uncertainty of not knowing whether she was speaking to a Nordwiir who was merely playing dumb with her language barrier, or was actually as daft with the tongue as she appeared to be. The latter would have been far simpler had Vida totally believed it - rather than having to navigate all these conflicting conclusions.

She sighed, then arched a brow. Opted for her original script in the aftermath of this miniature crisis: assertive indifference.

"But if the details are that important," said the woman who had since busied herself with studying her fingernails underneath the glinting lamplight, occasionally employing the rag as a method to clean away the worst of any spotting or leftover dye. "As I said, there is a building--a sort of collection of warehouses with a dock. This building is fenced, but the walls aren't a terrible concern, nor are the 'guards'. They have no conventional armor nor weapons other than some staffs and clubs, more for the beggars than any armed assailant. As for how many there are? I couldn't say in all honesty, but not a great deal, and not the focus of our mission."

This time did she look up from her practiced nonchalance, clearly wanting to emphasize her next point; her hands falling between the junction of her thighs to clasp together so that there were no more visual distraction for this schoolchild of hers, at least in a manner of speaking.

"The objective is simple: chaos. I do have a plan, so it is a controlled sort of chaos. All of it in order to send a message rather than the completion of any specific goal."
 
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Indeed, it was her time.

Skad stood, her lone eye still staring without reprieve as Pride had to sit and consider what she would say. The Nordwiir wasn't a mind reader, nor was she particularly empathetic. Still, she could only assume that she had somewhat gotten under this woman's skin by being vacant and to the point.

At last, she volleyed back, her answers in a similar rhythm to the questions she had posed. Was this a game? Did this woman think that conversations were to be won and lost?

All Skad sought was the assurance that she was not committing her blade to the cause of fools.

She was not chosen to lead a raiding party to the mainland on a whim. For all her blood and zealotry, Kin-Slayer was considered a shrewd tactician by Nordwiir standards. Methodical. Not for guts nor glory but for blood. So many settlements had been caught unaware, observed and scouted to oblivion as watchmen quietly gurgled crimson in the dead of night, the throats of the sleeping a free bounty for one who could stop and think.

Not that the one-eyed woman was against the occasional maelstrom of blades, but she sought advantage whenever she could.

At last, some scant details were spared. Poorly trained and equipped guards were more than a boon; the last thing she needed was a hail of arrows raining down from on high. However, the carpet was pulled just as she had formed an idea and found footing.

A controlled sort of chaos.

Paradoxical.

Ridiculous.

Skad tilted her head to the side, her face never changing but still asking a question of this woman. Chaos was a great many things. It was rampant, unburdened from the shackles of thought. She had seen chaos, and she had been chaos. It was the fray; the screaming madness of reverence that came from the pit of one's soul Both dangerous and unpredictable.

How could one plan chaos?

She moved, stepping forward with a sense of purpose as if this conversation was about to turn into an interrogation until she was right before Pride's perch. Close enough to see in greater detail the jagged scar tissue that sat across the length of her throat, telling tales of a slit throat survived, the mossy green of her eye staring just that bit wider.

"What. Message."
 
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Vida considered herself to be a collected person, wise to all the tricks and maneuvering inherent in their profession. All too typically she worked it to her advantage. Either through playing into them, subverting them, or by simple, practiced ignorance of them.

And yet nothing could quite prepare her for how disconcerting the experience was to have all this applied in return; rarely was she was the one on the back foot, with Skad the one asking the questions. Trying to intimidate her.​

Her usual methods of evading, dodging, or countering were woefully inadequate when it came to the Nordwiir's simple approach. An utterly barefaced refusal to partake in the usual courtesies desperate mercenaries observed so that they could find work, find the coin to feed their families. The courtesies in question? To take the abuse without flinching, to ask questions when it was the place and time to ask questions.

Instead she felt a faint discomfort stirring with how close the Nordwiir had gotten, tucking her legs in as an instinctive response to the way Skad crowded into her personal space; eyes flicking, narrowed between her throat and the lone, mossy-green eye fixated on her own. At this close proximity, she thought she could feel the other woman's breath; could certainly smell her. Nothing at all pleasant, nor something she'd comment upon in polite company.

Nor did she find it wise to comment upon in impolite company, at least not under these circumstances.

"What. Message."

All of her earlier uncertainties were washed away in the cleansing baptism of complete, utter derision. When Skad's eyes widened, hers narrowed.

Not at all content with the demonstration ending at her eyes, Vida's lips also automatically thinned into a pale, twisted line as if to act as an uneven floodgate for her bared teeth. There was white around the edges of her mouth where her skin pulled taut, smudging past the faint traces of carmine she had applied earlier. No doubt she made for a rather striking figure then. An edifice of a barely concealed disdain; the tidal waves which came crashing down upon the rock. Not at all logical for her, but neither was she feeling all that logical. She was done with today, done with this town, already done with this Skad... woman.

Then, as soon as her moment of rage came--it passed almost as quickly.

Allowing for a few short heartbeats to come and go until she finally straightened herself back out, returning to her earlier repose before it became too obvious that she had conceded a position of relative superiority in response to crude physical coercion. Even in spite of the fact that it fundamentally put her at a disadvantage with how close the Nordwiir was, leaving little room to maneuver should it come to violence.

It was important that the distinction between the two of them was maintained.

Certainly one of the reasons why she preferred their earlier distance and the emotional detachment it had offered. It was much better than having no other choice but to stare down this ghastly woman and take notice of the scarring upon her throat, wanting nothing more than to add another. Skad could have simply shook her head like a dumb, placid ox rather than find ways to challenge her and ask asinine things.

Not going in blind? This Nordwiir was halfway there already, so should Vida consider her with half a brain?

All the hurled abuse aside--she didn't doubt the toil of the day was finally catching up to her, she could feel it in every facet of her body, in muscles made sore by sitting her arse on nothing but stools for hours. She was exhausted. Tired of this... whatever was happening here, whatever bloody routine possessed her to bring the two women to the brink like this. She couldn't even find a proper name for it, really. Not that it should ever have a name.

The fact that she felt a strange obligation to bother replying at all bothered her to no end.

"The message," the sellsword spoke with surprisingly renewed dispassion, her previous loss of control blank upon her countenance. "Is a reminder that our employer may strike wherever and whenever he pleases, with however much brutality he desires. Even in an irrelevant, peaceful little place like Marseyelle. To make them aware that not even this filthy backwater is safe to openly operate in."

Vida returned to caring for her nails as if the previous few seconds hadn't happened at all, though clearly she remained alert.

"I don't think this needs saying, but it's also a message for anyone idiotic enough to do business with these people. Hence, the chaos."
 
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Away from the tension of two faces in close proximity, her fingers twitched, anticipating a reaction that called for a crimson shower.

In the space between heartbeats, she could have had her blade upon Pride's throat. Quick, easy, final. Any blood was worthy, and her aim of getting enough coin to return home was only secondary to her devotion. Her tongue pressed against the back of her teeth, finding the same anticipation that lovers had before that first kiss.

The moment was there, pulled taut and ready to snap. Palpable. Written upon the woman's face where a solitary eye could watch and wait...

...and then it was gone.


Composure raised its head once more, and the woman's posture found a second helping of morale. The thought of killing her hadn't completely escaped Kin-Slayer's mind, but as her hand relaxed, she too found the moment had evaporated, at least for the time being.

The message was explained, broadening Skad's notion of controlled chaos. She knew Wiir who operated like this, who would decorate their settlements with mutilated carrion as if displays of atrocities could keep them safe. She often killed those Wiir. Those who spend more time flaying spend less time thinking. The one-eyed woman might have criticised the message, but ultimately, it was not her business, and beyond getting paid, she did not care.

"That is fine."

Just like that, there was an understanding, albeit one drenched in sweat and tension.

"I will needing rest, and good meal," Skad followed up with, still as blunt as before and still standing with a complete disregard for the woman's personal space, "you will be paying."
 
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Vida seemed to be reading into Skad's reaction nearly as closely as the Nordwiir did hers; passively observing how the Nordwiir's solitary eye ran through an exhaustive gamut of emotions. Exhaustive for what she had originally expected from the woman, in any case.
And only if those emotions specifically happened to range between murderous intent and a strange, possibly fetishistic sense of anticipation in the former. While these weren't exactly the expressions one could call diverse by any means, it was still somehow an improvement over all her aloof staring. Not necessarily a big improvement, mind you. Vida somehow doubted that she'd go dancing naked on the beach to celebrate the development to the Nordwiir's repertoire.

Palpable was certainly one word to describe Skad's posturing, Vida mused. How charming.

Made all the more charming when this queer giant of a woman was only a few feet away and still insistent on crowding her little perch, not at all put off by Vida's earlier glare of death. They were still close enough for anything to happen at a moment's notice, whatever that might've been. Definitely far too close for her to find any sense of comfort in this arrangement. Yet she remained unflinching.

The only telltale sign there was anything wrong in the aftermath of all that "sweat and tension" was how Vida's apparent tranquility was now underlined by tensed, spring-loaded muscles. Her forearms hugged her chest, she leaned a little more forward - in apparent disregard of physical retaliation.

Clearly as prepared for the contingency of outright violence as the Nordwiir was, maybe she was as hopeful as well?

As suddenly as Vida's outburst came and went, so did the Nordwiir's posturing. All swept away like a figurative fart in the wind. Skad simply went back to business like nothing between then and now ever transpired, seemingly content with having made her point with the near interrogation.

No longer was the air explicitly smothered by the hovering threat of violence.

Until the Nordwiir by the name of Skad decided to speak again.

Now it was a different kind of interrogation. Only this time it was one made in more conversational tones between the two, like they were now good acquaintances. Skad spoke of how she was quite alright with the arrangement, but how she will be needing rest; needing dinner; needing Vida to pay out of pocket for all of those troublesome expenses. What an interesting joke this was fast becoming.

And in all honestly she almost thought to laugh at it too, though to do that was undoubtedly an exercise in pointlessness.

Vida's sense of futility in sharing this kind of joke with the Nordwiir came from the... distinct impression it would be lost on her. And yet she made noises all the same - allowing a soft hum to tickle the back of her throat, some muted noise of affirmation? Mild, critiquing amusement? Whatever amusement she found in this probably didn't bode well for Skad, especially if Vida's typical idea of a punchline came to fruition.

Well at least they weren't at each other's throats, so that was something.

Once Skad had finished speaking it was Vida's turn to perk up. Attempting miserably to lay the charm on--or as much of a charm she could ever hope to muster, she replied to Skad's demands with a breezy carelessness. She knew she couldn't hide the coldness behind her eyes in the way any predator couldn't. Not entirely. "If that's all you want from me then I'll deem it a pittance. You're my guest here, and by tomorrow you'll be following my orders. I don't think feeding you and providing you a place to sleep is that terrible of a burden, all things considered."

Only a shade more saccharine of a reply and she swore she'd vomit and retch on this woman, if the stinking rags didn't do it for her.

"There's a barrel in the stables to sponge down the horses, but it should be good enough for you. The water's mostly clean."

You could call her a coward for how she went about it, but Vida was a mercenary first and foremost: cunning and deceptive. A nasty piece of work. Honestly a bit of a bitch, even if that last part wasn't entirely due to her profession. So she simply... acted as any mercenary would, making the shrewd choice of voicing her last recommendation only after seeing Varnehy's silhouette haunt the doorway, no doubt under the impression that things could very well escalate from what little he knew of this Skad woman - and how much he knew of Vida.

To give credit where it was due, it was a comment she was well aware lost a great deal of its punch with Skad.

Something entirely for her gratification alone.

Not to mention it was just good plain sense on top of things. The woman clearly stank of something putrid; hardly a thing to go by unnoticed in a town like Marseyelle, or anywhere civilized for that matter. And it was not the way she wanted to go - being caught in the act by some Norsewoman's drifting miasma - discovered by every nose on this side of the coast before they could complete what they had come to do in the first place. She genuinely thought she'd die of embarrassment if she hadn't already been killed by a soldier, or killed by Skad while attempting to kill her back.

So yes, the Nordwiir better bloody well wash. Even if she had to fling the giant woman in like a toddler.
 
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It was an entirely reasonable demand made by an entirely unreasonable person.

If she were inflicting chaos and brutality upon Marseyelle, there was a requirement to be fed and invigorated. Empty bellies and minds did not best serve wanton slaughter and destruction made blunt by fatigue.

Pride acquiesced, albeit with further unfamiliar vocabulary and a certain emphasis on following orders. Skad couldn't fathom what a 'pittance' was, nor had no desire to as her stare remained fixed upon a woman seemingly at war with herself to find her preferred inflexion amongst the endless barrage of words that spewed forth like fattened kaldursnigill.

Kin-Slayer had assumed they'd found some form of accord...

...but then she kept talking.

In what seemed like an uncharacteristic outburst of emotion from the Nordwiir, Skad unleashed a deep sigh from the pit of her lungs that seemed to drag out for an excruciating time, made all the more disconcerting by the rest of her unmoving face. Was she done with this conversation? Frustrated by the notion of bathing with the same water reserved for the animals? It would not have seemed to be a maddening reaction, all things considered. However, it was not the reason for Skad's sigh.

She did not like the smell.

That long, drawn-out wave of putrid breath in such close quarters would hit the woman's face, telling grim tales of tough, old meat languishing the the prison bars of never-brushed teeth. Like warm rot, curdling in the rare feittsumar sun, it conjured forth the notion of wriggling maggots atop decaying flesh.

"You are wanting me to washing with the beasts," Skad immediately followed up, her words part of a one-two punch that accompanied the scent of her decaying maw, "tell me, are you washing in stables with the horses?"
 
Vida couldn't quite describe just how mortifying it was for Skad to belch out some kind of gust of putrefaction the moment she voiced her suggestion of a bath, nor could she summon accurate words for the nauseating smell - more like a miasma - which actually emitted from what was meant to be a mouth for humans.

And she was the one complaining about the fucking horse water?​

No doubt that this was going to prove to be a defining memory of the whole sordid affair, probably long into the future where Vida would have tried her best to forget it altogether rather than having to re-experience it all over again. Somehow she kept a straight face in continued defiance of this olfactory onslaught. Though struggle she certainly did, at no temporary expense to her pride as she fought to keep her face coolly neutral.

This was a woman she was meant to entrust her life to in the whirlwind of combat, by the way.

Skad was a whirling dervish of death in a very poignant and very figurative manner as well. Not only literal.

And for a fleeting, intense moment Vida was genuinely tempted to retch, as she previously thought she'd do. Her jaw tensed; an uncertain expression of what can be equally argued as either 'horrified and on the verge of violent sickness' or 'pissed off in a very scary way'. It might have very well been both from the way Vida casted her head aside, yet kept her peripheral vision on the Nordwiir with eyes that promised nothing at all pleasant.

"No, I am not washing in the stables with the horses. Do you know why? It's because I'm not the one actively being followed by fucking plague clouds."

Varnehy snorted in what could be construed as either assent or bemusement at his employer's current horrified predicament.

They all really did wonder why she despised them. Vida was getting sick of all these double meanings, she didn't doubt that Skad knew what she was doing as well. What a way to sigh, knowing that when you do - you literally contaminate everything your breath touches. Vida swore she was able to feel it in the same way they describe any miasma.

That faint stickiness of rot which seemed to layer your skin, your clothes, and your soul like oil.

Unfortunately it seemed as though Skad pushed all the way she was potentially able to before she was met with any real resistance; now there was nothing left but a towering monolith of what was only quiet derision. Vida even grew a little taller in retrospect, sitting up to hover imperiously over this Nordwiir, her hands folded over one another while forearms found themselves once again upon her knees. The enchantment of Skad's particular spell seemed to have switched their places--now it was the waves crashing upon the rock.

Vida's mouth quirked, looking at this woman with new eyes. "I really do mean it, you stand out the way you are. You may bathe wherever you'd like. Dip your head wherever I don't need to see it. It's an inconvenience. You can get sick, or your wounds can become infected. Then you're useless to me."

Leaning until her back brushed against the plastered wall, she brought one of her leather riding boots up to rest against the edge of the table; swaying ever so briefly with the intensity of the newly introduced weight. That boot had clearly seen it's fair share of lingering, endless miles with how scuffed and well-worn it appeared in contrast to just about everything else about this woman. Skad might have wanted to pay close attention, because if she stepped any further with that absolutely malignant mouth of hers there was a good chance Vida would outright kick her in the face.

She now wanted some peace and quiet.

Varnehy stood by awkwardly in the way any good shadow did; in the way Skad would hopefully learn. Quietly, without a whole lot of fuss.

"Unless Nordwiir find honor in that? Dying to little cuts?"
 
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Every minuscule muscle movement told a different story, the one in the woman's jaw spoke of a desire to keep composure. Skad might have been impressed, although, in retrospect, this woman's strained tension was caused by a case of bad breath. Ah, uncharitable, the Nordwiir was prodding somewhat, trying to glean a little more of what made Pride tick.

Kin-Slayer wondered if it wounded her, relying on the services of one so savage and pungent. A rare vindictive sliver of her soul hoped that it did.

However, the thought was quickly scattered by the snort at her back, a notion of knives causing her head to whip around to glance at Grey, her blade hand seemingly anticipating an ambush at a moment's notice. Proper vigilance or paranoia? Skad's own jaw was set in stone for a moment, clearly uncomfortable by the positioning; it was hard enough to keep one eye front and one back, never mind when you only held half the sight.

When she turned back, Pride had assumed a more dominant posture and just like that, the Nordwiir felt a lot more on the backfoot than she would have liked.

The remainder of the woman's words were endured as unnecessary detail, the fruits of her minor act of antagonistic biological warfare. Skad relaxed back into stoic nothingness, her eye trailing the boot close enough to her face to warrant caution. Not that the concept of a broken nose was particularly bothersome, but it would likely end any cooperation between them.

"I do not find honour. It is for fools," she replied with a simple-faced shrug before tilting her head upwards to highlight that scar across her throat once more, "but big cuts," she then held up her left hand, the palm of which was a massacre of scar tissue layered upon one another in evidence of ritual, the freshest of which had only just scabbed, "little cuts. Not the problem, I do not die."

Her tone, devoid of anything, made it hard to parse if she was a boastful idiot awaiting hubris or if she meant it. Kin-Slayer knew exactly what she meant but had no wish to divulge that which gave her advantage.

"We are done. I will go washing with beasts, if that is pleasing you."
 
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There was an element of surprise to Skad's abrupt loquaciousness that nearly took Vida off-balance, tickling her in a way she found both comical and baffling. Not quite what she had expected, but she certainly took no small amusement in how whiplash quick Skad changed her strategy after finally taking notice of Varnehy, clearly startled to find that they were in fact not alone.

Now Skad went about demonstrating all of her pretty scars, pontificating on her claim about immortality?
Vida didn't altogether understand what the Nordwiir had meant by that, other than yes - she had a great deal of cuts and scrapes - and no, none of them were the one to deal a killing blow. Supposedly an accomplishment of her own perceived indestructability, but where Skad found evidence of this in her various scars was a question Vida didn't really think to ask.

What was evident was how the Nordwiir tried to bring forth a message of confidence, or perhaps it was a pitching point she was saving until this very moment. It certainly wasn't because she was literally unafraid of dying to a festering cut, right? The most generous Vida could've been was in assuming that maybe it was a clever hint; saying in no uncertain terms how hard it was to make an attempt on her life, how much an ox will undoubtedly thrash in its death throes.

My, whoever would that be for?

As to whether it was the posturing of a boastful Nordwiir and little else besides? She could not say.

Still, Vida made sure to play out all the necessary gestures and nonverbal commentary at the exhibition Skad was determined she watch. Probably not at all in the spirit that was intended, since Vida's observations were more of the morbidly curious variety. In the way that you might bestow upon young toddlers who just returned to show off the wounds they collected playing outdoors, or perhaps how one might acknowledge their cat after having been brought whatever horrid thing they caught in the wild. Her cheeks lifted in that discrediting, almost indulgent manner that would in turn add just a little more curvature to her lips than they'd otherwise have.

"You live to fight, then? Are all the big and little cuts your currency to prove it to the world?"

Not having bothered to stir from where she positioned herself previously, Vida made the negligible effort to crane her head to the side and past the leg she'd withdrawn onto the table so that she could again study this "big cut"; the one that went across the Nordwiir's throat in a way she could hardly believe to be survivable. As for how Vida broached the last question - as well as the next to come - came with the unsurprising drollness Skad would sooner or later become accustomed to. By far the most common style of expression in regards to the way she spoke.

More specifically when she spoke to Skad, of all people.

A low voice full of casual undertones and unconscious mockery. Often belying any real sincerity from her.

"I already believe you, so please don't feel compelled to add a septic cut to the list. Not for me, certainly." And don't try to wiggle out of washing yourself--was what went unmentioned. No matter how vain a plea it might've been. At least try having a good dunk in the rain barrel outside, or in a water trough, or even the nearby ocean were she feeling particularly frisky and didn't mind a half hour's march.

"We are done. I will go washing with beasts, if that is pleasing you."

"Please do. You've had a long walk; a long wash will no doubt feel wonderful, wherever you decide to have it."

An exchange bordering on downright civilized for the two of them.

Vida didn't concern herself with any further verbal reply, nor even a parting quip, for that matter. Failing to grasp any response that wouldn't sound churlish in acknowledgement of what she finally sought from the Nordwiir: an affirmation of what was said without any real noticeable defiance, not to mention a little self-deprecation on top of that. It was a nice addition.

As an alternative to opening pursed lips, she simply dipped her head in shining endorsement to what she had already said, and what Skad also suggested all by herself. And then once an appropriate amount of time had passed - preferably while the two others were already well out the door - Vida would've brought her head the other way around, so as to lay claim to the wall behind with the crown of her head, her eyes fluttering closed.

As to whether her solitude was premature or not, she meant to enjoy it. At this very moment. That left both Skad and Varnehy to interpret her final 'reply' in whatever way they so felt inclined, though the hint was hardly a subtle one: go away until after dinner is served, please and thank you.

Albeit with the sole condition of Varnehy lingering until after Skad had left. Just to be safe, really.

He might not have understood anything that had gone between the two women, but he didn't care for it, either. His only job, aside from the one they were currently on, was to keep the person who kept his purse filled from having her throat cut. Specifically by a Nordwiir who might suddenly have cold feet about playing nice with others. As it was, Varnehy stared on quietly. Busied his hands with the pair of riding gloves he long since removed and folded into one another.

Trying to make himself look idle, unthreatening. As opposed to his actual role: a menacing guard dog.
 
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Without a fuss, Skad left the room.

It hadn't been an entire disaster; nobody had died after all. Although, then again, would it have been so terrible to have shed such prideful blood? No, never. However, religious fervour had to be tempered by logic sometimes as she couldn't murder her way across the Köldgröf, and this opportunity for coin was too coincidental to be pure luck.

An errant question had burrowed itself under the Nordwiir's skin in the aftermath. Are all the big and little cuts your currency to prove it to the world? It was a greater offence than any taut statement or thinly veiled insult. Had it been spoken by her own people, it was a question worthy of death. In this case, however, it was mere ignorance.

Every cut was a testament to Haraudur, and every drop spilt forth a cause to celebrate. For it did not matter who bled in the eternal duty to fill His cup; it only mattered that there was blood.

She remained wordless in her route to the stables, eyes barely registering on those who may have been in her way (or rather, remained too short to be on her eye level). There was little point in meandering around attempting to make ham-fisted conversations with people who were, at the end of the day, means to an end.

The horses stared, and in kind, Skad stared back. Her failed raid to the mainland had been her first encounter with the common mounts of the south. She considered them ridiculous creatures with legs too long and too frail for such powerful bodies. The kaldabatur were not so tall, but what they lacked in spindly limbs, they made up for in stout tenacity. They were a perfect encapsulation of the ferocity of home, carnivorous beasts who would gore you with their tusks if you did not hold the will to tame them.

Without further ceremony, the Nordwiir began to remove the patchwork assortment of hides that made her traditional garb. It was less of an undressing, more of an unpeeling as suffering sweat had attempted to fuse her to the clothing. The roughspun gróft cloth that covered her drooping eyelid was the last piece removed, a defined line of clean and filthy flesh evident.

The barrel water was not mostly clean but a tepid swamp that attracted more flies than it repelled. If anything, Skad would be trading one bad smell for another. Additionally, the notion of sponging oneself down was, in reality, a stiff brush.

It mattered not.

With almost malicious compliance in place of humiliation, she took a small bucket and doused herself with the beast water, which caused a small chorus of hoof beats and wild snorting as if the horses were offended at the sight.

At the very least, it was refreshing.

With the inherent violence that Skad took the brush to her skin with, it could have been assumed that she relied on brute force to obtain an acceptable level of cleanliness instead of the questionable purity of the barrel water. Every inch of visible flesh did not escape the wrath of her scrubbing, rendering her skin raw (and smelling like horses) in the aftermath.

Her determination to follow Pride's instruction to the letter came in the horrifying manner that Skad then finished off by dunking her head into the fetid water. It didn't taste particularly glorious either, as the Nordwiir swallowed a large mouthful of old horse broth with reckless abandon.

Clothes followed next, getting the same treatment through murderous dunking and brushing.

Naturally, putting back on sopping wet hides was not in the itinerary for the evening, and so Kin-Slayer returned to the inn, completely in the nude and apparently entirely unbothered by the fact.

The state of the Nordwiir's face aligned with her body, the dominant feature of flesh being a grand collection of scar tissue. Some were evidence of glancing blows, the sort of wounds expected from a society that thrived on conflict and others were decidedly more mortal. They told stories of several deaths.

Bled out on a slash to the thigh.

Run straight through by a spear to the guts.

A cacophony of blades in the back.

Even an arrow to the heart.


Her lean form, all limbs and built for endurance over strength, padded through the building in search of a fireplace or somewhere at least half-suitable for drying her clothes. What wasn't scar tissue was now a frustrated blush of thoroughly scrubbed flesh, in what could be called a satisfactory job done.

However, she held doubts that Pride was the sort of woman capable of being satisfied.
 
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Having little to do with the events going on in the room down the hall, Masile happily opted to remain in the common area, book in hand. There really was nothing more for her to do on her end, after already having made all necessary preparations.
And so there she sat, curled up as much as she could've been with the less than... ideal seating arrangements, a candle lit on a nearby table. Masile didn't deign it entirely hopeless, however. Her chair was padded by an old, half-forgotten pillow she managed to scrounge up from one of the supply cabinets littered with an arbitrary collection of sewing material and tools.

The best she could do, so it was going to have to be good enough.

That said, as cozy and nestled up as she could ever be under the circumstances, Masile was eager to go through the contents of a hardcover she recently procured, one page after another. Not all that thrilling really, or that is to say, only as thrilling as any botanical record of the local vegetation could've been. To the woman in a puddle of skirts on the outskirts of a small, humdrum port town? It was in all likelihood as much excitement as she was going to get.

That was, until the Nordwiir strutted into the tavern as naked as a newborn.

Obviously not being one to gawk, Masile made all efforts to avoid being seen doing so--and you could hardly blame her for looking. Skad was not especially discrete, in the way that rather than strut, she stomped to the hearth situated nearby - from one bare foot to the other. All without a trace of propriety to be seen. Masile's initial inclination was to get up and go somewhere else, but some prey instinct made her freeze in an attempt to avoid any overt signs of acknowledgment from the Nordwiir.

Not to say that Masile was exclusively operating on instinct.

Her rounded eyes also assessed the wounds upon the naked woman's body out of purely academic interest, marking what she could to memory. Scars and stabs and gashes. Wounds old and relatively new. The woman was a monument to violence in practically any way one could think of; her body had nearly every example framed and decorated. Hardly all that titillating a view for anyone save a surgeon's appraising eye, really

Unless they were one of those eccentrics; the ones that liked their women with a few scars. Hardly worth thinking about, and Masile did her best towards avoiding associating with those sorts.

While she felt it may be inappropriate to linger, she nevertheless recognized this moment of opportunity. It allowed her to assess just how damaged this canvass actually was, which in turn made her wonder how the woman who it was writ upon still walked.

Masile questioned some of the injuries - and how Skad survived them - in a way only the experienced with such things could, and she had a fair amount of experience.

After all, alchemy had a great deal of applications from herbal remedies to healing the afflicted of any and all miseries - including the ones brought on by violence. And it was rarely the only field one tended to practice in. That's why she was here in Marseyelle instead of anywhere else in the world.

For even mercenaries required her services from time to time, and they oft paid better than most of her clients. Mostly consisting of peasants or the occasional blue-blooded girl in need of an abortion. If she was being paid in coin, she was happy to oblige.

And if Skad had recognized she was being stared at, she'd find eyes promptly levelled at her own.

No doubt reminding the Nordwiir of the few owls she had encountered over her travels - as Masile peered through her downturned lashes with round, perpetually startled eyes; wide-eyed, unblinking and framed on a perfectly oval face. Her features had an inherent intelligence, a calmness of soul that Skad wouldn't have recognized in Vida or Varnehy - or in most mercenaries, by all accounts. What she did have was the same intensity of gaze, and the same degree of constant evaluation.

An odd contrast to the flower-shop aesthetic she had going on.

Whether or not Masile was detected at this point, she would go to instinctively brush at the bangs tucked above her forehead and make a sound of recognition in her throat. She spoke in a feathery, lilting sort of voice that made everything seem a question. "You've washed," not exactly a question. "I don't doubt Vida insisted. Do you need clothes?"

It seems she know how to speak Skad's language, keeping her querying to the point. She asked the next question no matter the reply.

"Nordenfiir?"

Skad better damn well be, because that's the closest her knowledge came to the variety of northern cultures.
 
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With all the decorum of a person perfectly comfortable in their skin, Skad re-arranged chairs before the hearth, draping each of her garments upon the spines of the seats. It almost seemed civilised, a notion at odds with most mainlanders' assumptions on who or what she was.

Before long, she was crouched down before the fireplace, having assembled old straw and thick logs into a combustible pile. The Nordwiir could feel the gentle ache of existence in her body, the events since arriving here unfolding into a miserable slog of unfortunate happenstance and far too much walking. Gods, it was exhausting and only made worse by the oppressive climate that these southerners chose to exist in.

Steel struck against flint several times until the packed cotton balls used as tinder caught, and the embers were gently placed beneath the straw. What a treat it was to start a fire indoors instead of battling against a frozen howling gale out to thwart your quest for warmth.

Once a small troupe of flames began to dance and spread, the woman stood, turning around only to find that she was being observed.

These people had a habit of silently lurking, which Skad was beginning to find very concerning. Either she lacked awareness, her sharpness dulled by fatigue, or these mercenaries were at one with the shadows. Judging by the unassuming appearance of the woman nestled in the chair, she assumed it was the former.

Then again, assumptions were a dangerous thing. Skad's brow furrowed as she stared back, a practical explosion of emotion for Kin-Slayer as she inwardly scolded herself for such sloppy thinking.

The woman spoke, granting the gift of knowledge in a name. Vida. Not only that but perhaps a gift of clothing too? The perfect cherry on top was the short, to-the-point manner in which this one asked her questions. It was refreshing, ensuring that Skad didn't immediately loathe her.

"Yes, I am needing clothes," she responded, just as stark as usual.

Without the makeshift bandage covering her face, the empty socket of her right eye was much more apparent; the remaining eyelid was left sagging without any structure behind it. Just in case Skad needed to appear any more disconcerting.

"Nordwiir," she corrected, echoing her earlier conversation with Vida, although unlike earlier, she presented this one with the boon of a second sentence, "Not a bear fucker."

Feeling the growing heat of the flames at her back, Skad stepped away from her drying arrangement and grabbed her skinning knife that rarely left her side. The grooves in the handle attuned to her grip made that evident. She was aware that it probably wasn't a welcoming sight, the tall, grizzled and naked knife-wielding foreigner on the approach, so she offered this one more space for the time being.

"Do you having clothes you can give?"
 
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Masile couldn't help but smile placatingly in reply to the Nordwiir's furrowed brow. Though to call it a smile was almost as deceitful as calling anything Vida did a smile, as it was more of a faint cant of the lips than any expression that conveyed mirth.

Yet for Masile, it was just how she always was; soft and warm in nature, but hardly open and inviting.
Nodding in affirmation of her earlier statement about Skad 'needing clothes' when the naked woman confirmed as much, she nearly stood to make good on the offer--stopping before even leaving the chair as the Nordwiir continued speaking. That was a surprise. Masile hadn't expected as much, but did not complain, either. On the contrary, she was more than willing to indulge the Nordwiir as well as any bit of conversation she would actually share.

After all, this was what she did: listened, absorbed, learned. Information was important; she made a life having more than others.
Masile paid attention to Skad's speech with an open, candid face. Her head tilted to the side ever so slightly at the colorful correction, betraying her amusement as the movement sent her bangs tumbling across her forehead - leaving them a little more unkempt than before. Unconsciously, she proceeded to brush them back into place, roaming fingers returning to her book afterwards. How interesting. It was certainly one way to describe the Nordenfiir, to be sure.

Some would prefer to use different terminology, but she had her doubts the Norsewoman cared about the distinction

Her lips remained pursed for a moment before parting; no longer smiling as she made sure to absorb what the Nordwiir was saying, making it another addition to her library. "Not the Eretjeva then, but those north of the Northerners? I'm sorry. I don't know much of them."

Hardly a contemporary scholar bothered with anyone beyond Nords and Nordenfiir. Oh well.

Especially not when they already lacked even the bare minimum understanding of the more common residents of the Eretjeva tundra, a people who wrote little - or at least - shared little with the mainland, even less with inquisitive alchemists halfway across the world. Masile wouldn't lie outright by saying she knew nothing of them, but all she heard were mere stories, phantasms by poets and playwrights.

Mostly due to ignorance of the broad diversity the region shared, so they employed the once-heard terms loosely, indiscriminately.

"I suppose they don't spend their lives kneeling to this Queen Maude up there?"

Masile supposed the 'bear-fucking' declaration was something of a confirmation already. While she thought about the no doubt riveting differences between the two cultures, her face kept a careful neutral demeanor. A demeanor Skad probably couldn't differentiate as to whether the alchemist woman maintained an inquisitive, vaguely distracted or mildly curious expression on her face. Neither happiness nor unhappiness was writ there; only the merest inclination towards one or the other.

Not in a terribly disconcerting way however. Only in the sort of absentminded fashion that suited her round, wide eyes.

She finally put the book of herbology down, surrendering on the idea of picking it back up again to read, at least for the moment. Her fingers laid bare on its cover while her attention was brought again towards the Nordwiir's nude form; nearly as content in the woman's nakedness as Skad herself was. There was nothing there she didn't see before, and more beyond, she was measuring exactly how she'd fit Skad into anything resembling the clothes she had packed away in her trunk. So much for her casual offer from earlier.

"As for your earlier question, no. I don't have any clothes you can wear,"

Thinking fast, Masile was inspired by an entirely new question to pose; her eyebrows lifting alongside her lips in what was almost... consolatory. Even if she was undecided as to whether the Norsewoman would really care, considering the rest of her laissez-faire attitude towards anything resembling the customs of the mainland that everyone else accepted without question.

"But if you have no concerns about wearing men's clothing, I think I can find something for you."

Masile placed the back of her index and middle finger to the corner of her mouth in mild suspense, wondering how open the Norsewoman actually was about wearing Varnehy's clothing - or gods forbid - whatever rags the innkeeper might've had in his inventory. Actually, it was a good thing that the innkeeper wasn't here now; she wasn't entirely certain what he'd make of this scene unfolding.
 
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Where one question had been asked, more followed.

On one hand, such curiosity was commendable. It was important to know your enemy or at least a potential enemy; whether that was done through observation or interrogation was a different question. Skad's demeanour led her to the former, but it would have seemed that this woman preferred the latter.

On the other hand, the most pleasant of the trio was now asking questions of the Nordwiir.

Ultimately, it boiled down to what information she sought and how it could be wielded. Skad chewed upon both of them in her usual empty-faced manner as she continued to speak, apparently having no clothes to offer, making her first question inane until a swift recovery followed.

Why did the clothes have genders?
The rules of this society seemed so maddening. Back in Eyjarnar, clothing was meant to protect one's flesh from the elements and little else. Gender was dictated by what was between your legs, not what you chose to adorn yourself with—ridiculous, foolish little people. At the very least, it was a weakness of sorts, but as Skad would likely not be engaging in social combat, it was useless information.

"No, and no," came the solid wall of a double answer, which gave away very little beyond what was asked. However, as this woman was willing to help clothe her, Kin-Slayer offered a small portion more, "I am not knowing a Maude."

It wasn't information that could harm her, after all.

"Yes, do finding something," Skad confirmed before curiosity lifted an eyebrow at the woman, proving that she could emote when appropriate, "I am not of understand. Why is clothes for men and not women?"
 
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Now there was a question for the ages. What constituted masculine and feminine, exactly?

Where and when did the distinction end, and how much was really the result of untold centuries where culture warred with biology? How much of this was arbitrary as opposed to established fact? But where do you draw the line between arbitrary and common sense? Who even decided such a thing in the first place?

Did it matter if one considered anything more than survival to be a frivolity?

Certainly it was no issue for those of the Eretjeva tundra, as well as the unnamed islands to their north. People wore what was comfortable, or at least - what was available. How much did availability of resources dictate societal touchstones? For the same said of the Nordwiir could not be said of the rest of the continent, for better or for worse.

What was one to make of this? Was it as she postulated? Was it simple as geographical isolation and lack of necessary resources; were they simply unable to implement the degree of stratification amongst the genders. Something seen the world over? If this was the case, was their inability to grasp the abstraction of gender constriction due to these limitations mean that cosmopolitan was the default, an end result of societal development? Oh dear, now this was touchy territory.

But she was a woman of science, so she knew that the continent wasn't always this way, so that begged the question - where had those days gone? Where was it all going?

Would the Nordwiir adapt a similar way of life in a more prosperous future, or would there be divergence? They said all evolution followed a pattern, but not necessarily, and even less so with humanity involved. Was the fashion in which you wore fabric all that essential in a civilization whose foundations were made sound by excess, rather than need? Could be anything; material, texture, design. They all varied from culture to culture, age to age, yet it all still maintained some level of gender role and sexual decorum, at least in the heart of the continent.

The extremities of this world held some freedoms, for sure, but at this point she felt as though she'd have to return to her original thought process: It was the degree to which a lack of resources granted some measure of freedom from tradition and structure... or maybe the cold was indeed an equal factor?

They were very close to the poles, after all, and even Masile saw the rationale in wearing what was essential to survive. Not that this came true in all scenarios where a land held very dangerous winters, however.

Maslie had a very... unique mind.
Masile paused, her silence brought on by a rather characteristic bout of contemplation, eyes trailing off to the side. She bit her lip, tried not to laugh at the ludicrousness of this entire subject - nor at the way Skad was no doubt looking at her while she froze in place at such a simple question. Why is clothes for men and not women?

She finally gave a small shrug of her shoulders, bringing them closer to her neck in unconscious sign of apology. "I don't really know, maybe it shouldn't be like that," she eventually said, "but not everyone feels the way you do. Many feel that women must wear one thing and men another, and everyone else decided it was wise to agree."

For missing missing reasons, to be sure. But she doubted the Nordwiir cared to hear excuses.

With that, she decided it was time to go about finding this Nordwiir some clothing - man or woman's. She stood from her perch, letting her moth-bitten pillow flutter to the floor as as she disturbed its place upon the stool. Her hands came down to sweep at the blue-dyed wool of her dress, brushing away at the dirt both real and imagined before she straightened to full height.

It was a little amusing to see the two compared; with Skad as the naked giant and Masile as the flower-shop alchemist who was a few hairs short of five feet.

"I'll be finding you those clothes now, stay there a moment."

Maslie finally went away, her buckled shoes a noisy clack of leather-soled shoes on the bare, splintering hardwood flooring. By coincidence that was the exact moment in which Vida stepped out from the hallway in interception. They both paused in the doorway, having a few words then; nothing Skad would've been able to hear. And after a few precious moments had passed, the sellsword brushed Maslie aside with an easy tap of her shoulder - clearly not in the mood for long, riveting sociology lessons.

Her oiled riding boots made a different sound than buckled shoes, one with a great deal more doom and gloom.

Maybe it also had something to do with the way she was looking at Skad then, something rather familiar at this point; condescension, and something a little less familiar, though undoubtedly a face the Nordwiir would recognize. Disgust. Clearly Vida could smell the Norsewoman's horse cologne from her vantage across the common room. She wasn't very happy.

Hardly fair considering it was technically by her direction that Skad should bathe with the horses.

Vida made her way to the table she was originally sat at - across from Maslie, hovering over the chair rather than immediately sinking into the twisted, uncomfortable wooden stool. Not until she had a good long look at Skad, her brows and lashes returned to the pale, dusty blonde that suited the rest of her features.

It seems she was finally finished with washing away the last remnants of her 'war paint'.

"How was the bath?" Vida asked in airy tones, her bare fingers finding a vantage on the neck of the backed stool. Somehow Skad would feel the question was rhetorical in nature. "Are you feeling refreshed now?"
 
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Skad felt no closer to understanding the purpose of gendered clothing, a custom of this world that would elude her beyond the framing of pack mentality. Somebody decreed who should wear what, and instead of questioning it, everybody went along with it.

Such introspection was dangerous; after all, were the Wiir not bound by an unthinking doctrine, with choices made because the Gods said it so?

Her hand tightened around the hilt of her blade, that small notion tantamount to doubt, the cornerstone of betrayal. She'd killed for less. The fervour within called for blood, demanding penance for even conjuring up such thoughts. She was Haraudur's Blade, unquestioning and unfaltering; she could not succumb to such feeble-minded delusions of scepticism.

A solitary grunt was offered to the height-deprived woman, who promptly scurried off on the hunt for clothing, leaving Kin-Slayer alone with the consequence of her treacherous thought.

<"Forgive me,"> the Nordwiir muttered in her guttural mother tongue, a pained expression darkening features that usually stood stoic, <"My blood is your blood.">

Penance was found in the blade as Skad drew the blade across the flesh of her left palm, layering a fresh gash atop the mass of still-healing scabs and mottled flesh. Making a fist, she squeezed, observing her own crimson as it oozed out from between her fingers and softly dripped down onto her foot and the hardwood.

Vida emerged not a moment later like a haughty omen, but far more concerned with seeking the God of Blood's forgiveness, Skad did not bother to hide the tension that left white knuckles and stiff shoulders in its wake. Frustration remained on her face, carving deep notches into her nose and brow, lower jaw jutting forth and set in granite.

It met the face of disgust, and suddenly, Skad was far less willing to be debased by the Suðurmynni that sought to test her nerve.

"Do having a problem?" Kin-Slayer challenged, lacking a sense of any physical vulnerability despite being naked before this woman, "This is what you were asking of me."
 
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Vida's fingers instinctively tightened their grip upon the back of the chair after hearing the tone this Nordwiir spoke to her with. It was only an innocent question, what was her problem indeed?
To find the reserves of forbearance was a uniquely challenging experience; Vida certainly couldn't say she was used to it. Not at all.

No matter how hard she attempted to compose herself. No matter how she tried to mask her impulsive huff of aggravation, she still let it show on her fine-boned features as she gazed upon the state of the Norsewoman: naked, her hands covered in her own blood, making an unholy mess all over the stained tavern floor. Her eyes briefly flickered downwards, trying to assess where the blood was coming from, then up again. Finding her answer a little higher. The Nordwiir's hands, did she cut herself?

Vida didn't even bother gracing the barbarian's challenge with an answer, at least not yet; her chin slowly tilting upwards in order to look Skad in the eyes from the disadvantage of height she held, mostly due to the backed chair she was currently resting her arms on. Not that she minded the momentary silence. It allowed her a second or two of respite before deciding upon an answer, gauging just how much she could get away with when the other woman seemed... surprisingly out of sorts.

The likely answer? Not much. Not by the way the Nordwiir woman was looking at her, nor the way she was casually letting the crimson bleed from an open wound, for that matter. As to why she was bleeding? That was a question she'd reserve for Masile when the two of them shared a moment of privacy. Presumably she'd have an answer about why the scarred giant suddenly decided to add another inclusion to her repertoire. Then again, perhaps not. Vida didn't know what these Nordwiir got up to in their free time.

"The only problem I have now is you staining the poor innkeeper's floor with your blood," Vida finally answered at length, a slow blink that saw her vision travel from the Nordwiir to the growing puddle at the woman's feet, clarifying her point. "Though I imagine a few more stains in the woodwork won't do too much harm. Not to him, anyway."

Vida conceded the point she'd just made with a rueful, foreboding laugh.

"Well, you decided to clean yourself up before honoring your gods. I'm not going to ask for much more." Her eyes roamed again, continuing unprompted before Skad could reply: "Are you wearing... that, by any chance?"

An entirely coincidental stab in the dark, regarding the sacrificing to dark gods. Even though in hindsight it wasn't all that difficult to employ a little conjecture.

As for the second part of her sentence, the 'that' she was referring to shouldn't have been too much trouble to guess. Even for someone like Skad. While waiting for an answer Vida remained at her position across the table from where the Nordwiir stood by the hearth, maintaining a good distance in the event someone was at their rope's end with the other. Distantly she heard someone shuffling behind her, then immediately go the way he came - Varnehy, probably.

No doubt he caught wind of whatever was happening, wanted nothing to do with it.
 
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The only problem.

Which meant there still was a problem.

It might have seemed that Skad's previous assumption that Vida could not know satisfaction was very true. Or perhaps she took a sadistic joy out of rattling the bars of the Nordwiir's cage of misfortune. Had the opportunity to earn coin not fallen out of the sky in a manner befitting a blessing, she might have just walked away.

Kin-Slayer sought to regain composure, but it slipped through her grasp as the woman dared to broach the subject of her 'gods'.

These people didn't know any better; they could barely tell the difference between Wiir and Fiir, so to hold them to the expectation of appropriate reverence was unfair. That was where Skad's stance would have usually been, but here, she was confronted by a woman who picked and picked, like a gluttonous sadist enamoured with scabs.

With nostrils flaring, Skad's blade helpfully pointed at the arrangement of equine-scented hides draped across chairs before the hearth.

"My clothes are wet,"
she managed to rumble through gritted teeth in a manner very much classified as barely restrained, "they are the only I am having."

She tightened her slick fist further, feeling her pulse in the wound as if the thrum of her beating heart could offer a modicum of calm in a scenario that called for it. It was foolish to be so emotional; allowing anybody to witness what made you tick was akin to leaving your flank open. It was an invite to be manipulated, to be goaded, to make a mistake. The thought crawled down the back of her head, both insidious and scolding, yet she could not regain her calm.

"You will not speak of our Gods again,"
Skad threatened, her voice still low as words imparted a baleful promise, "or I will cutting you from nose to cunt."
 
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How quickly the atmosphere of a room could so suddenly shift. From a state of polite, teasing interaction to that of a powder keg whose undercurrents promised impending violence. Vida could feel it, even without the naked threat Skad had directed at her. She didn't doubt the Norsewoman was exasperated at this point with her antics.

Something had pricked her, and it showed.​

Vida's scoffed reply to the Nordwiir's harsh words came out breathy; a low hiss of air from parted lips - the reaction of someone caught off-guard, at least in part. She certainly hadn't expected the demonstration of outright hostility, that much was certain.

As her raised brows lowered once again to where they typically rested, so too did her mouth, forming a thin line of dissatisfaction where all hints of surprised laughter were promptly smoothed away.

A moment after that, Vida's lips quirked to the side, chewing at the inside of her mouth in idle thought. She watched as the blood ran down Skad's fingers in lazy trails, the drips punctuating the Nordwiir's words. All that crimson gone to waste in service to some strange god, and for what? While the words themselves were surprising, what interested her far more were their origin - clearly the Nordwiir took offense when it came to any insult towards her faith. That much was clear.

Made all the clearer by the whole 'cutting open her hands in order to appease the gods' thing she just did, now that Vida thought about it. She looked up from the strange sight, eyes roaming away from the pooling blood to land back upon the woman's face, features still etched in a practiced calm. As calm as she had come to expect of Skad's countenance, anyway.

Truth be told, Vida was almost impressed. She could certainly admire the restraint it undoubtedly took to maintain it, no matter how plainly it contrasted with the rest of the woman. Where did it come from? Was it that she didn't want to display any weakness of emotion, or was she really that cavalier? Both? Neither?

Until she knew, taking the conciliatory approach seemed... prudent.

"Fine, you're quite right. No more talk of violence for Skad, no more talk of gods for her employer. I imagine that'll suit the both of us, I think." With that out of the way, she finally released her hold from the chair, the only contact to remain were her trailing fingers. As she spoke again, there was suddenly something new in that voice; a smile, almost feline in its low tones. "Here I thought we were becoming such swift fucking friends."

Not to say she liked the thought of staying on somewhat friendly terms, but she wasn't a complete fool, either. There would be no way other than pointless to describe this whole affair were the Nordwiir to quit the job prematurely, or to die before they'd even left the tavern. All that work and all that endless patience with this woman wasted just like that; an entirely meaningless day spent tolerating and indulging the whims of some eternally angry Norsewoman.

Only to end up trying to kill one another in the middle of this no-name tavern? No thank you.

Honestly she wasn't quite sure why she bothered interacting with Skad at all. Briefly she wondered if she might have better chances striking up conversation with a potted house plant, or perhaps a broom; its wooden handle probably possessed a more agreeable disposition than Skad ever would. Vida was rather certain of that. But as she made her slow walk around the chair, clearing enough space to actually sit down in it, she wondered if there was a façade to be cracked open. What would they find inside?

Probably more Nordwiir stubbornness, honestly.

Vida leaned back into her chair, watchful. Letting her legs cross over one another in a leisurely sort of way, or her best approximation, as she waited out the awkward tension between the two of them to pass. Behind her, in the background, she could hear the distinct sound of Masile coming their way, no doubt thrilled with her self-imposed task of dressing Skad. As to why she bothered? Vida didn't know, other than the fact that Maisie had far too much energy. Whatever. Let them play dress-up with the ox.

As for Varnehy? Vida didn't hear his footsteps again, even though she was certain they were his from before. Going so far as to crane her head over her shoulder in order to see if he wasn't hovering - in the way she knew he sometimes did. Only to find an empty space. He was not hovering; he wasn't anywhere to be seen, actually. And there was absolutely no saying where he was now, other than yes - he was probably staying as far away as was humanly possible - and no, he probably wasn't going to show up until dinner was served.

Was that wise of him? Oh, probably.
 
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