Fate - First Reply Revenge is Best Served with Blood

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Gracia von Stehlen

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The dim light and low noise of the tavern served to repress the anger racking Gracia's body. That, and she didn't have anywhere else to go. In her hands, she gripped a letter with tattered edges, a product of Gracia's long nails shredding through the parchment. In the orange candlelight, her eyes darted over the last line as if on a loop, the scrawled handwriting reading: While I neglect to tell you my name, as that would reveal too much, too soon, you can find me in Vel Anir. Your superiority complex over Vel Anir's politicians has not gone unnoticed.

Gracia had just returned to her family's house in Elbion after taking a job in Alliria and making a pit stop in Oban for a leisurely party. One look at the house was enough to tell that she was no longer safe. The windows were shattered and the door hung upon only one hinge. When Gracia braved a look inside, she found each of the cabinets rifled through and the books scattered below the bookshelves. Pages littered the floor and clothes were strewn across her bed. The von Stehlen family was reputable, and while Gracia was the least trustworthy of them she couldn't begin to think of who would make a ruin of her house.

She found the letter on the side table next to her favorite chair. It was a threat. Someone wanted her to confront them. They'd taken all of her letters which she planned to send to her connections in Vel Anir along with the spreadsheets of weapons and logs of income Gracia was involved with. She was cornered. And on top of it all, her mattress was ripped to shreds so she couldn't enjoy a good nights' sleep on her first day back.

"Those damn Vel Anirians," Gracia cursed as she contemplated burning the letter over the candle sitting on her table.

She'd sent a note to her family's stronghold in Strojland, but she knew this was her responsibility. Her family didn't need to get involved. What she needed was a sword. Gracia wasn't one to take to the blade, but one skilled in spilling blood would suffice in her newfound need for revenge.
 

Brynneld

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"Another."

Bryn had been a Ranger of the Alliria Reach for his entire adult life. It had been made quite clear to him that he was no longer welcome there. At least for now. He had made a mistake that had led to the deaths of an entire village. A mistake in the judgement of someone's character. A costly one.

"Sure?"

Bryn simply laid another pair of copper coins on the bar.

He had no friends beside him, just a long thin wrap of cloth and a heavy bag. Bryn carried his belongings on his back most of the time. His old colleagues had told him to go and explore new places. Instead he had found a very familiar place in a distant lands and started drinking.

At the top of the wrap of cloth, just the pommel of his sword was visible.
 
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Gracia von Stehlen

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Gracia knew taverns were hotspots for traveling swordsmen. It was easy to spot the glint of a blade in the darkness. Attempting to ease her anger with a sigh, Gracia sat back in her seat and began to sweep the room for any sign of silver.

There was a man with fiery hair at the front of the tavern, at the table closest to the bar, who brandished a longsword openly. His sheath was composed of only a thin strip of leather so his blade was constantly displayed. He was cocky. The way he swung his head back to down his mug of ale and made a grandiose swipe with the back of his hand over his beard screamed of pompous confidence. He would be no help.

"Another," came a deep voice from the bar.

Gracia looked ahead at the cloaked man sitting at the bar as he laid his coin on the tabletop. Unlike the red haired man sitting in front of her, this man concealed his sword in linen. Only the pommel was visible: a sign of maturity. He travelled light from the looks of his belongings. Good. He would suffice.

Folding the letter and tucking it into her dress, Gracia stood from her seat and swayed across the tavern floor to the bar. She slapped her hand down on the table after claiming a seat next to the man.

"A gin here, please," she said, setting her share of coins onto the table.

Taking a sip of her drink and setting it down carefully so as to not spill any, Gracia swiped her fingertip over the rim of the mug. The repetitive motion helped to calm her and center her head so she could slip back into her formal, diplomatic stature.

Turning her emerald eyes to the man next to her, she said, "I take it you are a swordsman?"
 
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Brynneld

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"Wasn't looking for company," he grunted into his mug of wine. He sipped it. Not because of the acidic taste of the cheap wine, but because he didn't have enough coin for another one.

He tilted his head just enough to regard the woman out of the corner of his eye. His brain was slowly catching up.

Her tone and posture suggested she'd taken the seat for more of a business interest in the sword. He grunted again.

"Yes," he replied. He took a deeper swig. "You need a guard on the road?"
 
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Gracia von Stehlen

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"More than just for on the road," Gracia replied, noticing the distaste in his voice.

Assuming his discomfort was more-so with the drink than with her unwelcome company, Gracia called the bartender over once more and slipped him some coin in exchange for a fresh mug of wine. With such a disgruntled man, she was prepared to feed him whatever he liked as long as she got what she needed in the end.

"I am Gracia von Stehlen from the von Stehlen family in Strojland and I recently received word for my audience somewhere that is likely to get me killed. Or, at the very least, gravely endangered."

When the bartender brought the mug of wine to the table, Gracia placed it next the man's other cups.

"Unfortunately, even though my trade mostly pertains to weaponry, I don't have much of a talent in combat. What I'm requesting is more of a bodyguard of sorts."
 
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Brynneld

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"Gravely endangered..." Brynneld rolled the words around in his mouth. It was a turn of phrase he hadn't heard before. As an Alliria Ranger most of his time had been spent in the wilds. He had never been a great conversationalist.

What he did listen to was the family name. People with family names that they announced had money. He regarded the second mug of wine, knowing he wouldn't have been able to afford it.

"And where is it you have to go?" he asked. He needed the coin. It didn't really matter where she needed to go. For some reason - despite the fact that she was willing to hire a swordsman close to sliding off the bar - he didn't want to seem as desperate as he was for the money.
 
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Gracia von Stehlen

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"Vel Anir," Gracia said, "Have you even been?"

Vel Anir was arguably Gracia's favorite city of all the many great ones she'd travelled to. Vel Anir was also the only city among those she would rather perish horribly than take residence in. Scheming, power-hungry villains possessed every corner of the city and most were making its laws. While Gracia was of a similar mindset to them, she wouldn't dare attempt to compete with the bloodthirsty politicians of Vel Anir.

"Either way, I will pay you handsomely," Gracia said, taking another sip of her gin, ravishing in the burn it left at the back of her throat, "All you'd have to do is follow me and keep a keen eye unless I tell you otherwise."
 
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Brynneld

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"I haven't. As it happens, I've got a very good sense for danger. I'm thinking in Vel Anir you're more worried about a knife in the back than a sword from the front?"

Brynneld spaced out his words slowly. If he wasn't still slurring his words it might have sounded as if he was trying to deliver a speech, rather than slowing down to keep his mouth and mind working to the same slow cadence.

"When are you...er...setting out?" he asked. Brynneld was more of a fan of trusting his own two feet than taking the portal stones. Unfortunately Vel Anir was a very, very long walk. It was as culturally separated from Elbion was it was geographically.
 
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Gracia von Stehlen

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From the sound of his voice, the man wasn't in any position to get up and travel instantaneously as Gracia was so eager to do. It would be better to set out the next morning anyway. That would give her time to formulate a plan and decide who of her connection was trustworthy enough to question. Or who was suspicious enough to interrogate.

"I hope to set out tomorrow morning," Gracia said, "I'll spend the night getting provisions and acquiring a horse for you. Meet me by the bar in the morning and we'll set out."

Gracia gave a nod and downed the last of her gin. The sun was nearly set, but there was still time to go about the marketplace and shop for food. The swordsman already had a pack and Gracia still carried hers from her recent travels. There was some bread and berries left over from then, but they'd have to carry light if they hoped to travel alone. Reliance on small villages or nearby cities would be their lifeline. They could take a boat across the river, that wouldn't be the trouble and seeing as she'd just made a trek across the savannah, she felt she had a good sense of how to handle the terrain.

That night she spent a small portion of her gold on biscuits, bread, wrapped meats and cheeses and fruits. She stuffed it all in her bag and found a small apothecary to scope for any useful concoctions. A truth serum would do nicely.
 
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Brynneld

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When she left Bryn laid out the copper coins he had left. Just enough for another wine. With a heavy sigh he swept them from the bar and put them away. It was probably best to hold onto even that meagre amount.

His new employer had already gone. Bryn hadn't really thought about the night. As an Allirian Ranger he had spent much of his life outdoors. However the city limits were far and he was drunk. Other options included sneaking into a stable or finding the driest gutter.

"You have any rooms?" Bryn asked the barman.

"You have any coin left?"

"Fair question. I've got a new employer. Collecting me here in the morning. She'll settle it."

"She'd better."

Bryn didn't like the tone of his reply. If Gracia could afford to buy him a horse then a room at an Inn for a night wouldn't trouble her.

By the morning he was glad to have saved some copper. They made him pay for the warm porridge they were serving. He sat over his bowl, waiting.
 
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Gracia von Stehlen

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By the time morning came around, Gracia found that she had only slept for about three hours. Despite herself, she was awake and energized with the curiosity of unmasking her perpetrator and setting back off on the road. The horse she purchased last night was strung up next to her own at the stable attached to the tavern and a quick look out the window told her both horses were untouched.

Gracia was glad to still be in her travel clothes as a journey on horseback in a dress would be wildly uncomfortable and a probable cause for slowing her down. She checked that her recent purchases were still stashed in her bag and thew it over her shoulder, tucking a brand new knife into a holster on her thigh. Then, she met the swordsman by the bar.

"I'm glad to see that you're still here," she said, slipping him a small pouch of gold coins, "This should suffice to keep you interested."

Taking a seat next to him, she ordered herself some breakfast and ale and continued, "The horses are waiting us beside the tavern. Both are fitted with saddles so you need not worry about discomfort. We'll set out for the port about a mile from the gates. It shouldn't take long to cross the river and then we can continue straight to Vel Anir. No need for much interruption."

Her food arrived and she took a break from yapping to satisfy her hunger, "I must admit, I forgot to ask for your name."
 
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Brynneld

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"Brynneld," he replied plainly. The night's drinking had left a dull, painful throb behind his eyes.

He took a single coin from the pouch and slid it across the bar.

See, his expression said to the innkeeper who took it quickly. He didn't tell Gracia how glad he was that she had returned. It would have been particularly tedious to find a way to pay off the room.

He cast his amber eyes around the room. It was quiet enough that he decided to ask questions.

"So who are you worried about then?" he asked. "Assuming it's not just orcs on the road."
 
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Gracia von Stehlen

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"Shall we walk while I explain?" Gracia suggested, fully intending to do just that.

She adjusted the strap of her bag and head out the tavern, finding her horse and heaving herself into the saddle. Motioning for Brynneld to take his horse, she started toward Elbion's front gate.

"I have many connections in Vel Anir as it's the city I do the vast majority of my work in. It's typical work, not anything suspicious. I facilitate trading between my family and theirs, sometimes offering assistance with political scandals and treachery. Vel Anir's power-holding houses are notorious for drama," she began.

They crossed through the marketplace and while Gracia was tempted to empty her coin purse, they pursued. The gates were just ahead and they crossed through without any trouble. If they rode without interruption, they would make it to the dock well before noon.

"Somehow, I've upset someone," Gracia said, furrowing her brow with the reminder of her anger, "They ransacked my home in Elbion and left a threatening letter saying they could be found in Vel Anir."

Still, the mystery of who could have been so disgruntled by her involvement in Vel Anir's politics confused her. She never left a personal imprint on the events that carried out, though she did get carried away from time to time deciding to pick sides for certain ignorant drama. She once interrupted a military search for a runaway soldier masquerading as a human when he was really an elf by paying a mercenary to tip over one of her shipments as a means of distracting attention. Gracia thought she had been careful with that, though.

"I'm unsure of who could be so upset with me, but I am not a trusting person. It could be any of the families I'm in contact with who organized it," Gracia bit at her thumbnail, "I can't, however, rule out someone unrelated."
 
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Brynneld

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Brynneld dipped the last chunk of bread into dripping and took it with them out of the inn. He chewed and listened as they mounted up for the journey. He let her story sink in, let it sink all the way to the bones it chilled.

"Powerful enemies in Vel Anir I'd they can reach out all the way to Elbion to threaten you," he said slowly.

"Could be some magical prick on your tail even now," Bryn added. The families of Vel Anir had no qualms about sending their magical killers after those that offended them.

"I trust myself, don't get me wrong," he said, trying to now talk himself out of a job, "but you sure you don't want to hire a few more swords?"
 
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Gracia von Stehlen

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With the dock now beneath their feet, Gracia loaded her horse onto the boat and hopped off, sitting beside the rail to look out at the river. It wouldn't take long to cross, they would only travel down the river a short ways to the next dock and be on their way. The river wasn't especially wide.

"There could very well be someone on my tail," Gracia thought aloud, "I recognize that there could be someone watching me."

For some reason, she didn't think this was the case. Gracia knew what it felt like to have a secret pair of eyes on her. She'd been to Vel Anir numerous times and every time there was someone watching. But now, she didn't feel such a glare. Once they made it into Vel Anir's walls, that would be a different story. There would likely be someone of a completely unrelated matter watching them just to know what gossip to report.

"I can't afford to hire another sword," Gracia said, "Not because I don't have the coin, but because it would cause too much of a scene. It would be instantly obvious upon walking Vel Anir's streets that I have dangerous business to attend to. I want to draw the least amount of unwanted attention possible."
 
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Brynneld

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"Fair enough," he grunted as he slipped down from his horse. It was becoming clear that Brynneld didn't waste words, even when he had sobered up. The pain behind his eyes certainly contributed to it. He squinted more than he needed to as he looked towards the rising sun.

Deciding that danger could be very close, Bryn took the wrapped up blade from his back. He also took a long dagger from the pack and hung it from his belt.

The reason for the dagger was clear when he unwrapped the sword. It was a as tall as most men, the long handle rising above the top of his head once it was strapped across his back. It wouldn't be a quick weapon to draw.

"So to put it together: you've pissed off someone powerful in Vel Anir, you're not sure why and we're travelling back there into what's possibly a trap? Maybe you're lucky and they just want in on some of your trade and want to rattle you?"

Even though he was a Ranger, Brynneld came from Alliria. The merchants that ran the city were as much criminals as they were legitimate businessmen. He understood a little of the game they played.
 
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Gracia von Stehlen

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"Indeed," Gracia chuckled, "How easy it would be if they only wanted to trade."

The boat crossed the river quickly and unloading the horses onto the dock didn't take much effort. She hopped back into the saddle and took the reigns, leading the horse from the pier and onto the dirt path leading to Vel Anir. Two weeks was the most it would take to cross the savannah. Gracia wasn't attuned to using portal stones and didn't much trust their magic. The only magic she did trust was her own no matter how insignificant it may be.

Immediately, the air turned foul and humid. Gracia's hair began to frizz and the curls unwound in all direction. Her clothing stuck to her skin and she regret not wearing something more revealing, though the fabric would protect her from the unforgiving sun. At this point, two weeks began to seem like too long.

"You don't happen to know of any villages we could stop in on our way, do you?"
 

Brynneld

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She didn't seem as if she was looking forward to the prospect of days on the road. Neither was he. Whilst he was used to long sorties into the wilds, these were not his lands. She already looked uncomfortable with the warmth that gradually grew as the sun rose high above them.

"I had a mage make a portal stone key in Alliria, so I came into Elbion from the west," he replied.

"I think if we keep to the most worn path we're more likely to find more people," he replied. "And less likely to wander into orcs."

The wilds beyond Alliria held more trolls than orcs, but he knew their danger. They weren't inherently evil. They were simply different. Wild creatures that didn't hold to their customs. If they were hungry, they would happily eat hapless humans on the road.

"You didn't come this way, I take it?"
 
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Gracia von Stehlen

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The heat continued to berate Gracia's clothed skin. She was tempted to cut her sleeves from her bodice, but didn't want to risk sunburn. She took Byrnneld's advice and kept to the roads. They would lead to Vel Anir eventually and she didn't have any opposition to it. Running into orcs was something she hadn't considered and running into wild beasts would be arguably worse considering she couldn't negotiate with them.

"I came to Elbion from Oban," Gracia explained, "I hugged the water so there was remarkably more shade."

As the sun finally eased later into the day and Gracia snacked on a thin slice of bread after offering Brynneld a piece. It didn't last long and Gracia found herself getting hungry again. The space they were traveling through was wide open and she didn't want to stop to camp in such a vulnerable area. They had to continue forward.
 
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