Private Tales Survival of the Fittest.

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Aeyliea

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The sun beat down on the open grasslands. It was the heart of summer, the rains little more than a distant memory. The winds that whipped across the Savannah carried with them grit and dust, the dry scent of the desert to the west playfully flicking the nose. The sky a stark blue, unmarred by so much as a single cloud from one horizon to the other.

This was the big empty, a land so mind-numbingly large it was difficult for some to even live here. It was her home, and the ancestral home of her people...

...who were slowly dying, scattered and broken by the interlopers from Vel Anir and, to a lesser extent, Alliria and Elbion. Their diseases ravaged the more elusive of the plains people, and their slavers and others captured them, killed them, drove them ever north and west. The lands they claimed were turned to agriculture, the burial grounds of the No'rei - and others, many others - desecrated as the so-called civilized lands pressed ever outward, seeking territory to feed the mouths of the multitudes and to fill the coffers of the wealthy to bursting.

One such No'rei crouched low in the chest high grass, staring hard against the tan landscape. She held a horn bow in her left hand, an arrow nocked but not yet drawn. Skin the color of bronze gleamed dully in the harsh light. There was a certain cast to it that made it look unhealthy, an impression only heightened by one look at a drawn face. However unwell she looked, though, her eyes were as hard as a hawks, sharp enough to draw blood at a glance. Eyes the color of mountains in the distance, a slate blue-gray that gleamed with intelligence and determination.

They were focused on a gazelle, one among a dozen that happened to be stopping at the watering hole just a short distance away. The wadi was dry, the little water source little more than a pool a dozen feet across and ringed with a band of dried mud a hundred feet thick and a narrower band a few feet across. The fetid water was, nonetheless, the only to be had for miles.

One small animal. A source of food, blood to drain for something more potable than the muddy hole beyond it. Something to help keep her going just a little longer. A little longer. All she had to do was make a shot even one of the children of the nomadic tribe could make; the distance was short, maybe thirty yards. A simple thing.

She stepped forward, and raised the bow.

A cry of pain, and as one the herd raised their heads and looked to the source, and then bounded away as fleetly and nimbly as their kind was wont to.

----

The edge of a town. Another of the towns that had sprung up from seemingly nowhere, filled with Vel Aniri scum. The No'rei moved through the streets without any real purpose, unsure of the proper course forward. She had not eaten anything in a week, and only managed to survive off of tepid water that would likely have killed these milk-skinned outsiders inside of a day. And yet, they would survive and she would likely not.

It wasn't fair. They defiled the land, they insulted the spirits, the wild, and ignored the call of their ancestors. They sought only coin, and yet those that lived the true way would perish from the world of Arethil and these whoresons would be the ones that survived, the ones that won the day.

She rubbed at her bandaged left arm, and winced. It was still tender as all seven hells to the touch. Useless, worthless, ruined by rotten chance and ill luck. She had wrapped cloth round it from just below her shoulder all the way to her wrist, and the misshapen form beneath it was obvious. The scent of rot, at least, was gone, and the bone-breaking fevers that had come with it. By all lights, she should be dead; bones picked by the vultures under an uncaring sun. Though her long white hair was dull and unkempt, though the clothes she wore ill fitting and dirty, and though the only weapon she had were a knife and a bow she couldn't possibly hope to draw....she was still alive.

Rivertown was a hive of activity, even though it was perhaps just shy of a thousand people strong. The name was an odd thing, ironic in its own way; so far into the Aberessai, there were no rivers during this time of the year. The yellow and tan band of sand that split through the township marked where the seasonal waters would run in the monsoons, but now it was dusty dry. The bridge spanning the dry river saw little to now traffic beyond wagons; more direct routes on foot from one side to the other were the preferred route. If not for wells dug into the sandy soil, this place would have died long ago.

The edge of town held several wagon teams, their goods stowed under tarps. Aeyliea could smell the ocntents even from here; spices, textiles, and rarer items. None of these interested her much; in other days, she would prefer to raid this township and set it ablaze, killing all who walked its streets. Now? Now, only survival mattered. Her strength waned, and she knew that eventually - and probably soon - she would become incapable of keeping herself alive. These Vel Aniri scum were the reason for her present situation, and so stealing from them made little difference to her. Killing them made even less, come to it.

She sat atop a barrel on the rutted street running through the city, staring at one wagon in particular. Part of several running in a group, it had the look of a military wagon, guarded lightly right now. She could see the boxes loaded in the back, and knew them for what they were - rations. She watched as the two sentries set on the wagon leaned back, indifferent to the traffic flowing along the road.

"Here now," a voice suddenly said next to her, and she turned to regard the speaker. A man, wearing coin armor with a sword at his hip and a scowl on his face, leered at her. "What's one of you savages doing here in town?" He peered a little closer at her, face hard, eyes gleeful. "Mayhap someone needs to call on a Dreadlord, come deal with you..."

He stared at her face harder. "Hey...are y-" he began. She cut him off by driving her fist into his throat, a lightning quick response that sent him to the floor, gasping and scrabbling at his neck. She did not wait about; she ran, but instead of out of town, she ran into town. Maybe no one would pass comment...but she didn't have much choice. She needed to get something to eat, and if it came down to knifing someone in town, she would. She wasn't leaving without food.
 
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Brandr

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He'd been working this particular blade for hours and he wore the sweat like rain, the white embers of the forge hissing at every salty, sacrificial drop of it that gravity offered. Dark, grey eyes fixed on his work in deep concentration, unperturbed by the saturated tresses that had fallen over them, nor by the radiant heat that suffused his grimy face in a soft, flickering glow. His muscles ached, and age had tired him, but he the clang of steel rang out as he hammered at it with brute force.

A clatter jolted through him, pulling his concentration from his anvil to the boy laying sprawled in the street upon a pile of spears, some now splintered and broken. The blacksmith's face became an instant rictus of rage and the hammer came down from where it had paused above the blade, this time the blow was in sheer frustration.

"Will you mind your fucking surroundings boy!?" Brandr about roared as he shoved the blade into the barrel of stagnant water with a sizzle and set his work down. Said boy was Marcus, an apprentice he'd agreed to take on to help around the forge, though he'd been far more hinderance than help.

"S-Sorry Brandr, I, the cat, I.."

"Don't... Blame my cat." Brandr thrust an index finger toward him in warning. Lil, the bedraggled tabby had a tail like a brush and had climbed into the rafters in retreat with a disgruntled hiss. "I said mind your surroundings. If you tripped over her, you weren't paying attention." he growled as he stepped out into the street to pull the boy up by the scrawny scruff of his neck and shove him aside, and once again the young apprentice was unstable on his feet and he stumbled into the path of the twiggy girl sprinting down the dimpled road.

"Watch out!" Marcus screeched, his hands thrown out in effort to stop the girl from careening into him. It was simple instinct that caused Brandr's hand to lift itself toward the boy, one he hadn't had to use in quite some time, and so the sight of the wall of solid shadow seemed even a shock to Brandr. If the girl wasn't quick enough to stop, she'd find herself slamming into it.

It was only then, when it was too late that he noticed the dress of the soldier fumbling down the street after her and his jaw tightened. The wall dissipated as quickly as it had appeared and the shadows slithered back to where they belonged. Brandr turned away to return to the forge, hoping that his magic hadn't been noticed by anyone other than the dumbstruck apprentice or the unfortunate girl. For now, he'd keep his back to the street as he casually armed himself.
 
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Aeyliea

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The unfamiliar sensation washed over her mere moments before the darkness fanned out before her. The No'rei had no time to react as pitch crossed her path and she ran into it fu7ll force. Inky black, but solid as stone if ephemeral; between the passing of one breath and the next it had already vanished.

Not even time for a curse, although she unleashed a stream of vitriol in her native tongue as she hit the ground maladroitly, coming down on the withered thing that was her left arm. The pain was intense, a white-hot lance of lightning that very nearly made her wet herself. She could not help the strangled cry as she hit the ground, nor the tears that sprang into her eyes involuntarily.

"Damned savage, got you now!" came the voice of the pursuer. He puffed his way down the street, drawing a blade as he did so. "Stay down, and do me a favor," he added as he slowed. People round the general area were either ducking away or watching intently, if from a safe distance. The natural inclination towards a good show on the streets was hard wired into most people. Vel Aniri were no different than any other in this regard.

She rolled back and got to her haunches, then her feet in quick order. She eyed the bared blade, a short sword, with disdain. It was not her preferred manner of weapon, but it would do in a pinch. If she could disarm him, that was. The bow on her back remained where it was, unstrung and useless to her.

Her mind screamed at her that there was one of what the city-dwellers referred to as a mage present. The man that had been working the forge had his back to them and the street now, and she had to question whether she really had seen what she thought she had. She cast a glance at that broad back, only to have to dance back at a quick thrust.

"Son of pigs," she hissed, her common so thickly accented as to be difficult to decipher. She glared malevolently at the soldier.
 
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Brandr

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Marcus fell over anyway. Whether it was the expectation of being barrelled into that sent him falling backward, or the shock of what he'd just witnessed, the boy wasn't quite sure himself. He stared wide eyed and fear-stricken at the female, assuming that the strange dark wall had been of her making. And yet Marcus had a mother who'd raised him right and the clumsy lad had a heart too large for his scrawny chest, and to see the woman's distress and hear the pain in her cry, he cast fear aside.

"I- I'm sorry I didn't see you! A-Are you alright Are you hurt?" he stammered, frantically pulling himself back to his feet and offering a hand to the girl before he'd bothered to brush the dust from his clothes. Brandr listened with a deep huff, his head falling below his shoulders as the lad got himself involved.

He heard the Anirian's warning, his head turning slightly as he listened. By the sounds of the footing and the onlookers' gasps and grunts, the guard had intended upon harm rather than arrest, and Brandr's jaw tightened. That he was so close to the turmoil and refrained from turning to look, he knew would be considered odd should anyone take notice.

Walk away, boy..

"Hey! She- She's unarmed!" Marcus protested, and Brandr's head lifted and proceeded to tilt back, casting his face heaven-bound and closing his eyes as though asking whatever Gods had forsaken him what he had done to deserve an apprentice like Marcus.

"Bloody fool.." he growled quietly and with reluctance, turned to stride into the street, each hand wielding a weapon of his own making. He was a head and shoulders taller than the guard, and there was a solidness to him, as though a flood could wash around him without uprooting his feet. His grey eyes sized the man up and fell upon the silvery-haired female with a huff. Whether there was intention to it or not was likely unclear, but he glanced toward the pile of spears strewn at the side of the road before looking back to the guard.

"Here I was enjoying a quiet, civilised morning.." he rumbled. His voice was deep, rolling thunder but the weariness to it suggested that although he was prepared for it, he'd rather avoid violence if possible. He shifted his gaze back up the road, silently suggesting that the man turn back.

"Would appreciate it if we kept it that way." he sighed, and his fists tightened their hold on the weapons they housed.
 
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Aeyliea

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The words were unexpected, coming from the boy which, to her chagrin, she had not even noticed before. She had been hell bent on escaping the soldier that even now slowed his approach, naked blade in hand. Hell bent on that, as well as securing some weapon she could actually use in her straitened state.

She remained crouched low, ragged white hair fluttering in the hot breeze as the soldier approached. "Savage is plenty armed enough, boy," the man said in a dangerous tone. "She just dropped my fellow like a sack of bricks with her bare hands." He spit to one side. "Gods damned savages," he added. Somewhere behind him, the sound of an alarum rang out as her previous handy work was discovered. The fool soldier before her had not bothered to tell anyone, but that was of no consequence now.

"Murderers, you are," she spat in response to the soldier, then looked to the first speaker - the boy - and then the other. The one looked like an unblooded youth that had yet to see his first raid, to feel the pounding of the blood behind the eyes and the exhilaration borne of skill. The other stolid individual, though, had the look of a boulder. Unshakeable, unmoving. She had known many like him over the years. "Civilized," she spat, accent thick, but added nothing more. She saw his glance and followed it...to weapons that were almost acceptable to her.

"You two, stay out of this," the soldier said. Further up the road, the gleam of sunlight on steel flashed on and off as reinforcements arrived. Aeyliea felt an icy chill run up her spine; she would not be taken alive by these so-called civilized Vel Aniri whoresons again. Her left arm throbbed with the memory of their tender ministrations, as did her fragile pride. "The bitch is my problem." He looked to her coldly. "Come quietly and you may yet live to tell of it," he added.

She cast a sidelong look to the too-long spears, then to her unknown benefactor in that regard, and weighed the options. She decided that she would not go for them until either the soldier attacked or the two 'protectors' did as well. Shadowed eyes regarded all, weariness but a mere ilm below the surface.
 
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Brandr

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"Really now?" Brandr barked a laugh, the amusement a rare sparkle in his eyes as he shifted his attention between the soldier and the malnourished looking woman with incredulity. "This half-starved cat? She doesn't look fit to swat a fly let alone take on an Anirian soldier with nought but her fists..." he snorted and glanced up the street as the alarm sounded and more soldiers responded to its call.

"Does she have an army with her?.. Armed to the teeth I'll bet." Brandr nodded sagely and then paused, his brow arching. "Unless... You mean to tell me that they're all coming to help you bring her into custody?" he asked, pointing toward the crouching female with his axe.

"Tsk. Best army in all Arethil, these men, Marcus." he said with a look to the apprentice who stood awkwardly, both afraid to stand too close to the woman and yet clearly trying to stand in solidarity with his fists clenched as he took a step in front of her. "And with ten men to spare for one unarmed savage, it's no darn wonder."

He frowned at the man now, his shoulders rolling as he took a step toward him. "Do you need me to even the odds, lad?" Brandr's voice deepened, his words more akin to a growling animal. Looking down at the soldier was an abrupt reminder of how much he despised these men, but whether acting upon his hatred was worth unravelling the guise he'd spent the last eight years living under, he very much doubted.

Bloody Marcus.
 
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Aeyliea

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It was likely good that she could not follow the quick pace, nor understand every word that the burly fellow was saying. She would have taken offense at his description of her at the very least, although what she could have done about it right then was anyone's guess. Drubbing him was clearly not an option, because however offensive the statement might have been...

...it wasn't a lie.

"I...I,' the soldier stuttered in response, clearly flustered at the rather pointed questioning. "You don't understand," he added, trying to scrape some semblance of authority and dignity together, "The savages on the plains have been active of late. I can't know if it is just her, or if there are more!"

The fact that she could follow little of what was said made her bristle a bit. Pride was a damnable thing, and being protected by a pair of city-dwellers did not sit well with her. She took a step to one side as the pair yarned on, eyeing the stack of spears.

The men down the street slowed in their run, one man clearly taking up a lead position as he approached. He waved back the others and continued on. He was a tall fellow with a clean-shaven face and dark, hard eyes. In fact, every aspect of him screamed immaculate attention to detail, from the way his uniform set on his frame to the precise way he walked. He was dressed in finer clothes than most, a feathered cap on his head and a gambison that was as much for decoration as it was for protection, all in the colors of Vel Anir. A sword rested on his hip, but rather than worn leather and dull steel, this had the look of a nobleman's hand.

He stopped a dozen paces away, surveying the four standing in the street with distinct distaste. "Lewin, please tell me what this is...ah. I see." He looked to the No'rei, looking her up and down very deliberately, and his eyes tightened a fraction. "Her. And these others?"

"They butted in, Lieutenant! I was just going to collect her for assaulting one of my fellows," he began, and the man cut him off with a perfunctory gesture. "Sir?"

"We'll discuss a thing, the two of us, later. In private. As you have obviously not noted the likeness, I believe this savannah cat is one of a few wanted felons that have eluded our grasp." He eyed the burly fellow and his apprentice with bored eyes. "Quite why she would come back to one of our settlements, I do not understand. Nevertheless, savage, it is time for you to return to the tender ministrations of the gaol. You two, well...I suggest going somewhere else lest you desire to join her."

He grinned at the pair with infuriating calm.

The 'savannah cat' took another few slow steps towards the weapons while the officer droned on in his well-bred manner.
 

Brandr

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This was the last sort of attention he wanted. Brandr grown out his hair and beard and his face was blackened by a day’s worth of smoke and hard work, but he could feel the tension build in his muscles that one of these bastards might recognise him the closer they got. A muscle feathered in his jaw at the pompous prick who arrived to intervene, and his gaze narrowed at the vague memory that nudged at the back of his mind.

Ah, Lieutenant Carson.

Now the question was whether or not he could resist the opportunity to knock him on his arse now that he was stood grinning at him, and with a threat, no-less. His fists clenched so tightly that the wooden handle of his axe creaked in his palm, but he offered his own smile back to the man and gave a slow nod in understanding.

"Get off home, Marcus." he calmly commanded without taking his eyes from the Lieutenant.

"But, Br--" Marcus stepped toward him in protest, but he was cut off by a slightly more irate tone.

"I said get off home. You can have the rest of the night off. Now be off with yeh." he frowned, glancing at the boy with a look that warned him not to argue. He didn't, and he stepped back with a quick look of apology to the woman he'd failed to defend before rushing off through the gathered crowd.

"Aye. If its your duty to take her then by all means." Brandr nodded to the Anirian soldiers as he took a step away and gestured toward the female with a shrug. "I'm certain she'll be safe, well and fairly tried in your capable hands. Lieutenant." he smirked, clearly certain that that would not be the case.

Unlike Marcus, however, Brandr did pay attention to his surroundings and was acutely aware that the girl had shuffled closer to the weapons his incompetent apprentice had knocked into the street. Knowing what he'd heard of these tribes, he very much doubted that she'd go willingly.
 
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Aeyliea

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Words, endless streams of meaningless words. It was not her nor her peoples' way to spin words before taking some action, whatever that action might be. Long ago she had come to the conclusion that the people of the cities simply loved to hear their own voices. In fact, they would speak to the winds their fanciful desires until the sun set if you let them. And, often, those words were all lies. They did not have the stomach to fight on anything approaching even grounds and would prefer to wait until the back was turned to plan the knife.

Aeyliea was not cut from this cloth.

Brandr was aware of her intent even as the puffed-up popinjay droned on in his self-satisfied tone. When she decided that whatever manure he was spreading had his full and undivided attention, she darted forward. Wounded she might be, malnourished from days without a bite to eat...but she was still of the grass, and they of the worked stone. She moved fast, stooping to grab a spear that was many feet too long, grasping it with her right hand and spinning in one fluid motion to put the butt of the spear to the pavement before kicking it with a free foot.

The shaft snapped. It was not clean, but it was enough to reduce the seven feet of spear into three feet of spear, and thus did she have a weapon that she was accustomed to in her hands. She spun, crouching, to face the guard.

The Lieutenant had gasped as soon as he heard the sound of splintering wood. His companions were a bit more world-weary, and had dealt with the nomadic people of the plains before and had already started forward as soon as she moved; the officer, in contrast, backpedaled as soon as it became clear there was going to be a fight.

"Don't just stand there, do something!" he squeaked at them as they pushed past, ignoring the muttered comments about officers and piss-ants. After a moment, he fumbled with the pretty looking sword and managed to get it out. "Arrest them all!"
 
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Brandr

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He'd been stepping back, absolving himself of any involvement (though doing little to hide the smirk on his lips at the sight of the 'little savage' arming herself with such panache). He'd never have involved himself at all if not for Marcus, but he had a responsibility for the boy and so stepping in had been a bitter necessity. He'd watched said responsibility disappear into the crowd and so his embroilment was now resolved. The smug smile he wore at the inept Lieutenant's panic and fluster was short-lived however.

Arrest them all?..

"What?" Brandr snarled, his shoulders rolling as he shifted his attention between Carson and the two other guards who were approaching him with weapons drawn.

"State your charges!" he barked furiously and lifted an arm to point his blade at the approaching men in warning.

"I've no wish to have your blood on my hands, but I warn you I'll fucking bathe in it before allowing you to take me anywhere." he growled, and the men paused in their tracks. It didn't take a genius to see that he meant it or to know that he was perfectly capable of using the weapons he forged.

"If you insist on involving me further." his eyes settled on the Lieutenant. "On your head be it."
 
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Aeyliea

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"Abetting a wanted criminal of course," the lieutenant snapped even as he continued to slowly fade back from the scene. Craven cowardice was evident, and it was clear those under his command knew him for what he was: a coward. "Do you have any idea how many this savage has killed?"

For her part, Aeyliea just grinned at the craven, a smile that held no mirth and a limitless amount of mockery. she shifted the shortened spear so that it was more comfortable in her right hand. It wasn't perfect - a buckler on the left would be useful, but the two soldiers who approached were probably no match for her. She had no intention of relying on the good will of the brute that sparred verbally with the officer.

The first misfortune was soon to follow. Aeyliea backed away from the sword wielding men, raising her weapon threateningly. "Away," she said in thickly accented traders tongue, and brandished the spear at them as punctuation.

"Well," Carson replied, "Well. Be on your way then, sir," he said in a silvery tone. He wasn't involved in this particular incident anyway, and the abuse of the lieutenant's pride could be addressed later. In the middle of the night, for example, when the combative oaf could be cudgeled in his sleep and drug from his bed. The Dreadlords always needed new play things, didn't they? This one would make a fine offering. "You two, get the witch."

They approached, she backed away. And then the one on the right tried to rush her, and shit hit the windmill at that moment. She danced to one side, easily sidestepping him, and cracked him on the back of the head with the broken haft of her spear - hard enough that the steel cap on his head not only failed to protect him, but went flying off into the street.

The moment stretched on, no one moving. No one, that is, except Carson, who was sputtering in outrage. "G-get her! She won't get away with it again," he yelled, and half a dozen of the others that had been turned away turned round, saw one of their companions only just picking himself up off the cobbles, and then turned to charge in.
 
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Brandr

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Brandr's knuckles paled around the weapons. as though the bloodthirsty things were the only thing anchoring him to his senses. That muscle in his jaw feathered as he ground his teeth. Oh he knew how these bastards worked. He'd been part of their ranks, he'd been privy to the way they planned and deceived and cheated. His impediment wouldn't be so easily forgotten, he'd have to move out before nightfall.

Brandr dipped his chin as he was dismissed and he stepped back, his dull, grey eyes shifting toward the girl as she defended herself with ease, and then casting over the charging soldiers in a quick count. He huffed as he turned to step back into the forge, glancing up at the cat in the rafters, clearly ruffled by the disturbance outside.

"Psst." he called, and the tabby stretched and made her way down and onto his shoulder as he quickly packed.

"Looks like we're gettin' to f--" Brandr froze at a sound coming from the back room and lifted his blade. He moved swiftly for a man of his stature, but in an instant he had stepped through the doorway, grabbed the intruder by the nape of the neck and slammed him into the wall before realising who it was.

"Marcus. I thought I told you to fuck off home." he growled and released his grip. Marcus winced as he rubbed at the back of his neck and rolled his shoulders.

"I.. thought you mighta needed help."

Brandr snorted incredulously, but the amusement in his expression quickly dimmed as he looked down at the lad. "Aye. Go get my horse ready. I'll meet you out back."
 
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Aeyliea

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The melee was something she had lived for...at least, before her wounding and all the ills that had followed close on its heels. The city-folk, soldier or not, were no match for one trained from birth to be hard, hard enough to crack stone with.

One. One dealt with in a nonlethal way, a manner that would not persist. It was a fools errand to extend the mercy of simply knocking a foe aside.

To whit, the other darted forward with blade at the fore as the other slowly got back up. She missed the buckler for her off hand quite desperately, but she was not to be tied down to but one method of fighting. She sidestepped the cut, swiftly twisting the spear in her hand so the haft grazed the man's arm as he extended...then, with a much lighter weapon, retracted and drove the steel tip of her weapon into his chest just below the clavicle. Blood spilled, pattering the dry ground and staining it crimson.

The other was still getting up when she put the same spear through his neck, putting paid to his attempt at recovery. Aeyliea did not wait for a response from the remaining soldiers, choosing to instead turn and flee as the pursuit - more than half a dozen strong - rallied and tore off after her, raising the alarm as they went.
 
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Brandr

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He packed as quickly as he could, and he packed for travel. Whatever weapons and spare clothes he could stuff into his sack and saddle bags and whatever food he had as well as a bed roll and blanket. By the time he slipped out of the back door, Marcus was there to meet him and was liberating him of his bags to saddle on the horses. Horses.

“And where is it that you think you’re goin exactly?” Brandr asked, his thick arms folding as he jerked a chin toward the dappled mare Marcus had named ‘Dotty’.

Marcus blinked at him, looking sheepish as he dropped his gaze to his feet, though he seemed to make an effort to gather his courage and puffed his bony chest out as he lifted his chin a little higher than necessary. “I’m your apprentice. If you’re helpin’ that wild woman then I’m helpin’ you.”

Helping her?” Brandr grunted as he pulled himself up into the saddle of the inky Friesian. “She’s on her own, lad. I’ve involved myself too much already. Now home with y—”

“You’re just gonna run away an’ leave her?!” Marcus protested, much to Brandr’s chagrin and surprise. He’d been a mousy thing, and more than once Brandr had told him to stand up for himself. He supposed, he couldn’t really reprimand the lad for standing up to him. The blacksmith stared at him and rubbed at his brow.

“I’ll try. That’s the best I can do. Hell she might already be dead or in the back of a wagon, and I’m not getting myself locked up or killed for a savage girl that I don’t know, and nor will you– am I clear?” Marcus nodded hastily and scrambled into his saddle, allowing Brandr to take the lead with a grumble of irritation. The two horses were led up the side alleyway, and Brandr leaned forward to get a look at the situation.
 
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Aeyliea

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What she would not do was stand her ground against such overwhelming odds, especially as ill equipped as she was. The Wild crooned to her, its siren song filling her soul with the susurration of her ancestors in their uncounted multitude. Here, in the city, it was not strong enough to be of much use to her. There was only her own mettle, and the metal in her soul.

A shrill whistle broke the air behind her. She did not bother to look back, instead darting into an alley, bare feet slapping against the slimy stones in a fevered pace. A pair of horses and a couple of men were nothing more than a blur, seen in passing and parsed out as either a threat or not; not having steel in hand, they were deemed the latter. Behind her, three soldiers continued the chase while the others split off.

The plan to secure some supplies had fallen apart almost as soon as it had been put into play. The No'rei knew that there was no longer any point in staying in the city, and that escape was the only option available to her. With the sound of soldiers - even if only a handful - all around, seeking her out...

...it was becoming increasingly obvious that she was not going to be able to easily slip through into the grass again. The siren song of the Wild continued to croon onwards, but there was no salvation that way; she burst into a street, and cut towards the edge of the city, startling pedestrians and a couple of soldiers at her sudden appearance. She ignored them, clutching her weapon, and ran on.
 
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Brandr

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The horses both startled as the woman darted passed them, at least the Friesian maintained some semblance of composure, his hooves stamping and head thrown in indignation but he was quickly controlled and calmed. Dottyhowever, reared, and Marcus clung to the mare as Brandr reached for her reins to ground her.

"SHITTIN'FUCK!"

"Easy, eeeeeasy." Brandr coaxed, his head whipping around to catch the sight of white hair as the female slipped around a corner. "There. Looks like she's got this handled, are you satisf--"

"MOVE!!!" Brandr turned to see half dozen of Vel Anir's finest bolting toward them,each of their faces drawn into a rictus of rage. He did move, with a gentle tug of his reins he turned his horse side on to block their paths entirely.

"I SAID MOVE!!"

"AND I DID!" Brandr bellowed back. "Oh, you mean out of the way. Oh I do apologise, just let me.." he grumbled, turning the horse about whilst tugging Marcus' reins and making Dottythe roadblock instead. Marcus snickered.

"Get out of the fucking way or i'll arrest you both right here and now, blacksmith!" Brandr chuckled under his breath and slowly managed to shift both steeds out of the soldiers' path with a pleasant. "Right away, right away.."

If his cards weren't marked already, they certainly were now. The soldiers were far behind her, though he had no idea how many more they were and what she might be running into.

"C'mon. Perhaps she'll make it out of here after all.." he muttered and kicked his heels to lead on.
 
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Aeyliea

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Pelting along, breathing easily enough. The weight of exhaustion was there, hidden fairly well - but she was well enured to suffering and abuse, as were most No'rei. Lack of food would claim her eventually, but not before those pursuing her did.

Of course, it wasn't the ones behind that were the problem. No, the real trouble was ahead of her.

The city, for lack of a better descriptor, was surrounded by a palisade of rough-cut timber, a walkway constructed behind it to give the Vel Aniri the advantage of height against any attackers. In this world, where the major nation-states seldom engaged in open war with one another, it was not against Elbion or Alliria that the defenses were erected. Hers, and the various other nomads that lived on the sweeping grasslands had not ever been, and never would be, content to wait for the people of the forests and stones to come take their land.

No, they would quite happily assault settlements and homesteads, slaughtering everyone they could lay their hands on. She herself was guilty of this crimes, as the city-dwellers saw it. She did not see it the same.

"There she is! Block her path!" White hair flipping thither and yon, blue-gray scales flashing in the sun as she pelted full on towards freedom. All she need do was get to the grass, get into the wilderness that was her home, and then she could fade away like a ghost.

Two soldiers stepped forward, bows at the ready, while a further three barred the gateway out with swords drawn. Aeyliea fixed them with a rictus grin, and charged on anyway. Apparently they thought that a show of force would be enough to make her stand down, but that was not the case. The No'rei did not, after all, fear death. Why should she, when she would but be reborn again? The honor of dying on her feet was worth the pain; dying on her knees would bring shame and smirch the name she had inherited by birthright.

Two dozen yards. One of the bowmen - a woman, actually - realized that she was not going to stop and irregardless of the civilians on the street, knocked an arrow frantically, and drew. The savage did not slow, even when she loosed and the shaft leapt forward, slicing through the air mere inches from her cheek. Spear in hand, she closed the distance while the other archer, looking on in horror, did nothing.

Neither of them had a chance. The white-haired djinn set upon them with the ruthless efficiency her people were known for, spinning and cracking the one with the spent bow across the face with the splintered haft of her spear before eviscerating the other with a wicked thrust of the spear through his belly. Kicking the one off her spear, she spun and drove the steel tip of her weapon into the heart of the woman, and spun just in time to face the three sword-wielding foes, even as other pursuit came up from behind.

Surrounded. But she would not go down without a fight to remember, that much was for certain. Shrieks of terror from citizens fleeing the one-sided fight, those who recognized her for what she was and those that simply knew blood and death when they saw it.

Nothing for it to press on. She sidestepped a clumsy cut, and pressed forward, spear flicking like the tongue of a snake.
 
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The two horsemen came to a halt in the middle of the road in time to witness the woman's attack. Both men muttered the same quiet curse under their breaths in the same moment, and Brandr glanced over his shoulder at the several other soldiers running to their comrades aid.

"Well, if she hadn't done anything to warrant her arrest before now..." he trailed off with a sigh. Men and women were falling dead by her hand. "Not so innocent now, is she?.." he quirked a brow as he turned to Marcus.

The lad was staring in utter horror at the garish scene. He was young and had seen little of battle, but Brandr was as expected, entirely unfazed by the sight of blood and death. "I'll only tell you once more to go home, lad. If you leave this town with me now it might be a while before you can return safely." he clapped the apprentice on the back, causing the scrawny teen to lurch forward in his saddle.

Brandr kicked his heels at his horse's sides and into a gallop toward the gates. As he rode, he silently called to the shadows, and from their hosts they peeled away and drew together to ride beside him, flanking him in the the shadowy forms of mounted riders. As Brandr drew his blade, so too did the shadows draw theirs, as solid and sharp as steel as they tore through their enemies.

"Go!"
 
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Aeyliea

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To the grass. Need only get to the grass.

A litany that ran through her head as she danced the dance of death, one she had been intimately familiar with since her name-day. Seers were not supposed to learn the spear and bow, but she had insisted on learning those things. In fact, had insisted on learning them over the things she should have learned. The result was that she was far less inclined with the ancestral arts than she should have been.

The Wild. The Dragon's Breath, the gift of their ancient forebears. She had an uncanny talent with the magic of the No'rei, and it was only for want of proper training that she lacked the ability to use it as she should have been able to by now. Of course, she also did not have her trinkets, he charms and baubles that connected her to the world of yesteryear. And without those physical manifestations of the power she could wield, well, she couldn't wield it.

Just as well that she could wield a spear then.

The sound of horses behind her made her hesitate a moment, cast an ill-advised backwards glance to see the man that had interceded on her behalf before bearing down. The moment of inattention cost her a cut across the shoulder of her left side which could have been more serious had she not already put the fear of the Il'nath into them. With a hiss, she turned back swiftly to her quarry. Scales flashing in the light, she slipped forward and swept his legs from under him before disemboweling him and twisting away from another cut.

The sound of combat behind her rose. She did not understand the shadowy shapes that bore down on the attackers from behind her, but she did not care. They would draw attention away from her, and lessen the number of foes that she had to face. It turned a hopeless situation into something that was, at least, possible. Four more stood between her and the open, but the window would only remain open briefly. Already, more Anirian scum were on their way here. Spurred on by the unexpected help, she redoubled her efforts to press on.

There was good reason why the No'rei were feared on the plains. Even bereft half her kit, she was still terrifyingly efficient.

Blood weeping from the cut across her shoulder, unaffected by the wound as the arm was useless anyway, she pushed. Twisted away from a cut, feinted at one soldier's belly only to swiftly shift and take another through the throat with just the tip of her spear. Unnatural awareness allowed her to see the archer on the palisade with their bow drawn in enough time to dive away as they loosed, and the arrow struck stone. Landing in an awkward roll, she blocked a sword cut with the haft of her spear, getting up and doing so with a well aimed kick to the groin. There was no time to deal a killing blow to that one; an opening presented itself for another, dipping and diving sideways as another arrow careened through the air.

The arrow missed. The spear did not.

And like that, she was past the last obstacle. Splattered with blood and offal of her victims, the savage broke for the open, for the chest-high grass a hundred yards out from the wooden walls of the settlement. She spared a thought for the fellow on horseback, begrudging the debt of honor that she would be blood-bound to repay.

If he survived stepping in on her behalf, that was. She could only pray that the man got himself killed and saved her the trouble of repayment. With that thought in mind, she pelted across the open ground between her and the sea of grass, arrows singing through the air around her.
 
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Brandr

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As soon as the shadows took form, he heard shouts of his name. For eight years he had lived here under their noses without recognition, but today his time was up and he'd known it since the moment he'd spoken up and involved himself. If he was going to have to run, he'd take the opportunity to snuff out a few vermin on his way out.

Some attempted to hold their ground, but those who did quickly realised why others had ran. Brandr's training had gained him the rank of a level one dreadlord, and he'd have been archon by now if his life hadn't taken an unexpected turn. His gifts were dark and they were feared, and in moments they'd butchered several soldiers. The shadows twisted and moved. They could harm but not be harmed, and they shifted around him, blocking arrows from reaching him.

The last soldier that'd surrounded him fell as Brandr pulled his blade back out of his throat with a spray of blood. He turned his horse about to see if any others dared come forward, but what he saw instead caused his breath to catch in his throat.

Marcus stared down at the spear that had slipped through his ribs and protruded from his chest. Blood spilled from his lips and he slowly looked up at Brandr before slipping from Dotty's saddle to land in a heap, still and silent. The horse bolted passed him, and he felt the eyes of several more soldiers on him, saw the glint of their weapons as they seemed to wait on his attack. But all he could do was stare at Marcus' dead body and let the rage gather in his chest...

He was just a lad.

Brandr looked away, finally, and slipped down from his saddle. He threw his weapons down, and strode slowly back down the road, his arms out by his sides as though awaiting his arrest. The soldiers shifted uncomfortably as he heard orders made to seize him, and hesitantly, they approached as he stopped, unarmed in the middle of the road to wait.

The rest happened quickly, but not so quickly that he wasn't afforded the simple delight of seeing the raw terror reflected in their eyes as they saw their deaths racing toward them. The shadows crawled along the ground toward him and rose up, and with a roar of rage he sent it hurtling toward them, slicing through flesh and bone like a guillotine.

He turned before all of the bodies had hit the ground, and walked back to his horse, picking up his blade and pulling himself up into his saddle with some effort.

"Sorry, lad." he muttered with a final glance back toward the apprentice. He couldn't afford to go back for the body, more soldiers would arrive in good time, and he was already slumping forward in his saddle. He sighed and kicked his heels with a click of his tongue, and the horse turned to head into the grasses.
 
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Aeyliea

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She managed to make the tall grass with little more trouble, slipping into it as naturally as a hunting cat would have. The wound over her left shoulder had already stopped bleeding; her people were exceptionally sturdy and had adapted to life in a place where water was scarce and the fighting seldom ended for any measurable period of time.

She felt worn and weary, and was embarrassed by the degree of it. The time spent under the tender ministrations of the Vel Aniri had done much to sap the strength from her, and to make matters worse her flight had left her with a festering wound that had nearly carried her to the Sea of Souls. She was not afraid to die, anymore than any other No'rei would be, but neither was she eager to set her light into the heavens once more.

Thus tired, once she had made her way into the grass far enough for some measure of comfort, the slender woman collapsed, breathing heavily. She felt weakened by the lack of calories and from the exertions that had gained her little more than a broken-hafted spear. But it was better than what she had started with, albeit the price was steep - steeper than she knew.

For a time, she simply rested.

When she had recovered herself sufficiently, she sat up, and thus remained. The only sound she could hear was the soughing of the wind through the grass and the chitter of birds nearby. Of pursuit, she could hear naught. Not hearing and not being were two different things entirely, though, and for a moment she simply sat there and collected herself. Here, in the wilderness, she was close to the Seven as any could be, and she could feel Their quiet power in everything around her.

Spying a feather caught in a tuft of weeds, the savage bent over to pick it up. A manifestation of Ty'rath, then. The Jade Serpent, source of the winds that blew through the world and blew the rains in during the spring. She held the feather - a raven's, to be sure, glossy black that fluttered in her fingers, and closed her eyes as she focused upon it. Calling the the Great Wyrm of eld...

...and was looking upon the world from a different vantage. Grass swept from horizon to horizon, but for one little patch whereupon the blighted outsiders had built their settlement. She sharp cry of the hawk pierced her ears as though it were perched upon her shoulders.

A single rider upon a horse, trailing a second mount along with him, beat a path into the wilderness. Even from this vantage, she caught a flashing image of the face - that of the smith, broad-shouldered and dark of eye - cutting through the wild sea. Somewhere behind him, just now exiting the settlement, a group of a dozen mounted men, well armed and looking decidedly non-plussed.

The lone rider was heading in her direction. She sought to look more closely, but the sensation of burning in her fingers shattered the vision, and she blinked her eyes to find ashes wafting away on the wind, the offering to Ty'rath accepted for His gift. She stared for a moment at the hand that had held the feather, and then her mind snapped back into its proper frame of reference.

A debt is owed. Unfortunately it was true; she would not have left that accursed settlement but for the intervention of this fellow. She only gave a passing thought to the youth that had been with him, but little more. She needed to intercept the man and aid him in shaking his pursuit. That would not expiate the debt of honor, unfortunately - she could not repay him by simply negating the troubles aiding her had caused.

Vexing. Not killing him didn't count, either.

Getting to her feet wearily, she made to intersect his path, to make herself visible, and to flag him down when he came into sight. Much as she really, really did not wish to.
 

Brandr

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By the time the wildling stepped into his path he was barely holding on to his mount. He'd slumped forward in his saddle, his skin a few shades paler and his eyelids heavy with the desire to close. Brandr hadn't noticed the woman, but the horses had and they slowed with a nicker as though to alert him to the obstacle.

He reached a hand to the hilt of his blade before lifting his head to squint at the path ahead, his vision slightly blurred but the shock of white hair was unmistakeable. He drew his hand away from the weapon and let out a huff.

"No trouble.." he grunted and grimaced as he made a feeble attempt at pushing himself into a proper seated position. "I just want to pass." he explained, pointing off into the distance in the uncertainty that she could even understand him. His pointed hand fell limp against his thigh with the lack of energy needed to hold it up.
 
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Aeyliea

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She picked up on the lethargy as soon as he came into sight, and silently sympathized with him. Internally, at least; outwardly, whatever the man had done he was still one of the Sundered. Whatever he might have done to grant her a reprieve from others of his ilk, it was not enough to forgive the transgressions his ancestors had made in the morning of the world.

His words were slow enough that she could follow them. She could speak some of the trader's tongue, common as most the rest of the world saw it. It was a far cry from a first language, and when she spoke it was with a terribly thick accent. "No fight," she said slowly, and did not move. The ghostly echo of Ty'rath still stirred in her mind, the shadowy shapes moving through the grasses with deadly purpose. Their hunters, soldiers in iron and astride horses. "Fight, more comes," she said, and then gestured with the spear into the grasses behind the man. "Men in iron come to slay you and capture me," she said in her native tongue. It flowed like water over stones, melodic and smooth and musical. She had no idea if the horsed warrior could speak No'rei or not. Likely not, as there were very few except the scant few traders who children of Tiam would do business with.

There was no time to dither, though. "Come! Must...hide, or else iron-skin will find, kill." She turned and started heading into the taller grass, looking back to make sure she was being followed and gesturing for him to dismount and follow if he did not do so of his own volition. Time was precious, and they needed to find a place more suited to the ritual.
 
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