Hunt - Prologue
~ P ~
The daylight shone down bright on Sandpoint and the fields around Sandpoint. The past week had been nothing but rain and the ground was over saturated with the water. It was great to finally see the sun shining on the city that had survived the Mad Queen of Thistletop. Just a couple of miles south of the cliff where the two women sat, the city was going about a relatively normal day. Everyone seemed to have calmed down from the events and while mourning still hung in the air it was not as horrible as it was before. Which was good for the people of Sandpoint, of course, but also for the two women as one of the Heroes of Sandpoint was finally able to rest.
And that is what Valtyra did.
Valtyra looked just as the other woman remembered from that day. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a tail that poked out from underneath the pirate hat on her head. Bangs fell down long enough to cover her eyes if she let them. However today they were hanging loose behind her ears. The armored coat she wore was open and its tail flap lay softly on the ground. A white button-down shirt covered her torso, the first few buttons undone and the white was interrupted by dirt she had no time to clean. Her black leather tights were surely getting soaked sitting on the edge of the cliff as she was, but it did not seem to bother her.
Which was one of the things Shayliss came to love about the woman.
They had been sitting on the edge of the cliff for the past hour and that smile Valtyra wore did not fade even once. It was great to see her finally happy and talking about stories from her days on ship. Some of them were unbelieveable yet Shayliss wanted to. Especially the story about a water hag, broom handle and an overabundance of beer.
"The ship rammed into The Valiant head on," Valtyra explained, "and the force of it shook the whole ship to its core. But that was my chance." She used hand gestures to help her explanations, "So, using the cut rigging, I flung myself into the fight. The opposing sailors rushed at me but they made the mistake of ignoring the storm around us. Most of them slipped and I cut down the others with ease. Keeping up my momentum, I moved up to the wheel where the captain stood. He fought well, I'll give him that, but it was obvious that he was not skilled in fighting weather like that. I cut him down and claimed the ship as my own." She turned to look at Shayliss, "That's how I won my own ship and used it to arrive in Varisia."
Shayliss's jaw dropped and her eyes flashed in excitement, "That cannot be true."
The half-elf gave her a cocky grin, "You don't believe me?" The grin turned into something more sensual, "I know you were staring at me during the raid. You should know well how I fight."
Heat flared up Shayliss's face and she sharply looked away. Valtyra let out a belly laugh which only increased Shayliss's embarrassment.
"Don't worry. I won't tell your father." Valtyra said once she had calmed down, "He would kill me. Probably with my own rapier."
Shayliss's mouth curled up slightly at that. She absolutely knew that her overprotective father would at least drive the half-elf away. He was already worried about Katrine, her older sister, after all.
They remained silent for a while, just listening to the breeze blow through the trees and the far away shouts from the newly made Firelord army. There were many new emotions flowing through Shayliss and she had no idea how to handle them. Damn hormones.
"Have you ever thought of leaping off of this cliff?"
Shayliss blinked at that and turned to regard the woman. The half-elf was no longer looking like the woman she remembered from that day. Her hair was now ragged, her eyes glazed over, and her clothing ripped to shreds. Blood flowed from many injuries including one through the head and one through the heart.
"What?" Shayliss stuttered.
Instead of responding, Valtyra slid off of the cliff. Her body fell down, down, down. The cliff changed from something that was only a few feet to the bottom to something that was miles and miles high. Something that would be certain death.
Shayliss screamed bloody hell down at the falling form. The space that Valtyra fell quickly shifted before Shayliss's eyes. Emptiness became the stone of a cavern. The cliff became flat ground, and the only light around her was from various torches set in scones attached to the walls. She found herself inside of a metal cage barely large enough for her and robbed people were walking toward her. She could not see their faces through the shadows their hoods created which only elevated her fear.
Metal clanked and stone scratched as Shayliss tried to crawl away. The cage was too small though. She could only struggle as the lock on the cage sprang open and her arms were roughly grabbed. As the robbed people did so, they started muttering under their breath something that Shayliss could not understand. She flailed, trying to make them let go. But she had become malnutritioned and weak. She could do no more than inconvenience them.
Before she knew it, her back slammed against stone and her arms were held down by manacles. The chains clanked and jangled, but did not break. They felt searing cold to the touch, as if they had just come out of an ice storm. That did not stop Shayliss from struggling, though, as the mutters became more and more clear.
"She has died. She has died. Sacrifice. Sacrifice."
The sound of heated metal sizzling came to Shayliss. Her body froze in fear. Her head turned to the side to find a robbed man holding onto a branding iron. It was a long metal pole with a wide end. While she could not see the design at the end, she could imagine it being pressed into her skin. Normally, the iron at the branding end would be only orange hot as anything hotter would seriously harm the farm animal. Yet, this one the robbed man was holding was white hot. The area around the heat was warping in and out from the intense heat and steam. Shayliss was surprised that the iron was not melting into molten pools.
Realizing what the robbed people were doing, she tried to struggle even harder. Primal instinct drove her actions and the only hope she had would be to break the chains holding her down. She may be immediately caught again, but it was something. The metal bit into her skin as she strained. The pins holding the metal chains to the stone cried metallic shrieks as they bent. Just a couple of seconds and she would be free. Just a little more!
It was too late.
The robbed people forced her back down and pressed the branding iron into her chest. There was nothing but blinding white pain. It shut down her senses and she could not even hear herself scream. She could not feel her voice strain. The stone under her seemed to fall away and she could not see the robed men and women around her. It was unbearable and she thought that she was on her way to death. However, her senses started to slowly return.
Just in time for the wall of the cavern to crumble under the weight of a large form. Two large forms in fact. One was an ancient silver dragon. Its scales were broken, cracked, bloody and pulsing with a mythical light. The other form, slamming the dragon to the ground, was a demon Shayliss had never seen before. It had a demonic curved longsword and a fifty-foot-long whip. The blade came up to slice down upon the dragon's neck. The dragon turned to regard Shayliss completely ignoring the blade about to sever her body.
"You will find her. I will guide you."
A scale fell off of the dragon, bounced off of the stone ground, and landed on top of Shayliss's chest. It rhythmically pulsed with a soft silver light. A whisper entered her ears through the pain.
Shayliss woke up with a jolt. She was no longer in the cavern. No dragon was talking to her and no demon stood there slaying. Instead, she lay curled up in a fetal position on her side. The bed under her was very soft, very warm and very wet from the gallons of sweat pouring off of the woman. On top of her, covering her body completely, were the multiple covers of the bed which were also soaked. She could feel her body shaking with fear at the memories of the nightmare. That damned nightmare she was never able to get rid of. The same one for a year now.
Her chest flared up with pain and her body curled up into that fetal position even more. The brand on her skin did not glow, pulse or otherwise interact. But the pain it caused was something demonic. It was as if something was trying to kill her from the inside. Ever since the ritual the brand was a constant burn. Nothing she had seen or read about would help get it to go away. A cleric she went to in secret even said that he had not seen anything like it. He suggested going to a more capable church, possibly one of Sarenrae as they had more experience with healing magic, but she declined it. She was uncomfortable letting him know about the brand. She was not going to go somewhere else to tell them about the brand. Especially if all they were going to say was the same thing he just told her.
The young woman was about to get up when she felt someone place a hand on her shoulder through the covers and shake her.
"Shayliss dear? Are you awake?"
Shayliss shifted her position on the still soaked bed to look out of the blankets and to the newcomer. It was a female Strix, a race of humanoids with midnight black skin and feathered wings of pure white. This woman had silver hair flowing freely down her head, elegant plate armor, longsword and tower shield. Attached to the weapons belt going across her chest was the holy symbol of her patron deity: the goddess of valor and honor Iomedae. Shayliss knew that symbol was also on the longsword and tower shield. The equipment was meticulously clean and maintained as they did not have a speck of dirt nor the tiniest scratch.
The Strix's red eyes were turned down slightly in worry, "Shayliss?"
Shayliss shook her head and sat up, "I'm fine, Strune." Her voice was strained and cracked. It came out as barely a whisper.
"Are you sure, dear?" Strune reached out to touch Shayliss's head. Shayliss flinched slightly instinctively but that did not stop Strune, "Fever nightmares. Horrible things. Can you get some water down?"
Even though it made her feel like a pathetic child, Shayliss nodded. Strune smiled slightly and headed downstairs. Shayliss was still sitting on the bed, thinking, when the Strix returned with two mugs almost overflowing with water. The red-haired woman's mouth tugged slightly at that, "I don't think I need that much water."
"You never know." Strune answered with that same smile, "Better to have it and not need it."
Shayliss shook her head in disbelief and took a sip. The water was cool, smooth and refreshing. It