Hunt - Chapter One
~ 1 ~
16 Arodus 4692 AR; Clydwell Plaza, Kenabres
16 Arodus 4692 AR; Clydwell Plaza, Kenabres
Shadowshine, a black horse with red eyes, huffed as Shayliss tied his reins to the pole. He had been very restless throughout the ride and, as usual, loved to give the woman problems. It was done to amuse him and Shayliss learned long ago to just go with the flow. She patted his side twice and he gave her another huff practically saying Go away now. Strune chuckled at seeing that, â€œHas a bit of attitude, huh?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Shayliss said, â€œLike someone else I know.â€
With a last pat she readjusted her equipment that got shifted from the ride and followed the winged woman. Clydwell Plaza was settled not far from The Valor Sword Inn Shayliss rented in the Old Kenabres District. Situated right in front of the Cathedral it was named after, St. Clydwell Cathedral, it was the place to hold festivals, plays and other events, rare as they may be. Two rectangular pools of clear water stretched out from one side of the long plaza to a third from the other end. It is at that last third where Armasse would be held. Benches were set up in a circular fashion, like a coliseum. There were enough seats for the whole city, even though people would have to get close and comfortable with those they sat next to. In the center of the coliseum was where the various plays, contests and fights would happen. It was rugged with a red and gold rug with very elegant and regal designs weaving in, out and through it.
Strune directed Shayliss to the stands where they managed to find seats in the front row despite the fact that they were almost late. Looking out into the center, she can see two tents at the edge of the circle. One held a market stand made into a judgeâ€™s booth. Two men and two women, all with the dress and air of nobility sat at the stand talking to each other. Smiles were plain on their faces and a couple even laughed at what might have been a joke. The second tent was completely covered so Shayliss could not see inside of it. Yet, the symbol of Sarenrae was on the cloth of the tent and clerics, priests and paladins were walking in and out of the tent. All had the holy symbol of Sarenrae clear on their armor, clothes or equipment. Shayliss suspected that the tent was a medicâ€™s tent for the contestants and fighters.
Strune saw where she was looking and confirmed, â€œThat is the Healerâ€™s Tent. While the rules of the contests and fights help prevent major injury, there are still times when it happens. That is what the multitude of clerics are there for.â€
â€œThat is what I figured.â€ Shayliss said, her gaze moving around, â€œI knew Armasse was popular, but I did not think it was this popular. The whole city must be here.â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t at first.â€ Strune responded with real pride in her voice, â€œIt was just a test for those who wished to be a Crusader. But as the Worldwound has grown and become more dangerous, the people wanted something to help entertain themselves.â€ She waved her hand at the makeshift arena, â€œIt became this festival to give people a sign. And it works. You did not see it as you have only been here for a week, but except for the month leading to Armasse, Kenabres is down on morale. Festivals are rare and plays are even rarer. One can feel it in the air. Everyone wonders if this is going to be their last day alive. This is the one time where the people feel joyous and excited.â€
Shaylissâ€™s eyebrows shot up at that. She had experience with that during the events of almost three years ago. The Mad Queen of Thistletopâ€™s raid devastated the emotions of Sandpoint until the Heroes of Sandpoint killed her. Then the serial killer months later brought that right back down. As far as Shayliss knew, there have been a few more attacks on Sandpoint, but allies she left behind managed to kill the major villain behind it all, apparently a resurrected Runelord. There was even a book written by someone who joined the group after she left that told the whole story. Shayliss had it in her backpack back at the inn, but had not started reading it yet. She visited recently and everything in Sandpoint was back to normal. But she could not fathom having that kind of morale crush all year except a month for a city this large. Kenabres was five or six times larger than Sandpoint. That must be the effect of being on the border of the Worldwound, the home of the demons on Golarion.
Strune nodded at her expression, â€œYeah. It can get really bad here. Only the support of the Crusaders and the guardian dragon Terendelev keeps people from losing all hope.â€
â€œGuardian dragon?â€ Shayliss asked, â€œKenabres has a guardian dragon?â€
â€œYeah. She has been here for as long as anyone remembers, keeping the city safe.â€ Strune looked around, â€œShe could be anyone here. She does not like to keep to one appearance for so long. One time, as a joke, she mimicked me. Confused the darkness from my sister.â€
â€œWow. I would like to meet her.â€ Shayliss whispered in wonderment.
Shayliss continued to look through the crowd, hoping to find the blonde hair and blue eyes that was so familiar. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Strune staying respectfully quiet. There were plenty of people here: merchants, nobles, armored Crusaders and plenty of normal townsfolk. She even noticed a couple of adventurers here to watch the spectacle. However, after a minute of swift looking, she did not find what she was looking for. Yet, she did find where the combatants, actors and festival staff were standing ready to go out on stage.
Seeing where Shaylissâ€™s gaze stopped, Strune asked, â€œSee her?â€
Shayliss shook her head. The disappointment rose in her but she caught it on the way up and forced herself to ignore it, â€œNo, but I see the others.â€
â€œThey made it then? Good.â€
It was hard not to miss the others of the group that travelled to Kenabres together. Mordria was standing with her red scaled arms crossed in confidence. Her body was one of a beautiful seductress, especially with the near scraps of hide â€œarmorâ€ covering her body, if one could ignore the red skin, scales at her arms and legs, and the horns poking out of her head. Oh, and the blindfold covering awful looking scars. Even without sight, she was looking around the audience as if she could see each person clearly. She even waved at Shayliss and Strune which threw the red-haired woman off balance.
Kaira, next to the Tiefling, was inspecting her gear. She rubbed her hand across her swordbreaker dagger, feeling for flaws, cracks and making sure the blade was sharp. Then she did a similar thing with her armor, rubbing her fingers across the leather, metal chains and green cloak. Some of the males in the staff group were staring at her doing that. Yet, they all turned back around when they found the white wolf with beautifully maintained fur and piercing blue eyes lying next to her growling at them. Kaira looked down at Blueeye in confusion but that was all the reaction she gave. Shayliss was surprised when the human huntress did not look at her bow. Was she really that confident in herself?
Snaga, the massively scarred half-orc, was kneeling on the ground. He was huddled in on himself, careful of his spiked gauntlets, like a child wishing the world would go away. The huddle and his cloth armor emphasised his muscles and scars which was most likely the cause for everyone keeping away from the group. When Shayliss looked closely enough, she could see his mouth moving, muttering to himself. Or, it looked like he was muttering to himself. While she did not know the man well yet, Shayliss knew that he was in fact talking with his eidolon, Nephalim. But why was he not fused with the creature? She knew for a fact that if he was given a choice, he would be fused with the creature all day.
She could even picture the eidolon. It looked like a half-orc like Snaga, skin grey like stone. However, it wore armor that was a contradiction of itself. It was ever shifting however it carried the same themes throughout. Half was metalic plate that shone with light as if from heaven itself. The other half, however, seemed to swallow that light with its abyssal nature, leather that was black and blood red. A hood of shifting colors covered its face and the shadows it created prevented any from seeing its face except for its mouth, which was feminine with small tusks poking out.
â€œStrune?â€ Shayliss asked.
â€œWhy is Snaga not fused with Nephalim? It is strange.â€
The Strix gave her a smile, â€œBecause it is against the rules.â€ When she saw Shaylissâ€™s look of confusion she continued, â€œWhen fighting in the trials, the rules state that a fighter must forgo their best strength. So, for Snaga, his greatest strength is his eidolon and the confidence he gains from being fused. And for Kaira, she cannot use her bow. Which means she has to fight close quarters combat with her companion.â€
Shaylissâ€™s expression of confusion turned into skepticism, â€œWhy?â€
â€œThe Crusaders like for potential recruits to prove themselves. What better way to prove yourself then to fight without the strength you rely on? Or even fight with your greatest weakness? And when you win fighting as such, then it is even better, isnâ€™t it?â€
The skepticism did not fade, but Shayliss dropped it. She was not ever going to understand how that worked out. Since she was not participating, it did not really affect her anyway. Yet, she was very curious.
â€œI wonder what my grea-â€
There was nothing. No feeling. No sight. No sound. She could barely even hear her own thoughts as they raced with questions. It was a very sudden and abrupt transition between talking to Strune at Armasse to nowâ€¦ doing whatever she was doing. Her first thought was that she was dead. That had to be it. There was nothing she could perceive at this point so there could not be anything else to her existence. But, if that was true, then how could she think?
As if the world was answering her, her senses slowly started to return. First, it was pain as her heartbeat sent pulses of pure agony racing through her head. Badum, badum, badum went her head threatening to burst from the inside. Then came the pain from her chest the brand ever burning. Right now, though, she was strangely glad to feel the pain. It was a confirmation that she was indeed alive.
From one side of her, she could figure out left from right yet, she could hear the sound of stones clinking against stone and a wall threatening to landslide. It sounded far from her, yet it echoed as if she was in a large enclosed space. A cavern maybe? All around her came groans, grunts of pain, and calls for help. She tried to move but either her body was still unresponsive, or something was on top of her body pinning her to the ground.
Sudden light flared from various cracks in front of her face. While the light was only able to touch a fraction of her sight it still blazed in her eyes and burned. She had to immediately close her eyes and grunt in pain. All around her more grunts of pain sounded off.
â€œSorry!â€ A familiar feminine voice echoed from far away.
It took her a couple more minutes, but she was finally ready to force the rocks on top of her off. She placed her hands flat against the surfaces above her and pushed. Muscles strained but made little progress at first. However, she continuously put more and more pressure on the rocks and was eventually able to slide the rocks away. They fell with a crash and she was suddenly able to breathe completely. Coughs exploded from her as air returned to her system as well as the massive amounts of dust.
With the light, Shayliss was able to finally see where she was. Like she thought, she was in a large cavern. The ceiling and far walls of the cavern receded into darkness. To Shaylissâ€™s left, there was a large pile of rubble that occasionally shifted causing rocks and small pebbles to fall in a mini landslide. She had to control her breathing as she noticed arms, legs, and other body parts of people inside of the rubble. There were so many.
â€œShayliss!â€ A woman called from the other side of the cavern, â€œI need help!â€
Shayliss struggled to stand up and moved as fast as she could toward the voice. Strune was the focal point of the light, having cast a spell onto her holy symbol. She was kneeling next to a pile of rock and Shayliss could hear her whispering to someone.
â€œWe are going to get the rocks off of you.â€ Strune was saying, â€œJust try to relax and donâ€™t move.â€
â€œI understand.â€ Another female voice whispered back. Her voice was calm but Shayliss could hear the strain of pain in it. She may have gotten injured in the fall.
When Strune noticed Shayliss had arrived, she nodded, â€œAlright. We need to make sure we do not injure her any more. Go slow and place the rocks a good distance away.â€
Shayliss nodded and positioned herself. Strune counted down from three and they heaved. Like Shayliss, Strune must not be as strong as she normally was, but together they managed to lift the rock and set it aside. They continued this process for about five minutes and all of the rocks were off of the woman.
Like Shayliss, she was more masculine than feminine, but she was much more leanly built and generally smaller. Short brunette hair would have fallen to the nape of her neck if it was not already in a messy heap on the stone. Simple leather armor covered her body and a longbow was strapped to her back. Most of the arrows in her quiver were broken and her leg was bent in an unnatural shape. It was obviously broken.
Strune snarled under her breath and said, â€œFind some wood and rope in the rubble. If my spells donâ€™t work weâ€™ll need to get a brace for her and a walking stick to lean on.â€
Shayliss nodded and moved for the rubble while light from Struneâ€™s spells lit the cavern up even more. It was difficult for her to ignore the limbs sticking out but she did manage to find enough good pieces of wood, cloth and rope to make a splint and walking stick. However, she was pleased to see that it was unnecessary when she returned. The woman was standing up, if favoring one of her legs, and talking quietly to Strune.
â€œI know it doesnâ€™t hurt, Anevia.â€ Strune said, â€œBut even so you will not be able to walk properly on that leg until we can get it regenerated.â€
The woman, Anevia, nodded, â€œOf course.â€ She turned to Shayliss, â€œDo you mind if I can use that stick as a walking cane? It will help keep me from tiring out so fast.â€
Shayliss immediately dropped everything except the walking stick and handed it to her. She thanked the pair but could not say anything else before a cry rose, â€œStop helping that freak and get me out!â€
Anevia let out a massive sigh and placed her palm on her face. Strune did not seem to notice her as she rushed for the man who called out. Hesitantly, Shayliss followed and Anevia joined her. Below a very small pile of rock was an average sized man who seemed like he was not unfamiliar with food or beer. His red and white robes were so fine under the dirt that he had to have been a noble in the city. Dirt caked his almost bald head but otherwise he was most definitely uninjured.
Struneâ€™s eyes narrowed as she noticed that but did not hesitate to start pulling off the rubble. Shayliss was very tempted to remain on the side but she sighed and helped. It was of no effort whatsoever to get the man out. Throughout the process he was yelling, insulting and generally ungrateful. Even when Strune helped him to stand up he kept running his mouth. Anevia silently limped away toward the last pile of rubble which the other companions were kneeling around.
â€œFinally!â€ The man exclaimed to the Strix, â€œI have to wonder how you made it through Armasse last year with such sloth!â€
Struneâ€™s silver eyebrow twitched up in annoyance but all she said, without a hint of sarcasm, was, â€œI apologize if I insulted you, Horgus. As you may notice this is not exactly normal.â€
He stared at her face for a second then shrugged, â€œI guess you have a point. But I may request to do better next time. Especially when we are dealing with freakish thieves and conspiracy theorists.â€
Shayliss noticed that Anevia shot her gaze toward the man and was about to throw out some insults of her own but Strune cut in easily, â€œI understand how stressed you must feel but this is not the time to be pointing fingers or throwing insults. This process will go much easier if we can at least tolerate each other long enough to get out from wherever we are.â€
Shayliss had enough of the noble at that point and turned to help with the last survivor. However, her eye passed over the caved in rubble pile again and something flashed at her. Normally, she would have just ignored it and moved on. But there was something hypnotizing to it. As if the flash was calling to her. It flashed again. And again. And again.
Before she knew it, Shayliss was standing in front of the rubble pile, in front of where the flash was. Barely poking out of the rubble, she found a silver object. It was triangular and had some runes etched into it. Without realizing it, she was pulling at it, not even worrying about the consequences of possibly sending the rubble into a true landslide. Yet, when she finally yanked it out no such landslide happened.
Instead, it pulsed slightly in her hand. It was a silver dragonâ€™s scale with runes etched all over its surface. Something tugged at the back of the young womanâ€™s mind. A memory fighting to become a visible thing. It was like a man pushing and shoving through a large crowd to reach a specific point. The members of the crowd were thoughts and mental blockages and the man was this memory.
Suddenly, she remembered.