Hunt - Chapter Eight
~ 8 ~
17 Arodus, 4692 AR; Neathholm
17 Arodus, 4692 AR; Neathholm
Lann stepped forward and gave the man a very human-like and formal bow. When she saw that Crel, Dyra and Strune were doing the same, Shayliss decided to follow their lead. She was taught that a lady ought to curtsy, bending at the knees with arms out to the sides. Yet, she did not want to offend, so she bent down in a bow. It was very uncomfortable and most likely showed various pieces that should not be shown, but the Chief was pleased anyway.
"I see our guests are polite ones." He comments with a hefty laugh, "Please stand. I am not so formal."
Shayliss stood back up immediately but she noticed that Strune made it a point to stay bowed for another second before standing herself. But Lann remained bowed as he said, "Chief Sull, these men and women are from the surface. They saved Crel's life and have information about the surface that I believed you needed to hear."
Chief Sull lifted one white eyebrow, "Oh?"
Lann finally stood straight as Shayliss stepped forward to stand next to him, "Yes." She took a deep breath to calm her nerves and collect her thoughts, "Yesterday, at high noon, the demons of the Worldwound attacked. They destroyed the wardstone within Kenabres and then attacked the populace. Terendalev, the guardian dragon of Kenabres, is dead. Her last act was to save us from falling down here to certain death before the demon Khorramzadeh cut her head."
The man in front of her listened and then took a minute to think. When he spoke, it was a tone of voice that held a mix of worry and thought, "That must be the great quake that we felt down here. The wardstone is destroyed?" He turned to look at Shayliss to confirm.
Strune made another bow, "As far as we know. The demon attacked Kenabres with one of the largest forces it has seen in decades if what we saw was any indication. I assume that means the Wardstone Barrier has been destroyed or at least disrupted."
The Chief nodded with each statement, "Then this spells trouble for everyone here. And I now see why their numbers have increased."
Shayliss tilted her head slightly, "Whose numbers?"
Strune gave the woman a rather surprised and angry look but the Chief only turned to regard her, "Over the past four months, I have been getting reports of increased numbers in the humans who have allied with the mongrel traitors. However, yesterday, the reports returned saying that a great fraction of the forces here have moved to the surface."
"The cultists." Anevia gasped, "Like we saw before."
"Has to be." Shayliss muttered, "They hid down here, where they were nearly certain no one would notice," she looked up at the Chief, "other than you anyway."
"We would have warned you if we could." Chief Sull's voice held apology, "The traitors were smart. They built a base in the most direct and safest tunnel to the surface. I could not risk my men to that nor the horrors that could be found down here."
"We understand." Strune beat Shayliss to the punch, "Even with the warning, I doubt there would be much that could have been done." The strix's voice lowered with each word, as if unwilling to believe what she was saying. Shayliss felt sympathy for the woman. She knew that no matter what you say, there are some people who would do nothing out of confidence or sinister motives.
"Chief Sull," Kaira said, "Can you please tell us about these 'traitors'?" At Strune's annoyed glare she returned it with stubborn resolve, "If we are to return home, we need to know about what stands in our path."
The Chief smiled at Kaira, "I see. If you are to return to the surface as swiftly as possible, then you must go through their base."
He waddled back to his chair and sat down as steadily and safely as possible. When he was comfortable again, he let out a sigh, "I will not bore you with our past, but ten years ago, a group of my citizens and citizens of other mongrelmen tribes broke off from their homes. Driven by unknown forces, they moved further toward the surface and banded together. A couple of years later, they had built a base in those tunnels and had surfacers with them. They would attack occasionally and killed any scouts that I sent to observe them. We had to be more discreet and cautious about gaining information from them."
"So," Kaira said, "They are mongrelmen who have allied themselves with humans from the surface. That's all I need."
"Chief Sull," Shayliss asked, "Would you allow us to rest in your city? Tomorrow we will move on toward the surface."
He gave her a thoughtful look, "As long as you fulfill two requests for me."
She bowed, "Of course."
"One," he raised a finger, "give the surface a message for me. 'The mongrelmen of Neathholm understand the danger that the demons represent and we will stand alongside any who would fight them. We have not forgotten our people's past and we hope neither have those who live above us.'"
Shayliss nodded, "We will certainly send your message."
"Two." He raised a second finger before leaning forward in his throne. His face contorted into something of anger and an animalistic ferocity and Shayliss could see the expression mimicked in the guards around them, "Two, kill those traitors who dare betray my people."
The room heated with the pure emotion that the mongrelmen around the group exuded. Even Lann, Crel and Dyra radiated the anger of their people. Whatever the traitors did, it angered a whole nation. The fact that they attacked the surface only seemed to elevate the tension. Shayliss would have taken a step back but with it all around her she was not sure she could have. It felt as if she was being held in place by the power of it. A quick look around showed that the rest of the group felt the same.
However, she only nodded, gave one last bow and said, "Of course."
Lann, at the behest of the Chief, led Shayliss and the group to the wing of rooms tey were allowed to stay in. He had also been told to tell them that anytime they were in the city, that they would have these rooms to use. It was very generous for him to do, but Shayliss also reasoned that he did not get many guests down here. Most likely only representatives from the other tribes. So the rooms must be empty for most of the year.
She entered her room and immediately lay her weapons and armor down onto the bed. The temptation to join them was strong. Exhaustion from the previous two days was wearing down at her and she could feel her legs shaking. Yet, she knew that it would be hard for her to sleep right now with all of the thoughts in her head swirling around. So, instead, she headed for the door at the other side of the room. It led to a balcony and she leaned on its railing watching the city below.
Shayliss had no idea what time it was. She was not even certain that it was the seventeenth. But, by how the city was still bustling with trade and conversation that it could not have been any later than seven or eight at night. If Neathholm mimicked the surface cities, then right now was about what it would be like for the work hours to be done. People walking home, doing any shopping along the way and talking with neighbors, friends, family and merchants. Even the small town of Sandpoint, where she grew up, had activity similar to this. It was strangely comforting. This strange city had familiar happenings with her home. Or what was her home.
The brand hissed and seared against her skin. She bent over as if to hold the pain back and it took all of her willpower to keep herself from falling over the railing. Teeth clacked together and a small grunt of pain escaped her mouth.
Why? Shayliss could not help but ask, Why must I go through this pain? I have not seen any sign of her for two years now. What makes me think that I could actually find her?
She shook her head, Because I lo... love her. Right? I am supposed to do whatever I can to make sure she is safe.
Ah. Uncertainty. Doubt. Fear. You sense it. You know it is there. There is no need to keep going through this, right? Maybe you should get out while you can. Get your head on straight. If you asked, I am sure that the mongrel king would let you stay in his city. All of this fighting and suffering is doing nothing but distracting you.
It was tempting. Ever since Valtyra left, all Shayliss had been doing was fighting and searching. While there were a couple of stops along the way, one of them giving her this damned brand, she was just fighting battle after battle just to find a woman that may not even be alive anymore. No human being should have to go through life like this. Right?
She felt that the correct answer is an immediate 'duh' but she was not sure. The attack upon Kenabres reentered her mind. It was savage, elemental, unyielding. Even when she did what she could to defend those who were injured by the flaming whip, she could feel the pressure of the demons on her group like a dam threatening to overflow. One mistake and they would have overtaken her. So, should she not try to fight that brutality?
Of course not! The voice inside her said, Let those who are better trained and more knowledgeable fight the demons. You are just one woman. The Worldwound has been there for centuries before you were born. Could you really fight against that?
I don't know. Maybe that's why Val came up here. To 'redeem' herself.
Her inner voice sighed, which seemed weird to Shayliss given that it was only a fragment of her mind. She did not expect to be having a conversation with herself. She especially did not expect herself to be annoyed with her.
We turn right back to her, huh? Herself asked, Why are you so fixated on her? Just because you got to roll in the hay does not make you so close and in love with her.
The sarcastic tone of her mind took her aback. Then the rush of memory stunned her with awkward embarrassment. Thankfully, she did not need her mouth to speak with herself. A) I am not fixated on her and I do not love her just because of that!
Laughter, You just contradicted yourself. And proved my point.
Shayliss actually felt herself grind her teeth, Whatever. The point is that I love her. We have shared many experiences and pain. I trust her with my secrets and I with hers.
And what did that accomplish? Great, you can fight. But when it came time to 'save her' she instead ran away from everything in her life. Including you. She never tried to contact you, nothing was left at your home in Sandpoint, your father would burn anything that would have been left there anyway, and you now have an eternally burning brand on your chest. Just like you were cattle. Is she really worth all of this?
Shayliss did not have an immediate reply. While she did not like it, she could not readily refute what herself, of all people, put out to the table. She gritted her teeth and remained silent.
That's what I th-
The young woman felt herself leap into the air in shock and nearly fall over the railing. Instinct and muscle were the only things keeping her from toppling over and toward the hard stone below. If she was just one room over, she would have hit water, but at this height she was not sure if that would be any better.
She spun swiftly to see the still limping Anevia behind her. Like Shayliss, the archer had taken her armor off and wore a simple white shirt and skirt. It was a bit surprising to see Anevia in those clothes. They made her look like a housewife instead of a militant archer. Shayliss thought that it looked good on her.
With one hand on her walking stick, Anevia raised the other, "Sorry. I did not mean to surprise you."
After taking a couple of seconds to recover and to calm her racing heart, she shook her head, "No. It's fine. I've just been distracted. How are you?"
Anevia sighed and leaned herself against the rail, trying to take the weight off of her leg, "I don't know. Confused? Worried? Scared? I am not sure if I can put it to one thing."
"Is it about your wife?" Shayliss asked in a whisper. She almost immediately regretted asking the question. But Anevia just nodded, "I think so. I know she can take care of herself. She is a Crusader after all, and proven herself capable too. But..."
"But it doesn't stop you from being concerned." Shayliss finished for her, "Yeah. I know what you mean."
Anevia gave Shayliss a questioning look, "You have someone like that as well, don't you?"
Shayliss hesitated and Anevia continued with, "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"It's not that." Shayliss whispered, "It's just..."
Understanding washed over Anevia, "I see. Can I give you some insight that I was given myself once upon a time?"
"Actions speak louder than your words or thoughts. Think back on what you have done rather than said or thought. Let those actions guide you."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that no matter what you say, no matter what you think, your actions speak for your true self. If you hate the homeless, yet give them ten gold pieces everytime you walk by them, you cannot truly hate them, right?"
"I see." A slight hesitation, "You wanna know who I strangely miss?"
Anevia tilted her head, "Who?"
"Our horse. It is the most ill-tempered, attitude-filled, self-centered horse you can find on the face of this planet. Yet I am worried about it escaping all of the conflict above."
Anevia let out a belly laugh, "I know what you mean. I had a cat like that. She ran away and I spent days crying about her. Came to found out that she just went out for an extended hunt for fun."
Shayliss was about to respond when a loud cheer rose from somewhere below them. She could almost feel it in her toes and her head snapped around in reaction. Anevia only continued to chuckle, "Why don't we see what is going on downstairs? It would be a nice distraction."
Shayliss thought about if for a second before nodding, "Sure."
With Anevia taking the lead, the pair left the room and walked downstairs to find what fun they could. Shayliss did not know about Anevia, but she was almost certain it would be the last bit of fun they would have for a long while.