Swords and Saviors (Dreamless and Jalapenohitchhiker)

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Blood and death had always been but part of life. Having hunted since she was strong enough to hold a bow, she was a stranger to neither. Nor had it ever bothered her, beyond minor annoyance… not until blood and death touched and claimed the life of the person who had single-handedly shaped her, trained her, made her what she was. Suddenly, then, blood was gut-wrenching, and death, insurmountable.
The day she found her mentor and friend dead in the forest bordering her lowland village was the day the world, and everything she thought she knew about it, changed for Sigrid Sørenson.


She hadn’t seen what had killed him, and that was perhaps what bothered her the most. Without knowing what beast had taken down a Rune Warrior the calibre of which Gunnar Sørenson had reached, she was at a loss to hunt it down and take its life in turn. It was only for his failing to return from a hunting escapade one evening that she’d detected something might be amiss. Gunnar was always timely, unless a crisis had occurred.

Not long after the village had gone quietly to sleep that night, autumn’s chill having descended full force in preparation for winter, she’d taken a lantern and left for the woods, snow-fox shawl draped over her shoulders to maintain warmth. Even with the little light a candle encased in foggy glass could provide, she knew the parts of the forest that her mentor frequented. They were the same parts where he had taught and trained her for almost twenty years, and she’d have been able to find them blindfolded.
Sure enough, Gunnar kept true to his paths, but Sigrid was at least a mile deep into the woods before she found him.

So much blood, that the sources from which it leaked were hardly visible, but there was no guessing that it was her mentor’s life essence that stained the earth burgundy, that stained his clothes, and that condemned what was left of his life. The young Rune Warrior, lantern discarded, had never run so fast in her life to the man to whom she owed everything.

“Lie still,” she advised, in an ill attempt to filter anxiety from her voice. “Don’t move, I can return with a healer. Whatever beast did this to you… I will find it. I’ll—”

“Don’t be…naïve.” Gunnar choked the words, blood glistening on his lips. “I am done, Sigrid. You must… the city. It is… imperative…”

Loathe though she was to believe it, he spoke the truth. She would make it no further than the village, let alone a return trip, before her mentor left this world for that of the spirits. It was a moment for which she was wholly unprepared, and yet the moment lent no room for grief. “What about the city? Gunnar, what happened?”

“Beasts… they’re not…natural. Sigrid…” With what little strength the veteran Rune Warrior had left, he reached to grasp her arm. “The city… tell the village… leave, take to… Garenvale. Before the beasts… before it all spreads.”

“Before what spreads? Please…” Tears unbidden gathered in her eyes, blurred her vision, but she blinked them away. It was not the way she wanted her mentor to see her for the last time. “I’m trying to understand… what is spreading?”

Death... and… if they are not stopped… reckoning.”

They were her mentor and friend’s last living words, and she hardly understood them. All she could fathom was that, with the last task he would ever give her, she needed to deliver the clippings of his vague warning to her village. Even in the throes of death, Gunnar was a man who kept his wits about him, and did not bestow warnings lightly, if there was but a shadow of doubt.

Mercifully releasing his feeble grip on life soon after uttering his last words, the old Rune Warrior did not burden his disciple with witnessing any lengthy moments of agony. And Sigrid knew better than to linger, particularly when the beast who had felled Gunnar could still be nearby. Scarcely remembering to grab the lantern, she all but flew on her feet through the trees of the thick wood, all the way back to their village to deliver the news of her mentor’s death, as well as his vague warning.
Her reception, and the village’s response within the next few days, however, was not what she would have ever expected.

“Why are you so quick to disregard?” Sigrid stood before her village elders for the third day in a row, in hopes to drive home the words which—for the third day in a row—seemed to continue to fall upon deaf ears. “You all knew Gunnar as well as I, if not better. He never spoke in vain… If he declares such urgency to head for Garenvale, there must be a reason.”

But like yesterday, and the day before, her plea was met only with the blank stares of three older men, and one younger—far too young to be an elder, but for sons of elders, it was apparently a birthright—, all of whom looked upon her like she was a raving lunatic. From the three old men, it hardly came as a surprise, but Sigrid’s core was nicked with wounds at the young man’s doubt. Gvynthur, the elder’s son, and only granted privilege of an elder himself when he came into manhood a handful of years ago, had been one of the few within the village with whom she had a positive rapport. He’d always been a brother to her, up until their dynamic changed little over a year ago, when he’d expressed he cared for her in a way which she could not reciprocate. While he’d claimed to understand, and assured her nothing between them would change, his smile had become more indifferent, and their conversations less substantial, ever since.

“Sigrid. The throes of death can make a man believe astounding and wild concepts,” one of the older men declared. “We have already discussed this at length. Gunnar was praiseworthy among the Rune Warriors, but he had no proof for his claims. And neither do you.”

“We retrieved Gunnar’s body two days ago. You saw the state it was in. What exactly do you think felled him that would leave the body in such a condition?” Sigrid challenged. “No animal known to this village kills in such a fashion—what if whatever killed him was what he meant to warn us about?”

“And you, in your youth, can claim to know every detail about the way in which every beast known to the village kills?” Another of the elders shook his head. “Winter nears, Sigrid. We cannot afford to waste time and resources on farfetched and unfounded suspicions.”

Sigrid was no master of keeping her temper in check, and as the moments passed, she was feeling less inclined to put forth the effort? “Farfetched and unfounded?” The young woman all but hissed. “Were it anyone else—were I anyone else, in bringing you this news, you would act on it. I dare you to deny it.”

“I think this conversation has gone on for long enough.” The third and final elder—Gvynthur’s father—raised his hand. “You dishonour Gunnar’s memory with your petulant insistence, Sigrid. Leave this issue and his spirit to rest.”

“No… No, I am honouring his final request. If anyone here is failing him, and his memory, then it is all of you.”

For the third and final time, Sigrid turned her back and left the conference quarters and the building without throwing a glance over her shoulder. The lowland village and its clan of warriors had never considered her one of their own; for that, she had been subject to discrimination, but only ever to her own detriment. Never to Gunnar’s, who had, against the will and advice of his people and colleagues, taken her in so young. Seen in her the potential to be one of the Rune Warriors, and had thusly trained her as one. And while he had been alone what he invested in her, she’d never have suspected her mere presence would mar the grace of his passing. Perhaps she’d been foolish to ever uphold so much faith in her village.

“Sigrid!” The young warrior was only yards away when a voice came calling after her. “I don’t believe your claims to be farfetched. I want to know what it was that spurred Gunnar’s warning… I want to help.”

He believed her? He wanted to know? He wanted to help? The nerve! That he would claim to stand with her now, and yet not so much as speak up while she humiliated herself thrice in front of the elders. The more she learned about the way in which Gvynthur Skaal reacted to not getting what he wanted, the more with a broken heart she realized he was not the friend she’d though him to be, let alone the brother.
“If you want to help, Gvynthur,” she called, sparing him but a single glance without pausing in step, “then convince your father and the other two fat-heads in the conference room to spare the time and resources and at least investigate Gunnar’s warning.”

However unintended, Gvynthur only continued to further rub salt into the wound. “Could you not do so yourself? Investigate, I mean. You’re beyond capable, prove to the elders—”

“I am through trying to prove anything to the elders. And I certainly plan to investigate, but it will be of no consequence to any of you,” she replied.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I am leaving for the city. And I won’t be returning… Goodbye, Gvynthur. I hope you can make your father and the elders see the reason that I could not.”

She would not miss the village, or its people, or its memory. But she would miss—and already did—the presence of her mentor, and through her pride, hoped that his spirit. Wherever it roamed, realized that if she didn’t walk away from the lowlands, then she was liable to go down with the village, should this reckoning actually come to pass.
Had she known then the nature of what had killed Gunnar, and what it meant for the village, let alone the rest of the kingdom of Kalleih, she might not have been so quick to leave the lowlands behind to witness the danger in their own good time.


Travel to the city was a little less than a day and a half by horse, but no less than two days by foot, if you stopped to rest through the night. Food was not an issue, as Sigrid had packed enough dried meat and nuts to last for the trek, but rest was inevitable. And she was already a day and a night into her venture towards Kalleih’s capitol, Garenvale, before she came into the answers she sought.

Taking to the woods, as opposed to the trodden paths to avoid bandits, it was early into the morning on the second day that she encountered a type of skirmish that she’d never have thought she’d witness. No, skirmish wasn’t quite the word; fight might have been more suitable, except that one party appeared to simply be fending off his enemy to mitigate damage, unable to inflict it.

There was no name—not of which Sigrid was aware—for the assailant. It did not appear to be a he, or a she, but rather, an it, some manlike beast with skin the colour of ash, claws where fingers should be, and incisors that jutted from both its upper and lower jaw. Muscles bulged beneath its sandpaper-like skin, taut and strong; the old man beneath it, fallen yet fending off its teeth and claws with only a wooden staff, was no match. Without help, he would be as good as dead. The young Rune Warrior couldn’t in good conscience stand and witness such a scene without intervening.

Drawing her shortsword from its sheath at her back was so second nature that it was practically a reflex, as was the way she lunged for the beast, catching it in the spine directly at the base of its neck. She was fortunate only in that the creature hadn’t seen or her heard, hadn’t expected her, and thus hadn’t had time to react. And any less of a blow likely wouldn’t have felled it; its tough skin would have resisted a slightly duller blade. Whatever it was, it was equipped to damage, and to tolerate damage. It was nothing less of a monster…

And no beast was ever solitary in nature. Where there was one, more surely existed… How many, and from where they came, however, was completely lost on Sigrid.

The old man gasped in relief as the monster fell away from him, scrambling out of the way before the lifeless form could crush him with its weight. It was only then that Sigrid caught a glimpse of his robes, the symbols stitched around the collar, and the pendant he wore: this was no ordinary traveler, but a holy man, bearing no weapons but the wooden staff in his clutches. Were it not for his divine disposition, she’d have been apt to call him a fool for traveling the woods alone. But even the rough and tumble people of the lowland villages knew better than to insult a holy man, and frankly, she had more of a mind to ask questions than to point fingers.

“Are you all right?” Returning her sword to its sheath, after wiping the creature’s dark blood from its blade on a bed of moss, Sigrid offered the old man a hand. “And might I ask why you dared venture the woods alone? They crawl with beasts… Some more dangerous than others, it would seem.”

“Bless you, young woman. Bless you.” The holy man gratefully took her hand and pulled himself to his feet, grasping her fingers with gratitude. “You must think me an old fool, but at risk of my life, I feel obligated to travel Kalleih to spread warning of the darkness upon us… you just witnessed it yourself. My brethren have split the task among us: I’ve traversed the lowland villages for the past four days…”

Anything the man said beyond lowland villages was suddenly lost on Sigrid’s ears, and she interrupted his explanation to pose a dire question: “Holy one… if you have been frequenting the lowlands, did you happen to encounter a Rune Warrior, not far from Vyrnne? In the woods, at that?”

“I… indeed I did.” The holy stranger nodded and rubbed his bald head. “I did encounter a Rune Warrior, just days ago, an hour from Vyrnne. He agreed to carry the warning to his village, to urge them to travel northward, where the evil has yet to fester.”

“Vyrnne is my village.” Sigrid swallowed he lump rising in her throat and pressed her lips into a thin line. “And that man was my mentor. He did not survive to return to the village, but the warning was not lost on me… It was in his dying breath, mind you. I didn’t have the details, and I fear my village did not take me seriously.”

“Then they could well be doomed,” came the man’s dismal reply. “What you just saw… the thing from which you just saved my life, there are more. And there will continue to be more, until the rift between their world and ours is mended. I mourn your loss and will pray for your mentor’s soul.”

Doomed? For the first time since leaving her lowland village, Sigrid began to suffer pangs of remorse. “I should not have left them,” she muttered. While there was nothing left for her in Vyrnne, she wished a death such as what had befallen Gunnar on no one. “Is it too late? I was headed for Garenvale, on my mentor’s advice… I should return with this beast’s head. They will then have no reason not to take me seriously.”

“If you return now, good woman, you will surely die.” The holy man shook his head. “You have done what you could, and I declare you free of blame. Continue onward to Garenvale, and warn all whom you might encounter.”

“But what about you? Come to Garenvale with me; I could not in good conscience have you wander without protection.”

“Did you not hear me absolve you of blame?” A hint of a smile touched the old man’s lips. “I must continue with my task—as must you. But take this as my parting gratitude.” Bowing his head, the holy man took the pendant from around his neck and held it out to Sigrid. “Present this, and any sanctum in Kalleih will welcome you without question, and grant you sanctuary.”

Colour and heat rose to Sigrid’s cheeks. Her reply was hesitant, and not without shame. “I do not pray to any god,” she confessed. “It is not part of a Rune Warrior’s tradition.”

“That does not stop others for praying for you,” the holy man argued, and placed the pendant around Sigrid’s neck before she could further protest. “Tell me your name.”

“Sigrid Sørenson,” she replied. “Of the Rune Warriors of Vyrnne.”

“I thank you and will pray for you, Sigrid Sørenson,” the kind stranger assured her. “Regardless of what god to whom you do or do not kneel. Kalleih’s sanctums will welcome and protect you, if divine powers do not.”

Against her better judgement, Sigrid and the holy man parted ways. While she was not one to shirk a gift such as what he had bestowed, the pendant felt heavy with guilt around her neck, thinking about the village and the people she had forsaken. Despite being presented with divine forgiveness, she couldn’t help but continue to feel unworthy, and tucked it away in the deerskin pouch at her side for safe keeping.

It was yet another day before she reached Garenvale, allowing her mind to turn over the recent turn of events and everything she’d learned. The reckoning, the beasts, a rift between worlds… None of it made sense, but of one thing she’d become certain: the very beast that had attacked the holy man was the same that had killed Gunnar. It had to have been, or else his final plea would not have held such conviction. Something was happening, and if the rest of Vyrnne chose to shirk her mentor’s final warning, articulated on her lips, then she would quietly mourn their loss, but could do nothing to buffer their fall into a final, mass grave. If the city held any promise whatsoever, then it was enough to cling to the threads of hope.

A day later, as the sun began to sink on the horizon, that hope was shaken by her reception at the city of Garenvale, the eye and center of Kalleih. Now she understood why Gunnar had spoken so ill of the city folk, and why lowland villagers seldom traveled this way.

“You are required to surrender your weapons before we will permit you entry into Garenvale.”

Had she expected that she must walk an unknown city with unfamiliar people, completely unarmed, the young Rune Warrior might have reconsidered Garenvale as a primary destination; or, at least, prepared for a different approach. As it stood, she was two days’ worth weary of travel, with little sleep to be had, and her patience was too frayed to tolerate the patronizing stares of the two city men.

“Were it not for my weapons, I would not be standing here,” came her flat reply. She made no move to relinquish her shortsword, nor the dagger strapped to her thigh. “Have you any idea what's crawling Kalleih right now? I’ve traveled two days, on edge. My sword stays with me.”

The guardsmen exchanged a curious glance, either at the newcomer’s audacious refusal to yield to their regulations, or that they must have thought her a simpleton to have not anticipated their request. Either way, it did nothing to convince her to comply. “We’re well aware of Kallein’s conditions, young lady. It is because of these dangers that the Exalt has declared a state of emergency, and all who seek sanctuary in Garenvale specifically are required to disarm themselves in the name of peace.”

“I did not travel two days from the lowlands with little sleep solely to threaten the Exalt.” Sigrid snapped, a nerve in her jaw twitching. “I merely wish to walk with the reassurance that I may defend myself, should the need arise.”

The older of the two guardsmen, a man with stark grey hair, rolled his eyes. “We can assure your safety, here. But we cannot let you pass unless you yield to law.”

Past them, Sigrid glimpsed silver and steel on the hips and across the backs of gaily clad men; nobility or city folk, she could not be certain. But she refused to walk, unarmed, amid strangers who were apparently exempt of this rule with which she was expected to comply; that said, she also was loathe to find another city, after the two day trek from Vyrnne.

Wordlessly, the Rune Warrior reached into the pouch at her hip, instantly putting the guardsmen on edge. Spears were pointed in her direction before she could look up. “Pray you, keep your hands free and visible, or you can forget about finding sanctuary in

“I don’t pray.” Sigrid snorted. “But that mattered not to the holy man who gave me this.” Gripping the cord in her fist, she dangled the holy pendant for the guardsmen to see. “With my weapons, I saved the life of a man of prayer, just yesterday. He gave me this in gratitude, with the promise that I might find sanctuary in any sanctum found in Kalleih. Correct me if I am wrong, but I do believe one such sanctum can be found here in Garenvale. Now, will you reconsider, or should I take this issue to the Exalt, myself?”

Holy trinkets held little to no weight in lowland villages, such as Vyrnne, but Sigrid knew enough about the cities that the citizens held themselves in higher status for their devotion to gods and to prayers. And while she had no idea as to the identity of Kalleih’s Exalt, whether they were a man or a woman, child or adult, or even fair or self-serving, she was willing to bet it was expected of them to swear an oath to their gods for the status they held; and, likewise, that those who served them directly would be held to similar expectations. Given the sour looks on the guardsmen’s faces, she wasn’t wrong, yet they continued not to budge.

“Are you not required to take me straight to the Exalt, should I request it?” A Kalleihan law of which she was certain. “I could relinquish my weapons, show this pendant, and declare you refused me sanctuary on prejudice towards lowland citizens. Or, alternately, you can let me enter in peace, and I will forget this conversation ever took place.”

She had them. The younger of the two guardsmen—who had likely only recently been promoted to his position, given that he didn’t look much older than her, and was loathe to lose his stature to a lie—finally lowered his spear. “May you enter, then, in peace, and keep your weapons visible,” he grumbled. “But if you think to cause trouble, know that we will be keeping an eye on you, and will be the first to throw you back out of these gates, and never open them to you again.”

“Praise for your cooperation.” Flashing the two men a sly smile over her shoulder, Sigrid turned her back to the argument that ensued between them and made her way into the depths of Garenvale’s heart. As to what she was to find here, aside from sanctuary, she did not know. But whatever was arising in Kalleih, the people here clearly had more information, and were more prepared for it than her fellow lowland dwellers. The challenge would be finding the right person with the right information; after all, in events such as this, there was no shortage or rumours and lies, and she was too unfamiliar with the cityfolk to know who to trust.

The obvious idea came to her as she held the pendant in her palm: of course! The men of prayer, the ones spreading warning, must know the details behind this kingdom-wide emergency. And when she presented the pendant and explained how it came into her possession, surely they’d see fit to fill in all of the blanks left from Gunnar’s story, as well as that of the man she’d saved.

Replacing the pendant in her pouch, Sigrid drew a steadying breath as she made her way into the dense slew of people, city dwellers and travelers alike, in search of the one place where she might find some answers.
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Original poster

"Move your arse or I'll toss you into the bloody river myself!" It was not uncommon for refugees to seek an audience with the royal court. But why anyone would bother to wait in line for half the morning was still a mystery. The king only had time to see a fraction of those desperate commoners anyway. And with the troubling news popping up more and more often nowadays, he would have less and less time to give them his attention. It was unsettling, given how quickly the status quo of the political world was beginning to unravel. There was certainly reason to believe that someone was ready to take advantage of that. More than a few someones most likely.

None of that was a part of Caryssa Movrey's job of course. With the mysterious disappearance of more and more soldiers, the crown was scrambling to find more swords to maintain order around the city, as well as the entire realm. Thus, they were forced to rely on mercenary bands to uphold some of the duties that tho royal guards and soldiers would normally do. Caryssa arrived with her band, The Wolves of Byrn, a fortnight ago after learning how much the crown was paying mercenaries to work for them. She did not know where they were getting that money from, nor did she care. It was a commander's job to find work for his men, or in this case, her men. She was given command of the Wolves after Rynald was found dead along with twelve other men barely two months ago. No one was certain who or what killed them, but with the rumors that continued to flood into the city from all directions, Caryssa was growing more and more certain of what caused the slaughter.

Rynald "The Brotherless". Now that was a man she would remember with respect and gratitude until the end of her days, and not just because he was such an empowering leader. He had been like a father to her. A protector of sorts, not that she needed much protecting anymore, unlike when they first met. She was nine years at the time, and Rynald was probably at least of forty years. She never bothered to ask for some reason. All she knew was that this man looked upon her with pity and took her in, despite the fact that she was caught stealing food from their supply carts. Most men would have tossed her away and never spared her a second glance after that. But not Rynald. For whatever reason, he took her into the inn he and his men were staying at and bought her some food and a room to stay in. The only price he asked of her was to tell him how she found herself in such a desperate situation. So she told him:

Caryssa was born to a lowly washerwoman in Mellan. It was not a planned birth of course. Odalle Movrey was raped by a visiting nobleman. It was a name she could not forget no matter how hard she tried. Sir Vastien Delhan of the Shadow Knights. The unfortunate truth was that most folk looked upon him with reverence, or so she heard. She had never actually seen the man before. And for good reason. When Caryssa was six years of age, Sir Vastien returned to Mellan and somehow received word that a woman he had once taken advantage of had a child. And a man of his status could not have sired a bastard without placing a dark mark on his name. So he did what he had to do to eliminate any existence of such. The nobleman Odalle worked for, Master Cranton, managed to shuffle them out of his estate before the men sent to kill them arrived. Unfortunately that was not enough to keep her mother alive.

The moment they were outside of the city, Odalle managed to gain herself and Caryssa passage on a merchant's boat that was heading down the coast to make its way north on the Bay of Senalle. They thought they were safe, but fate had other options. A danger that no one ever seemed to forget was pirates. And though the ship's crew members were prepared for such complications, luck was not on their side. The pirates attacked the merchant's ship when it was well beyond the view of Mellan, and from there all hell broke loose. Caryssa still remembered the flag they flew, a red serpent on a golden field. Even now she was ignorant of what that flag meant. Blood was shed the moment the ship was boarded by its attackers. Caryssa was huddled against her mother's bosom inside the cabin, weeping as she heard the sounds of men screaming and dying. As if plundering the ship's gold and trade were not enough, a tall man with a forked beard stormed into the cabin and grabbed Odalle. The mother pleaded and shrieked that she could not leave Caryssa, but her words fell on deaf ears. Clearly the man had a use for her, one that did not bear thinking about, but no need for the young girl.

As quickly as the pirates came, they were gone just as quickly. Caryssa did not know how long she stayed in that cabin for, clinging to herself as her tears continued to pour. Why had they taken her mother from her? And who would take care of her now? Where could she go? It was not until well into the night that the remaining crew found her still curled up against the wall of the cabin. And though they pitied her, they could not take care of her like her mother did. They had lost almost all of their supplies and trade, their captain was killed, and none of them had the ability to burden themselves with her.

So they sent her on her way when they made port. They did leave her with a small bag of money, but for the life of her Caryssa did not know where she could go. The crew would not let her stay on the ship. Her mother worked as a cup bearer when she was Caryssa's age, but only nobles required cup bearers. Where would she find a noble to convince her that she could work? It was all hopeless. For the next three years of her life she was forced to live on the dirt streets of whatever village she happened upon, hitching rides on carts that happened to be going in the same direction. Few people wanted anything to do with a lost and lonely girl, so she took to thieving as a means of getting food. It was something she became quite good at before long, and eventually she grew bolder in the items she stole. She would often steal jewelry and other items of value, selling them to low end shops for far less than they were worth. She even stole a small short sword. She kept that particular item for herself, thinking she could learn to use it one day. The more time Caryssa spent on the road, the harder she grew and more determined she became to live on and make a better life for herself. But those memories of the past, of her mother, never truly left her.

Amazingly, Rynald did not send her off when it was time for him to leave along with his mercenaries. He did not ask her if she wanted to stay with them, nor did she ask to be allowed to travel with them. But she followed him anyway. Most of the time he was busy negotiating a bargain with a potential employer or making sure all of their supplies were in order. He did not hesitate to answer any questions she had either, unless they were about his past. Not even his men knew what his history was, though they devoted themselves to him loyally. None even knew his surname. He would only name himself as "Rynald" or "The Brotherless", whatever that meant.

The longer she spent with these mercenaries, the more she grew to feel like she was a part of the Wolves herself. Most of the time she would learn the ins and outs of what Rynald's job as commander entailed. But when she reached eleven years of age the group's head swordsman, Captain Leyhton Grolan, agreed to finally teach her how to fight. She was awful to say the least. Caryssa was foolish enough to think that her experience with the small sword she carried at her side was enough to make her at least adequate in a fight. Leyhton quickly dispelled that assumption and took to training her daily, except on occasions when he was busier than normal.

Men would die fairly often. One could not expect to be part of a mercenary band without seeing death. The interesting thing was how they dealt with the losses. Sure they mourned their lost brothers, but they also took joy in the fact that they knew them to being with. It was odd to Caryssa at first, but she grew to accept it as part of what they did.

She was nearly seventeen years of age when they first allowed her to fight alongside them in one of their hired attacks. That was the day she considered herself to be a true member of the Wolves of Byrn. By then she had adopted twin blades as her weapon of choice, deciding she was more adept at using her agility to fight rather than lugging around a shield. She sustained a wound to the leg during that first bout, but her reaction surprised even her. Not only did she continue to fight, but she laughed at the blood running down her leg when it was over.

Being the only woman in a mercenary band of men came with its own problems of course. More than one of them had tried to pull her into his blankets at night. None were successful of course, and none dared anger her when she was essentially the commander's daughter in all but blood. Beyond than that, however, Caryssa found that she could not return the affection any of them tried to show her. She loved them all of course and would die for any one of them in battle. But she simply could not bring herself to think in a way that would allow herself to love one of them in a romantic way.

When the time came to pick a new commander, Caryssa seemed to be the only one surprised to find her name among the list of nominations. It was met with criticism of course, as the wolves had never been led by a woman. Until she came along there had only been one woman among their ranks before, an archer named Tarine well before Caryssa was even born. But no one denied the sense in the pick. Not only had Caryssa progressed quickly in her combat abilities, but she learned much of what Rynald had done as Commander secondhand. And though she was hesitant to admit it, the thought of leading the Wolves excited her. Maybe this was the life she wished to find for herself all those years ago.

"I'm sorry, sir. I have a terrible limp and am moving as fast as I can," mumbled the middle aged man who was stumbling while carrying a crate of what looked to be spiced rum. Those who were behind him seemed to be growing impatient.

"Well then we will have someone carry this crate for you if it is that bothersome," Fairdric grumbled. He was not happy about being placed in charge of the men responsible for managing the line of commoners wishing to see the king. But Caryssa was convinced that his ability to keep order was more than helpful in job like this. She proved to be correct, as he already managed to silence the entire line with his voice alone. Sometimes she wondered why Fairdric even carried a sword when he could shout his opponents to death.

Caryssa stood with her arms folded across her breastplate as she watched the fine job Fairdric and the others were doing, a slight frown decorating her forehead. The Wolves were growing restless over these last couple of weeks while working for the king. Sure they were getting paid handsomely for it, but they had not seen a true battle in ages. Keeping city folk in line and acting as a security force was not nearly as exciting. But that was not the main thing that worried her. What of these demons everyone spoke of? Were they really what the faith keepers claimed they were? Caryssa was not exactly the most spiritual of people, but if other common folk claimed to have witnessed their existence too....

She snapped away from that thought when she noticed a lone woman carrying a sword at her hip. That was peculiar, for the woman did not look highborn. The way she was dressed told Caryssa she was probably from some village. How had the guards let her in with that blade? And now she looked to be walking in the direction of the Sept. Not even the highborns were allowed to carry arms there.

Caryssa trotted off towards the woman and grabbed her roughly by the arm. There was no point in being polite. "You're not allowed to be carrying arms in this city, miss. Especially if you are trying to enter that," she bellowed, pointing at the Sept. "What is your name? And who is the fool guard that let you in with that sword?"


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Sigrid realized she must be going in the right direction by the mass of people crowded near the perimeter of what seemed to be the largest building in this foreign city; the king's abode, no doubt. The Rune Warrior could identify a castle, despite having never seen one before, and to say she wasn't slightly awestruck would have been a lie.

It was her temporary preoccupation with the alien structure of the great edifice that tore her attention away from the crowd. And it was only because of this that she failed to notice the woman advancing on her, until she found herself seized by the arm. Naturally, Sigrid responded to the affront the only way she knew how, and what was with assertion. In one, quick motion, she tore her arm from the armed stranger's grip, and her hand immediately went to the hilt of her sword. "If I were not allowed to carry my weapon, I would not have made it past the gates," she replied, calm yet firm. "My name is Sigrid Sørenson of the Rune Warriors of Vyrnne. And I am here to seek answers."

"Hey! Don't you start anything!" A refugee dressed in tatterdemalion attire snapped, as a circle began to form around the mercenary and the warrior. They anticipated a fight. "One bad egg like you, and they'll throw the lot of us out of this city! We'll be food for the demons!"

Casting a sidelong glance at the man that spoke, Sigrid's attention quickly returned to the woman who had questioned her. She knew better than to take her eye off the enemy. "I start nothing, and finish everything," she said, quoting advice from her late mentor. "I am here by permission of the holy man whose life I saved from these 'demons' you speak of." To prove she wasn't lying, she held up the pendant the old man had given her. "I was promised sanctuary within these walls. If I am to understand correctly, you would be in opposition of the deities you worship."

The crowd began to murmur, astounded at this Vyrnne stranger's audacity and reluctance to stand down in the face of authority. But Sigrid was not looking for a fight. "I don't raise my sword to start a fight. Only to end one. I don't know this city, or you people, and I am not comfortable without a means to defend myself. I seek only what I have stated; you can take that as you will."


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The quick reflex of the woman took Caryssa by surprise. It was not often that someone would resist authority like that. And the few times she encountered someone who had the audacity occurred only with those who were too inebriated to realize who she was or who she worked for. But it also indicated that this woman was likely dangerous with that sword of hers and probably knew how to use it better than most. All the more reason to make sure she did not have a chance to use it inside these city walls.

"Draw that blade and you will find yourself in a dungeon before you can even ready your stance," Caryssa retorted through gritted teeth. Five of her men appeared inside the circle, readying their weapons in case things got ugly. She waved them off with a flick of her hand. They looked hesitant but immediately obeyed and began clearing away the crowd that had gathered. "We are not in the habit of throwing out refugees given the odd recent occurrences, but if I am forced to I will make an exception."

Groaning at the outburst from the random citizen, Caryssa did her best to ignore whatever murmurs were coming from the crowd. She glanced around at the faces briefly and could see that quite a few were interested in seeing if a fight did indeed break out. Caryssa was not worried about that of course. If a fight was inevitable she had an entire mercenary band at her back, not that she even needed it. Then again this Sigrid woman had already surprised her once, so it was best to not let things get out of hand here. A closer inspection of the crowd revealed that many of the refugees were frightened as well, either by seeing bloodshed or fearing that the lone outburst was true in some way.

Upon seeing the pendant Caryssa raised an eyebrow. So, this woman had a little bit of substance to her. But she was not yet ready to buy in to the idea that a holy man lent it to her. Anyone had the ability to rob a man of the faith. Most simply chose not to for fear of disrespecting the gods.

Relaxing her posture, Caryssa raised a hand and addressed the mass of people who still refused to clear away. "There is no trouble here, so if that is what you are afraid of then be on with your business. You have nothing to fear from this situation." Some seemed to hesitate at her words, wondering if they should stick around to see how this played out, but they quickly dispersed when Fairdric stepped away from his duty and began shouting at them to clear off in a way only he could. "You bloody tarts bugger off and let us sort this out like good and civilized people! There is loads of work that needs doing and we don't need you lot gawking every time someone steps on the wrong foot. Clear off!"

Caryssa nodded a quick thanks to Fairdric before approaching this Sigrid woman, making sure she resisted the urge to keep her hands close to her weapons. "You nearly caused a panic with your unnecessary outburst. See that it doesn't happen again." Her tone was firm but calm this time. "I won't pretend to be impressed by that trinket of your's. I'm not stupid enough to believe every man or woman out there reveres the gods so highly." She forced her tone to soften a little, not wanting to rouse this woman up again. "I understand your concern with safety. But you can rest assured that you are safe inside these walls. Not a single demon has crossed them." Not yet anyway. But she kept that thought to herself. "So if you would, please kindly turn in your weapons. Only those who are in service to the king's army may walk around armed. I am sure it is uncomfortable but if you wish for refuge in this city you must respect its laws."


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"Threatening me will not guarantee that this blade will stay in its scabbard," Sigrid countered, staring down this audacious city authority. Despite how it may have looked, the Rune Warrior's refusal to submit and yield her weapon was less an act of disrespect, and rather more of a play on her own survival instinct. Unfortunately, this was likely only evident among those familiar with the warriors of the village of Vyrnne... and few beyond that village could claim familiarity with them.

It was only on this realization that she decided going on the offensive perhaps wasn't an ideal tactic--not when it wasn't necessary. And of a weapon caused more of a stir than it did to serve good...
Then handing it over was not submission. It was an act of peace; something about which, at times like these when kingdoms were on the precipice of war, she found herself forgetting.

Pressing her lips together, she drew her blade slowly, so as to indicate that she did not mean to make malicious use of it. Her fingers clutched the old steel carefully as she offered it to Caryssa, hilt first. "I am investing good faith in you that you'll return this to me, prior to my departure," she said, before her reluctant hand released the blade completely. Immediately, she hated the feeling of not having it on her person. It was a feeling akin to vulnerability, like being naked in a crowd; in fact, that might not have bothered her quite as much.

"And I didn't steal this," she added, clutching the heavy pendant in her other hand. "I might not observe the same deities as those of you in this city--or any deity, for that matter--but theft is a sin in more than just a spiritual sense. And I'm opposed to it." For all of her tolerance of this woman's strong personality, Sigrid's patience was wearing dangerously thin. And she was not about to have her weapon taken from her without leaving with what she came for.

Taking a bold step forward, she folded her now empty arms across her chest. "I am not here to take refuge; I know how to survive without walls and gates to protect me. I came here with a purpose, and I will not leave until that purpose is fulfilled. So," the Rune Warrior arched a pale eyebrow. "Tell me how I might see the king. Or anyone else who thinks they can explain what is happening beyond the safety of your gaudy city."


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Caryssa raised an eyebrow as she watched the blade slide from its scabbard. The delicacy with which she gripped the hilt combined with her sense of complete control of the weapon supported her previous notion. Sigrid was indeed capable of inflicting serious damage with that sword. She had half a mind to inquire about her joining the Wolves. But she quickly put that thought out of her head as she took the blade in her own hands, passing it on to Velwin, one of her spearmen who happened to be standing by. It was a pretty sword, but not the most magnificent one she had ever seen. "I assure you, no harm will come to it so long as it is in the possession of the city."

How Sigrid came by the pendant was none of Caryssa's concern. She did not care how revered men and women who spoke to their friends in the sky were. It would seem she was not the only one to hold that opinion of spirituality. But the bite at theft almost made her wince. She had been a thief herself once, only for survival purposes of course. And she was certainly not proud of the things she had to do during that time of her life. But to ignore how important thieving was in bringing her to this point in her life was to ignore part of her own life. She would not stoop that low.

"I don't care how you came by it, nor do I care for whatever moral compass you direct yourself with. As long as you keep the peace like everyone else here then go about your business as you will. I'm only a mercenary commander. We don't get paid enough to watch every individual and sort out their problems for them."

She was about to turn away and leave until Sigrid's question made her stop. She wanted to see the king? She could not help herself. The laughter burst from her mouth like a fountain and she looked at the woman wondering if she had made a joke. But it would seem there was no jest on her face, and Caryssa looked her up and down with an intrigued eye. "If you think the king or any highborn folk will talk to you because you demanded it, you're sadly mistaken. Hell, I do the dirty work for them and they barely even speak a word to me. The only way to earn an audience with his majesty is to stand in that bloody line until they let you in or the world crumbles in on itself. And if you are looking for someone who understands what is going on out there, then I wish you luck in that quest."

He voice grew serious and she met Sigrid's eyes sternly but calmly. "I've heard people try to make sense of what is happening. Demons attacking innocents," she spat with frustration. "Not just at night, but in broad daylight, as if they have no fear of who will see them. The men and women of the faith say that it is a sign of the sins we must all repent for or be punished. I call that folly. Then again I'm as clueless as the rest of them so think what you will." Glancing about, Caryssa lowered her voice to just above a whisper, inching closer to Sigrid. "I will tell you this. The king has sent armies out. Hundreds of them. The largest one he sent was fifty thousand strong, four hundred knights among the ranks. They were sent north to the Red Mountains. Would you like to guess how many returned?"


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"I did not come here with the expectation of anyone sorting our my problems for me," Sigrid replied, narrowing her eyes. Already, this conversation was draining, the city itself was stifling... And she had only just arrived. Finally, it was abundantly clear to her why the Rune Warriors, or the people of Vyrnne and of the Lowlands, kept so close to themselves. Why so few of them ventured to find a home or a future beyond their culture.

Because this is what they faced. And she was far from impressed. Pressing her lips together, Sigrid folded her arms across her chest, forgetting about the pendant entirely. She needed no holy man's permission to be here; she didn't even believe in his gods. Conviction alone had carried her this far, and would continued to carry her. "I came here for answers; or for a means to find answers, at the very least. I have given you my weapon and sworn to you my peace. If I cannot see the king, then I'd be much obliged if you could show me to someone who has witnessed what I have. One of your fifty thousand, if you will--if any did, in fact, return at all."

Armies... Not one, but plural. Sigrid had known something was amiss when she'd found Gunnar mortally wounded. It had been confirmed for her when she'd found herself faced with one of the creatures, themselves. But for the ruler of this sad kingdom to be sending armies after beings beyond description, with capabilities that were anyone's guess... This was more than just a problem. This was a downright crisis. And if the people in this city, one with far better fortifications than the village of Vyrnne, then the Rune Warriors could be at risk. In many ways, they already were...

Those demonic entities hadn't spared Gunnar. And if they were beyond reason, logic and morality, then they would spare no one.

"I can speak for my own experiences, but facing one of what could be hundreds of thousands of these things is hardly an experience to impart. And I am no army on my own; I can't and won't take on what is out there by myself. It is crucial that I get some sort of account of what is happening," she said at last, blue eyes skimming the crowd. Had any of these peasantfolk so much as seen what plagued them beyond the walls? Or did they all simply cluster in fear? "I come from the village of Vyrnne, and I intend to return; but not as empty of information as I was on arriving. It is my intent to return with knowledge and a means for the Rune Warriors to defend themselves as those they hold dear." Lowering her voice, she returned her azure gaze to the armoured woman. "Your king offers no support or defense for those of us who live beyond the city. He will not help. And if you will not help, either," she unfolded her arms, and extended her hand expectantly, "then kindly return to me my sword. And I will find someone more useful and open to my cause."

It was not a request; it was a demand.


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This woman was growing tiresome with her insistent words. Where did she think she was exactly? This was not some village in which she could wonder in and expect someone to talk to her simply because she wished it. Caryssa had plenty of experience in such villages but she learned quickly that her behavior had to change depending on the environment she was in. In a village she could talk to just about anyone. In a city, she was as likely to find a knife in her back as she was to find a friendly conversation. Sigrid clearly knew nothing of those unspoken rules, as they only came with experience living in different environments. Perhaps she did indeed need a weapon in her hands if she was defend herself against someone she unintentionally insulted, which was very likely given her current demeanor.

"None returned," Caryssa huffed with a bluntness to her tone. "Only the head of their commander came back, dipped in tar so it would not rot." Still, if she wanted to talk to someone who had also witnessed these creatures, and somehow managed to survive, then she knew just the man. Moren Breck, the old man who spent all his time at the Red Leaf Inn, talking about the numerous things he encountered during his many travels. His most recent adventure landed him in front of one of those demons, or so he claimed. Until recently, Caryssa thought of the man as nothing more than a fancy storyteller. But with more people claiming they heard rumors of these demons and saw the messes they left behind, perhaps there was some merit to old Moren's tales. He was the only person in this city who insisted he saw the demons in person, at least he was the only one until Sigrid came along.

She ignored the request to return the sword. "He is not my king," she stated maybe a little too aggressively. "Merely an employer until my men are no longer needed here or we find better payment somewhere else. But why am I telling you this? I would not expect a woman from some remote village to understand the inner workings of a city like this." She gestured for her to follow, indicating one of the roads that took them deeper into the heart of the city. "But I do know of someone you might be able to talk to. Old Moren is a traveler, and while I don't necessarily believe every word that comes out of his mouth, he is the best option for you if you wish to speak with someone who has seen the creatures firsthand. Be warned though, he has an affinity for pretty young women."

"Fairdric, you have command until I return," she called to the man who was still preoccupied with the refugees clamoring about to reach the front of the line. He waved a hand to acknowledge that he heard. As Caryssa led Sigrid down the street to the Red Leaf, she kept a close eye on the ongoing activities. The other members of the Wolves would either be on the walls with the city watch or they would be at some inn or brothel taking a break from their duties. The commoners seemed to avoid walking directly into her path, having already heard that she was a commander of one of the mercenary bands hired by the crown. At least it prevented her from having to shove her way through raucous.

"I won't pretend to know what a bloody Rune Warrior is," she said more calmly than she felt, "but you must hold them in high regard to come all this way for them. Vyrnne is at least a day's ride from here, and you don't even have a horse." She glanced sideways at Sigrid but did not change her expression. "If you are willing to go all the way back despite the dangers out there then you are either truly courageous or truly foolish."

They finally came upon the inn. As expected, there was a large crowed gathered in front of the porch. Moren himself stood on the porch with a mug of ale in one hand and a throwing knife in the other. "That's him right there," Caryssa said, pointing at the man as he waived the knife above his head as if he were slicing at something above him.


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A crease formed between Sigrid's brows at the armored woman's demeaning comment. "You're right, I do not know the inner workings of this city--or any city, for that matter. If I'd wished to pretend, then I wouldn't have shown up wearing clothes native to Vyrnne." Not that she would want to pretend to be part of a place that was too busy swimming in riches and privilege to take notice of the people beyond its walls. "But this is not about the inner workings of this city. It is about what lies beyond, which is the only reason I am here. So you would save the both of us a lot of time by putting your condescending attitude to an end."

Frankly, Sigrid was apt to take her weapon back, herself, if this woman (who hadn't even had the decency to reveal her name) wouldn't prove to be of any help. But just as she was nearing the end of her patience with the city and its people, the conversation took a better, brighter turn. "Finally," she murmured, at the offer to be taken to someone who might know a thing or two about what was going on. "However crazy or sane this Moran is, he will do. Lucky for me, I'm not a pretty young woman." Not by her own standards, at least. Sigrid was raised among the Rune Warriors--among men. Practically brought up as one, or so her mentor had always said, claiming she was 'As good as the boys, if not better'. 'Pretty' was reserved for those women who donned dresses and wore their hair up in delicate pinnings and weaves, who flashed demure smiles and whose cheeks tinted pink at compliments.

'Pretty' was not for Sigrid Sørenson. She was something altogether different.

"I wouldn't expect you to know of the Rune Warriors. They don't care to be known by the cities," she mentioned with a shrug, and followed her reluctant guide's lead. "But yes, I do hold them in high regard. I owe them a good deal, perhaps more than I can ever hope to repay. More importantly, they are likely Vyrnne's--and all of the Lowlands'--only means of defense. I would not abandon them, in this time of crisis. So yes, of course, I intend to return." After all, what would her alternative be? Remain in that gods-forsaken city, with its population of overly-wealthy, dependent imbeciles, where she could hardly hope to acclimatize?
Risking her life among the demons beyond was, honestly, a more attractive option.

The inn was not far, and the Rune Warrior knew precisely who Caryssa was talking about as soon as she saw him. Moren certainly had that look about him; someone who had seen far too much, and who likely couldn't decipher dreams from memories. "Sometimes," she began, speaking to Caryssa without taking her eyes off of Moren, "the words of the crazy reap more fruit than the words of the sane." And without a word of warning, she pushed through the crowd, stepping straight up to Moren--who, startled, tossed the knife (however unintentionally) at his assailant. The crowd parted when Sigrid caught the blade by its hilt before it could hit her face, suffering no scratches or injury. "Moren, is it?" She addressed the old man, handing him back his knife, hilt first. Unlike Caryssa, she was not one to keep someone's weapon out of their reach. "I've heard you might know a thing or two about what is happening beyond this city. What do you know about the creatures plaguing this land?"


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Caryssa raised an eyebrow at Sigrid with fascination. She did not think she was pretty, or she did not want to think she was pretty? But she did not mutter a response. Her own experiences had taught Caryssa that men preferred ladies in fashionable dresses with numerous items of jewelry decorating their delicate personas. A woman in armor, or in Sigrid's case, traveler's clothes, was far less appealing. Not that it mattered to Caryssa what men thought of her. For as long as she could remember she had never met a man she felt infatuated with. Some would call a many of the Wolves charming and rather attractive in their own right, but she herself had never stopped to consider whether or not that was true. Some people would have considered it unnatural, but then again she was a woman commanding a mercenary band. "Natural" was not the best description of her.

Sigrid's impatience with approaching Moren took her a little off guard. And from the looks of it, Moren himself was as surprised as any. It still boggled her mind that he was one of the few people in this city allowed to carry a weapon with him, which was the main reason Caryssa had kept such a close eye on him. He still claimed that the knife was his only weapon, which was hard to believe considering some of the tall tales he boasted of so frequently. Why was he of all people given special treatment? He did not have any noble blood that she was aware of. Nor did he have any favor with the crown.

As the knife flew, Caryssa gasped to herself, knowing that it was well in her right to interfere now. And Moren drawing blood from another would give her a fine excuse to have him kicked out of the city. What she did not expect was for Sigrid to avoid the blade and catch it in her grip in what seemed an effortless maneuver. There were more than a few gasps of astonishment from the crowd gathered in front of the inn as well. Perhaps Caryssa would have to learn more about these Rune Warriors after all. Sigrid was young, so the prospect of a what someone who taught her was capable of was both frightening and intriguing.

With her curiosity roused, Caryssa strode forward into the crowd. Unlike Sigrid, many of these people knew her and her reputation. Many of them stumbled out of her path, though as she drew closer to the front it became much harder to get through, even with people scrambling to get out of the way. They probably expected her to arrest Moren for wielding his blade with the intention of harm. Instead she waited near the front of the crowd, waiting to see how this would play out. Would the old traveler finally be called out for spreading false stories, or was he hiding more than he was revealing?

He only stared at the woman in front of him while she returned his knife as if he had not just tried to wound her. His face grew pale when she presented her question in such a blunt manner. The members of the crowd, probably assuming this was part of his act, nodded and mumbled their agreements. Everyone was curious about the demons of course. "Perhaps you should come see me when I have finished with my story here," he said cautiously. "A table in the inn is reserved under my name. I will pay for the ale myself if you wish it." His eyes scanned the crowd, clearly nervous that they would grow impatient with his lollygagging. His gaze landed on Caryssa and she actually felt a slight amusement when he startled up and half bowed. "Commander Movrey! How long have you been here? I can assure you, that was no intention to kill. I was merely surprised by her sudden approach. It won't happen again, I swear on my life!"


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And here she had expected to, once again, argue her way to the information that she so sought. Perhaps it was all due to the surprise that Sigrid had stirred in the aghast crowd, catching the old man's blade with relative ease; sometimes all it took was demonstrating a small taste of your capabilities to assure someone that you were a force with which to be reckoned. Often times, it required violence, but without her weapon within her reach, that was not possible. She did, however, wonder at the man's possession of a knife. And yet I was not allowed to carry my sword... One of the many double standards that she was sure to encounter, here. The preferred and privileged operated under very different rules from everyone else. That was what the people of Vyrnne had always claimed, at least.

She had yet to find out otherwise.

"I believe you," the young Rune Warrior spoke at last, looking between Caryssa's wary visage, and the concerned expression of old Moren. What did he think would become of him, if this armed woman decided he was lying? Would he merely be thrown out of the city, or worse? Settling her azure eyes on the old man, she offered a respectful nod. "I apologize for interrupting you, and I take full responsibility for startling you. Anyone who has faced what lies beyond this city's walls would likely have acted likewise." Assuming he truly had witnessed the same sort of demons that she had felled, of course. "If you will speak with me later, at this inn, I would very much appreciate your input. Sundown, perhaps; would that be acceptable for you?" A bit of a rhetorical question, she realized; it was not as if the old man, in the presence of two women with either or both the authority and power to undo him, would argue the point. In any case, there were other matters that also needed to be sorted out.

Allowing Moren to return to his story telling, Sigrid turned once again to Caryssa, for lack of any other familiar faces. Someone who held authority was preferable, in any case. "If it is not too much trouble for you, I'd be more at ease were you to accompany me this evening," she said, her voice a mixture of expectation and just a little bit of hope. "That man is armed. And if I am not permitted to carry my sword so as to defend myself, then I'll require some sort of reassurance that he will not 'startle' so easily again. He clearly fears you; or respects you, but I would not know what respect looks like in a place like this." Either way, whether by this authority figure's accompaniment, or having her blade returned to its sheath across her back, she was assured some security in her pending discussion with the potentially crazy man.

After all, while 'pretty' was not part of her personal self-descriptive lexicon, she could not speak for the preferences of city-dwellers, and was not one to take unnecessary chances.

"And I have one more question," she said at last, decided to waste no time, be it her's or Caryssa's. "I understand that most cities function by monetary currency... is that the truth? I ask because it is not the way of Vyrnne. We are a village of trade only, in goods or services. Are there any inns or shelters that would be willing to rent a bed for leather or animal skins?" This was where a visible hole in her confidence showed. Given the overpopulation of the city due to refugees, if there were even any spare rooms left, then they would be in high demand. No self-respecting city-dweller would likely want to compromise on currency; it might be easier (though far more of a burden) for her to sell the leather to someone who knew what the hell to do with it, and even then, she was unsure of what made a good deal.


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Stepping up a little further, just to be sure Moren knew she had little patience for his shenanigans, Caryssa eyed the both of them with a casual suspicion. She was beginning to wonder if Sigrid was more than she appeared to be, but she knew Moren well enough to know that a close watch had to be kept on him. But she had been given a direct order from the city's Steward that his weapons were to remain on his person. And the fact that the order had come from such a high authority made her even more suspicious. She had yet to pull a reason for this bizarre exception out of the Moren as of yet.

The crowd was growing impatient with Moren's untimely distraction, so Caryssa sighed with relief when Sigrid stepped down from the makeshift stage. Of all the things she wanted to deal with today, an angry audience was not among them. Moren seemed to be of like mind. As soon as Sigrid stepped away he immediately apologized to the people before him and delved right back into his tale.

Caryssa was about to turn away from the audience when Sigrid approached her again. The request was somewhat baffling. Her reason for wanting someone to accompany her while she spoke to Moren was a sound one. And she likely had no other acquaintances in the city, if Caryssa herself could even be called as much. But she could not deny to herself that she was indeed curious about this conversation. The tales of the demons were known to come mostly from word of mouth with only Moren having seen them firsthand, supposedly. A second witness could change things. If their descriptions matched up with each other then there could be little doubt as to the truth of their words. Unlike Moren, however, Sigrid did not seem to have much of a reason for falsifying her knowledge of the creatures. "Very well. Let's wait inside the inn. I could use a drink or two."

Curious. This woman had made it all the way here with no money. It was certainly easier to travel when bandits quickly discovered you had no items of value. But if she needed to buy some food? Or take shelter somewhere? She guessed that was the issue Sigrid was presented with now. "Odd it is, to meet one who does not use money." Vyrnne was certainly a good distance from the city. But it was still baffling that it could exist virtually outside of the kingdom's economy without any issues. During all her travels, Caryssa had only come across one other village of the like, but Lisse was so far to the north that its ground was covered in frost for nearly half the year.

"I don't expect any place here is going to accept your replacement for coin." She thought for moment, wondering if she trusted this woman enough to assist her in the dilemma. "If the leather you are willing to sell includes that jerkin of your's then I may be willing to help you pay for a room here." She did not wait for an answer, letting Sigrid contemplate the offer for a while as she stepped through the inn's front door. Inside, the Red Leaf was much less crowded than the porch outside. Caryssa wasted no time in approaching the innkeeper, a sturdy middle-aged man by the name of Barrin. "Three ales, Barrin. We will be at the table in the corner. And if you can, see that no one attempts to intrude on our conversation." She slid him an extra silver coin for that last bit.

She returned to the table in the corner and regarded Sigrid with an inquisitive look. "Have you considered the offer then? If not you are more than welcome to sleep in the barracks with my men. Though I don't expect you would have reason to enjoy that." A young serving girl brought three mugs to the table.


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Sigrid followed the armoured woman into the inn, heedless of the glances cast by strangers. She was an outsider in every sense of the word, from the way she spoke, to her accent dialect, down to the clothes she wore and the way she conducted her commerce, through trade and not currency. Despite not being the only one from far away to take refuge in the city, the Rune Warrior by far stood out the most. And she had no idea how long it would be before the whispers and sidelong glances would begin to bother her.

But there were more pressing issues than her personal comfort, and she was more than aware that there was no room in a day for pettiness. Taking a seat across from her new comrade (even if only by business), she looked down at the leather in which she was clad, carefully considering the offer that Caryssa put on the table. Her boots, belt and jerkin were by no means new, at least four years old from the day she crafted them, yet they all had their use. Given the shelter in the city, however, and the warm weather of late springtime, it was of little consequence to trade some of it away, especially if it granted her some peace of mind. About the only thing with which she would refuse to part would be her sword, having belonged to Gunnar some time before. But to the jerkin, she harboured little to no attachment, save for the simple hours that she had put into making it.

Staring into the mug of deep amber liquid (and wondering if she would eve have the tastebuds for this rumoured 'ale' beverage of the city), Sigrid offered a shrug and a nod in response to Caryssa's question. "It would not be the first time that I would have been among the men sleeping in a tent," she mentioned, recounting the times when she had traveled with Gunnar and his party on hunting expeditions that spanned days and nights. "But given how unacquainted I am with the people here... a room to myself would be preferable. At least for the time being."
Without another thought given to the offer, the Rune Warrior loosened the lacing at the front of her jerkin, and pulled the garment over her head without much difficulty, leaving only the old, offwhite tunic that she had inherited secondhand from another Vyrnne inhabitant, and the sturdy brown slacks and boots that endured all forms of leather.

"I can hardly guess why someone with armour such as yours would desire something as sub-par as this," she commented, handing the leather article across the table to the woman, "but you are welcome to keep it in exchange for a place to stay. With any luck, I should not be stationed here for more than a week. As soon as I have the information I need, I'll return to Vyrnne and formulate a plan from there... If they are willing to take me and this situation seriously." And there was no guarantee of that. But they were still Gunnar's people--her people--and she had to try.

Picking up the mug, Sigrid let the bitter ale slide down her throat, the taste inciting a crease between her brows. She was undecided as to whether it was refreshing or very unsavoury, but for the sake of a good rapport, and out of respect for the fact that Caryssa had ordered it for her, she would finish it nonetheless. "If I might ask for one lat thing in return..." Her azure gaze drifted from the mug, and back to the face of the woman across from her. Yet another woman of strength and authority--something that she hadn't imagined she would see, even beyond the traditional patriarchy of Vyrnne. "You have my jerkin, my sword, and my name, now. For the sake of equal exchange, I am in no position to ask for your weapon. But I'd like your name... To address you, if for no other reason."

O.o.C: Sorry this took so long! I was away without internet for a while there!


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Caryssa took a long drought from her mug. A long day of doing nothing but watching common folk bustle about their days trying to avoid suspicion was a more stressful job than one would think. But it was nothing an afternoon spent with some good ale could not fix.

She almost grinned at the thought of Sigrid trying to make herself comfortable among her men. Surely she had never camped with a band of mercenaries before. Luckily this particular one was led by a woman, one that did not condone rape or any sort of violence against one who was innocent in their actions. Still, Caryssa could not end some of the disgusting habits they took in, like having pissing contests over the bodies of their sleeping comrades. There were more than a few times she thanked whatever deity might exist that she was born a woman, even if that came with its own set of problems.

"Armor is great protection, but it's not ideal for wearing when I am not on duty. I have some shirts of my own of course, but a leather jerkin like that would be far more preferable to what I own." She had never cared to buy herself nice clothes. For as long as she could remember, money was used to buy necessities, such as food or drink. Clothes were simply afterthoughts in Caryssa's mind, though she did not deny that there were indeed some rather elegant gowns and dresses owned by the noblewomen she came across. Sometimes she envied them, but she also knew how corrupt favoring material possessions made them. That was not a trap she ever wished to fall into. Besides being a corrupt individual, it would require her to act like an innocent little flower around every man she encountered. And what self respecting woman could ever want that?

It occurred to Caryssa that Vyrnne might not be the safest place to be, no matter how skilled she claimed these Rune Warriors were. If these demons were as dangerous as everyone was making them out to be, then the journey back there could be suicidal. Who knew how long it would be before such an isolated village was overcome by this evil? Somehow, this did not seem like the type of argument Sigrid would be interested in hearing. There would have to be another way to convince her not to go back. Or at the very least, not go without company.

Half choking on her drink, Caryssa sputtered at the question. In all the confusion she had completely forgotten to give Sigrid her name. "My apologies. Caryssa Movrey, at your service," she said matter-of-factly, raising her mug as if to toast to her own name. "Commander of the Wolves of Byrn, though I don't expect someone from a village as remote as Vyrnne would be familiar with many mercenary bands, especially when said village has no currency. We tend to flock to where the money is."

Finally, when her drink was more than halfway depleted, Caryssa spotted Moren approaching them with a too calculated swagger for her liking. She let her hand glide across the hilt of her sword to remind him who he was dealing with. Unfortunately he took know notice of the gesture or did very well to ignore it. He plopped himself down in the third seat at the table and grinned at the two women before him. "So, Sigrid was it? Might I say, I never expected such a remarkable young woman to approach me so aggressively." He lifted the third mug at the table to his mouth and drank for what seemed like a full minute.


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Caryssa was correct; Sigrid had never heard tell of the Wolves of Byrn, or any other mercenaries, for that matter. There was no need or Mercenaries in a peaceful and self-sustaining village such as Vyrnne. In fact, the very idea of selling one's skills as a warrior was, in some light, rather appalling to the morals and standards with which the Rune Warrior had grown up. The idea and philosophy behind fighting in Vyrnne was very much attached to a sense of duty and honouring one's predecessors, and to sell one's skills with the sword, the dagger or the bow was unthinkable. It truly opened Sigrid's eyes to just how different life outside of her home was, and reminded her that she could never really belong to a place like this.

Swirling the amber ale in her mug, Sigrid looked up as the woman presented her belated greeting, and nodded in acknowledgement. "Well, Caryssa Movrey, I hope that we can recast our initial meeting in a different light, and set out on the right foot," she said, thinking back on her rather brash reaction just hours before--and that of Caryssa's somewhat overbearing demand. But it was clear that this woman was far more valuable to her as a friend than an enemy, and she would get nowhere in this foreign city if they didn't waft this water under the bridge. "Please accept my apology for overreacting. When you come in from the wilds, with creatures roaming that you can nary identify, it is difficult not to react aggressively."

And speaking of behaving aggressively...
Sigrid looked up as the old man--Moran, was his name?--came to join the two women at the table, a swagger already in his step eve before he picked up that full mug of ale, which he probably did not need. Despite that she'd never drunk it herself, the Rune Warrior was well aware of its effects on the human mind. The people of Vyrnne didn't tend to partake in the state of inebriation, and frankly, she wondered why anyone would ever be so quick to lose their faculties to a drink was beyond her, and Moran's state made her all the more hesitant to finish her own ale.

"Yes. Sigrid Sørenson of the Rune Warriors." She nodded in greeting to the old man. "And I do apologize if I have come across as aggressive--I promise, that was not my intent. Though you may do well not to play with knives so idly, my friend." It was not a threat, but merely a caution that the old fool should consider. Had she been someone else, without the instinct and reflexes to catch that stray knife and remain unharmed, death would no doubt have resulted. "But now that you're here... I wonder if you can tell me what you know of what creates are suddenly roaming this land, such that suddenly everyone must flock to the cities for safety that might not even be assured." She glanced at Caryssa briefly, before returning her intense azure gaze to the old man. "People are sent after these demons, only to never return. We are not learning anything of this deadly threat, and if this continues, then I fear not only for my own village, but for everyone here as well. So please." Sigrid leaned forward, mug of ale clasped tightly in her hands. "Tell me what you know--or what you think you know, at the very least."
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