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Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Sycamore, Aug 25, 2014.
DAEWYN WYNGARD || Princess heir to the throne of Imanity || Daughter of King Aelfraed Wyngard the Wise
It was early in the morning on the day that Daewyn set off from Zanna on her journey. Those who came to see her off at the city's borders were few: just her father, his guard, and her eight loyal friends who made up her Fyrdish Guard. The princess heir had shed all her palace finery and now donned a suit of fitted armor beneath a dark green cloak, appearing at first glance to be just an ordinary girl travelling through the country. Were it not for her companions and her finely crafted weapons and armor, she might have been mistaken for any traveler. "Come back safely, alright?" whispered the youngest guard, a 19 year old with brown doe eyes and a soft temperament as she and the rest crowded close around her, whispering words of endearment and good wishes. "I have no doubt that I will, my friend," Daewyn whispered in return. She hugged each of her guards in turn, all dear friends she had been raised with, ending with the Captain of her guard. His normally steely expression softened as he said, "I hope you will remember what I have taught you. I know you will return to us safe and sound." He stepped back, saluting her proudly with his right fist over his heart, then bowed deeply, as was the Imanitian custom. The others did the same. "May the sun and stars light your way, My Lady," the Guard echoed as one. "And may the world be good to you till next we meet," Daewyn finished, saluting in the same way. She swung herself back atop her horse, grasping the reins firmly, and nodded to her father. Then, with a warlike cry, she dug her heels into her steed's sides, galloping away into the forest.
Daewyn rode until the sun was at its zenith. In truth, she had stopped more for the sake of her horse. In a forest clearing, picturesque in every manner, with a small brook running through the grasses, sparkling as it twisted and spun in the sunlight, the mare stood next to her seated figure, tied loosely to a nearby sapling and grazing nonchalantly at the grass. Daewyn drew the sword from its purposely battered sheathe and examined it, turning it so that the blade blinked as the light reflected off its curved edge. The balance was absolutely splendid and the sword itself was as light as a feather, having been designed with the princess in mind. It was with hesitation that she slid the magnificent weapon back into its sheathe, reattaching it to the saddle. Twenty minutes later, she was back in the saddle and galloping away along the forest path, already halfway there to her destination: the city of Belyth.
She arrived just as the sun descended below the horizon. Strangers and foreigners were common in this town, it seemed. A brightly lit tavern caught her eye, and she headed over to it, tossing the reins to her horse and a coin over to the stable boy. Entering the tavern, she seemed to be just another tired traveler from out of town who needed a place to stay for the night. Sword, bow, and quiver of arrows concealed beneath her cloak, she kept her hood up as she ordered a hot mug of cider and a plate of food. When it finally arrived, someone sidled into the seat opposite her. She glanced up, her grey eyes flashing in annoyance when she realized it was just a drunk. Her hand crept to the knife on her belt anyway, hoping that she could talk the fellow out of whatever he wanted.
"Hello, young lady," the man slurred. His liquor-tainted breath smelled like something died, and Daewyn crinkled up her nose and leaned back in her seat. "Can I help you, good sir?" she asked, resisting the urge to retch as she looked at his stubbled face from beneath the cape. "Yeah, how about you take off that cape so I can see your pretty face? And then maybe come home with me tonight? You see, I pay pretty we--" a flash of silver, and her knife was at his throat just as his finger touched the fabric of her cloak. The entire tavern was suddenly silent as heads swiveled and all gazes focused on Daewyn. She froze, then sheathed her blade slowly, never taking her eyes off of the offender. His eyes were suddenly wide and sober, and he grinned at her before motioning to the rest of the people to carry on. The tavern returned to a general chatter, though Daewyn still caught glances, some hostile, some uneasy, directed at her from the corner of her eye. "So," she said, looking at the man over her food.
"You were pretending to be drunk?"
"I could have slit your throat right there."
"True, but I doubt you would have. Those are some fine reflexes there, Lady Wyngard."
She studied him for another few seconds, then smiled. "It's good to see you again, Rath. It's been a while."
"Yeah, apparently seven years is enough for a little girl to grow into a young woman. A young woman with deadly skills. And enough for you to forget your old friend."
"Nonsense. I haven't forgotten you. You just look a lot worse for wear, that's all. I had to be sure."
"Hmph. Your tongue's sharp as ever."
An old friend, Daewyn thought. Banished from Zanna for smuggling in books from Erathia. A good, loyal friend. I'm sure Father had no choice. "I knew you were here in Belyth," she laughed. "But honestly, how'd you get so tattered-looking? This stubble will simply not do. And your clothes. You smell as though you haven't washed in a month."
"It's been one and half months, now."
"By the gods, Rath. What happened to you?"
"Well, I'm homeless now. I live on the streets and steal from women and children to survive."
Her mouth fell open. "Rath!"
"Kidding, kidding. It's just... Anneka died last week."
"Oh god. Rath, I'm so sorry." Twenty six and already a widower. A good man. He didn't deserve it.
"It was all of a sudden too," he said, rubbing his chin. "Just out of the blue... I saw it happen... We were in Casmerdan and she just got paler and, well, you're gonna call me crazy, but I swear she grew older in front of my very eyes. Until she withered away, an old lady. People thought I was burying my mother."
"What..." Daewyn stared at him. "How could this be? What could have happened to her? Could it be... Rath, we'll speak in my room. Ears are everywhere and this tavern is getting quieter and quieter."
Paying the tavern owner a couple of coins, Daewyn received a pair of keys to room 12 and ascended the creaky wooden stairs to the second floor with Rath following close behind her. Opening the door, she was greeted with a small room with two beds and a dim gas lamp that sputtered and flickered every couple of minutes. A far cry from the royal quarters, but it would do. She'd slept on bare ground before. At least she had a roof over her head and food in her stomach. Sitting down on one of the beds and setting her personal belongings down on the floor, she motioned to Rath to take the other bed.
"I hear rumors of a new cult," she said in a hushed voice. "Mostly in Erathia, but whispers of it here and there from the royal spies in other countries as well. None yet from Imanity, so I'm glad of that."
"I've heard talk of it as well," Rath replied. "I hear that they're able to work miracles for the common people. Heal sicknesses that were deemed fatal. Even bring the dead back to life. And for no cost at all. When I was in Casmerdan with Anneka, all I heard was praise for this new cult. Of course, I haven't been in Erathia, where I hear the cult is gaining followers quickly... I'd check that out."
"Yes, I'm supposed to do that, actually... King Aelfraed sent me to explore Erathia as well. Not as the princess, of course. As a Casmerdian."
"Aye, he's wise, your father is. Not many kings would think of sending their own daughters to investigate rumors like these."
They talked for another hour or so, and then Daewyn bid Rath goodbye. "Where are you going after Belyth?" he asked at the door.
"Probably Derwand, then I'll make my way to Nemith and eventually to Casmerdan. Then I'll enter Erathia from there."
"I see. You be safe then, Princess."
"Of course. I wish you the best, Rath. You're a good man. May the sun and stars light your way."
"Aye, thank you. Farewell, Daewyn. And may the world be good to you till next we meet." He leaned down and kissed Daewyn on the forehead, then swept off down the hall. Daewyn wouldn't see him again. His body would be found a month later, hanging from one of the trees in the nearby woods, a drawn picture of his wife clenched in his cold hands.
Several months passed and Daewyn journeyed throughout the land to various villages, towns, and cities. In this village, she worked as a farmhand for an elderly couple. In that town, she apprenticed herself temporarily to a swordsmith to learn the art of creating a deadly weapon out of a lump of metal. In that village she learned how to fish and in that one, she worked as a grocer, doing arithmetic and accounting for the day's sales, and even tweaking the prices a bit to maximize income. Winter was upon her when she finally reached the border between Imanity and Casmerdan. The blizzard howled and her mare nickered nervously as they made their way towards the border guards. "Easy now," she whispered, patting the horse's neck. "We're almost there. And then we'll ride straight to a nice, warm stable. I promise." The guards at the border checked her weapons quickly, and she watched them run back to the little cottage they were stationed in to get out of the blizzard. One of the guards, one who must have just come of age, nodded to her. "Lady, you'd better be careful. I hear of strange things going on in Casmerdan. Best of luck. The closest town is about ten miles from here, so you'd better get there before this storm worsens. It doesn't look like it's going to let up any time soon."
"Thank you." Daewyn nodded, hitching her horse into a gallop. The road was covered in four inches of ice and snow, but for the most part, it was easy enough to traverse. The horse's hooves were quiet in comparison to the howling wind that gusted and whipped through the trees, sending branches crashing to the ground. Daewyn ducked close to her mare, wincing as the sleet whipped her face raw and turned her gloved hands into frozen fists. It wasn't long before they reached the town, however, and seeing the little lights blinking through the snow storm, Daewyn breathed a sigh of relief. She checked in at the inn and handed her horse off before immediately booking a room and heading upstairs, away from the chatter. She collapsed onto her bed and into a deep, dreamless sleep.
In the morning, the sun shone brightly through the motheaten curtains into the room. Icicles glittered, dripping with water as they melted under the warm gaze of the sun. It's already so late? Daewyn chided herself as she stormed down the stairs, strapping on her gear, and called the stable boy for her mare. At least her horse was well rested. It's just straight to Erathia now, she thought. Just a couple more weeks of travel.
Two weeks passed, during which Daewyn slept under the stars on frozen patches of ground or in a forester's hut when she was lucky. Before long, she'd reached the border between Erathia and Casmerdan. Honestly, this entire cold war is just absolutely ridiculous, she sulked. I can't understand why they allow it to go on. It's extremely inconvenient and it would be so much more beneficial if we just opened trade and the borders between Erathia and Imanity again. When I am queen-- Daewyn shook her head. I should petition Father to end it now.
The day she crossed was a calm and day. The cold was still sharp and it still bit with needle teeth at her fingers and nose, but it was bearable. Not the frostbite-causing cold that had plagued her for the last two weeks. She thought to herself as she rode into Erathia about all the strange things that had been happening lately in Casmerdan. The cult had spread there, and when she cornered a member to ask about it, all he had done was smile creepily and mutter praises. She shivered. Something doesn't feel right. It can't possibly be all good. It's never "all good." There must be some sort of catch to the miracles they're performing. Some sort of toll is being taken, and I will find out what it is. Trotting along at a leisurely pace, she rode into town just as the sun was beginning to set. She patted the bag of Casmerdan money on the side of her saddle, happy that there was more than enough to last her a month. The people work hard, she thought. They earn barely enough to support themselves, but they work so hard and they seem happy. Admirable people.
The tavern she stopped at for the night was quiet and decent. The folk kept to themselves, and from what she could hear, they were generally respectable. But they were all talking to someone. She glanced around, hoping to find a loner who she could talk to, maybe direct questions to about the country. Finally, her eyes stopped on a young blond man, probably about her age, sitting alone at a table. She slid into the seat opposite him and lowered her hood, looking him directly in the eyes.
"Hello. I'm from Casmerdan and new to Erathia. Could you perhaps tell me a bit about your country? Or be my guide? I have money I could pay you with. But of course, I'm being rude. My name is Daewyn. What is yours?"
Laxus Magnus, Crowned prince of the kingdom of Erathia, son of High King Astros Magnus
There are nights, when the winds blow kind and peaceful, when the stars are lighting the fields in those ghostly colours, so inviting with their promises of adventure and freedom, that they just lure your spirit forth. The night, when Laxus began his "epic quest", as he liked to call it, was a one of those. The sky had apparently decided to display all its splendour and glory and the full moon that was lighting Vrazhdebna's streets was just one of the contestants in the celestial glamour show. As he was leaving the castle, dressed in a long brown cape with a hood, there was no one to accompany him, but some of the King's hounds, who were following him diligently, unable to grasp why their master would leave his home alone at such an hour. Nevertheles, as he was reaching the massive wooden gate that separated the castle from the rest of the city, Laxus knew that all eyes in the keep were upon him. Even the servants were probably peeping from holes and creeks, unable to resist the temptation of seeing the King's son embark on his journey. His father, of course, was also probably watching from the halls, with Thorren Shield by his side. "Let him be, the old geezer had had his fun. Now it's my turn." Laxus smiled as he made a sign to the guards to open the doors for him. He remembered their faces quite distinctly, although if his life depended on guessing their names, his intestines would become a feast for the vultures. That wasn't due to bad memory, instead, the royal guards were all recruited through a test similar to a tournament so they came from all around the vast Erathia, bringing their incredibly various names, weapons and fighting styles along with them. That's why, although they may have considered it a bit rude, he only smiled and nodded in appreciation as they both raised their weapons (one was armed with a long axe, whilst the other one was holding a sword that had spikes all over it) as they would to a royalty and whispered "Safe travels, your Highness.". Safe... huh, where was the fun in that! He was going to do anything BUT safe! There weren't many people in the city and he deliberately strayed away from the squares and streets that were the busiest. He saw the two large gates of the capital, close ahead of him. One of them was always kept open, while the other one would be opened with the dawn.
As he moved towards it, he sensed someone touch his shoulder. His initial reaction was that of a surprise and distress, since he was so focused on reaching the gate that he had forgotten about the rest of the world for a while. He quickly realised he was highly unlikely to get robbed at the capitol of Erathia, especially since one scream would draw the attention of the gate guards. He slowly turned and his expression went from interest to annoyance. "What are you doing here, Morrden?" he asked as politely as possible, seeing his Shield stand in casual citizen clothes beside him. "Your Highness, allow me to come with you! I have given an oath to protect you from all harm and I can not let this... this brutal rite of passage expose your life to danger. My father had also accompanies your father, let this become the new tradition." he recited all of it so fast that Laxus suspected he had been rehearsing it for days. It was true that his father had accompanied Astros, but Thoren was nothing like his son. He had probably caused more problems for the High King than he had solved and had certainly caused more mayhem across the land. In short, while the elder Shield was a passionate drinker with a refined taste for trouble and adventure, his son, Morrden, who was standing before him right now, was a by-the-book type who took joy in lecturing Laxus about his bad habits. Sometimes the prince though that guy's spirit made a huge mistake when choosing a body to be born in. He would be a great knight in some of the Church states. He knew about their code of knighthood from the books that the cunning Thorren had managed to somehow secure from the Royal Librarly of Imanity.
"Morrden, a prince can have a companion, yes, but you are such a desperate buzz-kill, that I won't be able to do anything. I plan on working with the lumberjacks and stone-workers, to drink with the brewers and sleep with peasant girls. Is that really something you will bear without bating a word?" "Yes, Your Highness!" the man stated after some inner struggle. "See!" Laxus almost shouted "Even saying it hurts you! There is no way you will be able to live this way for a year, let alone let me enjoy it." Seeing the man's sturn face begin to soften, Laxus continued "Let me prove it to you - I bet you're carrying a whole bag of golden coins right now..." "Yes, but only if there is an emergency-" "...you have your ancestral armour underneath that coat" "But that's -" "...and the sword in the handle is one of the two family swords". "Don't tell me you didn't take your own sword, your Highness?" the man's eyes widened. "I only took two daggers" Laxus said carelessly and added, seeing Morrden getting ready to protest, "I'm not going to war, Morrden! I'm going to blend in, people don't go around carrying weapons everywhere, do they" The man stood in silence, realising there is truth in Laxus' statement, but it was obvious he was still quite uncomfortable. "At least tell me what name would you use, Your Highness, so I may know if I hear some news about you." "Laxus", the prince smiled widely "But Your Highness!!!" Morrden almost shouted, not believing his ears "Do you know how many boys are there in Erathia who are named Laxus, after me, Morrden? DO you think anyone would even remotely suspect that prince would be travelling and using his own name?" he was almost angry at the other man not seeing his ingeniousness. Morrden stood firmly for some time, until he unreluctantly smiled and said "I see all those late nights in the library haven't gone to waste, Your Highness. I wish you safe travels and great wisdom." after which he proceeded to raise his sword in the air, much like the guards have done, and stood like this as Laxus walked away into the night...
The first night after his departure made Laxus realise how utterly useless he was in hunting or cooking. He had tried to catch some rabbits and mice in the forest with a meticulously devised traps, but for some reason no animal was so deluded as to find its way towards them. Laxus was not easily discouraged, but as the night approached and his stomach was angrily demanding its dinner, he decided to cook some mushrooms that he knew from the books were tasty and not poisonous. He found a whole lot of them, making a note to himself, that hunting for something that doesn't move is much easier, and decided to save some for the following days. He gathered dry wood, which was abundant under the dome of the thick pine trees, but all his attempts to set them ablaze were futile. As the night engulfed the forest, he began to spot the spirits moving around, with greater ease. The little kodama who catered for the trees and were a sign for the healthiness of the forest, were utterly ignoring him and the animal spirits were frightened of him. All of a sudden, a fire elemental appeared, looking at his efforts with amusement. Laxus realised his efforts to make fire msut have attracted the little flaming spirit in hopes of a dinner. "Look, why don't you just help me, huh?" he suggested, making a sign for it to come closer "Set those on fire for me and we will both eat. Everyone's happy, right? Well, everyone but those being eaten, but that's the circle of life, I don't need to explain that to you of all things." the spirit didn't look convinced and continued to walk around him for sometime, until it disappeared. Laxus regretted, for a thousandth time probably, that there were no books on shamanism, since apparently seeing the spirits and talking to them didn't mean too much. Soon he gave up and decided to sleep hungry. That was quite hard, as he was used to abundant food in the castle, but eventually he fell asleep. He had to jump awake, sometime later, as a blazing fire was burning from his firewood. Either he had started something unknowingly, or the flame spirit, which was now feasting upon the ashes, had finally granted him his mercy. Whatever the case, Laxus weakened the fire, so as not to burn the trees around him, and cooked his mushrooms with delight. He was happy there was no one noticing he burned a couple at first, but eventually he went asleep with a full stomach, waking up late in the afternoon on the following day.
The next day he encountered a travelling bard called Sovriff. Storytellers and and writers, as well as singers were much appreciated in Erathia, so the profession of a bard was a respected one. Laxus got the attention of the man, by showing off his knowledge of Erathian literature and folk legends, even singing a few songs . After that display of skills, the bard was more than happy to take him as an apprentice. Together they travelled the land, visiting quite a few towns and villages. Laxus got drunk countless of times, until he finally got some relative mastery of the craft and increased his knowledge of his own country's folklore by quite a bit. He was trying to remember as much as possible, as he planned to make a book of all the previously unwritten songs and tales. His wanderings led him to hear preachings of the cult of the Azure here and there, but the bard didn't like them too much, so he strayed away quickly. Laxus eventually realised he could live his entire life this way and not be full of it, so one day he told the bard he wanted to make his own way. The man was sad, for they had become good friends, but he also said that it was about time Laxus made his own way as a bard, for he was too good to remain an apprentice. Socriff gave him an old piece of paper with his signature as a certificate he could show to the bard guild of Erahia, to show he has been trained and promoted by a member. As they raised their fists in the air in salute, the went their separate ways. One thing that Laxus had no idea about, was that a bard had to pay his apprentice an amount of money after the latter had completed his service to him, so he was quite happy to get a good amount of golden coins with High King Tyr's ugly face on them. He trembled at the though that he could finally afford to sleep in bed, as he had not previously done ever since he had started his travels.
Laxus actually returned to the last town they had visited together, as the cult was quite famous there and decided to look for any work to do - he wasn't going to waste his hard earned money so easily!! Fate seemed to smile at him, as it turned out the local brewer was looking for someone to help him around, as he was already quite old. Laxus had gotten quite familiar with the beers, each made differently by the different brewers, so he was glad to take the opportunity and learn more. He offered the man to pay him if he was to take him as an apprentice and the man agreed. Grraavash told Laxus he had not trained an apprentice in ten years and he was ready to do it one last time, before retiring. In order to learn the craft, however, they had to travel around, in order to learn the different ingredients and the best places for them. Laxus was both happy and sad, he loved to travel around Erathia, but he was once again missing a chance to investigate the cult more profoundly. Grravash and Laxus travelled far and wide, even more than he did with Sovriff, unfortunately they never stopped at towns, for other than to buy food, as they produced everything else, even the barrels (which apparently were also an ingredient for the specific ale). The journey took a long time, he was not sure how much, but at some point his life as a prince or a bard seemed quite distant. Eventually, the brewer's health got worse and he saw the thick, slimy spirits of decay dance around him sometimes. The old man knew death was drawing near and he wanted to return to his home town, where his brother worked as a blacksmith, to live the last of his days. Laxus offered to accompany him, but Graavash firmly denied "This journey is mine alone, boy. You will go to the town of Stonebridge, it's name is quite ironic, eh? It's because it is close to the border. You will meet the local brewer - Hassreh, he is an apprentice of mine. He will teach you the last of the arts, it's not too much really. When you make your first keg, give it for free to the townsmen. This is the last time we see each other. You were a good lad, I'm not sad for this ending." Laxus has never been afraid of death and as all Erathians he knew better than to cry for something so natural, but he could not help but feel sadness, as the old man walked back through the woods. He was also a bit surprised - all men were able to sense when their death was near, but Grravash had agreed to teach him first. That meant he had known he had enough time to finish Laxus' training before he headed back home to die and having known the man for quite some time already, he knew that the old brewer would never had agreed to teach him had he believed he would not manage to finish it. Perhaps he had miscalculated his time... there is no other explanation.
Laxus had absolutely no desire to continue his education as a brewmaster as he had grown bored of it already, but he had nothing else to do and rumour of the cult using Stonebridge as a stronghold to sneak into Casmerdan had reached them on the way, so he decided to head that way. He would probably never visit that Hassreh, but he could stay in Stonebridge for a while go to some of those sessions the cult was doing and if he was lucky he would see some miracle with his own eyes. He also wanted to do something he had not been able to do before due to not being alone - speak to the local shamans about the cult. He remembered the day his father, along with Thorren and Grr-mahh the shaman residing in the castle had asked of him to investigate this cult of he Azure. The usually silent shaman was quite outspoken about it "I can't tell anything, since I haven't heard anything about it from the spirits around here, but I can tell you this: to obtain something, another thing of equal value must be given. There is no other way in nature and all things come from nature. My Lords, that cult is not, cannot be of nature. Speak to my brethren, they will know what the cult is doing to the nature around them. The spirits will know."
It was evening when he reached the town of Stonebridge and he headed straight to the tavern. The cold of the winter was beginning to take the land in its snowy grip and snowflakes were falling as he opened the wooden door and found the nearest empty table. As a newcomer, he was offered a complementary mug of beer with his food and as he tasted it, he could guess the different ingredients - that was probably brewmaster Hassreh's work, since it tasted too familiar. Some final touch-ups and he could produce something similar... perhaps finishing his training wasn't such a bad idea after all. As he took a large sip and started feasting, happy he had saved most of the money the bard Sovriff had given him, he heard another person coming in. His curiosity overcame his hunger, making him turn back and look as a young woman in a hood asked the innkeeper to take care of his horse, offering him a fer coins for the service. Just by that gesture he immediately knew she was not a local - what a silly though, to pay the innkeeper for taking care of your horse! It was his duty as a host and the man quickly refused it. Before the door closed he heard horseshoes hit the ground and his initial assumption was confirmed -no Erathian would ever put horseshoes on their animals' hoofs. The outsider probably didn't even notice that everyone present looked at her, since only the corners of the eyes of no more than one person on a table glimpsed at her for less than a second, their heads remaining steady. Even in such a town close to the border outsiders were apparently not too often found. Laxus realised he had also looked at the woman in the same manner his fellow countrymen did. It was such a stupid thing to do, since he had seen endless amount of much more peculiar-looking foreigners in the castle. He quickly dismissed the though the he did not look at her only because she was a foreigner and decided to concentrate on his food instead. He did note, though, that the complementary mug of beer that he received was not offered to her. So rude... that attitude had started so many wars...
To his surprise, though, the girl scanned the room and lost no time taking a seat on the wooden bench on his table. Her clear grey eyes were staring at him as she spoke in a loud and friendly voice. She took off her hood, revealing a beautiful face with long black hair. Laxus was so surprised that he missed half of what she said. When she asked for his name, he discovered he had lost his ability to speak and only a couple of undecipherable sounds came out of his mouth. He shook his head, afraid that she may take those murmurs for his name and think his silence as a lack of desire to communicate on his part, he quickly gave her his best smile, after all he also had to make up for his people's rudeness, and said as clearly as possible, probably too loud "I-I'm Laxus. I'm not a local, actually, and Erathia is quite different in the different regions, but I would gladly show you around. And you could tell me all about your country, I have never been outside. What are you doing here anyway?" He immediately realised his time amongst the simple folk has had its consequences on his manners for a question like this could be considered rude. But then again, she was straightforward too as well. Nevertheless he added "If that's not a secret, of course."
DAEWYN WYNGARD || Princess heir to the throne of Imanity || Daughter of King Aelfraed Wyngard the Wise
Daewyn leaned forward slightly, her black hair falling in a sheet of glossy black as she strained to catch his words. "Pleased to meet you, Laxus," she said, smiling in return and folding her hands on the table. The eight months she had spent out in the countryside had roughened them, creating calluses and scars on a princess's hands where there should be none. Of course, some of them were from swordplay and sparring matches, but they could just as easily be from a cooking accident. They looked like commoner hands, worn rough through use and work. She was proud of each callus and scar, though sometimes she did miss the feeling of smooth flawless skin. She glanced down at her fingers, studying them as she broke his gaze. Maybe I'm being too direct? she wondered to herself, no, this is how the common people prefer to talk, right? Without the sweet lies and deception of court. But maybe it's different here. I'll have to find out.
"Thank you, Laxus." She looked up and met his eyes again, nodding once in gratitude. "I appreciate it greatly, even if you aren't a local. I'm sure you'll do just fine as a guide. And of course, I would more than willingly answer any questions about Casmerdan that you might have. It's the least I can do to repay you for your kindness." She sighed inwardly in relief. Thank goodness I anticipated this. I knew someone was going to ask and I couldn't just tell them I was from Imanity. But was that too formal? It sounded okay to me. "As for what I'm doing here, well..." Should I tell him? Should I lie? "Well, to be honest, I wanted to make my way to the capital, Vrazhdebna-" damn, I probably shouldn't have pronounced it correctly; I bet all foreigners pronounce it wrong "-and to learn more about the Azure. You see, in my hometown, there's a couple priests who arrived two months ago and I wanted to learn more about this new religion. I hear rumors that they're able to perform miracles, and--" Suddenly, Daewyn became aware that the room had grown silent and the atmosphere had become tense. For the first time, she caught sight of the darting glances that people shot at her from the edge of their eyes, and she leaned back, flipping up her hood so that only her mouth remained visible, a thin drawn line. "Laxus, let us go elsewhere to speak," she said, quietly but tightly. "I fear that our conversation topic is not welcome here. I will wait for you outside. Excuse my rudeness."
It wasn't the fact that they'd been eavesdropped (by the whole tavern) upon but that they'd continued to, thereby treating her with disrespect. Daewyn was fully aware that no one knew who she really was, but surely even treating a commoner in this way was considered disrespectful. Nevertheless, her pride smarted, a princess's pride built on the years of sitting besides a king at court.
She swept up her weapons in a flurry of movement, her light armor rustling beneath the cloak and strode out of the tavern. Dozens of eyes watched her as she left, blatantly staring at the back of the slender figure clutching weapons that probably weighed half as much as she did. One man even spat as she swept out into the cold, and more than a few muttered misfortunes under their breaths. Daewyn was never truly good at concealing her emotions, but her face at this time was expressionless. Only the stormy grey eyes beneath the rim of her cloak were seething with anger and humiliation at these people of a foreign land who had not welcomed a foreigner as her own countrymen would have, but turned her out, isolated her as a threat and a pest to be driven out. Damn my temper, she cursed, shaking her head as her horse was brought out to her, nickering in indignation at being led out into the cold air again. The stable boy looked to her in hopes of a coin, having been paid earlier, then scowled and turned away, shoving his hands in his pockets and retreating to the warmth of the stables when he realized that the stranger was definitely not going to pay him again. I thought we wouldn't be overheard in that tavern. Taverns are the best places to share secrets. Amidst the chatter, prying eyes and ears find it nigh impossible to distinguish one voice from the next. They seem to be extremely touchy about the subject. I wonder why. Have strange things been occurring here in Erathia, even at the farthest reaches of the land? If this is how it's like in the small towns, then what about the capital? Her father's spies had told her about the expansion of the Azure and how it was met with radically different opinions, but this was not something she'd thought of.
"Well, whatever," she muttered to herself, attaching her sword, staff, and bow to her horse's side before climbing atop the mare. She rode her in small circles and figure eights, watching as the hoofmarks marked the snow and ice with the "u" shape of horseshoes, trampling it down until it was simply a patch of tightly packed snow. She glanced towards the entrance to the tavern, watching for her blond-haired guide.
Laxus listened to her with growing interest. Something in the way she spoke reminded him of his days in court, although this girl was clearly no nobility, judging by her directness and the marks on her hands, suggesting a long life of labour. It also did not escape his attention, that she pronounced the name of the capitol correctly without hesitation, which was not something most foreigners could do. Well, truth be told he had mostly dealt with foreigners from overseas, so his few encounters with traders and book sellers from Casmerdan were hardly a representative sample. This caused him not to dwell on that any more, especially when she mentioned the cult. A foreigner who has come to seek the cult - that was his luck finally at work! All he needed was to stick with her and he would get into the heart of this sooner than he'd anticipated. He just had to be careful.
The first thing Laxus noticed was the instant change in people's behaviour. It was as if a sudden thrill passed through everyone in the tavern. While there was a general attitude of unfriendliness towards the foreigner when she entered the room, people did not concern themselves with her presence any more afterwards. Their general attitude could easily be explained rationally, since in all the wars in which Erathia had been involved until the peace treaty it was always the towns near the border that were reduced to ashes, so even though times have gradually changed, the memories were still embed into people's consciousnesses. And yet, as soon as the stranger had mentioned the cult, Laxus saw the general unfriendliness quickly revert to outright hatred. He had never seen Erathians behave like this and what was even more alarming was that it was everyone behaving this way. People in his kingdom were mostly individualists and rarely would they react as one like they have. He wanted to silence the stranger, as she continued to talk of her plans, but it was already too late- the damage was done. Well, at least he knew he had gone to the correct place to investigate. The stranger noticed the glances a couple of moments after him and stomped outside in anger, telling him he'd wait for her. Laxus could not blame her for not instantly sensing the tension, after all this was a totally new world for her. And even though he was born in Erathia, he would never had anticipated such a reaction.
Despite his wish to instantly follow her, he knew that would only hamper his efforts to blend in and investigate the cult from the inside. He sighed and returned to his food, with a blank expression. With the foreigner gone, the distress she had brought seemed to also disappear, as everyone returned to their casual tone (not without forgetting to swear at her occasionally, as he noticed), forgetting about Laxus' existence. He ate slowly, without pleasure, as he was too anxious to meet her again and possibly atone for his people's rudeness. Yes, after all those were his people, he was the prince, so their shame was his shame! After finishing his meal he went to the innkeeper to pay, as was the Erathian custom and had to decline, with great sadness, his offer for a room. He guessed his new acquaintance wouldn't want to spend a second longer in this tavern, judging by her explosive attitude. He also bought some dried meat and a horn of mead, since he noticed she had not had the chance to eat due to her rage. Sometimes the foreigners were so childish... he had observed it countless of times at his father's court. Erathians were also quite an emotional folk, but they knew how to master their feelings... that that he in particular was too good at it, though.
As he bid the innkeeper farewell and headed off into the cold of the night, he was left simply astonished to see his new foreign friend pace around imperviously on the back of her horse! What in the name of all spirits was she even doing?! Didn't she know the master's feelings are conveyed to their follower as well? The poor animal looked deeply disturbed and rightly so, it had expected a rest and calm sleep in the barn, while it was suddenly brought out in the cold and asked to pace in anger, as if for war. It had no idea why it should be angry and to whom should it direct it's assault to. No wonder it's pace and speed were at disarray. Laxus had almost forgotten about the girl, in his amazement, and had walked up to the mare, touching its head and conveying his calmness and wish for reconciliation to it. The animal seemed to understand, though it was apparently never trained this way. It stopped its heavy breathing and even lowered its head for him to pat. Realising how weird this must seem to his new companion, he looked at her and quickly explained:
"It was distressed, I calmed it. It's... how we train animals... it's always with a shaman and... well, never mind really" he realised how terrible his explanation must have sounded and hurried up to change the topic "Please, do not blame the people of this town, the last time we Erathians have seen foreigners bear arms, they were very quick in putting them at work killing us. Some people find that hard to forget." he deduced she may not be very convinced, so he hurried up adding "This is not how people in other regions usually are. Anyhow, I though you may be hungry?" he handed her the dried meat and the mead "How about we leave your horse to rest and have a walk in the woods? I also have a thing or two to say, that I wouldn't like everyone to hear..." He realised just how silly he must have sounded to a foreigner, since for all those he had seen, the forest was a scary place, especially at night. But he knew it was better than any other when it came to hiding away sounds and, in this case, words. He could only hope she would agree and not stubbornly refuse a request to go through the woods alone with a member of the same race that had just rendered her furious with its disrespect in the tavern. If he had to explain all of this right here, where everyone could hear them, his wish secrecy would no doubt alarm the cultists and they would probably not get anything more, no matter how much they pokes around. If she didn't ask him anything, he had the home that the townsfolk, cultists or not, would assume him trying to be romantic, or something, so they could come back later and freely explore them, maybe even go to one of those meetings that miracles wre done!
DAEWYN WYNGARD || Princess heir to the throne of Imanity || Daughter of King Aelfraed Wyngard the Wise
Once her anger had cooled to a slow simmer, Daewyn instantly began to regret her actions. Father would be ashamed to see me act so... vulgarly, she thought, I should behave with more pride. The commoner habits are growing on me. I have to remember who I am. Hold my head high. Refrain from such uncouth behavior. At the very least, everyone probably believes me to be a commoner now, and an uneducated one at that. I certainly acted the part. If they knew who I was... but they don't. So there isn't a point in imagining otherwise. She shook her head, bitterness etched across her features. I should probably just go. I'll make it to the capital by myself. I'm sure I can always find another guide. I wonder what Laxus thinks of my actions. Is he disgusted? Shocked? Hmph, probably. If he doesn't come outside in the next couple minutes, I'm going to leave. She patted her horse on the side of her curved neck, feeling the beast's warmth spread up her arm in spite of the cold. Her breath appeared in small puffs of white vapor in front of her face.
Seconds later, the tavern door opened, letting out a flood of warm light, and Laxus's silhouette appeared in the doorway, rushing out towards her. She couldn't make out the expression on his face, but she imagined it was one of shock when he strode directly up to her horse and began to sooth her, patting the horse's muzzle. To her surprise, her horse, who she had named Miza, seemed to grow calmer as Laxus continued to stroke its muzzle. "How..." Daewyn whispered in a small voice. "I raised her from a foal... she yields to none but me. How did you win her trust so quickly?" Listening to him explain, she nodded quickly in understanding. Shamans... Father warned me about those as well, she thought, her eyes narrowing microscopically. "Thank you, then. In my temper, I hadn't noticed her distress. I apologize for my behavior. My temper is quick and though I was brought up to be more temperamental, my control occasionally slips. It has been a long week of travelling, and both I and Miza are tired, though that is no excuse for my actions back there."
He followed up his explanation by changing the subject quickly, and her temper flared up again as she cried, "yes, I understand that. My kinsmen are the same. Those bitter days remain fresh in their minds as well. But is it not only because of the hostilities and the attitudes of the people towards foreigners that force us to bear arms? Treating a foreigner with disrespect in my country is one of the lowest things one may do. They are our guests, and though we may not welcome them, we honor them with our hospitality." Her voice hushed to a whisper. "Was I wrong to expect the same?" She sighed in exasperation at herself, disappointed that she had let her temper run loose again. "Forgive me, Laxus. I do not mean to offend you or the Erathians. But I am glad to hear that others treat foreigners better. Thank you for the food. I had a meal a few hours ago, so I'll save this for later." She sighed, taking the food and the horn of mead from his hand and slipping the dried meat into a small bag hanging from her horse's saddle. The mead, however, she tied to her belt. A swig now and then would do well to warm her up. She didn't particularly like to drink, and when she did, it was only the best wine at the King's court, but it was cold and she could overlook the bitter taste of alcohol.
At his suggestion of entering the forest, she gazed at him for a second longer than needed, then dismounted her horse and untied her sword and longbow from the saddle, tying one to her belt and slinging the other around her shoulders. Her eyebrows arched as she replied, "Well, I'd like to hear what you have to say, then. Let's find a different stable, and then you can show me the way. I do not fear the dark or the forest," she said, "I am a better fighter than most. If any sort of danger comes, I am well-disposed to deal with it. Wait for me here, and I will fetch a lantern after making sure Miza is in good hands." She nodded briskly at him before turning and leading her mare off, the obedient animal trotting behind her and nickering every so often. She nudged Daewyn's arm with her nose and huffed a warm puff of air, and Daewyn hugged the mare's head, kissing the beast on its furry forehead. "Ah, Miza. You're the only one I can trust for sure right now," she said wistfully. I miss my Guard more than ever. She found a warm and cozily lit stable, tossed a coin to the stable boy for extra oats, and walked off back towards where she had left Laxus, rejoining his company under the dim glow of the tavern's lights in the dusky darkness.
Laxus listened to her almost lose her temper once more and though, with annoyance, that she was like a small child, for only those behaved in such a way. Normally one would not pay attention to the angry words of a child, but something in her tirade surprised him. She said her kinsmen have also been scared by wars and had bad memories of them... As far as he knew, Casmerdan was mostly a trading country, it had been neutral throughout the wars between Erathia and Imanity, so that's why they would treat any foreigner with respect. There was definitely something weird about her, that she was trying to keep hidden and he was going to find out what. Not that he could blame her for keeping a secret from an absolute stranger, when he himself wasn't entirely honest about himself. He thought how funny it would be if she knew she was talking to the prince of this land and asked himself if she'd have behaved differently.
Upon hearing her boosting of her own combat abilities he only smiled, for a skinny girl like that could hardly deal with a strong male attacker on her own, despite her weapons, which, he noticed, were quite peculiar, not something any commoner would be able to get their hands on. Nevertheless, if she felt more comfortable carrying them around, he couldn't care less. Could this girl be a spy, he wondered based on her peculiar inventory and choice of words? No, there was hardly anything she could learn from this town.. though she did mention willing to go to the capitol. As she slid into the darkness, looking for a stable he began to question his own trusting nature and decided to carefully select his words in her presence, at least until he would get to know her better.
As the time passed, he stood in the solitude of the night, thinking what his mentors would do in such a situation. Of all the people who have taught him stuff, he though of the crafty Thorren, who had even managed to get him books from Imanity. "There are two things you need to automatically assume when speaking to a foreigner, Laxus-boy" the old man had said to him one night, after catching him sneak into the kitchen to grab a bite, after he'd skipped dinner "First of all, the hate and despise you. Despise, because they think us for crude barbarians, still living in the past. Hate, because despite all of this, we are still standing strong. That's why they will lie through their teeth and not regret it. The second thing is, that they are greedy. They all believe in those "demons" and "gods" but one thing is for certain, inside them all lives the demon of gold-lust and it always wins, when fighting the others. With enough gold and some sweet-talk you can get them to sell their own family. Trickery and deceit, Laxus-boy that's all they know, that's all you should give them." He shook his head, back then he had told Thorren to stop being so negative and the man had laughed at him. Yet now he was dealing with a foreigner who was lying to him. Should he assume the other things as well? No, Thorren was as sly as an old fox, but he could be wrong as well. As he saw the girl approach, Laxus decided that it is better to trust and regret, than doubt and regret. After all, what's the worst that could happen...
She had not taken a lantern as she had intended and he was happy about that. "I assure you, no further light is needed than the spirits have provided for us, your eyes will quickly get adjusted." he spoke pointing to the bright stars. As they started walking towards the forest in silence, he did not even realise he has extended his right arm in a gesture that noble men made in order to catch a noble woman's hand when walking together. How insanely idiotic must that seem to the simple folk, yet a sudden theory came across him and he decided not to pull back his hand in order to see if she would take it unconsciously, as any high-borne lady would.
When they were have already entered the thickness of the forest, which started as the last houses of the town ended, he rejoiced at the sounds that animals and spirits were making. Little kodama were walking all around, some even jumping on his shoulders as the made their way across the trees, doing their own work. The higher branches of the trees were filled with miniature water spirits that have crystallised in ice and where they had made their lairs, the trees were slowly freezing. He could barely make out some spectral and living larger animals, sneaking past them in the flora, while the only animals which did not shy away from showing each other were the unusually furry northern rats, that seemed to be al lover the place. Those were the only animals headstrong enough to not only reveal themselves to the intruders, but also try to take a bite off their boots. Laxus even kicked some, seeing his companion follow his example with delight. There were bats which he could hear, but not see, also the northern furry ones, which he had heard were extinct in other countries of the continent. As soon as they stumbled across a large owl, that followed them lonesomely with its large, judgemental grey eyes, before it spread its wings and cause snow to fall all over them, he knew they were deep enough in the forest for no human to be able to hear. What's best, he knew they were the only humans around, because apart from them, the forest seemed full of its own business, totally undisturbed by their actions. He began to speak, quite enthusiastically, since regardless of the occasion he hadn't had a chance to share his fears and presumptions with anyone since he had left the palace. "This cult of the Azure came through our overseas partners. It has completely overrun the city-states over the sea and is even dominant religion in some of them. We Erathians never made a fuss about religion, so no one bothered the preachers. The king though they'd get laughed at and give up and that's what happened at the start... until they started performing miracles, that is. Healing missing limbs, extending the lifespan of dying men with years, granting extraordinary talents to talentless people, even bringing the dead back to life. It hasn't been forbidden since no one has complained from it to the High King and so it spread like plague, reaching across the land. People who become members are incredibly devout and are doing anything to safeguard their secrets. I'm going to be honest with you... er... I apologise, I seem to have forgotten your name amidst all the fuss" he smiled awkwardly "I have come here in hope of finding out more about it. You have seen how those men behave, that is not how the people of Erathia, with all their dislike towards foreigners taken into account, behave usually. Why would they get so angry if their cult is all good? Well, the only thing I have overheard from my... er .. past acquaintances" he though of Sovriff and the old brewmaster "is that their uuum, how are they called in your land, priests? You know, the men who preach the organised faiths? Whatever, those guys tell them that they should be very secretive and protective, as all non-believers would potentially want to take away their "gifts". It doesn't make sense, right! Please, tell me you think like I do, for I seem to be the only one sensing something is rotten deep below". Laxus realised, only after he had finished his speech, that he may have become too passionate.
DAEWYN WYNGARD || Princess heir to the throne of Imanity || Daughter of King Aelfraed Wyngard the Wise
Could she really trust this person? She didn't even know he really was. He'd told her absolutely nothing about himself except for the fact that he wasn't from Stonebridge. Then again, she hadn't told him anything about herself either. Even what he thought he knew about her was wrong, that she was just a poor commoner travelling from Casmerdan. Who even knew if Laxus was his real name? But what irked her far more than her suspicions about Laxus was her silly temper. What's gotten into me lately? she wondered. I didn't have this problem before I came to this town. No more outbursts. Not another. It's not becoming of me. He's probably suspicious of me, too, so I must be on my guard.
Having returned to Laxus's side, she suddenly realized that she had forgotten the lantern. She opened her mouth to tell him that she'd go back and borrow one from the stable owner but he immediately said that there was no need for a lantern and pointed towards the stars. "The spirits, huh..." she mused in a whisper, more to herself than anyone else. As they walked, he extended his arm in a fashion that felt oddly familiar, one that she had not seen for nearly a year. Reaching up, she lay her own hand in his, but before their hands touched, she jerked back as if burned, remembering that to him, she was but a commoner. No commoner would walk with another like this. So I guess Imanity and Erathia have some similarities, she thought, taking note of the custom. But then, who is Laxus, really? It seems an unconscious motion on his part. Only amongst the royalty and the nobles is this custom practiced. But his arm remained up, hovering in the air patiently. "I suppose I am to take you up on your offer," she muttered softly, just loud for him to here, and laid her own hand in his. "You have been brought up exceptionally well, Laxus. At some point, I insist you tell me about your upbringing," she said more sharply and with more emphasis than needed.
Her eyes adjusted quickly to the night skies as result of years and years of hunting trips in the darkness of the forest with naught but the light of the moon and the stars to guide her way amongst the trees, and she glanced around at the strange new flora and fauna of the Erathian forest. Creatures, many times larger and heavier than she was, slunk past them behind the cover of darkness and the hand that was not in Laxus's possession darted to her knife. She had confidence that she could take them easily, should any of them decide upon either her or her companion as a nighttime snack, but remained wary, occasionally baring her teeth when one of the creatures drew too close. Something scuttled near her feet and attached itself to her boot. It was a northern rat, common in Imanity as well, and she sighed in disgust. I see these vermin live practically everywhere, giving the rodent a well-placed kick. She looked at Laxus for his reaction, conscious of her unladylike behavior, and was inwardly pleased to see his face light up in delight.
Looking up, Daewyn met the eyes of a large bird sitting heavily upon the branches of a nearby tree. Its gaze was intelligent, and it stared back at her fearlessly with grey eyes not unlike her own before taking off silently with a flap of its enormous wings, disappearing behind them in a blur of moonlight silver. The snow from its wings scattered over them, and a few particles ended up inside her tunic. She shivered, feeling the snow melt in tiny pinpricks of cold against her warm skin.
It was then that he began to talk, and Daewyn listened quietly, eyes growing wider as he spoke, nodding every so often and remaining silent until the end. She waved aside his apology for forgetting her name and reminded him of it briskly before saying, "no, you are right. Something is very very wrong, and I too intend to find out what it is," completely unfazed by the passion in his voice. Seems he cares an awful lot about this. Perhaps it is a personal matter? Or perhaps... after all, he is most definitely not who he seems... she thought, suspicions growing. "My worst fears are confirmed," she continued, still thinking. "I had hoped the rumors weren't true, of these... unnatural miracles that they perform." She almost spat out the word miracles. "But I know that when humans do things, although it may seem good, someone has to pay the price. Obviously, no cultist will tell us the secrets voluntarily... I'm thinking that to find out more, we'll need to infiltrate their meetings and strongholds." She suddenly looked up at Laxus, grey eyes as bright as quicksilver, her grip on his hand unconsciously tightening. Perhaps I have spoken too much...? "At least, that is what I am planning. Unless you have a better plan...?"
Her question trailed off into silence as she caught sight of movement deep within the forest, somewhere down the trail back from where they had come. Blades scraped in the darkness as their owners slipped them out of their sheathes... swords and knives and weapons that were distinctly Erathian, as Daewyn had never seen them before but in tapestries illustrating the great wars. She drew her hunting knives from their sheathes on her thighs, the bright metal glinting in the moonlight that filtered through the trees, the blades perfect for fighting in close quarters, blades that she had forged herself back in Imanity. They seemed to resonate in her hands, hungry for the blood of her enemies. "They followed us," she said to Laxus. "Apparently we're not as secluded as you thought we were." She looked at him, studying his face for a reaction as she said, "I will not kill them. Surely they are a disease on this earth, but killing them will only infuriate the rest of the townspeople and give them a reason to pursue us. Draw your weapon, Laxus. We are not getting out of this without fighting."
Her initial instinctive reaction to his open hand did not escape his attention and the fact that she took it despite that, reinforced his initial theory that this foreign girl was not just some commoner. A commoner wouldn't go out of her way just to investigate some peculiar new phenomena, at least most of them wouldn't. He was almost certain that she was more or less a nobility, even if her present state did not suggest it. Lots of things could be learned from a physical interaction with another person and as she took up his hand he could feel an incredible amount of self-confidence and decisiveness radiating from her fingers. Even if she wasn't a nobility, she was certainly something, he had rarely felt such total lack of fear and insane self-confidence streaming from someone else, let alone a woman! When she spoke, there was no longer even as much as a trace left in his mind as to her belonging to the higher class. Those were not the words of a servant or a worker who is used to doing someone else's bidding. No, no, no, those were the words of someone who was used to issuing orders and taking the responsibility. The words of someone who was not used to people talking up to them. He smiled as she mentioned his upbringing, he had anticipated her inquiring about that, after he made the gesture. "I will no doubt tell you all about it, Daewyn, but I'm afraid that it would be incredibly boring." well, he did't lie about that, contrary, he said the plain truth - his journey here was definitely the most exciting thing that has ever happened to him. "But I can definitely return the compliment" he grinned "and would love to hear about your upbringing." Daewyn... he had definitely heard that name before... somewhere. A beautiful name, appropriate for a noble.
Nevertheless, her words were wise and for some unknown reason he felt much better knowing they were on the same page as far as the cult goes. As he was about to agree with her plan and suggest some more details, he noticed the movement behind them, or rather sensed it, not noticed. It was not the slick and soundless movement of a wild beast or the ephemeral whisper of a spirit. It was the sloppy, uncanny movement of a man. Of several men, actually and they were all armed, their weapons hitting the earth and hurting the trees and small bushes as the men moved through the darkness. His vision was better adapted to seeing through the thick twilight created by the forest landscape and the stars above, so despite their hoods and attempts to stay in the shadows, he could recognise some of the faces that he had seen in the tavern. Daewyn was quick to deduce that too.
Laxus was not a great warrior. His father and Thorren both agreed that this was not a problem, since a king would almost never have to stand and fight toe-to-toe on the battlefield. "A King wins the battle in his tent, while planning it and his weapon is his wisdom." Astros had said and while Laxus generally agreed, in this particular moment he regretted not having spent more time with his arms teachers. Sure, he knew how to fight, but he lacked the sturdy backup of solid practice and as he was greatly outnumbered, his only ally being a feeble girl, that could be disastrous. For the first time since the start of his journey, he regretted not having taken Morrden with him. The man had sweated as much time on the sparring fields, as Laxus had spent in the library, so he would definitely be able to repel this assault. He hadn't been beset by such deadly a challenge so far, so his emotions swung from regret to fear and lastly, to panic, as he realised there was no way they could deal with the dozen men surrounding them. He though of attempting to talk their way out of this, but quickly realised this would be futile, seeing the conviction in their eyes, bordering on the edge of insanity. For part of a second, followed by great shame, he though of revealing his true identity, but quickly though that would only make their situation worse - the men would probably not kill the prince of Erathia, but what they would do to him was much worse and degrading. Regardless of his inner struggle, his expression remain unchanged, as he reached for his two daggers, one in his left boot and another one at the back, tugged in his belt, determined to fight as well as he could and get out of this alive.
Daewyn, unlike him, was unfaltering - she reached for her weapons, both quite peculiar, perhaps custom made for her. He knew she was not one to perfectly control her emotions, so her calmness somehow spread onto him. That incredibly confidence which her gentle touch had conveyed to him, now displayed itself to the fullest. There was also a hint of pleasure, as she took a fighting stance in an anticipation of the fight. Laxus promised himself, he would seriously talk to her about her identity if they both survived this. Her words reinforced this decision of his, as those words of not killing were just what he had read in the books of knighthood that he had read. It was stupid, of course, this was a kill or be killed situation and if those guys just ran away, they would come back with more reinforcement regardless of the situation. "Don't spare anyone, Daewyn. Cut the last breath from them without any hesitation - they have attacked us and whilst we've given them no reason to do so - the King's law permits it and even if it didn't, the spirit law does!" he said with steady conviction in his voice, as her calmness somehow caught on to him and he was able to think normally. "Those two holding metal blades that spread over their arms as shields and finish with dagger-like spiky extensions are Hattags. We can't beat them with our weapons, they are too heavy arms- both defensive and offensive, but their range is not too good, so try to stay away from them. That woman over there is holding an Arg - it's a very deceptive weapon, since it looks like two small swords, but they are connected by a semi-transparent metal link, if you're not careful it can cut through flesh and armour with ease, since it has been reinforced for years. It also looks like it has only a small range, but if the user is experienced, he can make the two parts together into a long-ranged double-edged spear with just one swing. Be careful, Daewyn, this weapon gives incredible amount of versatility to its user."
He couldn't explain the specifics of the third Erathian special weapon, since he had to block the attack from the first cultist - a tall man armed with a sword. Nevertheless, he did note, that all those weapons belonged to different pars of Erathia and seeing them all here meant that their users were also not all locals. There had to be some sort of a cultist gathering in Stonebridge. That's why all the men were so hostile when Daewyn spoke of the cult - they were not locals! They were all members, coming from different places in the country, gathering here for some unknown reason! He now wondered how many of the town's real occupants were actually in Stonebridge and if there weren't there, than what has happened to them? But it wasn't the proper time to dwell on this, as another attack came from the rear and he had to jump backwards in order to avoid being hit with another sword. Well ,at least his vision was better then their, he could use it to his advantage! With that thought it mind, Laxus rolled over behind a tree, moved soundlessly through some bushes and low branches and, as the men were cutting through the vegetation trying to locate him, he jumped behind one of them and before the person could reach, he stuck his dagger into her throat, as hard as he could, so that only the handle remained out. The person was a blond woman with blue eyes - she was pretty, but her mouth extended in a gruesome expression as she murmured some unknown words, before blood began to erupt from her mouth, choking her and pouring down over her clothes, mixing with the stream coming through her sliced throat. Laxus griped her long spear, a weapon he was more used to, and moved away from the blade of one of the men who had reached him.
It was his first time taking a life and his hands were shaky. He would probably never forget that woman's expression as her spirit began to depart from her body, her eyes beginning to darken and her mouth filling with blood. But it wasn't the time to regret and there was no reason to. That was the way Erathia fought, bot in wars with foreign enemies and inner oppressors - no hesitation, no remorse, no mercy. Every hit was mean to carry death and every swing carried murderous intent. That's why there were no tournaments in Erathia - it's warriors couldn't fight without really meaning the death of the opponent with every hit. That is what made its people seem so barbaric to the other states of the continent which worshipped the Light Gods. But as his momentary shaking passed, Laxus knew all too well he had done the right thing. The spirit world approved of this way of fighting it did not care for forgiveness or reconciliation - each action brought its consequences and those were inadvertent. Laxus made some distance between himself and the enemies, by making a rather long swing of the spear an that bough him tie to run further away and also look at Daewyn, who was effortlessly fighting three people at the same time, without giving them an inch of ground. As he noticed a forth man joining in and swinging a Kyggreh - a large metal weapon that looked like a battle hammer, but carried two blades on its sides, connected through small chains and spinning at tremendous speed with every swing of the main weapon, so fast they were hardly visible, all he could shout was "Daewyn, stay away from the sides!" He knew there was absolutely no way for her to even reach the user of such a weapon, it was designed to attack one person, keeping his allies away, or directly shredding through a group of tightly-stack enemies. Perhaps one of the deadliest in the Erathian military arsenal every part of this weapon, both the hammer head, its spiky handle and especially the two blades, moving at tremendous speeds on the hammer head' sides was mean to go through even the hardest of armours and could cut through visually anything, while keeping an enemy at a sword distance away. It did limit manoeuvrability. though, but with its insane range, he didn't imagine there was anything his companion could do.
DAEWYN WYNGARD || Princess heir to the throne of Imanity || Daughter of King Aelfraed Wyngard the Wise
They're good. But not good enough. For someone who was able to win duels against the Captain of her Fyrdish Guard, the most skilled warrior in the land, dealing with these cultists was almost child's play. Almost. Were it not for the strange new weapons, she would have slit all their throats within minutes. When Laxus told her not to hold back, but to kill every last one of them, her heart twinged slightly. Daewyn had only killed once before, and it was when she encountered a group of highway robbers on the Imanitian forest roads who had tried to kill her and Miza. She'd shot one of them in the head, and she'd watched him fall off his horse as though in slow motion, landing heavily on the ground, arrow quivering in his eye socket, his other eye open wide in a permanent stare of surprise. The rest of them had ridden off in fear, and Daewyn had staggered over to the side of the trail, upending the contents of her stomach onto the forest floor. The dead man's face had plagued her dreams every night for weeks afterwards, and even now, she occasionally woke up in a cold sweat, the image of his dead eyes burned into her eyelids. But she accepted that she had done what she had needed to do. The Princess of Imanity could not die at the hands of robbers or common murderers. Just as she accepted her job now.
Assuming a fighting stance and balancing her weight in the center of her body, she closed her eyes momentarily to calm herself. Kill them. Do not hold back. Let them taste your blades, she told herself. Her hunter's senses told her that there were at least 10 of them drawing closer to them, and she readied herself as Laxus began to tell her about the various weapons and the fighting styles and techniques needed to handle them. One man stood slightly away from the rest of the group, and that was his fatal mistake. She launched herself forward, her cloak concealing her bright armor as she dodged between him and the other cultists. A... a hattag? Is that what he called it? she thought as she slashed forward at the man with the strange blade-shields on his arms. He swung at her with both arms, and she ducked, feeling the sharp dagger-like extensions slice through the air above her head as she dropped to one knee and swung her hunting blade. The metal, a bright silver, was stained red as the razor sharp edge sliced clean through the man's leg. For a second, he simply stared down at his leg, and then a red line appeared where she had cut, and his leg suddenly collapsed in a spray of arterial red, the bone an eerie, luminous white amidst the sea of blood. A slice to his neck as he went down, and he lay gasping like a fish on the grass as the lifeblood ebbed out through the open, pulsating wound in his throat. Glancing at Laxus, she saw him stab through the throat of a blond woman, and a chill ran up her spine as she saw the blue eyes dim, the blood ooze from her mouth as she went down.
Just as she straightened up, three people charged her at the three time with savage cries, clearly meant to disorient her, but the blood pulsating in her ears and her thirst for battle roaring through her veins drowned out their cries, rendering her deaf to their distractions. She spun, blocked, and countered her three opponents, and watched in grim satisfaction as their confidence faded from their faces and terror and pain replaced it as she sliced at their legs, arms, torsos, and faces, the blood from their nonfatal cuts splattering her face, painting it a gruesome red. One woman in particular faltered for a moment as Daewyn sliced open her knee, exposing her face and neck, and Daewyn chose that second to strike, plunging the knife up to her fist with a ridiculous amount of strength for her slender frame. The hunting knife sunk deep into the base of the woman's neck, and Daewyn ripped upwards, releasing a spray of red that covered both her and her opponent. She disengaged her blades from the woman, turning to face her other two opponents who paled in fear when they saw the blood splattered girl staring them down like a valkyrie of death. With less distractions, they too were soon dead, blood trickling from various wounds on their bodies that had served to weaken them.
Something whistled behind her, and Daewyn instinctively launched herself high into the air as the man with the kyggreh swung at her with a roar, twisting and landing catlike on the hilt of the battle hammer with the two blades spinning at inhuman speeds, narrowly missing being disemboweled by the twin blades. But it was a calculated landing, and the man doubled in surprise, leaving her just enough time to plunge one of her blades into his skull and yank it out, then leap upwards into a tree. He collapsed, skull cracked and brains and blood oozing out of the hole in his head as well as his eyes, nose, and mouth. Daewyn wished for a split moment that she had not seen that particular sight, and whipped her blood, the man's blood whipping off of the metal in an arc of red. Something red and sticky dripped down her chin, and she reached up, touching the blood and tracing it up to its origin, a shallow cut across her cheek that stung in the crisp night air. Damn, I must be losing my touch to let a brute like that faze me, she thought, dropping to the ground. What the hell are these weapons?
Her eyes narrowed as another woman with a smaller kyggreh charged her, swinging the weapon down with a terrifying force. She raised her hunting knives just in time to stop the kyggreh's blades from cutting into her, and grunted in pain and effort as they suddenly stopped spinning, jolting her arms painfully. A sudden spike of pain arched through her elbows, and she let out a sharp, involuntary cry as she felt them slide out of place, dislocated. Jumping back, she let her hunting blades fall down and out of reach as she leaped backwards nimbly, jamming her elbows against her ribcage and jarring them back into place, half-screaming and half-moaning with a strangled cry as she felt more pain than she had ever felt in her life. At least she could use her arms again. Her hunting knives now lying discarded on the snow covered forest floor, she pulled out her sword. "You know," she muttered through gritted teeth, "you really messed up now." "Oh, is that so, nosy little rat?" the woman called back, a nasty grin on her face as she advanced towards the smaller girl. "And pray tell, what mistake did I make?" "You've heard of Nymead, the strongest swordsman in all the land, correct?" Daewyn challenged, backing up slightly. "Yes, what of him?" "Nymead does not exist. His name is but mine backwards." Daewyn leapt forwards, sliding below the woman's guard as she thrust upwards with her sword, the intricately carved metal disappearing as it slid through the woman's armor, through her skin, and under her ribcage, piercing her heart. Blood ran over Daewyn's hands as the woman looked down slowly in shock, then keeled forwards, the force of her body driving the sword clean through her back. Daewyn stepped over her twitching body as she made her way over to Laxus, both of them having finished off the last of their attackers. His opponents lay dead on the ground around him, and she touched his arm to steady and anchor herself to the world as she glanced back, her stomach clenching at the sight of all the men and women they had killed. Their dark bodies lay strewn on and near the path, the puddles of blood a luminous red in sharp contrast to the bright snow.
She looked up at Laxus, sure that her blood-covered face must seem ghastly. "You fight... rather well..." she muttered as she fell forwards into darkness.
"Fight rather well?!" Was she mocking him?!Sure, if he was on his own he'd probably be able to fool the pursuers around for sometime and, if and only if, he was very lucky, he might have actually managed to escape into the darkness, but what she did was both amazing, scary and... somehow unbelievable! t was not within the powers of a mere human to accomplish such terrific feats!
Laxus had only heard stories of the Grace that some incredibly lucky individuals of the God-worshiping nations possessed, but this... this surpassed anything he could have possibly imagined, even in his wildest dreams. Daewyn had managed cut through so many men, armed with unfamiliar weapons, with such ease that it was really frightening. He could see now, how these few people had managed to singlehandedly turn the tides of countless of battles. For the first time in his life he really understood how wise his father had been to keep the peace with Imanity. Laxus never wanted anyone of his subjects to even have to experience facing what was the embodiment of Death itself on any battlefield. In the same time, though, some irrational sense of pride overcame him, as he though of his ancestor, Tyr, who had managed to defeat this, after just having won a civil war and only using his wits.
His thoughts ran through the events of the skirmish, back to the shot pieces of dialogue that had reached him. Daewyn had said something about being the best swordsman.. well he did not doubt that she could easily be the best blade-master in the land. Certainly, in this moment she was the best in Erathia. And just how easily could she have killed him when they were all alone! That very though, as silly and inappropriate as it was, made him shiver.
But all those thoughts, whether they were about the past or the present, disappeared instantly, much like the shadows chased away by the bright sunlight of the morning, as her body fell down and were replaced by the single... well more of an instinct than a though - to help her and hold her. The warrior that had easily disposed of about a dozen enemies was now just a fragile girl in unconsciousness. But that was not what Laxus was thinking about at that moment, while he was holding her tight. No, as silly as it was, his boyish nature overcame him and he blushed, as he had never been this physically close to a girl before. He was glad she couldn't see the redness of his face, which was even more inappropriate given the situation. His father had once told him that there was a very unique and special bond formed between two warriors who had faced death together. Perhaps that was true, because he felt some warm, inexplicable attachment to this person who he had only known for a couple of hours...
The moment of setback that seemed to last forever was finally gone and Laxus could think of how to proceed. The cultists not returning would certainly raise suspicion and most probably other hunting parties would be dispatched. He stood there for a moment, thinking of what he should do. The traitorous white snow would reveal his track and he could not hope to outrun anyone while holding on to Daewyn, especially since there was no telling how much time would it take for her to recoup. The situation seemed almost inescapable, but as a saving though came to him, he smiled and simply sat in the snow, resting his back onto a tree, still holding on to Daewyn. It was important that her body did not touch the snow, especially as her temperature was quite high. His face would remain red because of this closeness, but a prince had to know how to overcome his useless emotions. Time passed by slowly as he waited and waited, sometimes growling to chase away the obnoxious ice spirits that were walking towards them from time to time. Finally he saw it - their salvation.
An old man with long, black hair and beard of exactly the same look walked through the snow, towards the dead bodies. As with all shamans, there was no telling of what his age actually was. Although he gave no indication of it, Laxus was sure the person was perfectly aware of both his presence and intentions. That's why he waited patiently and silently, as the man tended to each of the bodies, speaking some bizarre verses in a gloomy tune, as he touched them and moved some of their limbs. This continued surprisingly short, after which Laxus could see the clothes on some of the bodies looking old and ready to break down. The shaman looked him straight into the eyes and said "You can come with me. She can not follow." Laxus had expected such a reaction, the Graces were, after all, a violation of the natural order and while the shamans wouldn't go and try to cleanse them, like the priests have attempted to "cleanse" shamanism in the past, they were in no were going to aid those who wielded them. "She will come with me." was the simple answer that Laxus gave, his unblinking gaze not moving away from the penetrating eyes of the older man, not even for a second.
A flashback from his childhood suddenly came to him. He was about eleven and for the first time he was allowed to wander off into the woods. A bunch of dwarfs had for some reason gotten quite angry with him and they had chased him up onto a tree. He had remained there for two days, with hardly any sleep, looking at their nasty faces grinning at him from underneath. Dwarfs were almost extinct in other parts of the continent, due to their obnoxious and sometimes cruel characters, but for some reason, in Erathia and some of the city-states across the sea, they were still sometiems seen, working as gatherers and steelworkers. Erathians didn't mind the little folk, and they kept to themselves which made them even seem nice, since they were always masters of the old crafts. The dwarfs could have easily cut down the tree, but they wanted to humiliate, rather than hurt the boy. On the second night, Astros himself had come to find his son. Upon hearing his the sound of his footsteps, the dwarfs disappeared instantly. The king was not mad with his son, contrary he was happy for the lesson. "It's easy for you, father, you are the High King and all men tremble in your presence. I am, so far, just a boy." "And when you become King? Will things change then?" Astros' voice was adamant and his tune already suggested the answer. "No! We do not become men when we reach a certain age, or title. If it was like that, there wouldn't be useless adults and weak kings. Those titles and age categories are just words and the words are only wind. What matters is only the sense and the feeling you put when you say them. A person is what they are, in their heart. If you are a coward or a weakling inside your soul, you will remain such even if you are the High King. If you are strong inside of yourself, you can never be weak on the outside, even if you are in chains! Why did they ran away from me? They didn't even knew who was coming here. They ran, because they felt the kind of man who was approaching, even only in my footsteps! Remember this, son, no one an nothing could hurt you or command you, unless you give them a permission to do so, consciously or unconsciously! Do not fear, never fear, because there is nothing to fear!" Astros had almost shouted out the last words and they were imprinted with the same strength in Laxus' heard.
It was the same feeling that he put into his words to the shaman that had come to appease the spirits of the dead. His will wouldn't bend and his wish would not be overshadowed by the other person's statue, regardless of the situation. The shaman smiled, revealing yellow, but otherwise perfect teeth, "Well, well... what an interesting evening. Very well, you can bring her. But are you sure you want to?" "I am." - he answered so fast that the speed surprised him as well. "Interesting. I can sense you are more than you look like, but you also know nothing about who you are helping." "Do you think I care right now?" Laxus said in a cold but serious voice "Every decision has a consequence. She is not in harmony with the world. This "grace" of hers is a tremendous curse and the proof of that lies all around you in the bloody guts of those poor fools. Many people shun me, as I am an envoy of the spirit world, but as such I shall extend this final warning to you, Laxus: this person that you are going to save is every bit as cursed as those those cultists she had slain - it's the nature's clumsy way to balance out the external meddling. If you save her now, from her timely death, you will share in her destiny, you will inherit her curse with none of her defenses. DO YOU REALLY WANT THAT, I AM ASKING YOU?" Laxus was silent, trying to comprehend what the shaman had said. He actually understood the deep meaning of those words, which would sound like nonsense to most people and also knew that's why the man even bothered explaining. Everything he had said was true, and yet, regardless of that realization, every fiber of his being shouted the same answer that he gave in a confident voice:
"Interesting. What an interesting evening..." the shaman said quietly, as he gave Laxus a sign to follow him and they slowly headed towards the black-haired man's home, no tracks remaining in the snow behind them.