The Remaining Freedom of Hope

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Revision, Jan 23, 2013.

  1. Dark times, that’s what was left. A tyrant, nephew to the old king, sat upon the throne of Calthalesh and the legitimate heir to the old king was long missing. It was unclear why the seat had been left vacant, but a power vacuum will inevitably be filled and this time, the one who filled it was power hungry and blessed with the charisma and control to wrest power from those who might try to install themselves. What had once been a prosperous kingdom with care for her people became a shattered, shadowy remnant. Seats of power were filled not by the generous or good but by those willing to fight for scraps of acknowledgement and strongholds of strength. In doing so, many reached for dark magics and darker alliances.

    But there are still good men and women, those willing to fight back, be it through politics, subversion, or outright rebellion. They risk their lives to free those unfortunates crushed by tyranny, to save those who have lost sight of the light. Calthalesh is not entirely lost, for while there remains a spark of hope, those who hope are still free...

    Adista Noros stood on the edge of a small village. The village itself bordered a forest known for dark creatures, paths, and those who had fallen to madness. The entire place had an air of desperation and the village was much smaller than she remembered from when she’d passed through as a young girl. Now, nearly twenty summers later, Adista had returned. This time, it was not in celebration or feast as it had been the time before. No, now she had business to attend to.

    The nearby forest seemed to bulge and buckle for a moment, as if preparing to lash out and consume the town. It was an illusion, of course, a trick of an overactive imagination, gone when she looked directly at the woods. The scribe rubbed one ink stained hand nervously against the coarse fabric of her travel cloak. She’d come too far to turn back now.

    She’d been traveling for two weeks since she’d first been informed of her place in destiny. She was wary at first, not willing to believe, but her thirst for adventure and her desire to achieve heroics had overcome her hesitance to listen to the old witch. The woman had claimed to be a protector of her family line and offered her a chance at greatness and, even more, a chance to change the world. All she had to do was find someone.

    The lost prince.

    Adista sighed. This wasn’t an easy journey. She’d been told to come to this spot on this day and had barely made it. Leaving her family’s small home in the town of Lida, she’d packed some food, water, a change of clothes, and strapped an old sword of her grandfather’s to her back. She’d read enough about combat that she should be able to use it without trouble, she hoped. The opportunity to prove herself on that front had yet to come and she found herself less eager to get to it now when faced with the forest than before when journeying through moderately safe farmlands.

    Well, she’d been told to come here on this day and overthinking matters was just an excuse to hesitate. And what did the great scholars admonish about hesitation? Swallowing a knot of nervousness that curled in her throat, she stepped forward into the village.
  2. The village, like many others had it's quirks and superstitions but in this one's case many were justified. The watchmen, carved stone statues lines it's edge, painted carefully to resemble living people stared eternally towards the dark mass of trees, and beyond then a line of stone firepits stood to light the edge of the village at night. They feared the trees, and they were right to. Even those who walked among the trees and returned to talk about it were held in a mix of fear and awe, and forbidden from obscuring their faces lest it not be them returning.

    Anomar was one such man, though not his real name it was what he went by in the village. When not guiding travelers through the trees he patrolled it's edge, acting the the village's warden, taking what little food and clothing the villagers could spare in exchange. Today, however, he was making the tavern owner richer and enjoying rabbit stew and a tankard of mead. Not a richest meal he had but good for the area, and he was a regular enough customer for the owner's daughter to know hoe he liked it, and he often brought his own rabbits. His thick hide cloak was resting draped over the chair next to him and the glittering hilt of a sword rested against his side. Today he had one of those feelings, the feeling that a fool who was more trouble then they were worth would try to brave the forest. And he'd have to keep them alive, for a price. Better have a warm meal and a mead indoors while he could.
  3. “You will journey there, and in that place on the edge of dark magics, you will find one who can lead you to their depths. Keep hope, for you will need it. The forest is deadly to those who despair and unsafe to those even with the bravest of souls. The path through the forest will be guided, and it is he who guides who will show you the way to the one you seek, so stay close.”

    Adista mulled over the words of the witch, words that had burned into her memory and now reminded her just how much hinged on her finding a guide through the woods. She wondered what this guide would look like. Would he or she be human or a spirit? Or perhaps something stranger, still, an otherworldly fae or talking deer? Would they be trustworthy? They must if they were to be so crucial. But then, nothing in the prophecy had said so. Damn prophecies. They could be irritatingly vague one moment and overwhelmingly specific the next.

    There was a soft growl as her stomach reminded her that she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Her tongue darted out to moisten her lips, dry from too long without water. She’d run out of supplies that morning and now was as good a time as any to replenish them. But first, she wanted a warm meal. She tried not to think about her future, a future that would almost certainly involve quick meals eaten while huddled near a protective fire and furtively glancing around for danger.

    The tavern was easy enough to spot, though less easy to get to. The quickest apparent way had a dead end alleyway’s wall blocking her progress. Adista paused to ask for the quickest way around, but was shrugged away. The people here seemed far less receptive and friendly than they had been. Many looked at her suspiciously, others snorted when they saw her traveler’s garb. Despite the lack of help, she found her way to the tavern.

    It was dim inside, so much so that it took several seconds for her eyes to adjust. She knew from her reading that many tavern owners did this on purpose so that those already inside could get a new look (and combat advantage) on a newcomer before the newcomer could actually see. Pale cheeks warmed with a flush of color. Adista had little pride, but she knew she was usually at least moderately comely. But now, long black hair was tangled and her face smudged with dust. Her robes had been replaced with travel clothes that were a bit worse for the wear and her hands, usually ink stained, were also covered in a thick layer of dirt that seemed to like to cling beneath her fingernails. Her eyes, a bright sky blue, were the only way she reckoned she’d have been recognized at home. She chided herself for being silly. She didn’t care what these people thought, she had food to find and then a guide to locate. Pride in looks was a silly, girlish thing. She had no time for girlish daydreams and competitions!

    Once her eyes adjusted, she moved forward, crossing to a table nearest the hearth. She nearly forgot to take her cloak off and was halfway seated when she felt it tug at her neck. Quickly, she undid the cloak clasp and then her baldric, setting both cloak and sword in the seat next to hers. Waiting for someone to come serve her, she opened a belt pouch, carefully counting her remaining coins. She hoped she’d have enough for everything she needed. She knew she’d eventually have to earn more, but for now, this would have to do.
  4. "You're late."

    The voice came from behind her as the guide leaned back in his chair. "Only one reason for you to be here, you're looking to cross the forest, or looking for something inside it." he stood and dropped to his haunches in front of her, taking her hand in his and ran his rough fingertips over her palm. There were no callouses, those seemed to only be on her fingers. She worked with her hands, but now with the sword on her back. Business as usual. With a grunt he stood and looked down at her.

    "If you're looking for a guide, there me, or there's your intuition. And I'm not going anywhere near that forest until morning." he was still running on the assumption he was correct, but his gut seldom lied, and his answer was written on her face. "What are you looking for?"
  5. t was all she could do not to leap out of her chair. She gathered her strength, ready to call him on his assumptions and attitude, but all of her intention to bluff and bluster went out the window as he grabbed her hand. It made her extremely uncomfortable, to the extent that she jerked her hand back and rubbed it vigorously on her hip when he let go. She wasn’t used to being read so easily, to being treated so roughly by someone whose name she did not know.

    “Ugh, yes. I need to cross the forest. I’m seeking someone and I just... I need to get through.” She hadn’t even had time to eat and already she’d been spotted and summed up. She thought of the storybooks where the heroes skulk in shadows and observe one another. This hadn’t happened at all like her books. Still, she’d have to adapt.

    “How much do you charge for acting as a guide and, oh, what’s your name? For that matter, can you assure me that I will be safe with you?” Though the words were bold by themselves, her voice wavered slightly. She was clearly out of her league, desperately trying not to show it and failing greatly.
  6. He dropped into the chair behind him, so that he was on the right side of the table from her perspective. She was nervous and caving before him and he allowed himself a breath before answering. "So just 'to the other side' then? I'll take you to Everdale, from there it's half a day to the king's road. I'll take what you can spare, you don't look like you have much but I'm not going to let you go alone. Call me Anomar, and you know I'm good because I'm still here to tell you about it after five years of walking the woods. You'll be safe as long as you can listen, and if we have a deal there should still be some stew in the kitchen with my name on it, I've eaten enough..."

    He examined her and reached over to his table to lift his tankard and rust it in his hands. "I've shared a little about myself, if we're going to be spending nights in the same tent and I'll be risking my life for you, you should do the same."
  7. As she listened to him speak, her expression went from nervous to curious to quietly panicked. By the time he had finished speaking to her, she felt queasy. Was the forest really so bad? And could his words be trusted? He’d pounced at her like a predatory cat. She’d heard of men who offered to guide young women, who drew them into the shadows and murdered them or worse. But she’d been told to come here, on this day, to find a guide. And it seemed she had. It would be dangerous to turn such apparent fate aside. She chewed on her inner cheek and tried not to think about the danger awaiting her more than she had to.

    “My name is Adista.” For a moment, it seemed this was all she was going to offer. Momentarily, she continued. “I’m a scribe, you see. I copy books and scrolls. I’m not sure there’s much more to tell.” Again, she hesitated. “You asked why I am going through the forest. I’m looking for something on the other side, something that will change my life.” One stained hand was extended to lightly touch the old sword she’d brought with.

    “I’m afraid I cannot pay much. And for the help I am sure you will offer, I wish I had more to give.” She carefully undid her beltpouch, handing it across the table after taking out a few coins. She held these few as if they were her last ties to an old world, something to make things seem sane and stable. In a way, that was just what they were. “If you can get me across safely, I will find a way to repay you.” That was it, the die was cast.

    She felt she might cry. It was overwhelming. The past two weeks had dragged on, a nightmare of sore feet and aching back. Now, things were moving too fast and she desperately wanted a moment to draw a breath. If he took the coins in the bag, there would be no going back. Even if she changed her mind, she hadn’t money to hire another guide. She hadn’t time, either, she realized. The day was fading fast.
  8. He pushed the purse away. "Pay me when we get to the other side." he said before emptying his tankard and putting it back down on the table. "Call it a show of trust, or if I play the brigand, if you're carrying the coin I have more incentive to stop you being carried off by dwellers." he offered her a wry smile. "We'll leave at first light, no point in going in a short way and being forced to make camp. The fewer nights we spend in there, the better." his tone had changed, from testing to informative. He wasn't making suggestions, he was saying how things were and what she had to do. If she wanted to set off immediately, without food, provisions, rest, and light, she had to find herself a fool to lead her to her grave.

    "Rest and bathe while you can, I'll have everything ready here before sunup, if you have any questions, now's the time to ask them. I pray you're not afraid of the dark."
  9. Morning came all too quickly. She’d slept well enough, clean and in a real bed for the first time in days, but it only served to make the hours pass swiftly. Her body ached from travel the day before, but at least she’d had warm food and blankets. Clean clothes were pulled on and her pack, cloak, and baldric readied and slung.

    The thought of the road ahead intruded unwanted into a mind still in the midst of waking and she shoved it away with annoyance. The forest was dangerous, it was true, but certainly her guide was capable. Still... Her thoughts returned to the image of the bulging presence of the forest the night before. Illusion or not, it set her on edge. She quickly buckled her boots and made her way out of her room and down the stairs.

    The feeling of tension and isolationism that had struck her the night before seemed magnified by the morning air. Outside, people were going their ways in taut silence, ignoring one another when at all possible. They hurried along, nearly running in some cases, as though afraid to be outside where the eyes of the forest might look upon them. Adista looked around, trying to spot Anomar. Unless she’d unwittingly passed him inside, he should be around somewhere.