((Note: This thread takes place following Giacomo's departure from the Raven in "The Intonations of Evil"))
Kelton's shift had ended over an hour ago, but he was still wandering the streets and alleyways of the city, lost not in the maze of paths that so often confused the unwary, but in "simple" thought. No matter which turn he took or street he traveled, his mind remained always on his encounter with the queen and her friend, and the visions of the meeting replayed again and again in his mind, consuming the greater part of his attention. And so, as he drifted into the merchants' district, he was only vaguely aware of where he was and where he was going.
Rounding one of the store-fronted corners, he looked momentarily from his well-polished boots to the survey the road before him. It was then that he saw the light, burning dimly in one of the buildings on the next block. It was faint, and in his present state he might have missed it. But he had been trained well and little escaped his attention, for Stormpoint was still a dangerous city, even for the watch--especially for the watch; and those who let private musings distract them completely from present surroundings were often found dead in the silence of a darksome alley, mourned only by the rats who fed upon their bloodless remains.
His pace quickened as he headed towards the building and the burning light, gladdened for the distraction, but he heeded his step lest the click of boots against the travel-worn cobblestones announce his presence too early. Drawing nearer to the building he could tell that it was a tavern, and he knew that it, like all the other businesses in the district, should have been closed hours ago. His heart beat faster as he drew his sword and set his hand upon the door, eager to enter and end whatever mischief was about. Pausing only to say a silent prayer and draw a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped inside with the authority granted to him by his position.
The source of the light was immediately apparent--a low-burning lantern that perched atop the front counter. Its fading flames provided the sole source of light, but in the pale glow and greater shadows Kelton could tell that the room was empty--save for solitary figure that sat at a table in the far back corner. The figure looked up as Kelton entered, and glanced from the insignia on his uniform to the crest on his shield before asking in voice that cut sharply through the darkness, "Who are you?"
His eyes were still adjusting to the dim light as Kelton took a steps towards the shadowy figure, but his advance was quickly halted by the voice which asked again, "Who are you?" It carried a strange accent--one which Kelton could not identify though his mind spun quickly to place it.
"I'm with the watch," Kelton answered, brimming with authority though he now stood fixed in place, "Who are . . . ."
"I can see you're with the watch," the speaker answered, the voice now louder, and clearly irritated. "But what I asked is, 'Who are you?'"
"I am Kelton Wolfbane," he answered, uncertain how the figure could see anything in the dim light and growing annoyed that this trespasser not only ignored his authority, but sought to interrogate him as well.
The speaker appeared to weigh his words in silence for a moment as Kelton held his ground. "Well, Kelton," the speaker resumed, "make yourself comfortable, or leave if you like. It makes little difference to me. Just do it quietly."
The speaker raised a goblet to its mouth in a clear gesture of dismissal, but Kelton stayed and in the ensuing silence began to edge closer, his own footfalls sounding unbelievable loud against the hard wooden floor. As he advance, he noticed that the light from the counter reflected off a sword resting against the wall to the side of the speaker. He could also tell that several bottles graced the table in front of the shadowy figure--a potentially dangerous combination. Yet the speaker never moved for the sword or appeared to offer any threat, and so Kelton continued his slow and steady approach, his own sword unsheathed at his side.
As he drew closer and his eyes adjusted further, the features of the figure came more clearly into view. He was surprised to discover that the speaker was a woman, and he chastised himself briefly, realizing that he had paid so much attention to her accent that he had ignored the pitch of her voice. Her hair appeared dark, but in the dim-light of the large common room, everything appeared dark, falling into one of the many shades of grey and that dwelt within this city of shadow. She didn't look at him as he neared, and indeed appeared completely oblivious to him and his approach, lost somewhere in thought or, more likely, in the goblet which she refilled and raised again to her lips.
Standing almost before the table, sword in hand, Kelton asked again, "Who are you, and why are you here?"
She dismissed him without looking up, taking another long draw from the goblet. "I'm not in the mood for questions, Kelton. Either stay and be quiet, or leave--Now!"
Her voice carried an eerie quality that might have turned another, but Kelton stood fast, strengthened by both faith and training, and he pressed again. "Who are you?"
"I'm the owner of this tavern," she answered, the accent growing stronger as she looked only ahead into the darkness.
"Alune owns this tavern," Kelton responded, having made a point to learn the names of all of the owners in the district.
"Not anymore," she answered, her tone now a tenuous mixture of annoyance and condescension, "I bought it from him."
"When?" Kelton asked, his eyes narrowing. He hadn't heard of a sale, and news of new ownership generally traveled quickly.
"Two hours ago. He wanted to close. I wanted to stay. We reached a compromise. The papers are on the counter if you don't believe me."
Kelton considered checking her story, but it mean turning his back on her, and though she didn't appear to be a threat, something warned him otherwise. "What is your name?" he asked in a tone which made clear it was the last time he would ask politely.
She raised her head and looked at him again for the first time since he had entered, her dark eyes remarkably focused despite the fact that the majority of the bottles before her were now empty. A tired sigh escaped her lips, and when she spoke it was with a voice heavy with sarcasm and vexation. "Eowyn. My name is Eowyn. And if you're going to arrest me do you think we could make a quick appearance before the High Justice before we go to the stockade?"
Eowyn. He knew the name. She was a merchant in the district--the Kuriousity Shoppe if he recalled correctly. She was also a personal friend of the High Justice. He kept her under watch as he backed slowly towards the counter and found the papers to which she had referred. She didn't move, however, save to refill her goblet and take another long draw therefrom, apparently unconcerned with his belief of her claim. Glancing quickly down at the papers, Kelton noted that they appeared to be in order, giving him the confidence to scan them more thoroughly. He nodded quietly as he did so, looking up to woman every so often and always finding that she had not moved from the table and the bottles before her. The papers were authentic, and they bore the seal and signature of the local magistrate, a man Kelton knew personally. He replaced them on the counter and walked back towards the woman, thinking that he had once again made a costly mistake.
Calo had tried to stop her after Giacomo left the Raven--tried and failed. She didn't want to see him, or, perhaps more to the point, she didn't want him to see her. He knew her better than anyone, but there was much even he didn't know--much that she hadn't told him, and much that she couldn't tell him. Giacomo's claim that evening was perhaps a bit of each.
~~Sister.~~ The word rang over and over in her head, echoing in her mind and taunting her with the cruel possibility of its truth. She tried to ignore it--tried and failed.
At another time, in other circumstances, she would have regretted what she did to Calo in order to evade the questions and concerns that burned in his eyes. No doubt in the light of the morning she would ache with remorse for she knew that she had cut him to the quick. But it was far from morning, and far from the time for such concerns. For some reason she hadn't yet investigated, night seemed to linger undisturbed in Stormpoint, encroaching with an early dusk and similarly forestalling the dawn. She should have been curious, and perhaps she was at one point, but now she was past the point of caring and sought only to forget.
She had no place to go other than the shoppe, and she knew that Calo would follow her there. She could probably keep him out, but she didn't feel like listening to him pounding on the door and calling her name. She didn't feel like listening to his Elven, which was atrocious despite her efforts to teach him. She didn't feel like listening to anything, but the voice didn't care, and it continued to echo through her mind, laughing at her attempts to close it out. ~~Sister.~~
Unable to look to the shoppe for the solitude she sought, she instead found refuge in an unassuming tavern and, more precisely, in the promise of the myriad spirits it held. She drew a fair amount of attention as she entered and the occupants shifted nervously as she took a seat in the back of room by the dying embers of the fire. While the citizens of Stormpoint were no doubt used to seeing shadow-wrapped strangers lurking the dim light of the darker alleys, few of those strangers ventured into the more respectable taverns, and fewer still bore the delicate features of an elf.
Had they bothered to look closer at the dark-cloaked figure, they might have recognized her, for she, like most of them, worked in the merchants' district; or perhaps they did recognize her, and that recognition only fed the fear created by her grim countenance. Either way, she cared little. She wasn't looking for the comfort of a warm hearth and pleasant conversation. She was looking to find a place where no one would find her, and where she could shut out the voice that called from the darker, mist-filled corners of her mind. ~~Sister.~~
It didn't take her long to catch the barkeep's attention. Indeed, she'd had it since she crossed the threshold of the tavern. They delay came in him garnering the courage to approach her table, for none of the serving staff would dare go near. And though he finally did approach, his narrowed eyes and twisting hands made clear the fact that he regarded her with no small degree of suspicion. He had seen only a few elves in his lifetime, and none of them in his tavern, and certainly none like this one. It was a look to which Eowyn was accustomed, however, and one which she chose to use to her advantage, staring at him grimly and drawing on his darkest fears. She would add it to her list of regrets in the morning, but for now it served her purposes and the keep scuttled off to bring her request. She finished the bottle quickly and was left unsatisfied, the curse of her race. But, the keep was more amenable to her will now, and brought her bottle after bottle, deciding perhaps that elves, even this one, were better customers than he had previously thought.
It was foolish, she knew, to think she would find any answers in the dark liquid that she poured from the bottle to her goblet, but she had stopped looking for answers several bottles and several hours ago, seeking now only a peaceful oblivion which her race again denied her. And so, now matter how many times she raised her goblet to her lips and felt the warm liquid running smoothly down her throat, still she felt the hot breath of the daemon as he whispered that one word in her ear. ~~Sister.~~
Whatever she was looking for, she still hadn't found it when the keep approached a final time and, with trembling voice and hand, told her that the tavern was closing for the evening. She didn't feel like leaving, and fortunately for the keep, she didn't feel like arguing. She therefore offered him a tidy sum for the tavern, at least twice its value, and told him she would be staying. He was only too eager to accept and the papers were quickly drawn and signed. He hurried home that night with a light step and a lighter heart, glad to finally have the means to move his family from this godforsaken city and its mysterious regents. Opening another bottle, Eowyn found herself wishing she could do the same.
Several hours had passed since his departure, and the lantern he had left on the counter had burned low. Lost in thought and still seeking the peaceful silence that eluded her, Eowyn didn't notice as the shadows grew longer and the shades of night moved closer in, wrapping about her as if she was one of their own. Sister. The word seemed to echo from every dark corner of the room, and from every crevice of her mind. Sister. She would have screamed if she thought it would help, but she knew that no sound could block out his voice and the look he had given her as he left the Raven. She shuddered, suddenly cold and sickened as she felt his eyes traveling over her frame once again, and she quickly refilled her goblet, nearly spilling the precious contents of the bottle in the process.
Steadying the bottle, she replaced it on the table and raised the goblet again to her lips, closing her eyes and drinking deeply. It was then that she heard the footsteps as they approached from the next block. It wasn't unusual for a lone traveler to be on the streets at such an hour. Indeed, the footsteps probably belonged either to one of Stormpoint's nocturnal denizens or a foolish resident about to fall prey to one of those hungry shadows. Either way, the low-burning lantern would hardly attract their attention, and so she continued her steady journey towards senselessness and the respite it offered. Alone in the failing light of the room she half-listened as the footsteps drew closer, and sighed heavily when they stopped before her door, realizing that even the small amount of peace she had found was to be denied her.
The stranger entered quickly--a foolish move and one which could have been his last in a city like this one. He was human, however, and quite young, and they often made such dangerous mistakes. Indeed, she often wondered how they lived long enough to acquire any measure of experience or wisdom before falling victim to their obsession with valour. Even now, he stood in the dim light of the room and stared blindly in her direction, unable, she knew, to discern anything more than her presence. Her eyesight, however, was subject to no such constraints, and even in the dark gloom that surrounded them she could see both his uniform and his shield. He was a member of the watch, and, curiously, from one of the paladin orders that hailed from kingdom to the West.
She wasn't in the mood for company or conversation, and told him as much in terms that even he should have been able to understand. He possessed the same overdeveloped sense of self-righteousness held by all of his allegiance, however, and refused to leave. Instead he crept forward through the darkness, questioning her as he drew nearer, ignorant of the fact that with each step and every question he placed himself in greater danger. At last he stood before her table, sword in hand, and asked one final time, "What is your name?"
She could have given him one of a hundred different answers, each of them carrying their own bit of truth. Sister. So many choices, so long a past, and so many questions. Looking up again for the first time since he had entered, she stared piercingly at him and with a tired sigh and a voice heavy with both sarcasm and vexation gave him the answer that carried the greatest degree of truth. "Eowyn. My name is Eowyn. And if you're going to arrest me do you think we could make a quick appearance before the High Justice before we go to the stockade?"
She didn't care if he believed her. She wanted only for him to leave and allow her to return to the spirits that sat invitingly before her, calling her name in the near silence, their voices mingling with the one that wouldn't fade. Sister. She took another long draw from the goblet, closing her eyes and still hoping to drown the daemon's voice in the warm promises of the wine. Sister. She opened her eyes in disappointment as she heard both the voice and the return of the young watch member, having apparently satisfied himself with as to her claim as his sword now hung sheathed at his side.
"I'm sorry to have troubled you," he began as he reached the table, his tone low and quiet, "I'll leave now."
Her mood shifted with his statement, though whether it grew darker or lighter even she could not say. "Why?" Her voice was distant, but something held Kelton fast where he stood. It was too late for him to leave quietly. He had already disturbed the small measure of tranquility she had been able to find in the hours since her conversation with the daemon; and now he, the unfortunate victim of his own duty, would serve as the distraction which she was unable to find elsewhere. "You've already robbed me of the one thing I sought, so why leave now?"
He didn't respond right away, uncertain perhaps of her question or her mood, and so she pressed further, leaning back in her chair and turning her face towards him once again. "All right, I'll give you an easier question. Why are you here?"
He studied her briefly before responding, confused by the sharp focus of her eyes and the clear quality of her voice, "I saw the light from the street and . . . ."
She dropped her head and shook it slowly from side to side, a single laugh of disbelief slipping quietly from her lips. "No, why are you here," she asked, making an expansive gesture with her left arm, "in the merchants' district."
Sworn to truth, Kelton could not lie, but suspected that even if he could the attempt would be useless. "I was out . . . thinking and happened to wander into the district."
She smiled for the first time since he entered, a slow-spreading smirk that made the youth shift uncomfortably. "How is it that one of your order comes to be in the watch anyway?"
Though certain now of her claim and identity, Kelton realized that he had once again offended someone of notoriety within the city he had been called to protect. He tried to mumble a hasty apology and politely excuse himself--and then her first question came, nailing him wide-eyed to the floor in sudden shock. He didn't know how to respond to her questions and in his confusion he fumbled from one inept response to another, cursing his inexperience on this, his second assignment from the Orders' halls. His first assignment had been simple--'stand a year on the northern frontier'. It was straightforward enough. The enemy came, you held your ground, and you fought them back. But here, within the walls of this city, there were no simple black and whites but only a tangled skein of greys that caught the unwary within its threads. No path seemed to be the right one and no road straight. It was a daunting task, and he stood now at the junction of these paths, lost in both direction and thought until the woman's, Eowyn's, voice cut through the cloud of indecision and brought him back to the room.
"How is it that one of your Order comes to be in the watch anyway?" She smiled for the first time since he entered, a slow-spreading smirk that made the youth shift uncomfortably.
He straightened himself beneath her gaze, "My liege, Lord Ogrek, called upon our Orders to assist him in stemming the Ravenclaw's tide of death and destruction. And you, Milady?" he asked, the origin of her accent and the reason for her strange sobriety suddenly becoming clear as he drew closer. Her fine features and delicately pointed ears were stunning to behold and clearly marked her as elven. He had heard that elves possessed an inhuman tolerance for many things, alcohol among them, but hadn't realized the extent. In truth, however, he knew little of elves for though the kingdom of Khistawar bordered his own homeland, its inhabitants were largely reclusive and regarded with much suspicion. "Do you hail from the elven kingdom to the east?"
"A noble service and goal," she responded in a softer tone, but without answering his question, "and have you faced any of these Ravenclaws?"
"Alas, no Milady," he answered, but his tone and expression left something unsaid. "The enemy is an elusive one and now they appear to have lost their desire for an up front fight and so I find myself mostly patrolling the city." He sighed with involuntary disappointment as he finished. Like most young soldiers he wished for a chance to meet the enemy and defend the city he had sworn to protect.
Her attention seemed to shift with his statement, turning from the bottles before her to her unlikely companion in an attempt to forget whatever it was that had brought her to the tavern. "Don't discount your actions simply because you haven't faced your foe," she replied, seeming to read his very thoughts, or perhaps his features. "Your presence within the streets may have saved many, keeping those you hunt from striking those you protect. There is nobility in both silence and patience." He nodded thoughtfully, "There is wisdom in your words. Sometimes in my youthful zest I forget, 'No call to service is too small or beneath our notice. Even the smallest good deed can lay the seed for greatness,'" he intoned, mimicking a teacher from his Order, and words he had heard countless times before. Only now was their meaning making itself felt. 'Perhaps this is why many paladin's falter within the first years of service, he thought to himself, 'carrying the words from training halls into practice.'
"And the paths of duty and honor begin and end in unexpected places," she added, her voice calling his attention as she herself seemed to become distant once again, "But if your heart and faith are strong, you won't be lost. No matter the direction in which your path seems to lead."
"Even into a city of shadows? . . . Please forgive my words. Just idle thoughts," he finished, wishing he could pluck the words from the air as if they had not been said.
"Especially in a city of shadows," she answered quietly, catching his eyes firmly with her own, "A lantern that burns in the light of day is scarcely seen. Only when it shines through the darkness does it serve as a beacon to the lost."
"Again you speak true, and my lessons continue beyond the walls of the Silver Hawk's halls." Perhaps he was never meant to stop learning, he mused, the Order serving only as his starting place.A tiny smirk rose on her lips and she added cryptically, "If you watch and listen, you'll find that there's much to learn . . . even in a city of shadows."
He nodded and let his gaze fall hard upon her, "Like the fact you failed to answer my first question, regarding the elven kingdom to the east?"
A tiny smirk rose on her lips and she added cryptically, "If you watch and listen, you'll find that there's much to learn . . . even in a city of shadows."
He nodded and let his gaze fall hard upon her, "Like the fact you failed to answer my first question, regarding the elven kingdom to the east?"
Her smile broadened as she stared into the darkness before her once again. Perhaps he was more adept than he looked, or perhaps the alcohol had finally begun to take its effect. At any rate, it was a simple question--one which she answered with little thought or care. "I have traveled many paths to reach this city. That was one of them. But if you ask was it my home, then the answer is no."
"If I may ask then," he queried, surprised that she had chosen to answer even that much, "from where do you come?"
She sat back and drew a deep breath, expelling it slowly and remembering now why it was that she never answered questions, even simple ones. She took another long draw from her goblet and sat in thoughtful silence. And when it appeared that she would say no more, she finally answered him with a question of her own, "Is it so important to know where you come from? The past is long and immutable, and easily forgotten in the passage of time. Is it not more important to know where you are, and to keep always a keen eye on where you are going?"
He countered too quickly, spouting his recent teachings without pause or thought, "But, is it not also said that people who ignore the past are forced to repeat it?"
It was a simple argument, but she frowned for a moment, a shadow of doubt crossing her face in the silence that hovered between them. Another question. Did he never tire of them? She closed her eyes and considered asking him to leave, but the voice had been mercifully silent since their conversation, perhaps due to the aura of peace that followed his kind. "Perhaps," she answered finally without expression or elaboration. "Does that concern you?"
"Of course. Our Orders are the soul of the kingdom. We remember the bloody and lawless past from which we rose, and in so doing we can guard the future from its return."
Again his words had come too quickly, too easily, but she considered them with greater care than that in which they were given. He clearly drew some degree of purpose from his past, or more precisely, from the history of his Order, and this intrigued her. How much of himself did he draw from these memories and how much was found in the hope of tomorrow? She shouldn't ask, she knew. His last statement had been just that, a statement and a potential point at which to end their conversation and send him on his way. But something prodded her on. Perhaps it was the drink, or perhaps it was the fear that if she remained silent the voice would return. "And if you had no past, and no such memories to drive you, would you then be less than you are?"
"Are we not simply the sum of our experiences? Take away a person's memory and replace it with another, and do you not get a new person, unique and different from the first?
It was an unsatisfying answer and the smugness in which it was given annoyed her. She should stop talking. She should send him away. She should . . . "But are we not more than simply that which we have been and done?" she heard herself ask in a clipped tone that scarcely concealed the feeling of irritation rising in her veins. "While our experiences may shape who we are, do they truly define it?" She managed to stop herself before she continued, and the rest of her question echoed only in her own mind as she raised the goblet to her lips, hoping against hope that its warmth and promises would drive the questions and doubts from her mind. ~Is there not a part of us which is innate to our being, a part of us which remains regardless of our choices, and a part of us which is not shaped by our experiences, but rather which shapes that which we experience?~
He had an answer of course--standard answer that no doubt came directly from the halls of his Order and one which he repeated now without understanding either her question or the concern which it bespoke. "The orders have asked that very question: Can a person be born inherently good or evil? But if a person is born evil, can he truly be held at fault for his actions? Take this demon for instance. How can we hate or hunt him if he is simply fulfilling his nature?"
"You are the one who hunts him," she began, not liking the direction this conversation was taking and eager to shift the burden of a response back onto his shoulders. "What do you think?"
"I do hunt him, as I would any who commit offenses against the law," he answered with too much ease, the kind that only comes with youth. "And you? Why are you drawn into this deadly dance with him?
"What makes you think that I know anything of the daemon?" she asked innocently, refilling her goblet and taking another draw from it.
"Milady, we may be different groups, but the rangers and the watch do speak with each other. Though your face was foreign, your name was known to me." He waited for a reaction, and when he received none, pressed further. "So, Milady, what is it that draws you to this demon?"
"If you know my reputation, you must know that I seldom give answers. Suffice it to say that my path has crossed with his and neither of us can turn astray. But your own path must be winding and tortuous indeed to have brought you here at this hour. Tell me," she asked, "what thoughts were you so lost in that you found yourself here, in a darkened tavern with a soul you hardly know."
He sighed heavily and nodded toward the chair across from her, "May I?" She nodded back without speaking and he pulled the chair from the table and sat with the weariness of one who has wandered too far without direction or rest. "Well, thoughts of the differences between good and evil have been troubling me and I find myself far from my home and hall. You seem to know the.........city, and its people well. Perhaps you can offer some guidance."
She didn't answer for a moment, then simply stated, "The vampires. You're troubled by the vampires. Some more than others," she added with a perception that took him aback.
He stared in silence for a moment before he recovered and was again reminded with stunning clarity that she was another of this city's curiosities and, like all of them, might be both more and less than she appeared, "Aye, it is the vampires. In the history of the Orders we have hunted them till none roamed our lands. But now......."
"Now they are both regent and law, ostensibly protecting those under their rule."
He nodded, frustration clear on his features even in the darkness, "And our supposed allies. There was much debate when the nature of Dominia's and Darkendale's rulers was discovered. There were even voices calling for a crusade to liberate the 'blood-cattle' from their fate. But, Lord Ogrek argued that the kindred have the same choices we face--that they are able to choose between good and evil."
She arched a single brow, more to prompt him to continue that to express surprise, for what she heard surprised her little.
"His voice quieted many of the arguments and allowed the alliance to proceed. But from what I have seen within the walls of this city, I have to wonder about the wisdom of his judgment." He watched her carefully as he spoke, trying to judge her reaction, but in the long shadows he was uncertain of the expression that shone in her eyes. The only thing he could tell was that his silence was subjecting him to greater scrutiny as her gaze fell heavily upon him, waiting for him to continue. Best, he thought, to learn where she stood before he spoke too much of his mind. "How well do you know these vampires?"
She answered quickly, though less directly than he would have liked, "As with all things, some better than others. Some are both noble and virtuous. Others are treacherous and deceitful. Most, however, I suppose, lie somewhere in between."
"So, you think Ogrek was correct?" his tone made clear that he was not entirely convinced. "And what of the Lady Samantha? or Lord Sable and some of their actions of Late?"
"They've done much as of late. Do you care to elaborate," she began, clearly tried of his hesitations ~~or must I take a more direct approach?~~
"So, you think Ogrek was correct?" his tone made clear that he was not entirely convinced. "And what of the Lady Samantha? or Lord Sable and some of their actions of late?"
"They've done much as of late. Do you care to elaborate," she began, clearly tried of his hesitations ~~or must I take a more direct approach?~~
He nearly leapt out of his skin as her voice cut crisp and certain through his thoughts. His skin, however, was too firmly attached to allow such escape, but unfortunately his chair was not and he found himself tangled in its legs as he jumped from the table and fell to a clump on the hard wooden floor. She rose from her own chair as he fell, and from his unexpected vantage point she seemed to grow impossibly tall and cast an even longer shadow on the wall behind her. He felt suddenly afraid and thought that he had made a terrible mistake in trusting her, but then he saw her face and realized that it had softened for the first time since his entry, and she bowed and reached a hand down to him in apology.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
It was her smile that caused him to trust her once more, her smile and something in her eyes that hadn't been there before. No, it was more that her expression, he realized. It was a sudden sense of virtue that seemed to radiate faintly from her form before fading back into the shadows that she kept so closely wrapped about her frame. His uncertainty put to rest, he accepted her hand and rose back to his feet. The sound of her voice within his mind still confused and concerned him though, and as he settled back into his chair again he asked with a slight quaver, "What....what did you do?"
"Something else I shouldn't have," she answered vaguely and yet with clear ring of regret as she took her seat across from him, "but something many of those you inquire of can do as well."
"Send thoughts?" he asked with no small degree of amazement, "You and they can do this?"
"Yes, I'm told that most of them can."
"And if I think something? They can read that as well?" he asked, concern rising suddenly in his voice.
"Yes, but, fortunately, most also know the difference between what they can do, and what they should do. Sending thoughts is one thing, but reading someone else's thoughts without their permission, well," she spread her hands in a commingled gesture of confusion and frustration, "while I suppose necessity might sometimes demand it, absent just cause it would be rude at best and tantamount to voyeurism at worst. But, as I said, most know the difference between 'can' and 'should.'"
His face clouded over with her words and the concern on his features was both undisguised and unapologetic. "An important distinction and the root of what troubles me I'm afraid."
His face clouded over with her words and the concern on his features was both undisguised and unapologetic. "An important distinction and the root of what troubles me I'm afraid." The words escaped his lips before he gave them full thought, however. Questioning the morality of the vampires who ruled the city was, in this instance, more that impolitic. Sable and Samantha he had named, for they had been foremost in his mind, but it wasn't until after he spoke that he remembered Calo, and the friendship he shared with the curious woman seated across the table. Given her relationship with the high justice, she might not respond well to his insinuations, and he wasn't entirely sure he hadn't already crossed more boundaries than he should have. He shook his head to clear his unwanted, and hopefully unread, thoughts, and tried to redirect the conversation. "You seem to be troubled yourself," he offered, nodding towards the collected wine bottles.
A distant smile rose on her lips, curling them upwards in a subtle expression that fell just short of her eyes. "And they say the watch isn't perceptive." His fears were partially unfounded. She hadn't read his mind. She didn't need to. His thoughts were printed plainly upon his face, changing fluidly as the text of a book, its pages turning wistfully beneath a steady hand and contemplative gaze. She said nothing more. She knew what he was hinting at. They had already named the daemon, and she had no desire to discuss him further.
He, however, lacked both her wisdom and her perception, and failed this time to realize that he had chosen poorly in changing the subject. She saw the idea light his eyes before he could give it name or voice. To him the daemon was definable--an evil that made no pretense of virtue and a foe against whom he could draw steel without battling his conscience. He found it alluring, she knew, and though it grated at her already ragged nerves, she could hardly fault him for it.
"Perhaps I can help to bring your 'trouble' to an end," he said finally, as the idea trickled from his eyes to his lips. His tone wasn't boastful, but it confirmed her perception that, stuck within this "city of shadow," as he called it, he was eager to face an enemy he could both label and understand.
He wasn't ready. She knew it with certainty, but she doubted he would understand; and so she sought to dissuade him gently. The events of the evening, however, had left her far from gentle, and so, even against her will, a hint of mockery rang in her voice. "Oh? You would trade your troubles for mine? I thought your kind had a saying about the devil you knew."
He straightened with her words, uncertain what to make of his unlikely companion and her questions. "Yes, we do, but my devil is not leaving as long as the kindred walk among us. Yours is another matter. Against him there can be a victory."
She raised a brow momentarily, adopting a decidedly elven expression and tone despite her earlier efforts, "So you would face an 'easier' foe, and turn your back on the one that follows you?"
His eagerness fell into a sudden and perplexed frown. "I would hardly say an 'easier' foe. I doubt the demon will fall without quite a battle. And as to any fight against the evil of the kindred, I fear there is little I can act on now as the watch has been ordered to stay our actions until a vampire breaks the law." He wanted to say more, to ask what she meant, but elves weren't known for sharing their secrets with humans, and from the rumors he had heard, this one was more secretive than most. Better to remain silent, he thought, and allow her to reveal what she would. His silence, however, was only met by the same, and he began to grow impatient, wondering what thoughts swirled in the darkness of her eyes. He feared for a moment that despite her stated position she might be reading his thoughts, weighing them, judging him, and thinking him incapable of facing the daemon.
Her true thoughts, however, were far less judgmental. More than anything, she simply thought him to be young--even by human standards. It wasn't his fault, but it skewed his perception and had caused him to misconstrue her statement. She considered correcting him, but decided against it, a sagacious smile falling gently across her features as she watched him as one might watch a small child blissfully chasing butterflies through the naive meadow of youth, unaware of the ever-encroaching storm that rumbled in the distance.
Regrettably, her look only furthered his belief that she was questioning his skills and determination, and he did the only thing he could think of to convince her otherwise. Drawing his blade, he set it on the table before her and stared as hard as he could into her eyes. A bluish glow of enchantment shone lightly from runes that graced the polished surface of the blade. "That is Trollcleave. It has served my family for over three centuries." When she didn't answer, he pulled a scarf form a pouch and laid it open on the sword. Woven into the soft fabric were easily a dozen patches and medals. "Those are honors for courage and bravery I personally received for fighting against troll raiders."
She glanced down at the items for longer than she usually would have, certain from his tone that she had caused some affront. "They are most impressive," she answered, meeting his gaze once more, "but you misunderstand. It is not your skill or determination that I question, but you're discernment."
His chest deflated. "I may be overzealous, but is it wrong to choose the battles for just, right, and good causes?"
She pondered both the statement and his desire, and reconsidered her assessment in light of them. Each time she looked at him, however, she saw the same thing. It wasn't his time. There was more than that, she knew, but she couldn't see it. Truth be told, she could see very little now--random images that shifted and turned, creating a picture in perpetual flux from which very few certainties could be drawn. Whatever else there was about him, it lay shrouded in mists that wouldn't fade; and so at last she stopped trying to pierce the veil of ephemeral possibilities and returned to the present with all its crushing demands.
With a tired sigh, she reached into a pouch and withdrew a handful of stones, scattering them across the table with a sweeping motion. They made light-timbered noises as they skittered across the wooden surface, catching the pale flecks of lantern light that still poked at the darkness from the far counter. When at last the stones came to rest, she looked back up at the young newcomer. "What do you see?"
He looked over the stones, trying to discern a pattern of any sort. Minutes pass without revelation. Finally, he answered with all he could see for certain. "They are simple pebbles, rocks, and stones, such as one would find on any street."
She smiled. "Precisely. And what colour are they?"
He glanced a second time, wondering what game she was playing. "That's simple. Black and white."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure," he answered, growing annoyed at this foolishness and waiving his hand across the stones. "It's plain to see."
Cat-quick, she caught his hand in her own, locking eyes with him briefly before asking, "And now?"
The grip and the gaze startled him briefly, and he was glad for the excuse to turn his eyes away and cast his gaze back onto the table. As his eyes fell upon the stones, however, he was startled anew. The stones had changed colour in the brief span she held his eyes. They were now grey, some lighter, some darker, running the spectrum of the shade and fading into the extremes. "They are grey," he answered, shaking his head, "differing shades of grey."
She nodded and let his hand slip from her own. "That, not your skill, is what I question."
He looked from the stones to her and back again. "I don't understand."
"I know," she intoned sadly, "but you'll learn."
He had heard the same thing many times in the Order's halls and beyond. He knew that it was spoken with wisdom, but it still caused him vexation. Taking a deep breath, he calmed himself. "Yes, I'll learn. If you don't mind me asking though, what does this have to do with me aiding you?"
She sighed. He didn't understand. "Until you see the grey, you're not ready to face the daemon."
Frustration was getting the better of him now as he saw his chances of battling the daemon slipping from his grasp. He couldn't let it go. It was the one thing he understood with perfect clarity. The daemon was evil, and it must be destroyed. Desperate to face what in his eyes was the perfect foe, he caught her eyes and wrist, demanding and pleading at the same time, "Tell me what you need of me? Why all these riddles?"
The lock on her wrist was vice-like in his urgency. It might have been the tension that seeped from the long shadows of the tavern and crept slowly closer to the table, but her eyes seemed to flare with an unearthly light and his hand grew hot as it clenched her wrist. He knew instantly that he had made a mistake, and that he should let go, but he was held fast, by either his need or her gaze. When she finally spoke, her voice had changed. The tone was slow and deliberate, and he could have sworn that she spoke in foreign tongue, though he understood her perfectly. "I think you should leave--Now."
When she finally spoke, her voice had changed. The tone was slow and deliberate, and he could have sworn that she spoke in foreign tongue, though he understood her perfectly. "I think you should leave--Now."
For all his words of bravery, Kelton began to sweat under Eowyn's withering gaze. He released his grip on her wrist pulled his hand back as if it had been burnt, but it was no longer simply her silent stare that frightened him. Out of reflex, Kelton had reached out with his senses, touching the world around him; but he felt nothing from the woman in front of him, sensing only an utter void that chilled him to his core. It had never happened before. Even when he was completely alone he could feel the passage of life in the objects around him. Within the cold shadows of the empty tavern, however, it was as if life never existed in the place where Eowyn stood.
"I...I...am sorry," Kelton stammered as he clumsily backed away from the elven sorceress, or perhaps wraith. "I ha..have overstepped myself. Please forgive my impudence, Milady. I will take my leave of you now." Bumping into several chairs in his path, Kelton walked backward into the door, eager to leave the chilling emptiness of the tavern and its owner behind. He nearly slammed the door as he stepped out into predawn darkness of the city, and he quickly rounded a corner and entered a darkened alleyway. Leaning against the wall of the tavern, he struggled to steady his nerves and slow his breath. Time seemed to stand still as he strained, deafened by the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. He'd heard tales of creatures that lurked within the city--dark creatures with baleful hearts, and loathsome souls, but this was something he hadn't expected. He'd never sensed such emptiness before, such an utter void. Even from the vampires he sensed something, but from the recondite woman within the tavern he sensed nothing--only a cold, dark hollow which threatened to drive him mad. ~What is she?~
He was searching for an answer, or anything approximating an answer when he heard the latch of the tavern's door click into place. Stepping deeper into the darkness so as to escape unwanted notice, Kelton watched from the alley as Eowyn slipped wraithlike from the tavern and into the shadows of the empty street. Now, however, he could feel something of her presence, and his breathing slowed with the discovery. Even so, he could discover nothing of her essence. She was as elusive and hard to hold as a shadow--dark and insubstantial--and she seemed to melt into their number even beneath his steadfast gaze.
As she faded into the welcoming darkness, he realized that she had frightened him on purpose, or at least he thought she had; and he danced to her tune like a fool for the piper. He huffed involuntarily as he pulled back from the corner again and leaned heavily against the wall of the tavern. He would not be so easily turned aside. From now on, the Kuriousity Shoppe would be a regular stop on his patrols, and he was sure there would be a room to be had within sight of it. Determined, Kelton resolved that he would prove his worth with actions, not with words. Whether Eowyn desired his aid or no, she would get it.
With newfound courage, Kelton stepped from the alley and headed in the opposite direction from the curious and shadowy figure that had disappeared completely into cold embrace of night.
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